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How the US-India Alliance Will Deter China from Invading Taiwan

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

China is planning an invasion and forced reunification with Taiwan sooner or later, probably sooner than later. An increasingly confident Premier Xi Jinping and others in his regime aren’t mincing their words on this One China ambition, choosing rather to announce it to the world in plain words.  It’s really not a matter of whether it will happen, but when unless a sea change occurs that seems hard to foresee in November 2022.  One example would be a changeover in Chinese leadership, but that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon as Xi has cemented his position for the long term by ruthlessly consolidating power and as far as we know has no serious health issues or intentions of either changing his mind or stepping down.  Today let’s set aside the question of whether China’s openly projected desire to annex Taiwan by force is justified or not, as that’s a whole different story full of complicated angles.  

via aljazeera.com

PLA troops are dutifully drilling for the event, while civilian CCP leadership is preparing the wider population for hostilities.  Defense analyst estimates vary on the exact time horizon for invasion, and nobody knows the answer as of October 2022 if I were to guess, not even Ji Xinping and his CCP and PLA apparatuses as they meet to advance those plans and debate the right time in secret. In my novel manuscript Subterfuge in the Septagon, the first draft chapter of which you can read here, I predict this dread invasion will occur in 2029. But don’t hold your breath on that one, it’s just an educated guess in a fictional world I constructed in my head. The Taiwan invasion could possibly launch as soon as 2023 or as late as the mid-2030s.

We should hope instead that it never happens.  Assume for today that such a war would be inherently horrific for all of those involved- for Taiwan, for China and just about everybody else living in our hyper globalized times where the painful ripple effects would be felt on the farthest reaches of the globe. Many supply chains go through China, a central indispensable node of global trade.  The loudening drumbeat of war if taken to the next level would lead to a gargantuan number of civilian and military casualties, destruction of valuable infrastructure including the world’s leading microchip fabricators, steep crashes in global markets, economic turmoil including runaway inflation, food and commodity shortages, and the evil specter of weapons of mass destruction including nuclear, chemical or biological at heightened risk of being deployed. Yet the part that keeps me up at night (and the heroic main characters of my fictional novel) most of all is something else, a new paradigm entirely: nefarious advanced killer artificial intelligence (AI) unleashed on the battlefield and beyond with unintended consequences, eventually beyond the control of the AI’s creators and human masters who let them out of their cages from any side of the war.

We don’t need a vivid imagination to conjure the far-reaching effects of the Taiwan invasion. All of these outcomes except the last one already feature prominently today in the ongoing Ukraine War of 2022, doggedly on target to spill into 2023. This is the first major war in history where both sides depend heavily on copious volumes of high-tech unmanned air and sea drones and shadowy cyber warfare tactics in unseen and novel ways every day of battle, often bleeding into the civilian sector.  Turkey, Iran, the United States, UK, Germany, and other countries are pouring these and other weapons into the war zone. Sadly Putin learned the exact wrong lessons from observing the United States defense establishment being brought to its knees over the course of the failed War on Terror, its painful 20 year run finally coming to an ignominious close with a botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and that very day the Taliban right back where they were on 9/11, large and in charge.  The Middle East including Iraq somehow never blossomed into that dreamy haven for happy democracies without weapons of mass destruction that love America.  Yes, the American people are now loath to enter another war adventure, wary of the steep costs in blood and treasure with low return on investment, while there’s more than enough trouble the US government needs to address at home.  Putin did correctly surmise that America’s appetite to engage in another fight in yet a new country, such as direct deployment of US troops into the front lines of Ukraine, is low and the time to strike was opportune without having to fear direct Western intervention.  Neighboring European powers will not take on such a military burden without the United States leading the way either.  But the most relevant lesson Putin should have taken away from America’s War on Terror instead, and for that matter Russia’s own botched Afghanistan adventure not so long before that, is how incredibly difficult sustained foreign force projection even with unlimited resources can be in bending the will of the people you try to subjugate down the barrel of a gun.   This is even more applicable to invaded countries with deep, centuries-long cultures, loyalties and blood feuds both the United States and USSR never cared to fully understand, regardless of the arguable morality of their actions. Afghanistan for one is a graveyard of empires where good intentions have gone to die.

The upcoming prospect of yet another preventable vanity war of colonial ambition breaking out on the Pacific rim should give all of us serious pause, whoever we are, wherever we live on this earth and whatever our core values and beliefs. In fact I hope that a majority of folks in China can be convinced that it’s truly not in their own interest either.  So part of any viable American deterrent strategy should be to appeal to the better angels of their nature along with ours cutting through the intense brainwashing, repression of free speech, and censorship Chinese citizens are subject to every day, and in spite of the anti-China war drums beating in our own backyard.  China will end up either sinking or swimming with tiny Taiwan and all the rest of us too depending on whether another preventable war breaks out, a war threatening to roll out an arsenal of terrible new superpower technologies that we have never seen in war before in the entire history of mankind.

We also have much bigger fish to fry.  The only war that matters right now for the long-term future of humanity is climate change. All nations including China need to urgently unite on this battle front in defense of our planet and act with greater purpose and alacrity than we have been capable of showing so far.  As of now we are losing badly and have never come close to displaying the united front and cooperation between nations that will be required to have a fighting chance to prevail. Together, we’ll unite or die to quote Benjamin Franklin. Climate change is on course to gradually and painfully just wipe us all out along with a significant portion of the world’s innocent bystander flora and fauna, assuming nukes don’t force us to extinction first in what has devolved into a pathetic 21st century race to the apocalypse between Mother Nature’s wrath and a  massive stockpile of man made atomic warheads ready to deploy at moment’s notice. 

Every other international violent conflict we have in progress or are in danger of plunging into as a species needs to be rapidly de-escalated, just as we desperately need Ukraine to be de-escalated right now too with a surge of diplomacy so far unseen.  At minimum for example, Washington and Moscow should be talking on the phone and meeting in person every day at the highest levels, even if it’s just to exchange some damn pleasantries.  Instead we are led blindly by the shortcomings in our persistently conflict-prone human nature, a deadly distraction from the only fight for long-term survival that really matters.  We owe more than this to our children and unborn children who aren’t responsible for any of the devastation to the one and only home planet they will inherit from us.  We can do better than this utterly shameful legacy of a foolish and selfish generation of adults. The stakes could simply not be any higher if we fail to establish a sustainable peace between all men and a permanent reversal of climate change to safe levels with the many tools at our disposal, especially we Americans who still represent, despite our many faults and reluctance to accept our role, the only country on Earth capable of leading both noble endeavors. 

Thus Americans must step up now to fill that void in a way that would make the founding founders of America proud of us.  This is a moment where America needs to take charge.  So first, how do we prevent the Chinese invasion of Taiwan? By, say, 2029 or perhaps sooner there is no question China will have the financial, military, political, diplomatic, and technological resources and power at their disposal to threaten to overrun the tiny island nation sitting a mere spitting distance away from China’s Eastern seaboard, even with Taiwanese allies stepping in to bolster their earnest defense efforts. Regardless of the timeline of their choosing, the Chinese would certainly suffer massive losses, but I am predicting the CCP would be willing to endure those to win this long coveted objective.  The Chinese through history have proven better than most at biding their time and accepting deep suffering.  We have already seen lately the risky, aggressive military maneuvers of China blatantly and repeatedly encroaching on Taiwan’s sovereign airspace and waters. These did not occur until the Chinese were prepared for any consequences, of which there have been few effective ones from the rest of the world. The signals being sent to Taiwan and the global community are chillingly unmistakable and the aim of the cold blooded saber-rattling is just that.

The reactions of one particular nation will matter the most by far in the event of hostilities breaking out. The most indispensable of those friends of Taiwan if such a crisis were to unfold, though not a full treaty ally, is of course the United States of America, the hegemonic player in the Pacific Rim since World War II and therefore the third party that must bear the brunt of the burden in its duty to the world order in addition to defense of the US homeland itself. US dominance of the Pacific Theater especially when it comes to naval forces are and will continue to be formidable with aircraft carriers, battleships, signals intelligence, advanced stealth aircraft, nuclear submarines, seafaring drones, missiles, and other assets presently capable of coming to Taiwan’s aid from established US Pacific bases such as Hawaii, Guam, Japan, and South Korea. Arms sales flow freely from the US military industrial complex to Taiwan’s government.  President Joe Biden has publicly reinforced unequivocally the intention of coming to Taiwan’s aid on multiple occasions, confusing the decades-long US official policy of “strategic ambiguity,” a posture that signals that since it will be uncertain whether America’s powerful forces would intervene or not, this would give China’s leadership serious pause before daring to embark on the Taiwan invasion. When Biden’s staff repeatedly walk back his statements though, it seems to signal some sort of strange new policy of a strategic ambiguity within a strategic ambiguity. Nancy Pelosi’s historic 2022 Taiwan visit seemed to symbolically cement Biden’s words, as did freedom of navigation patrols in the disputed South China Sea by the US Navy despite Beijing’s firm objections and displeasure.  One could empathetically argue that Beijing even has a point when they inform the world that the PLA Navy doesn’t patrol near California or around Florida in support of, say, Cuba.  That would be a fair point.

