The Stages Before a War – A Tale of Two Nations.

All you need to know about the unfolding imbroglio between the dragon and the elephant! And also get to know the various stages before a war that trigger a full fledged escalation.

Whenever such dark clouds of tensions start hovering around , both India and China have flexed their  muscles. Be it in terms of  – matching up number to number in the battlefield as a response to aggression, India imposing sanctions against the other , ganging up with potential allies to overpower the other  or indulging in coercive diplomacy , there are clearly discernible patterns to the antics that have played out in the global podium. What has spanned out today in terms of the challenge  is the culmination of  a long drawn calculation and a series of posturing by the heads of the two states. Prime Minister Modi’s overtures to President Jingping along the sandy shores of Mahabalipuram  with ‘The Coconut Water hospitality’ has certainly not failed to impress either of the two diasporas. Experts perceived this as the opening of a new chapter in India – China relations. But alas ! The bonhomie forged along the Bay of Bengal eventually withered off as soon as it ascended the rocky patches of the Himalayas.

The Coconut – Water diplomacy


Turning the calendars to the past annals of time,if war is a vector then the stages before a war can be resolved into multiple dimensions. But extensively speaking, history has enlightened us with three unique components conceivable to our understanding.

1.1 Armed Warfare

The first is going the military way  – a conventional form of warfare deploying men , weaponry and tanks. Its a practice involving a full scale escalation at and beyond chartered territories. This was very obvious with India matching number to number while sensing the unease on the Chinese side over the deployment and ramping up of Border Infrastructure.

1.2 Diplomatic overtures

The second approach is the diplomatic front where like minded nations camp together to corner  their arch rival. In a  layman’s  parlance it is akin to gang up to fight rival gangs in a street fight. It also includes vetoing a resolution favouring one,shutting down consulates  or  skipping meetings hosted by the heads of governments as a mode of registering their strong condemnation. This is carried out at the beauraucratic and the political level. A classic example of this is India winning support of the international community in its war against terror while conducting the surgical strikes against Pakistan. This is where our ‘Soft Power’ comes to play – the ability to tactfully deal with rivals without potential means of warfare. It demands  able and experienced bureaucrats with a good command over  the nuances of strategic partnership blended with years of experience in forging skillful negotiations.

This could be related with countries like Australia , Japan and South Korea joining the Indian bandwagon thus signaling animosity to China and pledging their solidarity with India. This is where India’s diplomatic maneuvering paid off (though there are two sides to it – More on that later).

1.3 Economic wars

The third approach is on the economic and the trade front. Trade and a flourishing International Business are the pathways to a country’s economic development. Trade wars and economic sanctions attempt to choke all such pathways that contribute to a nation’s rise as an economic superpower. They could include imposing trade tariffs, hiking anti dumping duties , imposing a blanket ban on the goods and commodities that generate trade surplus , cutting off economic ties or crippling  the interest of the hostile power. One such example could be the ongoing trade war between the US and China or India banning the Chinese apps or economic sanctions on Iran thus jeopardizing  the interests of the hostile party.

When it comes to application of these strategies, it is the diplomatic layer (the second approach) precedes the 3rd approach (economic blacklisting) which is  followed by the 1st approach (a full scale armed retaliation) . The transition from one to the other requires one to fail. Even at times the 3rd and 1st go hand in hand.


India from time to time has always adopted a ‘wait and watch’ approach . The feasibility of this approach has been purely contextual. This was apparent from the efforts pursued by the Indian diplomatic missions to sort them out by means of professional negotiations.At the same time , economic retaliation has also been on our bucket list.  In a major setback to China, India passed a legislation in April mandating government approval for any investment from Chinese entities . This clearly underlines the Indian principle of following the path of ‘ least resistance ‘ before ramping up efforts for a confrontation. Putting it more precisely  – exhaust all the soft core options at your disposal before going for the last resort – an armed escalation across borders.

Though some far – right and nationalistic sympathizers have called for a relook into the Panchsheel principles, often terming it ‘compromised’ call for a hardline approach in dealing with such belligerents. Given the prevailing constraints – The dragon receiving universal backlash for its apathetic approach in handling the pandemic and the elephant’s own preoccupations in fixing its domestic economy, the chances of an all out war between the giants right now seem to be bleak .  It is usually exercised as the last of all choices when all other channels get choked. The ramifications are huge. Setting aside euphoria , it’s important to appear and be prudent rather than choosing to be driven by passionate fervor.

Though this may not be the most objective assessment of the ground reality, it certainly doesn’t take truth away from the fact that at this stage – ‘India can’t afford a war and China can’t win the war’ as blunt it is…but there are very serious re considerations before ranking the prioritie

(To be continued)

( The scope of the article is limited in examining the hostility between the two superpowers. The next article would elaborate more on the second and the third approaches that India needs to adopt to douse  the fire blown out by the dragon. )

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