Tuesday, January 31, 2017

China Vs. India: The Great Arms Contest – Analysis


China Vs. India: The Great Arms Contest – Analysis

Locations of China and India. Source: Wikipedia Commons.
As China and India compete for regional great-power status, their respective defence industries play a key role. China appears to have had more success in modernising its arms industry, by introducing more free-market reforms than India has.
                                                      By Richard A. Bitzinger*
“Rich nation, strong army,” was the adage that drove Japanese modernisation – both civilian and military – in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today it is a rallying cry for other Asian countries seeking great-nation status. A corollary to this saying might be that “great nations have great arms industries.”
China and India share this outsized ambition to be a “great power” in Asia, if not the most powerful. The two countries have, respectively, the largest and second-largest militaries in Asia, as well as the highest and second-highest defense budgets. And both have huge domestic defense industries, dedicated to providing their armed forces with the best weapons possible.

Domestic Arms Industries

It should not be surprising to know that both nations – India since independence, and China since the founding of the People’s Republic – have given considerable importance to establishing and nurturing large domestic arms industries. In so doing, both countries took very similar routes to defense industrialization. Both countries undertook a soup-to-nuts approach to defence, manufacturing everything from small arms to nuclear weapons. Additionally, they established huge military research and development (R&D) bases so as to control every stage of armaments production, from initial idea to deployment.
The most important goal was the development and manufacture of a broad array of indigenous weapons systems. If completely indigenous production was impossible in the short run, the licensed-production of foreign-designed systems as a second-best solution, but one to be replaced by a domestic solution as soon as possible.
Moreover, both countries placed their faith in government-owned and operated businesses – state-owned enterprises in China, so-called “defence public service undertakings” (DPSUs) in India. In both cases, armaments production was isolated from the rest of the economy, given special protection from market forces as well as a great deal of autonomy in how they operated. It was all about meeting production quotas, and such considerations as efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and even quality control were usually thrown out the window.

Defence Industry Bantustans

Not surprisingly, therefore, by the late 1990s, both the Chinese and Indian arms industries were bloated, inefficient, technologically impaired, bureaucratic monsters, more dedicated to protecting jobs and industrial fiefdoms than developing and manufacturing the kinds of advanced weapons systems their respective militaries demanded. And while both New Delhi and Beijing introduced far-reaching reforms into the rest of their national economies – generally with remarkable results – their respective defence industrial bases remained mired in protectionist, socialist-style industrial bantustans.
To be fair, both China and India, starting in the late 1990s or early 2000s, undertook efforts to reform and transform their defense industries into modern military-industrial complexes. These included injecting limited competition (sometimes from the private sector), paying greater attention to quality control, and giving the customer (i.e., the military) more oversight over defense R&D.
Interestingly enough, communist China has made more progress than democratic India in introducing free-market ideas into its defense industry. In a strictly comparative sense, China has more (albeit still quite limited) competition in defense projects (e.g., two different fifth-generation fighter aircraft development programs); it has opened up more of its defence industry to private-sector funding; it has developed and implemented initiatives to promote civil-military integration and the exploitation of locally available commercial high technologies; and it has more seriously attempted to make local arms producers more responsive to the needs of its main consumers (i.e., the PLA).
In addition, it appears to have been much more successful when it comes to kick-starting indigenous military R&D, acquiring and developing technologies and weapons systems that approach the global state-of-the art, and therefore putting the Chinese military on the path toward greater autarky in arms acquisitions. More than anything, too, China has consistently and aggressively underwritten the modernisation of the arms industry in the form of steadily increasing defense budgets. This improved arms industry is, in turn, paying off in terms of making China a more formidable force to reckon with.