My hypothesis is that over time, these types of US policies and these types of statements from American leaders will not be good enough to prevent a war quagmire in Taiwan for very long. Why not? That’s because the posture is not necessarily going to hold up in the near future through successive US presidential administrations and Congresses, unpredictable economic cycles, shifting alliances, accelerating technological developments, and most of all the unstoppable march toward military and economic parity between the United States and China. The United States will have no choice but to reckon with China as a military peer in the region at some point soon, and must act accordingly.  The pair of nations have already emerged as the two dominant superpowers of the 2020s and beyond as Russia’s military might self-immolates before our eyes in the graveyard of Ukraine despite their longtime ranking as Uncle Sam’s runner-up on the hard power leaderboard. It is only a matter of time before China, having solidified its #2 position, catches up to the leader next.  China is doggedly playing the long game with an impressive level of methodical patience, and has been for years now.  Throughout world history over and over again we have witnessed the second-most powerful nation feel predictably compelled to test its arch-nemesis at some point in battle, as the aggressor. There must be a better way than the tenuous American policy of strategic ambiguity to meet this forthcoming date with destiny.  The United States and Taiwan must also accept that they will not be able to handle that challenge alone.  And so it is time for others to step up on the world stage, taking into account their own interests in tandem with global affairs, most of all a rising India.  The time has come for India to step up like never before in its history.

Below is an original, sure-footed, cool-headed, and achievable roadmap, which I have seen no other geopolitical analyst ever present in this sequence with this particular rationale, with the North Star objective of effectively preventing disastrous outcomes for the world from a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The lead players of this roadmap are the United States and India. But they will need the backing of many other like-minded nations to succeed.  This article, unlike many others you will read on this important topic, will approach the dangerous scenario with a measured long-game approach that will work well into the future.  China is playing the long game no matter what.  It’s time for that clear-headed determination and ambition to be matched by thinking well outside of the box.

FORMING THE FIRST US-INDIA MILITARY & ECONOMIC ALLIANCE

Yes, I said it: it’s finally time for India to sit at the big boys’ table and make some admittedly tough decisions and quintessential changes at the very soul of its foreign policy despite a revered, almost sacred history of non-alignment, especially when it comes to relations with majority Caucasian race powers that remind Indians too much of British colonialism to this day at root level, 75 years after independence.  It’s time for India’s elite to finally move past that unhealthy obsession and worldview as the times have drastically changed, and the United States is no threat to colonize India from closer relations.  For its part the United States establishment needs to change its tune dramatically as well, starting with treating India with the respect it deserves in modern times in due recognition of what India has to offer.  I believe generational changes in both New Delhi and Washington will help to make this happen, as positions of power are slowly being handed over from those in their 60s and 70s to those in their 40s and 50s.

I created this site all the way back in 2012 largely in service of what I believe must come to pass in the coming years: a formal military alliance between the United States and India, the world’s two largest and most important democracies, with an ironclad promise of mutual defense in case of an attack upon either by any external force. In my novel I fictionally predict that this radical and still-unthinkable development will naturally unfold in 2024, and we must push for this narrative to happen in the real world. Yes, such a sea change will require an existential shift in thinking and vigorous debates in the halls of power in both Washington, D.C. and New Delhi, but positive dividends will be paid for decades to come if this common sense move is executed correctly.  I also believe that the time is fortuitously ripe.  The Biden administration in 2023 and 2024 will need to focus more on foreign policy as a divided government promises two years of severe gridlock and an effective pause on major domestic legislation.  Meanwhile, Narendra Modi’s position atop India’s government appears solid for the next few years, and he has both the political capital and ambition to execute bold moves as we have seen him make in other controversial areas.

My article in these pages titled “Will the US and India Form the Strongest Naval Partnership in the World?” laid out many years ago my supreme confidence that such a military alliance would be formidable, with the shovel-ready Navy to Navy cooperation between the two countries ready to form the tip of the spear. In fact it is no stretch to predict the naval forces joining to launch the top maritime military partnership in the world owing to the miles of coastline and deep blue water that could be covered by US and Indian naval assets working hull to hull throughout the vast and strategically critical Indo-Pacific region, the Americas, Mideast adjacent waters, the Atlantic seaboard, the melting polar ice caps, and beyond.  No other pair of friendly nations would have this reach, and the world would immediately be put on notice.

This vital military cooperation must additionally extend deep into the Armies, Air Forces, special forces, space programs, and intelligence agencies to reach its full potential. The good news here is that the military and spy establishments of both nations, despite a high degree of mistrust and suspicion throughout history, to their credit have developed a stable tradition of minor cooperation, the highlight of the show being joint military exercises such as Malabar that have incorporated other friendly democratic nations such as Japan. There is some valuable person-to-person cross-training programmed into the annual budgets of both military establishments as well. Intelligence gathering, especially when it comes to fighting terrorism, has resulted in sharing technical resources to mutual benefit for addressing those ongoing threats. An alliance should not be unimaginable today considering that the two countries have even partnered as far away as we can get: on Mars exploration, as guest writer Patrick Bailey wrote about for usindiamonitor.  However great all this partnership to date, I believe it has been defined by how inadequate the level of interchange has been till now.  There is so much untapped upside here for mutual benefit, and it’s high time to take advantage of the huge opportunity by breaking down the silos once and for all.

There are several baked-in features of this existing cooperation that are encouraging, and would apply to scaled up levels of partnership. In an era of badly broken US politics where Democrats and Republicans cannot even agree whether the sky is blue or the grass is green, and many stateside partisans even view one another as traitorous enemies, both political parties tend to agree that friendship with India is an indisputable long-term priority for America.  Meanwhile, Indians by and large may have mixed feelings about the United States, and a wariness of cozying up too close, but there is near universal acceptance that the United States is an indispensable partner that India cannot continue to grow without.

Let’s be clear up front: a military alliance where an attack on one nation would automatically be considered an attack on the other, akin to the NATO alliance in place for decades, is only about building a mighty castle with a moat strictly for deterrence and defense purposes, never to threaten any external forces outside the alliance with a joint first strike action. Those of you who play chess know the rook and the king have the option of doing an unusual, unique move once per game called “castling,” always to strengthen the defensive formation at the very back of the board with zero intent of offensive force projection.  The guy who invented that chess move during antiquity was a brilliant soul.  Regardless of the joint statement by the United States and India that must accompany the treaty signing that will reiterate the overarching defensive design of the alliance, like clockwork Pakistan and China are going to feel gravely threatened as soon as the ink dries.  This is a predictable inevitability that we must bake into this conversation at the outset and plan ahead for.  We must also prepare for China, Russia, North Korea, and Pakistan possibly being compelled into building their own castle of mutual defense of sorts in response, which would be a formal crystallization of today’s loose status quo.

Regardless of any response, why would this new treaty between the two largest modern democracies work?  India has a great deal to offer, but most of the huge potential of this young country with an ancient culture has yet to be unleashed.  In the future tense these features will only continue to grow as India continues to rise in stature on the world stage, and that rise has already relied on the United States being a key trading partner and the sturdy bridgehead for an explosion of deep person to person contact that has significantly benefited both nations.  

India and China meanwhile share a vast, sharply disputed land border spanning mighty Himalayan heights and deep valleys with tenuous “lines of actual control” that tremble this way and that with the constant military maneuvers and counter-maneuvers of both countries’ troop build ups.  It’s been quite the delicate tightrope walk along the India-China borderlands.  Elite regiments of border soldiers from both sides over the years have engaged in periodic skirmishes and both nations continue to expend massive resources in order to uneasily maintain their views of territorial integrity.  There have been few major shifts in the lines since China”s overwhelming and decisive victory over India’s ill-equipped forces in the Sino-Indian War of 1962, a landmark event fought over treacherous mountain territory.

India’s unique geography and specific status as the only emerging global power anywhere along China’s borders capable of engaging China’s PLA forces on three fronts, land, air and sea, are unrivaled and extremely desirable alliance qualities the United States simply cannot find anywhere else on this planet for the next three decades. Moreover India sits on China’s Southwestern front, meaning that because of India’s major arms buildup there, China has been forced for decades to maintain significant defense assets in that region too, taking precious PLA resources thousands of miles away from the South China Sea, East China Sea, and Pacific Ocean where its primary military expansion ambitions lie.  China and Russia are on-again, off-again friends, and though the neighbors abut each other uneasily they are not likely to spill into direct military conflict with each other. Russia will not become a US ally again anytime soon either barring major unforeseen changes. India’s geography is simply irresistible when it comes to strategic depth.  Nobody else but India will even be in this conversation during our lifetimes.

