Is there anyone who can prevent India and China from going to war? For the past one month, the two countries have been involved in a major military standoff.
The latest crisis erupted when India opposed China’s moves to extend a border road through a plateau known as Doklam in India and Donglang in China. The plateau lies at a junction where the territories of China, Bhutan and India’s north-eastern state of Sikkim meet. The road construction work began in a section disputed by both China and Bhutan. India, supports the claim of Bhutan which is a sovereign state in all but name. It is virtually an extended territory of India.
India fears that the new road will give Beijing a strategic advantage over an Indian territory called chicken’s neck, a corridor that links India’s seven north-eastern states to the mainland. India responded by sending troops and stopping the construction work. This prompted China to rush in troops and smash up Indian bunkers. China’s Global Times warned India, recalling the humiliating defeat India suffered in the 1962 border war. India’s defence minister shot back, saying India of 2017 is different from what it was in 1962.
The military deadlock continues with each side expecting the other to withdraw first, while the media in the two countries whip up nationalist fervor. The rest of the world, meanwhile, has other priorities – and making peace between India and China is not one of them.
The United Nations has made little noise about the escalating tension between India and China. Some countries such as the United States and Australia have urged both India and China to resolve the dispute through peaceful means. But none has offered to mediate in the dispute or become a facilitator for talks.
Peace envoys are largely unheard of in international politics these days. ‘Let the war begins’ appears to be the norm. Peaceful settlement of conflicts is given little importance in the post-9/11 international order. As a result, many a dispute that could have been resolved without a single bullet being fired has escalated into prolonged conflicts that have made innocent people lose lives, limbs, property, happiness, security and dignity.
The situation was much different in the pre-9/11 era. Even Sri Lanka played a key role in solving major international disputes and conflicts by offering its services as a peacemaker. Sri Lanka’s efforts to solve the Suez war in 1956, the India-China border conflict in 1962 and the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s cannot be underestimated. Third party mediation in disputes that had potential to spark a war offered a face-saving exit for parties embroiled in hostilities to withdraw from the brink of war.
When war is open business, no wonder, pre-war peace efforts have become scarce these days. In his farewell speech in January 1961, US President Dwight Eisenhower, a World War II General, no less, called the military industrial complex a threat to democracy. He warned the Americans of the formidable union between defence contractors and the armed forces.
The US is today the world’s number one weapons seller making a living out of wars or other people’s misery. It sells weapons to more than one hundred countries.
Today, the military industrial complex is a mega business for many developed countries. To hell with human rights and human misery, the arms they sell fan the flames of war. Take for instance, Britain’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Last week, the British arms industry and the British Government were elated over a court ruling in favour of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The case was filed by the Campaign against Arms Trade. It called for a ruling to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia, claiming that the Gulf country has violated international law by using British weapons to kill civilians in Yemen’s civil war. The court dismissed the petition.
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Oxfam denounced the ruling, saying the court had ignored evidence that the Saudis have devastated Yemen’s civilian population with indiscriminate attacks. But Prime Minister Theresa May was happy, because Saudi Arabia accounts for half of Britain’s weapons exports.
With the revenue from killer industry becoming a crucial factor for economic stability, arms selling countries such as Britain and the US turn a blind eye to human rights excesses by big-time buyers such as Saudi Arabia. To cover up this shame, the arms selling countries, projecting themselves as human rights champions, target small-time human rights violators such as Sri Lanka and cry hoarse about the human rights situations. It is a big drama — and in this all-villains drama, the United Nations plays the clown’s role. The less we talk about the UN, the better it is.
Last year, the UN blacklisted Saudi Arabia for committing crimes against children caught up in war, but removed the country from the list, after Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies threatened to stop financial contributions to various UN programmes.
Worldwide countries spend more than 1.8 trillion dollars on defence expenditure annually. Every year, nations spend more than US$ 100 billion on purchasing weapons.
In a report issued in February this year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) says more weapons were delivered between 2012 and 2016 than any other five-year period since 1990. Saudi Arabia was the world’s second largest weapons importer, increasing its intake by 212%, mainly from the US and Britain.
India is the world’s number one weapons importer, according to Sipri. It accounts for 13 percent of the global imports. Its Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a visit to Israel last months inked several deals with the Zionist state to procure 630 million dollars’ worth of weapons and defence systems.
China, according to Sipri, is increasingly able to substitute arms imports with indigenous products and has solidified its position as a top-tier arms supplier.
It is no exaggeration to say that India and China, both nuclear power states, are armed to the teeth. Besides, no one can give a guarantee that a war between them will not see the use of nuclear weapons.
Thus there is an urgent need to bring the two states to the negotiating table. This is all the more reason why India and China should enhance efforts at confidence-building measures. Certainly India’s recent Malabar military exercise with the United States and Japan in the Indian Ocean was not a confidence-building measure. But India joining China’s Belt-and-Road initiative, perhaps, is one. Will India do this? Asia’s prosperity depends on peace between India and China.