India’s Nehruvian Muddle: Long Way to Go

India’s defence industrial base, on the other hands, appears to be still stuck in its old Nehruvian paradigm of government-led development and growth. While the rest of India appears to be racing into the 21st century, powered by a dynamic, free market-oriented economy, the defense sector remains mired in the country’s socialist and protectionist past.
Consequently, the nation is still predominantly saddled with a oversized, non-competitive, non-responsive military-industrial complex – capable, it seems, of only producing technologically inferior military equipment, and even then, never on time and nearly always way over their original cost estimates. Moreover, the defense industry, along with government-run R&D institutes, has been able to fend off nearly every attempt at reform and restructuring undertaken by the central authorities.
Given such longstanding deficiencies in its defense industrial base, it is little wonder why India’s drive for great-power status has been so fitful. And while India might yet be able to turn things around when it comes to defense industrial reforms – and Modi’s recent efforts are certainly aimed in the right direction – past experiences are cause for skepticism.
Of course, China’s defence reforms still have a long ways to go. Compared to Western models of armaments production, the Chinese arms industry remains highly statist in form and function. But compared to India, it is the epitome of efficiency and the state-of-the-art. 
In the regional race to become the Great Power of Asia, China is way ahead on points, and not the least because China’s military is increasingly equipped with very modern and very capable, indigenously sourced armaments.

*Richard A. Bitzinger is a Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Military Transformations Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. This Commentary is based on a recent article by the author that appeared in Asia Times, which can be accessed here: http://atimes.com/2016/04/india-vs-china-the-great-arms-contest.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Modern Siege Warfare


        Modern Siege Warfare

                How It Is Changing Counterinsurgency

The military campaign by the Syrian regime in Aleppo and by the U.S.-led coalition in Mosul reveal a strange new paradox of modern combat: the difficulty, if not impossibility, of reclaiming urban terrain from entrenched rebels or insurgents without paying a high humanitarian price. It is “strange” because at first blush, the offensive firepower of today’s armies would seem to work in their favor. Yet, even in the face of heavy artillery and indiscriminate air strikes, under-armed rebels have consistently been able to hold on to large swaths of cities. And civilians trapped in these rebel-held areas, sometimes against their own wishes, are the principal victims.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for example, has now retaken 75 percent of the Rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo, but it took several years and Russia’s intervention to do so. The rebel's call for a ceasefire today, to allow for the evacuation of civilians, will either prolong the war, if honored, or cause extreme levels of civilian suffering, if not. (At this point, neither Assad nor Russia appear willing to negotiate a ceasefire.)

Siege warfare, of course, predates medieval times. It occurs when an invading army, unable to capture a castle or city outright, surrounds it as a way to starve one’s enemies into capitulation. The tactic is generally associated with conventional wars between countries of relatively equal stature, in which an adversary besieges a city with particular significance for its opponent in order to tangibly impact the military or government, as well as psychologically affect the population. Think Stalingrad or Warsaw during World War II. Siege warfare has also been used over time by rebel armies as a form of irregular warfare against an established government. Anyone who has seen Hamilton: An American Musical knows that George Washington’s ragtag Continental army effectively employed this strategy against the larger and better-trained British forces in Boston and Yorktown. Siege warfare was also used in other civil wars, including during the U.S. Civil War (Vicksburg), the Spanish Civil War (Madrid), and more recently in the Balkans conflict (Sarajevo)—all to mixed success. 

More recently, we’ve seen an uptick in siege warfare by nations against irregular or rebel forces, such as Russia’s counterinsurgency in 1999 in the Chechen capital of Grozny. Technological advances in warfare would appear to favor modern nations and their armies—precision bombing, better intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, and so forth. And it would thus be logical to assume that sieges would appeal most to a militarily dominant nation-state fighting an apparently less capable rebel or insurgent group—but current events reveal the opposite. 
As we've seen in Syria, Assad’s approach to defeating the opposition has indeed relied time and time again on siege warfare which, combined with the manipulation of humanitarian aid, has led to a strategy of “siege and starve until submission.” The logic behind Assad’s approach is twofold. He is reportedly short of the manpower he needs to take and hold territory and has to rely more and more on the assistance of non-statutory local and foreign militias. 
Siege warfare has thus emerged as an apparently attractive asymmetric approach—it is an alternative when an aggressor does not have the comparative strength to sack a city outright. Sieges give counterinsurgents a low-cost way to stay on the offensive, while committing fewer resources. Siege warfare is also appealing for counterinsurgents, especially non-democracies unconcerned with “winning hearts and minds” but looking to avoid direct confrontation, keep casualty numbers low, and slowly bleed the enemy into submission.
The second strategic aim of Assad’s counterinsurgency campaigns has been to downright prevent the rise of alternative governance in Syria. Siege warfare, combined with sustained attacks against the civilian population and infrastructure—hospitals, schools, and markets—can either destroy the opposition’s capacity to govern or create a political alternative to the regime. Moreover, because of their deliberately slow pace, sieges tend not to attract the same unwanted international scrutiny as more lethal forms of warfare.

