It is in India’s interest to focus its diplomatic efforts to expedite the delineation of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the Indo-Tibetan border and urge China to resolve the territorial and boundary dispute in an early time frame. In conventional weapons and present force levels, the Indian Army has adequate combat capability to defend the border, but not sufficient to deter war as it lacks a potent offensive operations capability. The gap between India and China in overall military potential, particularly the gap in strategic weapons, is increasing rapidly in China’s favour. China is also actively engaged in upgrading the military infrastructure in Tibet in substantive terms. The all-weather railway line to Lhasa, being extended further to Shigatse and later to Kathmandu, will enable China to build up rapidly for a future conflict. New roads and military airfields have also been built. Military camps are coming up closer to the border. China has inducted a large number of SRBMs into Tibet and can rapidly induct another 500 to 600 SRBMs for a future conflict by moving them from the coastline opposite Taiwan. With improvements in military infrastructure, China’s capability of building up and sustaining forces in Tibet has gone up to 30 to 35 divisions. The PLA’s rapid reaction divisions can also significantly enhance its combat potential over a short period of time. As China’s military power in Tibet grows further, it will be even less inclined to accept Indian perceptions of the LAC and the boundary.
Another factor of concern to India is the emplacement of Chinese nuclear-tipped missiles in Tibet, reportedly first brought to the Tibetan plateau in 1971. While these missiles may have been targeted against the Soviet Union till recently, the present Russia-China rapprochement would make such targeting illogical. The mere presence of Chinese nuclear-tipped missiles in Tibet poses a direct and most serious threat to India as these missiles (DF-2, DF-3, DF-4 and, possibly, DF-5) are capable of reaching all Indian cities. Beijing has been very effective in hiding details of the number of missiles actually deployed and India is only now acquiring the technological means to track and pinpoint the exact locations of these missiles or any others in the Lanzhou-Chengdu region and at the Datong and Kunming missile bases which may have the potential to reach and target Indian cities. This shortcoming needs to be overcome as early as possible through an Indian military intelligence satellite and by humint means.
India, therefore, needs to build up adequate military capabilities to deter the threat from China. In the short-term, the requirement is to ensure that there are no violations of the LAC through effective border management while maintaining a robust dissuasive conventional posture. India must step up its diplomatic efforts to seek early resolution of the territorial dispute, particularly the immediate delineation of the LAC physically on ground and map. Efforts to develop military infrastructure in the border areas for the speedy induction of forces need to be stepped up. India must maintain a strong capability to defend island territories in the Bay of Bengal and to safeguard national interests in the Exclusive Economic Zone. Diplomatic efforts to increase India’s influence in the CARs, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh and with the ASEAN countries should be pursued vigorously.
The long-term requirement is to match China’s strategic challenge in the region and develop a viable military deterrence capability against the use of nuclear and missile weapons systems. Threats posed by nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles cannot be countered by the deployment of land forces and conventional air power alone. Nuclear weapons are best deterred by nuclear weapons and, as a logical corollary, only missiles can deter missiles. Hence, India must develop, test and operationally induct the Agni-III, Agni-IV and Agni-V IRBMs and raise two mountain Strike Corps so as to be able to upgrade its present strategic posture of ‘dissuasion’ to one of credible ‘deterrence’ against China.