The fact that India has also been a nuclear weapons power since the 1970s while straddling China’s edge uncomfortably is just icing on the cake, assuming the nuclear weapons theory of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) holds up between the two. MAD is the leading reason why the nuclear weapons powers China and India have successfully avoided descending into full-blown war again since 1962 despite the intermittent border hostilities. We should also view India not through the lens of its past or even current state, but in its fierce future potential soon to unfurl in earnest.  The demographics of India are incredibly favorable: a young, entrepreneurial, high-tech, well-educated and English-speaking nation featuring healthy consumer demand and production capacity, growing wealth and power, a burgeoning workforce, and most of all a solidly democratic society already compatible with Western values.  India’s rise has been beset by fits and starts, and is on a slower trajectory than China’s, but the continued rise is just about inevitable.  India will be a stable partner for many nations, not just the United States.  

While we’re at it, the two countries must also proceed with a free-trade agreement, the most desirable, most elegant and simplest mechanism being a joint invitation from the North American countries to India to join NAFTA to coincide with the military treaty. This will facilitate the alliance to create a great deal of prosperity, new scientific and technological breakthroughs, mutual job growth, and other benevolent outcomes.  Importantly, the trade alliance should be easier to get done than the military one as I’d expect less resistance and controversy as it becomes more and more obvious that both economies will need to further integrate in order to avoid the stagnation resulting from excessive trade restrictions and conflicts.  Finally, a free trade agreement will enable another key pillar of armed conflict deterrence strategy with a trade weapon we’ll coin the “economic bomb.”  More on this key idea later, when we’ll delve deeper into this alternative type of weapon of mass destruction to ultimately deter China or other nations from starting a war.  

THE ALLIANCE AS A FORCE MULTIPLIER FOR GOOD

With that for the first time, we would find the United States and India formally allying militarily with the promise of providing mutual defense.  It should go a long way toward enhancing the security of both from external threats, whether nation-state or terrorist organization.  Still, I don’t believe the US-India military alliance would in itself automatically provide a sufficient deterrent for a future Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Building the foundational castle strictly for defense is only just the necessary first step, or prerequisite, of several that must be taken by the two players involved to execute the full potential of the alliance. An unmistakable and credible offensive threat is also required in the logic of deterrence.  The alliance could well decide for better or worse to extend the current posture of strategic ambiguity still, calling into question whether either or both nations would accept grave military risks and jump to Taiwan’s aid in the island’s hour of need. However, the alliance need not stand alone to face off against China if war broke out.  That’s because the alliance would emerge as a force multiplier for good.

Barring a major and still unlikely shift in US strategic thinking that could originate from an isolationist, pro-Russia, anti-Europe strain in the next Republican presidential administration starting in 2025 or 2029, NATO will remain in force with a baseline level of military cooperation with the US-India alliance. Then there’s the Quad: not quite an alliance but a fledgling cooperation framework between the United States, India, Japan, and Australia, which China already views warily as a future encirclement play- and rightly so. The Quad would grow in stature from a framework to potentially a full four-way military alliance, which makes perfect sense.  Then there’s the Five Eyes secret intelligence sharing program between America, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, joined together by colonial ties, the English language, and yes, predominantly white skin color. Speaking of, there’s finally the freshly formed AUKUS, a more targeted cooperation program between Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States focused on jointly building up nuclear submarine capabilities, no doubt with an eye towards the PLA’s rapidly expanding Navy and aggressive Coast Guard.  But this AUKUS framework will take years, and possibly decades to bear fruit as new joint weapons development and production of big-ticket items like nuclear subs takes a very long time.  It’s possible that India could join up sometime before then.

It is uncertain exactly how these various levels of international cooperation in military and intelligence affairs will shape up in the long run. However we can be certain the US-India alliance upon execution will organically begin to integrate India’s military services and spy agencies such as the Research & Analytical Wing (RAW) more closely with those of the numerous other US allies, which already make up a large network of mostly democracies, with India seeming to be a glaringly missing piece till now with a great deal to offer the entire network on security matters. India for its part badly needs every bit of this security cooperation for its own protection too.  

If India is left to its own devices as in the Sino-Indian War of 1962, there is no question that China would once again be more than capable of overpowering India’s smaller and inferior armed forces whether the war were conventional or one involving WMDs for the foreseeable future. That’s not even taking into account the very real possibility that Pakistan would join in the action on its ally China’s side against India, deemed to be the biggest threat to Pakistan.  China’s military budget, comparative technological prowess and total troop strength advantages that can be deployed to the potential battlefields against India are likely to remain unassailable for our lifetimes. These are just simple facts, India’s faith and pride in the brave soldiers, the will to fight, and the steep costs China would be made to suffer in the event notwithstanding. 

But India has multiple aces in the hole that as of late can be brought to bear in diplomatic negotiations, from a position of strength and power.  Dialogue with any of the other band of nations sharing concern about containing China’s military adventurism has ready-made talking points: unparalleled geography in relation to China, the ability to launch a distracting second front against China far from its Eastern seaboard, the vast oceans abutting India’s gargantuan peninsula central to a majority of the world’s maritime trade, close proximity to the fossil-fuel rich fields, land, air and sea lanes of the Middle East and Afghanistan, plus the superb demographics (the youngest and largest democracy in the world by far) guarantee an unrivaled economic growth rate that will outstrip the United States and its existing close allies, most of them also aging, for decades to come.  As time goes on not only will it be more and more attractive to be a part of India’s story; it will be necessary for any nation that wants to succeed.  India will in fact one day achieve recognized superpower status, although trailing some long years behind China on reaching that milestone.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the ever-increasing cultural and economic integration, a benevolent and long standing feature beyond bilateral government contact that needs to be discussed more in this context. US companies successfully operate in India at large scale already and are minting money there utilizing a relatively cheap and qualified workforce. A majority of generic prescription pharmaceutical pills Americans ingest every day and most of the various vaccines Americans jab into their arms have been manufactured by Indian laboratories for years now under US FDA regulation and surveillance. India has begun manufacturing important consumer goods such as iPhones in recent years.  India’s most useful exports of all might just be yoga and meditation, ancient practices originating in India with substantial and growing scientific evidence of the mental and physical health benefits.  Yoga and meditation studios and retreats can be found in just about every corner of the world now, including the United States.  Indians have also been flocking to the United States in droves for tourism, higher education, and work since the1960s.

Indian-Americans feature prominently as CEOs at hundreds of American tech companies including Google, (till last week!) Twitter, and Microsoft.  They can be found at high levels of US government, in Hollywood studios, throughout the medical community, and virtually every other sector of the US economy that people would consider important.  They live in every geographic region of the United States.  Interestingly, wealthy and powerful Indian-Americans have gained influence in growing numbers on both sides of the American political aisle as well. We of course have Kamala Harris, the sitting half-Indian US Vice President and a person I would suggest tapping into a formal role in the tough diplomatic process with India needed to achieve the alliance we are speaking of, if the Biden administration is to initiate the effort as I envision.  She and her staff need an important foreign policy capstone project with measurable metrics for success to focus on in my opinion.  

Current and former Indian-American government officials such as Ro Khanna, Raj Krishnamoorthi, Pramila Jayapal, Ajit Pai, Nikki Haley and others could form a bipartisan working group to support the alliance building effort by coordinating with their counterparts in India.  The India Caucus of the United States Congress is the ideal launching pad to start the conversation. Ambassadors Taranjit Sandhu and Kenneth Juster are well-placed and qualified to lead the overall effort, if Biden and Modi put their shoulders against the wheel and provide the marching orders to their capable political appointees and staff. 

All of the positive data around Indian immigrants holds true if you go to the UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, etc. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is just one well-known European example, even if he has been wrong about Brexit and other policies in my opinion.  Those who are well-traveled know that Indians have historically settled down just about everywhere, by and large patriotic and loyal to their adopted homeland while maintaining and sharing Indian cultural traditions, and they tend to stay permanently over generations. On other levels besides the most prominent Indian-Americans mentioned above, you can find them lecturing in the halls of Ivy League universities, toiling in the bowels of Silicon Valley, driving cabs, performing surgery, or running rural motels and gas stations. Indians successfully integrate into the fabric of the societies they land in, spanning just about every country in the world where you find them. Sure, I’m heavily biased as a member of the Indian-American diaspora, but you’ll undoubtedly struggle to find violently subversive, unpatriotic or outcast Indian-Americans at scale anywhere in America. They’re more likely to be found diligently supervising their children as they study for the spelling bee or Science Olympiad.