A siege can also create perverse incentives for the besieged. Sieges are not meant to entirely blockade or suffocate a town, city, or area. Even the Syrian regime, as menacing as it has been, has allowed a narrow humanitarian corridor, in some cases, to provide rebels in the east of Aleppo with a lifeline. (Russian and Serbian forces allowed similar corridors in Grozny and Sarajevo, respectively.) But such outlets generally result in freezing the conflict, rather than tilting it toward any decisive victory. Lines of control rarely shift much, and the battle becomes mostly an all-or-nothing campaign of attrition, not one of gaining ground or shifting momentum. This can allow insurgents the time and space to regroup and rearm. Under a siege, even though food and ammo may be in short supply, there are often pauses of sorts, which allow the weaker side to mobilize their forces and boost morale.

Indeed, even in the case of Aleppo, the static defenses between the city’s east and west took years and a disproportionate amount of force to begin to budge. Until recently, imprecise barrel bombs as well as Russian airstrikes had done little to dislodge the rebels in the east. Even the weaponization of aid, by promising ceasefires and humanitarian corridors in exchange for surrender, may be ineffective at bringing the rebels to their knees. In fact, the rebels may be calling for a ceasefire as a tactic to prolong, not end, the war.

Civilians in cities can weather severe hardships and remain holed up nearly indefinitely, even against their wishes. In Sarajevo, for example, a small core of Bosnian soldiers relied heavily on ordinary citizens to take up arms and protect the city. These ad hoc groups of citizen-soldiers organized around existing social structures. In some cases, depending on a city’s political economy, sieges are sustained via underground criminal networks. The scholar Peter Andreas, for example, has written that although most of Sarajevo’s residents suffered mightily throughout the three-year siege, some prospered from the black market economy.
According to the data on twentieth-century warfare that we’ve gathered, the average length of a siege is just under one year (roughly eight months), but the longer a siege drags on, the more it favors the side under siege. In more modern times, according to the data, siege warfare is less militarily effective, especially in cases of civil war or asymmetric conflict. In Syria, a number of towns and smaller cities fell to Assad’s forces through shorter sieges where the stakes were presumably lower, while larger urban centers such as Aleppo became the center of gravity that the regime has only been able to sway through massive reliance on external support.

So how, then, do sieges end? Here it is important to make a distinction between sieges against a state and sieges against rebel groups or insurgencies. In Sarajevo, for example, it was the Bosnian state that was under siege, and the battle ended with the power-sharing accord reached at Dayton, which was something of a win for the Serbians. It is hard to see how such a resolution could be applied in the case of ISIS or Syrian rebels, who never really “owned” Aleppo or Mosul but rather occupied each in a campaign of resistance. With narrow chances of a grand political bargain on the horizon, sieges in Syria have so far ended either with the opposition breaking the siege or with rebel submission, followed by the regime takeover of the previously besieged town or village. In many cases, this takeover has been followed by a strategy of depopulation of the formerly rebel-held urban centers.

In Iraq, ISIS’ approach to siege warfare has alternated resistance with strategic withdrawal. In Mosul, ISIS rebels have dug vast underground networks of tunnels to maintain some freedom of movement and to continue to function, much like the Sarajevo tunnel built by the Bosniaks two decades ago. Additionally, ISIS commanders have already demonstrated their readiness to carry out mass public executions to deter defectors or informants so that they can maintain enough control of the city to meet their objectives. ISIS’ commitment to its cause presents a more significant challenge than, say, physically retaking the city or the population’s own resistance. Yet, on other occasions, the group has proudly affirmed that it is ready to abandon towns or villages and to withdraw to “the desert”—an expression it uses to indicate a strategic withdrawal to the countryside.

