About Chellaney

Professor, strategic thinker, author and commentator

Bedlam in Afghanistan and Pakistan


Following former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s arrest, Pakistan has been thrown into turmoil. This explosion of political unrest, coupled with the Afghan Taliban regime’s support for terrorists, has grave implications for international security.


Afghanistan and Pakistan are sinking deeper into disarray, and the United States bears a significant share of the blame. As long as this long-troubled region remains mired in turmoil, Islamist terrorism will continue to thrive, with grave implications for international security.

Begin with Afghanistan. In the nearly 22 months since the US abandoned the country to the Pakistan-backed Taliban militia, a terrorist super-state has emerged. Beyond committing atrocities against the Afghan people and re-imposing medieval practices, including reducing Afghan women’s status to that of chattels, the Taliban has sustained cozy ties with al-Qaeda and several other terror groups.

As a leaked Pentagon assessment reports, Afghanistan has become a safe haven and staging ground for al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists planning attacks on targets in Asia, Europe, and the US. This should come as no surprise. The Taliban regime’s cabinet includes a veritable who’s who of international terrorists and narcotics traffickers, and it was in Kabul last year that an American drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader and United Nations-designated global terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri.

While the Islamic State may be seeking to expand its international operations from Afghanistan, it is al-Qaeda’s alliance with the Taliban that poses the greater long-term international threat. When the US withdrew suddenly from the country, it not only abandoned its allies there, but also left behind billions of dollars’ worth of sophisticated American military equipment, in addition to several military bases, including the strategically valuable Bagram airbase. The Taliban is now the world’s only terrorist organization with its own air force, however rudimentary.

In a 12-page document issued last month, President Joe Biden’s administration sought to shift the blame for the Afghan fiasco onto Donald Trump, claiming that Biden’s “choices for how to execute a withdrawal from Afghanistan were severely constrained by conditions created by his predecessor.” But, while the Trump administration undoubtedly cut a terrible deal with the Taliban, it was Biden who – overruling his top military generals – made the choices that triggered Afghanistan’s descent into chaos and facilitated the Taliban’s swift return to power.

US policy toward Pakistan has also been deeply misguided. It is thanks to a longstanding partnership with the US that Pakistan’s military and its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency have been able to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy against neighboring countries. The Trump administration seemed to recognize this, and pledged to keep Pakistan at arm’s length until it ended its unholy alliance with terrorist organizations.

But the Biden administration has reversed this policy. Even though Pakistan played an integral role in enabling the Taliban – which the ISI helped create in the early 1990s – to defeat the US in Afghanistan, the Biden administration helped the Pakistani government stave off debt default last year. Soon after, the US unveiled a $450-million deal to modernize Pakistan’s US-supplied F-16s (which it values as delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons). The US then helped Pakistan get off the “gray list” maintained by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, the inter-governmental agency combating terrorist financing.

Today, Pakistan is facing profound political instability, rooted in a skewed civil-military relationship. Pakistan’s military has long been untouchable. It has ruled directly for 33 years. And when not technically in power, it has insisted on a pliant civilian administration that defers to the generals’ de facto leadership. Pakistan’s military, and its intelligence and nuclear establishment, have never answered to the civilian government. On the contrary, since 2017, two prime ministers have been ousted after falling out of favor with the military.

But supporters of one of those prime ministers, Imran Khan, are now mounting the first direct challenge to the military’s authority since Pakistan’s founding 75 years ago. Following Khan’s arrest on corruption charges earlier this month, mass protests erupted across Pakistan. Demonstrators stormed military properties, including the army headquarters and a major ISI facility, and set ablaze a top army commander’s home.

As the political crisis unfolds, Pakistan continues to teeter on the brink of default. It is being kept afloat by short-term loans from allies, until it can convince the International Monetary Fund to restart a suspended bailout program. This gives the international community leverage to force change in the country.

It is developments at home, especially the unprecedented anti-military protests, that have the greatest potential to force a rebalancing of civilian-military relations. But the military will not go down without a fight: the creeping shadow of military rule has already led to mass arrests, with the chief of army staff announcing trials under military law of civilians charged in the recent violence. The military could declare a state of emergency, in order to give itself carte blanche to stifle dissent, or it could stage another coup. The conflict could also erupt into civil war – ideal conditions for international terrorist forces to thrive.

For now, Pakistan remains a hub of terrorism and is contributing significantly to Afghanistan’s destabilization. Unless the nexus between Pakistan’s military and terrorist groups is severed, the situation in Afghanistan will not improve, and the battle against international terrorism will not be won.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2023.