There’s a reason why this diaspora works, thrives and continues to grow despite the disturbing tribal fissures in modern American society and the excessively difficult path to legal immigration from India that leaves many qualified candidates, folks the United States actually needs, out. The two cultures have formed an unbreakable cultural bridge over the oceans built over centuries, the most monumental pillar of which may forever be the long-distance but deep spiritual,  philosophical relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. who achieved arguably the two most admirable political victories of the 20th century for all humanity using the very same principles, Gandhi being King’s admitted long-distance Guru whom he never met except to pay respects at Gandhi’s shrine in India well after his assassination. 

I bring this up to demonstrate how totally seamless and natural a fit the new, higher level alliance with India would be if the substantial people-to-people contacts are any indication of what bigger and more ambitious things are possible, and why I believe the dark cloud of mistrust and suspicion hanging over the two governments is getting to be tired and outdated when fully accounting for the glorious potential upside and frightening risks of the modern world that call for closer friendship that would benefit both sides.

SURE IT WILL BE HARD, BUT THE CHALLENGES CAN BE OVERCOME

I’ve outlined this common-sense proposal for a US-India military alliance and free trade agreement that I believe should have happened already by now. It’s actually a no-brainer if examined closely.  But many of the current crop of those in power who would be involved in bringing the alliance to fruition will disagree with my characterization.  I foresee opposition and hand wringing as the decision is agonized over.  However, since I launched this site 10 years ago, made a number of trips to India and yes, diligently monitored US-India relations from a perspective of deep knowledge and many valuable relationships in both societies, I have become convinced there is no better time to plant this new tree sapling than now.

From my conversations and research I’m well aware that enthusiasm at the root level of a more formal US-India alliance is not universal on either side of the equation. The alliance must be viewed as an optimistic work in progress spanning years of ongoing efforts, and far from perfect even at best.  There is this palpable specter of negativity hanging over the US-India bilateral sphere that first needs to be dealt with through thoughtful internal and external deliberation.  As democracies both nations should hold these conversations honestly in public before making the epic decision.  There is certainly a legitimate debate to be had about whether the circumstances are ideal for an alliance after all.  To be fair, alliance has been discussed superficially before and there has been and will continue to be some skepticism and outright resistance against an alliance among those in political power in both Washington and New Delhi, and certainly much of it is based on legitimate historical concerns. The surrounding politics are complicated and must be dealt with.  Let’s address the main sticking points one by one from a neutral point of view.  

Both sides will have to make difficult choices and changes in policies considered heretofore foundational. India has always disliked America’s close ongoing relations including on defense with its neighbor Pakistan since the Cold War days, peaking during the 20 year Afghanistan War when the United States saw no other option than to cooperate with Pakistan closely for logistical reasons. Much of Pakistan’s armaments are from the United States, much of it tied to the US War on Terror.  Washington for its part remains wary of New Delhi’s continuing good offices with Moscow and steady trade program with Tehran.  Both sides will need to accept without prejudice or conditions the counterpart’s freedom and independence to have friends and trading partners they might not prefer.  It’s a necessary sacrifice that needs to flow in both directions for this to work.  The related concerns should be part of an open dialogue where both sides can freely express their rationale on who their other friends are or going to be.

India’s confidence in the United States has also been shaken in recent years due to the alarming breakdown of the American political system and the application of violent hegemony in wars of choice abroad that India looked upon with disapproval and even alarm.  American citizens and other US allies abroad have observed these unfolding events with mounting concern too.  If democracy isn’t safe in the United States of America, the foremost bulwark of democracy on behalf of the entire world, the democratic system of government is rightly going to be viewed as vulnerable everywhere.  Educated Indians follow developments in the United States closely on media and social media, and the news they consume and the events their relatives and friends living stateside report back to them in real time have not always inspired confidence in the American Way. Take as examples the prominent violence at home including the shambolic January 6th insurrection in Washington led by the sitting US President, the recent assault of Paul Pelosi in the home of the Speaker of the House, a steady diet of mass shootings, riots around BLM protests, Neo-Nazis on the march, violent hate crimes targeting Indian-Americans and other forms of serious racism in the United States.  We have to admit the evil of American racism is ever present and its effects at various levels from low to high, local to international.  Almost all Indians have unfortunately experienced American racism in varying degrees of severity.  US-India relations at the highest levels regularly suffer damage from racism both real, which is the Americans’ fault, and perceived, which places the onus on Indians for at times seeing a slight that might not actually be intended during diplomatic or commercial interactions.

For most of the US-India bilateral relationship since 1947, the power dynamic was obviously skewed in Uncle Sam’s favor, and this incongruity resulted in some long term problems.  On the diplomatic level there is a long history of Indian government leaders being forced to endure petty bullying, chauvinism and condescension in interactions with American counterparts, with well-known episodes such as Richard Nixon infamously insulting Indira Gandhi by making her wait 45 minutes to meet the Prime Minister he coined “Old Witch,” while voicing unacceptable comments about Indians like, “The most sexless nothing, these people. I mean, people say, what about the Black Africans? Well, you can see something, the vitality there, I mean they have a little animal-like charm, but God, those Indians, ack, pathetic. Uch,” or “Undoubtedly the most unattractive women in the world are the Indian women.” Well, you Dick, Indian women have gotten the last laugh, because over the years they have achieved notable wins in Miss America, Miss World, and Miss Universe pageants.

A lot of the real and perceived chauvinism in US diplomacy towards India can largely be explained by that unequal power dynamic that has existed for most of the history of bilateral relations.  Washington, traditionally as the much stronger of the two parties, became accustomed to aggressively dictating or attempting to dictate to New Delhi terms on sanctions, nuclear weapons proliferation, trade disputes, banking, economic aid, immigration, treatment of diplomats, and numerous other issues.  There has been a palpable lack of empathy by US leaders toward India’s unique issues and challenges in its multi-generational struggle to pull its vast population out of poverty, this lack of empathy being an unfortunate achilles heel of the US foreign policy establishment in general, widespread in dealings with many countries. 

Plenty of US-India bilateral negotiations were predicated on the baseline premise that India needed the United States more than the other way around, unspoken out loud but implicitly understood by both sides. Uncle Sam could wield bigger carrots and bigger sticks and Americans were often seen as bullying Indians to achieve selfish ends over mutually beneficial goals. Indian elites also warily observed this phenomenon in American interactions with other third-world countries and at United Nations or WTO forums. US leaders including presidents also have a propensity for lecturing India about, or offering to intervene in, its deficiencies concerning human rights, unsteady relations with Pakistan, the unending Kashmir quagmire, or other sensitive and politically charged domestic topics which are not appreciated by Indians even if admittedly legitimate.  Doesn’t the United States have deep societal rot too, which India chooses not to lecture their American counterparts on?  These interactions play perfectly into the Indian establishment’s psychological insecurities about the West in general and fears of one-way neocolonial intentions by the United States specifically, some of which continues.  This is probably the main reason why military alliance has been a no-go thus far.

Incredibly deep differences in perspective are a result of wildly disparate history, culture, interests, outlook and philosophy joining together to form a barrier that might be challenging to overcome, though time is on our side, and the times have dramatically changed in the last few years.  Current context needs to be better understood.  Politics in India has been defined by a persistent and unbroken anti-colonial through line ever since 1947, rooted in an all-encompassing fear of losing the worshiped principles of independence and autonomy if aligning with richer Western countries and their self-centered, far-flung and sometimes incompatible interests and cultural identities too closely.  An unfortunate and damaging byproduct is constant circulation of bizarre and insane conspiracy theories and fake news about the United States that still proliferate in educated Indian society today, almost all of it skewing towards how evil America and Americans are.  Too many Indians unfortunately end up believing this nonsense, although there may be threads of partial truth they sprung from.  We have discussed these in detail on these pages.

Throughout the Cold War, India successfully played the non-alignment strategy by remaining friendly at arms’ length with both the United States and the USSR, for the most part sidling slightly closer to the Soviets but never officially picking sides or forming an alliance with either superpower despite intense pressure and attractive offers dangled. India even proudly helmed an international Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) which still has its adherents today in India and elsewhere. Since 1991 despite the fall of the Iron Curtain and a Cold War suddenly and decisively won by the United States, that Indian mentality still persisted, as has a deep mistrust of the United States based on India’s perception that the United States will time and again offer its hand in friendship when it’s convenient and easy, but will turn its back when the going gets tough.  India also sees that friendship coming with strings attached that it cannot always abide by.  India continues to quietly view America as a fair-weather friend- but to clarify this applies to the national government, not most of the general population.  I am sure these mutual suspicions can be solved with trust-building measures on important issues.