The underlying logic of siege warfare is that localized wars of attrition can end by compelling one side to surrender important terrain. This logic breaks down when localized violence, no matter how extreme, has no impact on an insurgent’s calculations. Indeed, the lesson of modern siege warfare during counterinsurgency operations is that, like their conventional predecessors, entrenched rebels can withstand long assaults while maintaining their hold on the population centers they occupy. Sieges today can persist for a long time and even result in the utter devastation of the city before they end. When Russian tanks rolled into Grozny after its 1999–2000 siege, the United Nations called it “the most destroyed city on earth.” Aleppo may well hold that distinction today.

If nations continue to look to siege warfare as a popular approach to dislodge rebel or insurgent groups, as is apparently the case in Aleppo and Mosul, they should not expect these campaigns to be short-lived or, even, to achieve their goal

Sunday, January 29, 2017






The Kra Canal or the Thai Canal refers to a proposal for a canal to cut through the southern isthmus of Thailand, connecting the Gulf of Thailand with the Andaman Sea. It would provide an alternative to transit through the Strait of Malacca and shorten transit for shipments of oil to East Asian countries like Japan and China by 1,200 km, saving much time. China refers to it as part of its 21st century maritime Silk Road.

China is keen on the Kra Canal project partly for strategic reasons. Presently, 80% of China’s oil from the Middle East and Africa passes through the Straits of Malacca. China has long recognized that in a potential conflict with other rivals, particularly with the US, the Strait of Malacca could easily be blockaded, cutting-off its oil lifeline. Former Chinese President Hu Jintao even coined a term for this, calling it China’s “Malacca Dilemma”.
History of Kra Canal
The idea to shorten shipping time and distance through the proposed Kra Canal is not new. It was proposed as early as in 1677 when Thai King Narai asked the French engineer de Lamar to survey the possibility of building a waterway to connect Songkhla with Marid (now Myanmar), but the idea was discarded as impractical with the technology of that time.
In 1793, the idea resurfaced. The younger brother of King Chakri suggested it would make it easier to protect the west coast with military ships. In the early 19th century, the British East India Company became interested in a canal. After Burma became a British colony in 1863, an exploration was undertaken with Victoria Point (Kawthaung) opposite the Kra estuary as its southernmost point, again with negative result. In 1882, the constructor of the Suez canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps, visited the area, but the Thai king did not allow him to investigate in detail.
In 1897, Thailand and the British empire agreed not to build a canal so as to maintain the importance of Singapore as a shipping hub, since by that time, Singapore was already prospering as an international hub with great importance to the British.
In the 20th century the idea resurfaced with various proposals to build the canal but did not go far due to various constraints including technology and cost constraints as well as indecisive political leadership of Thailand
China shows Thailand the money
In the last decade, China has now become the potential game changer who can possibly turn Kra Canal proposal into reality in the 21st century. It has the money, technology and strong political leadership and will to support the project if it wants to.
Last year, news emerged that China and Thailand have signed an MOU to advance the Kra Canal project. On 15 May 2015, the MOU was signed by the China-Thailand Kra Infrastructure Investment and Development company (中泰克拉基礎設施投資開發有限公司) and Asia Union Group in Guangzhou. According to the news reports, the Kra Canal project will take a decade to complete and incur a cost of US$28 billion.
But 4 days later on 19 May, it was reported that both Chinese and Thai governments denied there was any official agreement between the 2 governments to build the canal.
A statement by the Chinese embassy in Thailand said that China has not taken part in any study or cooperation on the matter. It later clarified that the organisations who signed the MOU have no links to the Chinese government. Separately, Xinhua news agency traced the announcement of the canal project to another Chinese firm Longhao, which declined comment when contacted.
Dr Zhao Hong, an expert on China-Asean relations from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, told the media that China would not embark on such a project lightly, given the political and bilateral implications.
“China will have to consider the feedback from countries such as Singapore, which it has friendly ties with, given the impact that the Kra canal might have,” he said at the time when news of the MOU emerged. But Dr Zhao added that China might be open to private companies studying the feasibility of such a project, but will not directly back it for now.
It was said that the the chairman of Asia Union Group, the Thai party which signed the MOU, is former Thai premier Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a long-time supporter of the Kra Canal.
Thai PM: Kra Canal project should be looked into by future democratic governments

