Well folks, good news and bad news. The good news is that India and China probably aren’t entering a Cold War era nuclear submarine race. The bad news is it could actually be worse. And it turns out the United States might be right in the middle of it.
China and India are the two most populous countries on earth. They’re also economic rivals, share the world’s longest contested land border, and are importing more weapons than any other countries out there. What could go wrong?!
You see, just because the South China Sea clearly belongs to China, doesn’t mean the Indian Ocean belongs to India. A senior captain from China’s National Defense University made that clear when he said the Indian Ocean is not India’s “backyard.”
Now that wasn’t some kind of threat, obviously. But just for the sake of argument, if you were wondering how many submarines China would need to blockade India, the answer is 10.
And the 18 naval bases the Chinese regime is building along key trade chokepoints surrounding the Indian Ocean would have no part in such a purely hypothetical blockade.
Oh, and that nuclear submarine that was patrolling around the Gulf of Aden last year? Don’t worry. That was just to hunt pirates. Because submarines are the best choice for that.
The Chinese were probably just showing off the goods to help secure that 8-sub construction deal they finalized toward the end of last year.
And yet for some reason, India seems nervous about the frequent visits Chinese submarines are making to the Indian Ocean. An average of four times every three months.
And so India and the United States started off the month with talks about anti-submarine warfare.
For decades, India has maintained its distance from the United States. But China’s recent submarine activities have changed that. India and the United States have conducted joint military exercises before, but now they’re stepping it up. Last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and his Indian counterpart issued a joint statement saying they would strengthen military ties. Part of that meant India would finally allow the U.S. military access to Indian military bases. The United States, for its part, has agreed to give India access to weapons technology, like the P-8, its most advanced submarine hunter. Apparently it can track a sub from the sky.
This is all to help India narrow its military gap with China. And believe me, the gap is pretty darn big. China has the biggest navy in Asia, with 300 vessels, 62 of them are submarines, four of which can fire nuclear ballistic missiles, according to a report by the Pentagon last year. India has less than half as many ships, including only one nuclear sub, which is on lease from Russia.
And both countries have a lot at stake. China and India get more than 40 percent of their GDP from international trade. So it makes sense that they would both want to secure the tremendously profitable ocean trade routes.
But the United States is the world leader in anti-submarine warfare. It got a lot of experience from going through a very similar situation with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Though with one very key difference.
According to this report by the Lowy Institute, the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation kept tensions between the United States and the Soviets from escalating. But as for India and China, their submarines are both too few in number and not technologically advanced enough to be an effective nuclear deterrent.
In other words, back in the day, both the United States and the Soviets knew that if they launched a nuclear attack first, they wouldn’t be able to stop the other side from launching one of theirs. But with China and India, each might feel that they could launch a nuke, and still successfully stop the other side from detonating one of their own.
This might then be a problem that both India and China want to pump up their sub presence. Then when you add to that Pakistan and North Korea are both trying to get nuclear subs, on top of U.S. presence in the region, well, it’s getting a little crowded over there.
But not to be outdone with that whole being-able-to-blockade-you thing, later this year, India, the United States, and Japan will be holding joint military drills near the Philippines. That’ll be sure to ease tensions.
What do you think about the tensions in the Indian Ocean? Leave your comments below.