On the other hand, Indian leaders do also need to get over their insecurities and inferiority complex that affects their interactions with the outside world. Too much of this is rooted in parochial identity thought to be incompatible with Western alignment and the threats closer integration might bring to India’s determination to independently maintain its proud ancient history and unique culture. But the time has come to recognize that power dynamics have demonstrably moved in India’s favor as the 21st century world barrels forward. The United States cannot replace India’s revered traditional culture, nor would it seek to.  The United States cannot hope to exclusively dictate terms on a one-way street with India anymore, or to challenge India’s desired path of independence and self-reliance.  India can, and should confidently dictate its own terms right back to the United States during negotiations, now and after the alliance has formed.  That should not change because a deal was inked.   Like any good relationship, including marriages, both sides will need to listen, compromise and sacrifice consistently to make it work.  And I’m sure the alliance will help bring about the trust, respect, and open lines of communication that will form the foundation of a long friendship between the governments and the peoples beyond what exists today.    

Next is the unprecedented nature of what is being proposed. India has never had a treaty ally since its independence, and has done relatively well for itself overall when it comes to national security, with a few glaring exceptions.  This long history carries forth the weight of immense institutional inertia.  Considering any first alliance is a monumental and unprecedented decision for India and its future, and no doubt one that carries a great deal of pressure for decision makers.  There will be a fear of committing to support the United States from far away with precious Indian resources if the much richer and better-equipped country is attacked, even if the risk of that happening were minimal and the burden would be distributed among a large number of allied nations the Americans already have in their corner.  In any such scenario a powerful coalition would emerge, as invoked after the 9/11 attack on the United States, and India’s role would be minimal.  The best answer to that fear is the flip side upside: having the world’s leading military power in your corner in case India were attacked, which I’d argue is more likely to happen, and therefore more than worth the risk to India.  The best incentive for alliance by far is a powerful new deterrence to India’s potential attackers against a fortified nation more closely integrated with US forces right on Indian soil, India’s surroundings, and beyond.  India would not be getting the short end of this security stick by any stretch of the imagination as some have argued.

The military alliance can hope to never have to invoke mutual defense, with the real operational result being not war but improved military integration during a hopefully long era of peace with the strong compelling force of deterrence to enemies, and the promise of a devastating joint retaliation in the unlikely event of an attack on India or its interests.  If the concept indeed gains traction as we should optimistically hope for in the next two years, this decision on India’s end will ultimately come down to Narendra Modi, who possesses the political tools and control over the apparatus to make it happen despite the expected opposition from dissenting voices. Modi seems to be pragmatic enough to understand the gravity of the moment that calls loudly for dramatic change in Indian foreign policy.  The United States for its part as a treaty ally and ultimate security guarantor for many other nations over many years, has come to take the righteous necessity of alliance for granted in its own foreign policy, and will need to recognize how painfully difficult this decision is for India, fully appreciating how radical a change any alliance represents after a total 75 year history of the exact opposite philosophy underpinning Indian foreign policy despite even being crushed by its neighbor China in war, absorbing heavy losses in three other major late 20th century wars involving its other neighbor Pakistan, and a bloody peacekeeping mission in Sri Lanka that resulted in many casualties, Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and other terrorism courtesy of the Tamil Tigers.  The United States will need to be patient with India during its deliberation about entering its first-ever alliance, and willing to offer concessions for India to feel the partnership is going to be equitable, if not truly equal at the outset.  

The shift represented by this new security alliance will be nothing short of tectonic, not just for the United States and India but for the entire world order.  The upside potential of the tectonic shift will be mind-boggling.  Imagine US forces more frequently using Indian ports and air bases for logistics like fueling, repairs, rest and relaxation for soldiers, and joint training.  Imagine the two nations more seamlessly combining their public and private sectors in technology and manufacturing for new military hardware, cyber warfare innovations, and integrated communication channels in peacetime and in case of war.  Imagine them patrolling the high seas and airspace together with jointly developed jets, aircraft carriers and stealth submarines to keep the peace on far reaches of the globe.  Imagine them coordinating their satellites and drones to improve surveillance capacity in any world theater.  Imagine the Pentagon approving sales of some of its most technologically advanced crown jewels, such as the F-35 or F-22 jets and advanced ICBMs to the Indian armed forces not just to make India safer but the US homeland itself more secure by lifting up India’s capabilities to project force beyond the subcontinent, which India still cannot at scale yet.

Another reason why the two countries should give a try to inexorably throwing their lots in with one another: there is no obligation to look at the alliance as permanent, though that should be the goal. In fact any treaty agreement can be periodically reviewed, and if certain conditions are not being met by either or both parties, or the alliance is not going well for any reason at all, the agreement could be withdrawn and both countries could revert back to status quo.  The agreement could even have requirements such as mutually agreed annual renewals that would make it a true pilot project to test out temporarily.  There could be exit mechanisms either side could initiate.  Such provisions should be used if needed to help get the deal done.  On the other hand, I suspect an alliance once formed would organically become permanent anyway, because the benefits would so greatly outweigh the negatives as both teams would realize upon starting to enjoy those benefits and getting accustomed to them.

What we can’t imagine from that point is any nations no matter how belligerent, confident or powerful they become in the next three decades, choosing alone or in concert to initiate an offensive attack on this integrated machine.  That machine will continue to only get stronger over time if it manages to stay together.

The US-India military alliance is just the very beginning of the playbook for deterring China from invading Taiwan.  Additional steps will be needed, but these will be less challenging than forming the alliance, and that’s why it’s the mandatory prerequisite for what comes next.

BRANDISHING THE ECONOMIC BOMB 

The United States and India once bonded by a robust military alliance and improving relations in other areas will form a new global force to be reckoned with, overnight. I predict the US-India alliance would eventually overtake NATO as the most important defense alliance in the world, and as critically one between two acknowledged equal partners in due time.  As a result of the new alliance, the chances of China directly attacking either US or Indian interests at home or abroad in a military first strike will diminish all the way down toward nil.  However, China may still want to view Taiwan or other territories as fair game as its own relative power also continues to rise in the meanwhile.  This is where phase 2 of the plan must be activated.

A concordant free trade agreement with few limits between the United States and India, preferably using NAFTA as the strategic mechanism is the next urgent priority on the heels of the newly inked military treaty.  With defense so bolstered, free trade would quickly open up the economies of the two democracies and beyond in disruptive ways we cannot even fathom, unleashing new opportunities for prosperity, new innovations to tackle climate change, and various other technological and medical breakthroughs unimaginable in today’s world where the two are unnecessarily siloed off from each other under the current regime of trade restrictions and at times even downright economic hostility.  I also can’t see anyone else coming up with superior military technology against tightly combined Indo-American resources and their coalition of allies.  The United States would finally gain the dependable foothold that it needs in Asia to continue to be a financial player in the region even as Uncle Sam gently ages demographically day by day and his global influence wanes, a prospect that is slowly under way.  A young, rising India can help lift up its aging trade partner in good economic times and bad.  But India for its part cannot unlock its own massive untapped potential without closer US economic cooperation either, especially when it comes to that juicy bundle worth many trillions of dollars in assets under the control of the retiring or retired US baby boom generation including real estate holdings, savings, investments, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other pension schemes.  India’s youthful workforce can help bring great returns on that substantial store of American wealth given the opportunity of more and easier investment opportunities for US dollars being injected into India’s economy.  India through its growing manufacturing and healthcare sectors would be able to safeguard against disruptions to US trade with other manufacturing hubs, such as the world’s leading manufacturing juggernaut China.  Americans depend too heavily on products made in China for our own good, including in critical items we simply could not do without today.  The costs of an earnest all-out trade war with China are already too great to be practical for US interests as things currently stand, or for China for that matter, and so the United States and China both pick and choose particular slivers of the overall economy to target for sanctions and tariffs, a notable recent example being pretty aggressive US sanctions announced on the Chinese semiconductor industry, a narrow and targeted strategy that elicited mixed reactions by experts on the ultimate effectiveness considering the work-arounds being investigated by China and its partners.  The sanctions are harming some American interests too.  Worse, there is even the real danger that these semiconductor sanctions could backfire through a series of additional escalations and counter-escalations, depending on the responses of China and other nations.  We just don’t know how this will end up, though the sanctions may have appeared to be a worthwhile tactic in the long game at the time.  But these or other types of sanctions will not completely halt China’s march toward parity with the United States militarily or economically as intended, though it could slow it down.

The threat of targeted sanctions and tariffs by themselves, even at higher volumes affecting more industries, also aren’t likely enough to deter China from invading Taiwan.  More dramatic measures will be required for that.  It’s finally time we selected more severe measures that would achieve the objective of deterring a regime from taking something by force that it has desired badly for a very long time, and we can assume China is more than willing to endure a high degree of military and economic pain to get there.  An incredibly powerful weapon must be brought to bear to reverse China’s forward march to war, a powerful phenomenon in its own right.