In Jan this year, the Thai PM reiterated again that the Kra Canal project is not on his government agenda. His announcement came after a member of the King’s Privy Council, Thanin Kraivichien, wrote an open letter to the government advocating for the canal’s construction.Thanin was the 14th PM of Thailand between October 1976 and October 1977. His call is part of a growing chorus of Kra Canal proponents in Thailand’s political and business communities that started talking openly last year after several Chinese firms expressed interest in funding and constructing the canal.
Responding to Thanin’s call for the project, the Thai PM said the Kra Canal project should be looked into by democratic governments in the future, meaning to say Thailand has not ruled out the construction of Kra Canal completely. And in the case of Thailand, changes to its government occur frequently like the changing of clothes.
China getting angry with Singapore
In the last couple of months, China is increasingly angered by PM Lee’s move to side with the US over the South China Seas issue, even though Singapore has no claims over any of the territories there.

It all started 2 months ago when PM Lee was invited to the White House and was hosted to a rare White House state dinner on 2 Aug(http://theindependent.sg/pm-lees-speech-at-white-house-state-dinner-angers-china). During his toast, PM Lee welcomed the US to adopt a strategy to “rebalance” the Asia Pacific and went on to call President Obama as the “America’s first Pacific President”.

China immediately responded through their Global Times. “Lee Hsien Loong addressed Obama as the American ‘first Pacific President’. Such flattery (‘戴高帽’) given to Obama directly does not concern us (‘倒也没啥’),” the Global Times’ article said. “The key is he praised the American strategy to ‘re-balance Asia-Pacific’ and publicised that all Southeast Asian countries welcome such American ‘balancing’. Because the ‘rebalance Asia-Pacific’ strategy is pointed at China to a large extent, Lee Hsien Loong is clearly taking side already.”

“If Singapore completely becomes an American ‘pawn’ (‘马前卒’) and loses any of its resilience to move between US and China, its influence will be considerably reduced. Its value to the US will also be greatly discounted,” it added.

The article went on to say that China has its limit in tolerance. It said, “Singapore should not push it (‘新加坡不能太过分’). It cannot play the role of taking the initiative to help US and South East Asian countries to go against China over South China Sea matters. It cannot help American ‘rebalancing Asia-Pacific’ strategy, which is directed at China’s internal affairs, by ‘adding oil and vinegar’ (‘添油加醋’), thereby enabling US to provide an excuse to suppress China’s strategic space as well as providing support to US.”

“Singapore can go and please the Americans, but it needs to do their utmost to avoid harming China’s interests. It needs to be clear and open about its latter attitude,” it cautioned. Singapore’s balancing act should be to help China and US to avoid confrontation as its main objective, and not taking side so as to increase the mistrust between China and US, it said..
The article gave the example of Singapore allowing US to deploy its P-8 reconnaissance aircraft to Singapore, which from the view of the Chinese, increases the tension in South China Sea, and thereby, increasing the mistrust between the 2 big countries.
“Singapore needs more wisdom (‘新加坡
需要更多的智慧’),” the article concluded.

PLA General: We must strike back 
at Singapore

And yesterday, SCMP reported that a PLA General had called for Beijing to impose sanctions and to retaliate against Singapore so as to
“pay the price for seriously damaging China’s 
The General’s remarks came after a recent spat between Global Times and Singapore Ambassador Loh. On 21 Sep, Global Times carried an article saying that Singapore had raised the issue of the disputed South China Sea at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit held in Venezuela on 18 Sep. It added that Singapore had “insisted” to include an international tribunal’s ruling on the waterway, which was in favour of the Philippines, in the summit’s final document.
Singapore’s ambassador to China, Stanley Loh, rejected this and wrote an open letter stating that the news report was “false and unfounded”. Mr Loh said the move to include the international ruling in NAM’s final document was a collective act by the members of the ASEAN. But the editor-in-chief of Global Times came out to stand by his paper’s report.
Then, the Chinese government also came out in support of Global Times, not buying Ambassador Loh’s arguments. When a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman was asked about the tiff between Global Times and Singapore, he blamed an unspecified “individual nation” for insisting on including South China Sea issues in the NAM document.
Xu Liping, senior researcher on Southeast Asia studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China expected Singapore to be a neutral mediator between China and the countries of Asean, and did not want to see disputes over the South China Sea raised in a multilateral platform like the NAM Summit. And that was why China was so angry over Singapore’s active moves in broaching such a sensitive topic, he said.
“If Singapore does not adjust its policies, I am afraid the bilateral relations will deteriorate,” Xu added. “Singapore should think twice about its security cooperation especially with the United States, and strike a better balance between China and US.”
“2-Headed Snake”

On Thursday, the overseas edition of People’s Daily also published an online commentary, saying Singapore “has obviously taken sides over South China Sea issues, while emphasising it does not”. In other words, China is accusing the Singapore government of saying one thing but doing another – a hypocrite.
Online, the Chinese netizens condemned Singapore as a “2-headed snake”. One of them wrote:

(Translation: China should quickly embark on the Kra Canal project and turn Singapore back into a third world country. This is the best present to give to a “2-headed snake”.)
If the Kra Canal truly becomes a reality, ships would certainly consider by-passing the Strait of Malacca and Singapore altogether, making the Singapore’s all-important geographical location redundant. We may truly become a third world country after all.

Thursday, January 26, 2017







U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will inherit rising nuclear dangers in five regions of the globe. Every one of them could get worse under his watch, including the subcontinent, where Pakistan and India are engaged in an intense nuclear competition with little likelihood of slowing down.
In Indian-ruled Kashmir, New Delhi has lost the battle of hearts and minds in Muslim-majority areas, where security forces are in lock-down mode. In September 2016, after a series of attacks by militant groups, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (supposedly) carried out “surgical strikes” across the Kashmir divide. At the same time, he made thinly veiled threats about Pakistan’s water supply and territorial integrity.

Pakistan, which has suffered more from terrorism than India over the last eight years, claims not to distinguish between “good” and “bad” terrorists, but its actions suggest otherwise. Lashkar e-Taiba and Jaish e-Mohammed continue to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven from which to carry out attacks against India. And, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is also reluctant to take on anti-India and violent sectarian groups that are based in Punjab, his party’s home base.
And, as long as the government in Kabul remains hostile to Islamabad and friendly towards New Delhi, it is unlikely that military leaders in Rawalpindi  will change course. The George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations used carrots and sticks to do so, and have little to show for their efforts. So Pakistan must contend with a hostile India to the east, a hostile Afghan government to the west, and wider regional isolation. When it was Islamabad’s turn to host a conclave of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in November 2016, only the Maldives planned to attend before the meeting was postponed.
Geopolitics and economics are also working against Pakistan. U.S. military assistance to Pakistan is winding down, reflecting a diminished military presence in Afghanistan and Washington’s grievances over Pakistan’s duplicity on terrorism. Pakistanis view Washington’s shift toward India as a betrayal. Conflicting narratives of duplicity and betrayal leave little room for improved relations, especially when Washington’s ties with New Delhi continue to improve, thanks to the attractiveness of the Indian market and a desire to help India counter China’s military buildup. Pakistan’s sense of unease has grown with Donald Trump’s habit of painting Islamic terrorism in broad-brush strokes. China’s decision to invest heavily in an economic corridor across Pakistan to the Arabian Sea is viewed as a lifeline, but not a counterweight to Washington’s embrace of New Delhi.
As Pakistan’s sense of isolation grows and as the conventional military balance shifts even further in India’s favor, Islamabad is relying increasingly on Chinese military help and on nuclear weapons for deterrence. Its nuclear arsenal is growing faster than India’s, with a capacity to produce 15 or more warheads a year, adding more nuclear weapons every year than North Korea has accumulated to date. While India is moving to close this gap, Pakistan is planning to compete even harder with longer-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles to be delivered in the air, on the ground and at sea, as well as with tactical nuclear weapons. Since testing nuclear devices in 1998, India and Pakistan have together flight-tested on average one new type of missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon every year.
The buildup of nuclear capabilities has accompanied greater risk-taking. One year after the nuclear tests, India and Pakistan fought a limited conventional war, which was instigated when then-Pakistani Army Chief Pervez Musharraf authorized advances across the Kashmir divide. Musharraf’s gambit nullified a plan for improved relations that both countries’ prime ministers had crafted. The resulting war in the heights above Kargil made clear that hopes for stability based on offsetting nuclear deterrence were fanciful. Two dramatic attacks by militant groups against India subsequently followed—one in 2001 against the Indian parliament building, which prompted both armies to mobilize, and the other in 2008, against luxury hotels, the central train station, and other targets in Mumbai. There has been no sustained, substantive diplomatic engagement between India and Pakistan since the Mumbai attacks.