The new US-India trade bloc, if effectively opened up for unfettered free trade as envisioned, can for the first time exact heavier costs on rogue actors in the global system that are currently not within easy reach in the currently fractured financial system.   The United States and India will need to jointly use diplomacy to harness methodical coordination with like-minded trading partners such as Canada, Mexico, the UK, South and Central American states, Australia, Southeast Asia and the EU- in fact any country that sincerely wants to help prevent a war between China and Taiwan.  We are witnessing in real time the dire consequences of substantial Western sanctions and the flurry of countermeasures as byproducts of the active Ukraine War.  Imposing sanctions and pouring billions of dollars’ worth of arms into the fight from abroad in support of either Ukraine or Russia may be well-intentioned actions by any number of states on either side of the divide, depending on your point of view.  Nonetheless innocent people around the world who would suffer anyway due to the war halting civilian productivity and smashing critical supply chains, are being punished even harder as the free flow of important commodities like fertilizer, wheat, oil, chemicals, and natural gas have scaled down.  

So perfectly interconnected is our modern global system, this punishment from war has actually extended to all of us in varying degrees, wherever we live, with ruthless efficiency.  Whether at gas and diesel pumps, at the grocery store, or in feeling the pinch of inflation on household and office budgets, nobody escapes the consequences of a war even if regionally contained, which creep up like clockwork.  There are no winners in this scenario as debt, high interest rates, shortages and inflation become the norm around the world layered on top of crippling flooding, droughts, forest fires, heat waves and hurricanes as a direct result of climate change that further dents productivity. 

All nations imposing any sanctions are unavoidably harming their own economies with a long, painful time horizon for recovery, even though the sanctioned countries are supposed to feel it worse.  This winter in Ukraine promises to be rough and we will finally find out the extent of the carnage that could be visited upon both Western and Russian interests, with a widely anticipated worldwide recession adding fuel to the fire.  All of this will test the political will of policymakers to continue supporting sanctions and more arms for a war effort that drags on.  Western democracies are being thoroughly tried.  For example, serious economic trouble definitively exacerbated by the Ukraine War has already led to a parade of Prime Ministers waltzing in and out of office in the UK in rapid succession in a rare, disturbing display of political instability for the US’ closest ally.   Republicans in the US Congress are already floating the idea of turning off the spigot of US aid to Ukraine if they wrestle back the House in the midterm elections as expected.  In fact the very reason they are favored to win the midterms is mainly because of poor economic indicators including a bear market, energy prices and stubborn inflation hitting the pocketbooks of all Americans.  China’s real estate crisis, draconian COVID lockdown measures, and the mass exodus of wealthy citizens looking to escape that Hellscape are adding layers of pain to our tightly networked world where there is no good reason to celebrate the economic suffering of rival states whose fates are deeply interwoven with ours. Developments in China, Russia, and Ukraine have played a significant role in American economic woes as they are not so far away when integration so thoroughly transcends distance.

The CCP is watching all of the Ukraine War sanctions and their effects on Russia closely, and must be quietly exasperated by the state of Putin’s war of choice while still outwardly standing by the Kremlin athwart a largely unified Western resistance.  Still, the looming threat of a wide array of pre-planned sanctions snapping into place against China in response to a Taiwan invasion may not be enough in itself to deter the offensive action.  China has learned how to weather various sanctions regimes already in recent memory, is furiously working on how to adjust to the new semiconductor sanctions, and may believe it could successfully outmaneuver or at least mostly mitigate any future sanctions punishment by cleverly adapting and coping with a little help from its friends.  Therefore even in the face of the threat of sweeping sanctions, the CCP may continue to calculate that the war for Taiwan is still worth having.  This situation cannot stand.

The way we humans collectively chose to hyper-connect the 21st century economic system actually presents an opportunity more dramatic than sanctions.  International trade has become China’s very lifeblood.  Without the free flow of exports and imports, in a very short period of time the nation would unceremoniously collapse on itself, unable to sustain the economic activity it needs to survive.  China depends too heavily on raw commodities, fuels and manufactured goods moving in and out of its borders constantly along with the money that movement generates.  These features make China extremely vulnerable to trade disruption, or even promises of trade disruption at embargo level, much more so than most large nations, and that can be duly exploited.

So what leverage can be brought to bear?  What credible threat would China view as a reason to shelve its plans for a Taiwan invasion indefinitely?  I don’t think strategic ambiguity will work as Chinese confidence in its military capability keeps on growing, making strategic ambiguity, a fundamentally military stance, moot.  China may one day soon start to believe that it can take on US forces or at least be willing to give it a try, if the United States did decide to help Taiwan repel the attack.  China may calculate a reluctance on the Americans’ part to engage once near-peer military status is achieved in the Pacific in a few years from now. If that becomes the case, upgrading to a new and more aggressive official US posture promising a definite military response by the United States to mirror Biden statements except set in stone without his staff walking them back, won’t be a foolproof path forward either, even if the American people and their representatives in US Congress were willing to abide that significant risky commitment and escalatory posture.  This acceptance is not guaranteed by the way, as many Americans may see Taiwan’s defense as a lower priority than other pressing matters especially if the US homeland were not immediately and directly threatened.  And I expect domestic conditions to continue to deteriorate and increasingly demand our federal government’s attention and funds.  China will be increasingly tempted to test either an aggressive or ambiguous US military posture at some point.  Like a zombie it is stumbling straight towards this brand of Chinese Manifest Destiny in the 21st century, and a confrontation with the US armed forces might be welcomed as an opportunity to upend the world order in China’s favor.  

In the same vein, overt US threats of kinetic reaction such as a military siege or blockade of shipping lanes to prevent China from conducting its desired maritime trade isn’t the best solution either, as we can be sure that China would view this as a military problem to solve through military means not far from its reach such as new and more advanced types of missiles, torpedoes, sabotage of US satellites or other technological solutions to counter the major US naval maneuvers necessary for a successful sustained blockade operation.  Worse yet, China could seriously consider unleashing WMDs or new and little-understood cyber or AI weapons in response against US interests or the US homeland itself.  The whole point should be to avoid military activity of any kind with a robust deterrent that can’t be broken, solved, or blunted by a China that we can be sure will become more militarily powerful and capable every year that goes by.  A violent escalation of any kind between the two mightiest powers in the history of the planet turbocharged by terrible new high-tech weapons could quickly get out of hand if the two near-peer states decide to resort to force as the solution.  NATO, Chinese allies, and much of the rest of the world could then be dragged into the conflict, which could deteriorate fast into a potential World War III scenario and an absolute bloodbath for the global economy, with everyone losing, the human suffering to ensue dwarfing in scale anything that will end up resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  These are the DEFCON 1 stakes we could be facing.

The ultimate answer is indeed going to have to be a weapon of horrific proportions, but it won’t be about the armed forces, and though economic in nature the weapon won’t be to implement sanctions or tariffs. The successful solution to the grave problem will instead be the explicit threat of an economic bomb of epic scale, a sort of economic death star, openly shared with Chinese leaders and everyone else in the world at the same time.  Detailed and painful preparations will need to be made first and once those are completed, once the weapon is locked, loaded and ready to drop at hair trigger alert the very moment China initiates hostilities against Taiwan, the deterrent would finally go into powerful effect.

The United States ($½ a trillion annually) and India ($125B+ annually) are both major trading partners of China, and these trade volumes will keep growing upward from where we are today.  This is China’s greatest vulnerability of all and will always be.  The economic bomb to unveil is the US-India alliance promising to simultaneously and immediately shut down all bilateral trade in every single industry with China at the first whiff of verified attack against Taiwan.  Goods intended for export would not be allowed to ship, and imports would be summarily rejected at ports of call.  This would force freight companies to cancel orders en masse in order to comply with the law, and bleed money.  A carefully curated coalition of the willing, equally concerned about preventing a Chinese invasion, would also join in the action, expected to number in the dozens, each member acting in perfect tandem to temporarily shut down every single container of bilateral trade with China in totality.  All imports, all exports, all services, all freight shipping by air, land and sea would be automatically cut off without negotiation, and without a shot fired.  There would be no time and effort and deliberation expended in the picking and choosing of specific sectors, companies, or individuals to sanction like Russia has faced after invading Ukraine.  The threat to be credible enough has to encompass nothing short of total shutdown of all existing trade flow in any stage of its journey, which in a short period of time would collapse China’s government if the line is held on this massive coordinated international embargo, and China knows that better than anyone else.