Against this backdrop, even modest downturns in relations between India and Pakistan warrant attention. Ever since the 2008 Mumbai carnage, cross-border attacks have been modest—not enough to prompt a major crisis, but sufficient to block New Delhi’s overtures to improve relations. In May 2014, two days after Modi invited Sharif to attend his inauguration, Lashkar e-Taiba cadres attacked the Indian consulate in Herat. In July 2015, 17 days after the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries released a joint statement announcing their readiness to “discuss all outstanding issues” and condemning “terrorism in all its forms,” militants attacked a police station in Gurdaspur, killing seven. And in January 2016, eight days after Modi’s surprise Christmas Day visit to Lahore bearing birthday and wedding gifts for Sharif and his family, the Indian Air Force Base at Pathankot was attacked, followed the next day by an attack on the Indian consulate at Mazar-i-Sharif. And in June 2016, as Kashmir boiled over due to the killing of a prominent anti-Indian social media crusader, militants attacked Indian army camps at Uri and Nagrota.
This familiar sequence of events prompted Modi to adopt a harder line. In August 2016, speaking at the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi on India’s Independence Day, he made a pointed reference to Baluchistan, Pakistan’s most restive province, implying that India would foment unrest there. After the attack at Uri, Modi stepped up threats over water sharing under the Indus Waters Treaty, declaring that “blood and water cannot flow simultaneously.” Implied Indian threats against Pakistan’s water resources and national cohesion are not new, but when delivered by the prime minister himself, they took on new meaning. In the view of Pakistan’s national security establishment and public opinion, Modi’s statements merely revealed his true colors as a Hindu nationalist zealot bent on subjugating, if not breaking up, Pakistan.
After the attack against the military camp at Uri, Modi decided to carry out and then publicize commando raids across the Line of Control dividing Kashmir. Such raids are not new, but advertising them is, increasing pressure on Pakistan to up the ante. (Pakistan’s military denies that these cross-border raids even occurred, but Washington has concluded otherwise.) Throughout the fall and early winter, casualties mounted, with both sides stepping up fire across this divide, including the use of artillery. A ceasefire took hold in conjunction with the elevation of a new Pakistan Army chief in late November, but such ceasefires are no longer durable.
For now, with India and Pakistan at loggerheads, another flashpoint and test of wills might be avoided, since there is no need for anti-India groups and their backers in Pakistan to block improved relations. Irony is, however, an insufficient basis for stability when emotions are so raw and when Kashmiri opposition to Indian rule is so intense. Sooner or later, there will be another strike against India originating from Pakistan. The question will then become whether pieces other than pawns along the Kashmir divide are moved on the chessboard.
 If New Delhi chooses to retaliate, there will be many rungs available for escalation, beginning with intensified, quick hit-and-return operations within the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. These dynamics may not favor India, however, as Pakistan has more lucrative targets—including an air base and the Hindu-majority area of Jammu—to aim at within these confines. Indian strikes might thus be contemplated elsewhere. One key escalation threshold would be the use of airpower, perhaps initially at standoff distances. At this point, knights and bishops would be moved on the chessboard. If Modi takes steps to move his queen by diverting Pakistan’s water and stepping up threats to its territorial integrity, hostilities are unlikely to be confined to Kashmir.
New Delhi still has not been able to figure out how to deal with Pakistan’s non-state actors, while military leaders in Rawalpindi can’t figure out how to live without them. Friction is growing alongside nuclear weapons’ stockpiles and missiles. As they mount, no one can confidently predict what the new normal for violent interaction between India and Pakistan will be. If push comes to shove, it falls to the U.S. President, Secretary of State, and National Security Adviser to serve as crisis managers. None of these individuals in the incoming Trump administration seem suited for this crucial role.

Michael Krepon is the Co-Founder of the Stimson Center. This piece originally ran in Foreign Affairs on January 16, 2017.