Before being able to promise such a devastating threat that would hurt real bad back at home too, a country has to be meticulously prepared.  The United States and India should, starting right away, make thoughtful, detailed preparations for just that contingency.  Some important sectors, like assembled EV batteries, will be much harder to wean off of than others even temporarily due to the current lack of many viable alternative options except China.  Either the US and India must learn to partner with industry to bootstrap and invest domestically in that sector and other similarly vulnerable ones, find alternate nations to provide enough supply, or they have to be willing to temporarily forgo getting cheap battery supply and other products both important and unimportant from China, and learn to manage without, while absorbing the economic pain.  These are the only options.  The latter path will have dire consequences, such as the forced shutdown of major automotive production lines in Detroit or Chennai that cannot create electric cars without Chinese batteries under embargo.  Yes, the business communities of both America and India that rely for their survival on China trade at the time of a consumed US-India alliance will vocally oppose the US or Indian governments even thinking about brandishing the economic bomb.

But guess who will be screaming louder when the promised economic bomb is announced as a credible threat, ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice?  The Chinese business community will be unable to even countenance the very devastating concept of the threat upon learning of it.  China’s economy, being ganged up on with trade shutdowns coming in from a whole coalition of countries from multiple sides, would collapse to a weak trickle within days after any Chinese move to invade Taiwan with widespread civil unrest threatened by people losing work because of canceled contracts.  The desired effect is that Chinese society organically and from within, convinced that the damage caused by the economic bomb being dropped on them must be avoided at all costs, will promise to rise up and throttle in the crib any hopes the CCP leadership might harbor of invading Taiwan.  This won’t be a temporary situation either.  For months and years after the economic bomb is announced there is no way that Chinese society will change its stance and allow its government to initiate a war of choice that would cripple China as we know it.  While the Chinese people are admirably patient, tolerant of difficult conditions, hard working, future-oriented, nationalistic, and prepared to dutifully sacrifice a great deal for the collective good, a total shutdown of imports and exports with a significant chunk of the rest of the world they will not be capable of abiding.  The threat of the multinational economic death star is going to work.  

CHINA’S RESPONSE TO THE ECONOMIC BOMB

When the credible threat of an economic bomb that would grind all US-China and India-China bilateral trade to a sudden halt is unveiled in close coordination between the United States and India, and hopefully many others following suit in a galvanized coalition of the willing who would help minimize one another’s pain with advanced planning for contingency trade plans, perhaps somewhere around the 2024/2025 window to mark the middle of the decade and the beginning of a new world order, it would hit the Chinese government, business community, and general population like a shock wave.  Just the threat would be enough. The CCP would be unable to hide the news from their people even if they tried due to its explosive nature.  China may not summarily delete its plans to invade Taiwan right away.  The CCP is stubborn and determined after all.  The new economic bomb might not be quite as powerful a deterrent at first blush as nuclear Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), though it’s on the same general path.  However, it would only be a matter of time before the CCP decided that the absolute best course of action for China would be to drop its invasion plans altogether, indefinitely. The many costs of sudden trade embargo at a large multilateral scale would be furiously calculated and re-calculated by China’s leadership.  Any potential workarounds would be explored to no avail, and the costs would correctly be deemed to be simply too high to bear for even a few days.  The business community would intervene aggressively, some even at risk of getting in trouble, upon making their own dire calculations of consequences from the private sector point of view.  A few days or even weeks would not be enough to put down Taiwanese military resistance.  And this Chinese self-determined stand-down is exactly what we should all want.  Under this scenario Taiwan should be absolutely safe from attack for a good while.

Let’s now give some credit where it’s due.  Let’s also try to avoid jingoism and demonization, a dangerous, distracting trait everywhere it’s found as I try to remind myself.  The economic and geopolitical rise of China in the last 40 years is objectively speaking nothing short of miraculous, and it is admirable to behold. There is probably no comparison to this rapid progress condensed into a few short decades anywhere else in human history if taking relative size and scale into account, and the low baseline created by the violent, dark period in the nation’s history preceding this era of blistering growth.  I at times couldn’t believe my own eyes while traveling around the bustling nation.  The breakneck pace of China’s breathtaking modern development is just awe-inspiring.  I have been a government public works professional my entire adult life, and have never witnessed anything like the speed at which large-scale infrastructure rises up in China.  The UAE might have a rightful claim to come in second, but that’s at minimal scale in comparison, plus that’s with the Emirati princes having the luxury and fortune of sitting atop 10 billion barrels of oil and gas beneath their sands and waters, which represent a steady source of untold wealth that is easy to extract and profitably calibrate for sale to world markets with the backing of OPEC partners.  

One shining and impressive example of China’s exquisite progress has been achieved in a shockingly short period of time, about 15 years.  China has rapidly become the unquestioned global leader in high-speed rail, the system criss-crossing the country and despite its faults representing a glorious legacy investment for current and future generations of Chinese people just like the 1800s railroads network buildout has proven to be for the United States for centuries and counting.  China is today also planning for dozens of new nuclear power plants across the nation to feed the gargantuan economic machine. These plans are going to materialize just like high-speed rail did.  The prospect of building even a single nuclear power plant or a single new high speed rail line in the next decade seems impossible in today’s United States for intractable bureaucratic reasons, although we too desperately need alternative power sources and better rapid transportation alternatives.  We struggle mightily to even plan for building out major new infrastructure in America these days, which is a tragedy considering our proud history of technological innovation and behemoth public works projects, since those days descending into an unmistakable sign of our decline.  Much of our infrastructure is aged and crumbling and it is worth examining how we might be able to turn this back around to maintain our position and make America a great country again.  

China also decided in recent years it would pursue a different type of ambitious overseas colonialism than the launch of blood-soaked multi-trillion dollar military adventures and expanding armed force base operations overseas, the path deliberately chosen by the United States starting in the 20th century till present in order to maintain our vision of the desired world order we would anchor.  To America’s great credit, this policy helped goose the peaceful expansion of the many bustling, mostly secure global trade routes that we take for granted today, and benefited many poor countries including China and India and the billions of people who now participate in this unified system of exchange over vast distances to support their livelihoods.  

In stark contrast take note of China’s wildly ambitious Belt & Road initiative.  Regardless of how successful it turns out to be in the long run, Belt & Road will be globally consequential far into the future and inextricably binds China to other parts of the world through large loans, construction of roads, bridges, dams and ports in numerous countries voluntarily accepting Chinese public and private resources and labor, aggressive trade deals, and ribbon cutting ceremonies on brand new transportation routes and pipelines.  The Mideast, Africa, South America and other regions have already taken notice and are currently leaning further into China’s widening orbit than ever before as part of Belt and Road, to the detriment of the Western democratic sphere of influence.  China is ruthlessly applying soft power hard to achieve its aims and it will continue to matter to the nations it touches despite the inevitable roadblocks and boondoggles along the way.  This form of colonialism is at minimum a less risky and less costly proposition than building a large network of wildly expensive military bases far from the homeland that need to be maintained, like Americans did to project power and influence with mixed results relative to the staggering capital investment amounts.  Belt and Road is part of China’s long game, in forward motion as far as the eye can see.

As part of China’s shiny economic miracle millions of Chinese citizens have been lifted out of poverty and subsistence agriculture, to become gainfully employed productive members of society in urban centers full of innovation, new wealth creation, and entrepreneurial energy.  The uneven rise of the Communist/capitalist has been far from perfect, as the CCP has become distressingly more and more authoritarian, including in business regulation, and a large percentage of people are left behind and treated like second-class citizens in a tiered separation of the huge population.  All have had their privacy yanked away under the watchful eyes of the foremost manifestation of Orwell’s Big Brother in world history. Many workers toil each day under deplorable sweatshop conditions at home and also in foreign project outposts of the growing Chinese Empire, like parts of Africa.  The methods of growth have been devastatingly incompatible with slowing the effects of climate change and protecting the natural environment of both the country and the planet as China devours coal to feed its hungry industrial engine and subjects it people to dangerous levels of pollution.  Meanwhile the government’s cruel, long running one-child policy has decimated the nation’s demographic balance when it comes to both age and gender, a serious issue for the nation’s future, and it’s of course a shame that massive concentration camps for ethnic minorities still exist in 2022 courtesy of the CCP. 

None of these and many other dark side factors override the fact that China will continue its rise through the ups and downs, despite its major economic doldrums and draconian COVID lockdown policies, or the widespread corruption and mafia-like behavior of the Chinese Communist Party at home and abroad.  Whatever your opinions on the matter, China is on track to catch up to the United States when it comes to military and economic prowess at some point in the future.  You can bet on it.  Xi Jinping is unmistakably staking his entire legacy on establishing a permanent superpower status through the risks and challenges, and the nation’s enormous political apparatus is firmly behind him, with any hint of opposition being relentlessly crushed.  There’s nothing that anyone can do to avoid this approaching uneasy period of near-parity rivalry between the remaining two 21st century superpowers, and it’s unclear how long this period will last or what the final outcome will be.  We can hope that it does not result in a great war as has happened all too often throughout history under very similar conditions- and we are on an escalatory glide path towards armed confrontation already, if taking sanctions and other hostile economic moves, the rhetoric of the leaders, jingoism and widespread fear of the other among both populations, and military planning into account.

Another unpleasant truth for some is that India, despite its own meteoric rise, is not going to catch up to China on economic and military metrics within the next few decades at least, for numerous structural reasons.  There’s a famous saying that India is 10-15 years behind China, and will continue to be 10 or 15 years behind.  From understanding both countries pretty well, absent a major shift change we cannot predict, this sounds about right to me if India continues to promulgate its non-alignment tendencies and fails to enter into more substantive and robust alliances both military and economic.  On the other hand, a concerted shift towards welcoming alliances especially with the United States would alter that calculation and increase India’s odds of competing with China to possibly emerge as the new leader of Asia in the next 15 years.  These are the objective facts as I see them that Indian leaders must take into serious consideration when planning to fulfill the country’s future ambitions.

The great story about China’s rise is why any attempt to hit the country where it hurts most has to start and end with economics.  The economic miracle would be in danger of coming to an inglorious end by rapidly collapsing without the free, unfettered flow of foreign trade that has fundamentally defined its success.  Trade dependence for survival is therefore China’s achilles heel and will continue to be.  The Chinese cannot afford to lose trade at scale for even a short period of time, even if that means reluctantly deferring indefinitely the decades-long dream of One China and a Taiwan finally annexed and reunited under control of the Beijing based government with all of the strategic advantage and nationalist pride that would follow.  The economic Death Star if brandished unwaveringly by the US-India alliance and the coalition of the willing in determined unison will work to secure Taiwan and its democratic way of life for the long term, without Taiwan itself needing to do anything dramatic or risky to change the overall correct and courageous course of diligent preparation to defend itself it is following right now.

FINALLY BUILD CHINA A GOLDEN BRIDGE

Perfectly appropriate for this modern context the ancient Chinese historical figure Sun Tzu wisely wrote for would-be military commanders of the 5th century BC in the seminal and evergreen masterpiece The Art of War: “Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat on.”  We’d be smart to take to heart this simple advice at the future date when China officially gives up on its One China ambitions for Taiwan, which depending on your point of view will be both a great day for the world and a deeply embarrassing moment in China. This tectonic shift in Chinese policy will not be easy for Beijing to swallow for a long time.  It will be accompanied by deep resentment and anger coursing through the ranks of the CCP for the dashing of a foundational and often repeated national dream that the population had been promised for decades.  Disgruntled establishment hawks in the Mandarin ranks in particular will continue to fight for One China in perpetuity and their statements and activities should be carefully monitored for traction.  These guys and some others in China will continue to question the decision no matter what.  The Chinese will collectively view the shift as a terrible loss forced upon it by an evil cabal of nations that conspired to issue China a grave threat, as part of an unfair US-India conspiracy to knock China down, though in reality of course the step back from the precipice of war will be a major victory for China too as it avoids its own special brand of Vietnam or Afghanistan Hell.  In all possible scenarios, regardless of the final outcome, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be a bloody loss for both sides, and we can draw a direct parallel to Russia and Ukraine.  Both societies have already lost a great deal of their soul, no matter what happens from here, and the disruption has spilled well beyond the borders of those two, with long term consequences like interrupted careers and educations, broken families, a million stories of refugee struggle, obliterated infrastructure, numerous war dead, missing limbs, permanently lost prosperity, and mental health effects that will haunt minds for decades on both sides as a result of the war.

The new primary goal for the rest of the world should be to convince China and its people over time that it made a wise and courageous decision to give up its One China dream through use of force, and that its belligerent saber rattling towards that end was actually what motivated the world to react and preemptively deter China from realizing this long-held dream.  While China for many years can still be expected to game out all other options and opportunities to exercise its upgraded military and violate the territory of other neighbors in the region besides Taiwan, the economic bomb could stay in effect to similarly box China in from pursuing any similar unprovoked attack elsewhere in the region or in other parts of the world.  The economic bomb once organized could even be used as a warning for any nation that demonstrates intent to violate the norms that keep the peace in other potential conflict zones, with the usual suspects including Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea.  This economic bomb however will not solve other long-term problems accompanying China’s continuing rise in hard and soft power, such as China’s aggressive claims to neighboring nations’ territorial waters and legally neutral waters in the South China Sea in direct violation of United Nations rulings on the matter.  Other behaviors hard to prevent include debt traps and other predatory behavior toward third world nations that are expected to continue.  But if violent conflict in Taiwan or elsewhere is effectively deterred, that is still a somber win for the planet worthy of being celebrated.  This will never be about achieving total perfection.  The whole point of this deterrence effort was to secure the global economy and trade channels for the benefit of the world’s citizens, prevent death and destruction, encourage wealth creation, and free up the bandwidth of all parties to focus on the more important universal long war already underway against climate change.  And in all these constructive endeavors China can play a great, even glorious leadership role with a simple reordering of its priorities forced by external factors.  The community of nations should encourage China to do so, because without China’s full participation in the world’s major challenges, the odds of success diminish tragically.

With the specter of a future military attack by China mostly removed especially in relation to the core interests of Taiwan, India, and the United States, these countries could expend more energy on collaboration rather than bitter rivalry that currently defines today’s foreign policy.  We need a surge not in military spending and activity, but in diplomatic spending and activity.  We need more funds, more international dialogue, more forums, more working groups, more data science, more technology, more travel, and more big ideas when it comes to diplomacy and particularly the diplomacy around climate change.  We need a multinational army in the fight working with the urgency of existential annihilation hanging over it. Again I believe for the United States that 2023 and 2024 will represent a period of brutal gridlock in Washington, and the perfect window of opportunity for the White House to spend more of its time on strengthening its foreign policy, which the executive branch under Biden will have greater control over as compared to domestic policy in a divided government where Congress can effectively play the role of spoiler.  The United States should work much harder to bring a negotiated end to the Ukraine War, and to prevent the next wars from breaking out.  Nobody else besides the United States is in position to provide the leadership necessary to do so.  This should coincide with India being invited to increase its own leadership and responsibility in the world’s affairs, in partnership with the United States and others, on intractable world problems such as climate change and maintaining the conditions for lasting peace.   As part of this, India must finally be placed on the UN Security Council on a permanent basis as well, a recognition finally deserved by 1/6 of world’s humanity.

China and the United States will then have an opening to work more closely together.  China and India will also have that same opportunity when the threat of hostilities that currently define  the neighborhood are de-escalated.  Opportunities for cooperation should extend to areas focused on the common good such as scientific and medical research, space exploration programs, green energy and transportation, sustainable agriculture, and even matters of international security.  These three leading nations, if the prospect of deterrence continues to function for all of them, will be able to ultimately guide us through all the major problems facing our species in the 21st century built on a foundation of interoperability, mutual respect and trust.  

Just as importantly, the international community should also work on creating a forum series to encourage a fresh detente between China and Taiwan once the One China aspiration no longer looms ominously over the bilateral relationship.  These proposed events where leaders of China and Taiwan, and others from different sections of society such as athletes and businesspeople are formally brought together for exchanges and one can hope, eventual systemic partnership could help form a more viable, softer alternative vision for the two countries integrating with one another while respecting their significant differences, essentially made up of almost the same people and similar cultures descended from common ancestry.  There could be a symbolic reunification initiative, as opposed to the forced reunification China had in mind, extending into bringing the civil societies together on matters of trade, educational exchange, the arts and sciences, etc.  There is an opportunity for a win-win rather than zero sum game that currently defines the climate.

Bringing China back peacefully into the wider community of nations, rather than it acting like a pariah state and being treated like one, is the ultimate expression of the possibility opened up by effective deterrence and the economic bomb.  This integration with China at its rightful place on the world forefront is the proverbial golden bridge of Suz Tsu that the United States and India should aspire to build for an emergent China for the benefit of all.  And together, these three countries should take on leadership of the charge to win the war against climate change once and for all.  They could even eventually merge in the medium term future to form a US-India-China alliance, which would become an unstoppable force one day on any grand goals they decide to pursue as the backbone of a new peaceful world order featuring cooperation rather than juvenile great power rivalry games that distract us from what matters most.  Working toward this future is a much better use of our time than the current uneasy state of attempting to manage conflict with great contention, difficulty and secrecy.  What a cacophonous waste at grand scale the status quo is.  

The urgent need of the hour in global foreign policy is to figure out how to correct course now, before it’s too late, and it all begins with the US-India alliance successfully navigating through the complex muddle coming our way in the next few decades.  If you made it this far then you’ve learned about one potential path forward humbly being shared, free to all readers worldwide, that will work if the many moving pieces can be made to fall into place, relying on the sturdy and tested universal human aspirations like freedom, non-violence, earth-loving, self-determination, solidarity among peoples across borders, and democracy providing the true and tested guiding lights, with a little smattering of luck along the way.  I hope you will be part of the solution however you can.

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