It is crunch time for the Quad


Biden is the third straight U.S. leader unable to reorder Washington’s strategic priorities

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

U.S. President Joe Biden’s last-minute cancellation of his planned appearance at a Quad summit in Australia will strengthen the perception that the war of attrition in Ukraine is deflecting Washington’s attention from mounting security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.

Citing the imperative of cutting a deal with congressional leaders to avert a looming U.S. debt default, Biden also scrapped plans to stop in Papua New Guinea for what was to be the first visit by a U.S. president to a Pacific Island nation.

The dual cancellations will reinforce questions about America’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific, which is shaping up as the world’s economic and geopolitical hub.

If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shaken the foundations of the international order, as many observers contend, a Chinese takeover of Taiwan would usher in a new global order by ending America’s preeminence and irreparably damaging the U.S.-led alliance system. Yet the Biden administration remains overly focused on European security.

Biden’s planned Pacific tour next week had promised to put the international spotlight back on the Indo-Pacific and would have signaled that Washington had not taken its eye off the region despite America’s increasing involvement in the Ukraine war in terms of providing weapons, training and battlefield targeting data to Kyiv.

Only China can be pleased by Biden’s decision to simply return to the White House after the Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima, Japan.

Just as China is the sole country really benefiting from the conflict in Ukraine, Biden’s scrapped visits are likely to bolster Chinese ambitions in the Pacific while setting back Washington’s efforts to contain Beijing’s growing influence. Using its economic power and the world’s largest naval fleet, China has been making rapid inroads among Pacific island nations.

The last thing Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, wants is an end to the Ukraine war because that would leave the U.S. free to focus on the Indo-Pacific.   © Reuters

Biden’s canceled visits serve as a fresh reminder that hyperpartisan politics and hardened polarization in the U.S. are crimping the country’s foreign policy. Indeed, America’s partisan divide has a direct bearing on its foreign policy priorities, with Republicans most concerned about China and Democrats about Russia, according to opinion polls.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to proceed without Biden to Papua New Guinea for a summit with Pacific island leaders, and then to go on to Australia.

India has been steadily expanding its outreach to strategically located Pacific nations, stepping up foreign aid and establishing the Forum for India-Pacific Island Cooperation. Meanwhile, around 24,000 people have registered to welcome Modi to Stadium Australia in Sydney next Tuesday.

More broadly, the Quad summit’s cancellation could not come at a worse time for a grouping that is already at a crossroads.

The Quad was resurrected during U.S. President Donald Trump’s term but summits among its leaders began only after Biden took office in 2021. Despite this increased engagement, the Quad’s challenges have been growing due to the absence of a clearly defined strategic mission for the group.

Biden is the third straight U.S. president to commit to shifting America’s primary strategic focus to Asia and the wider Indo-Pacific. But the deepening U.S. involvement in the Ukraine conflict, coupled with the possibility that the war could drag on for a long time, suggests that he, too, could fail to genuinely make a pivot.

As if that were not bad enough, Biden has saddled the Quad with an increasingly expansive agenda that dilutes its Indo-Pacific strategic focus.

Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy, unveiled last year, underlined how the Quad has turned its attentions to everlasting universal challenges ranging from climate change and cybersecurity to global health and resilient supply chains. Such an ambitious agenda has little to do with the Quad’s original core objectives, including acting as a bulwark against Chinese expansionism and ensuring a stable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific.

By pursuing a strategy to bleed Russia in Ukraine, Biden may be weakening a major adversary, but he is also sapping America’s strength.

The war is revealing Western military shortcomings, with weapons in short supply, critical munitions depleted, and U.S. capacity to restock insufficient. More fundamentally, it is distracting America from growing Indo-Pacific challenges.

The last thing Chinese President Xi Jinping wants is an end to the Ukraine war because that would leave the U.S. free to focus on the Indo-Pacific.

Indeed, before moving on Taiwan, Xi could seek to further deplete U.S. weapons arsenals through indirect arms shipments to Russia that could force the West to send more supplies to Ukraine. To a limited extent, Xi is already aiding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war by supplying drones, navigation equipment, jamming technology, fighter-jet parts and semiconductors to sanctioned Russian entities.

Against this backdrop, the Ukraine war is accentuating the Quad’s challenges, even while its leaders continue to regularly hold discussions, including an expected gathering on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in Hiroshima where Modi and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will appear as special guests.

To acquire clear strategic direction and meaning, the Quad must focus on dealing with Indo-Pacific challenges, not global ones. Without a distinct strategic vision and agenda, the Quad will have little impact and just be an ineffective talking shop.

Brahma Chellaney is professor emeritus of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and a former adviser to India’s National Security Council. He is the author of nine books, including “Water: Asia’s New Battleground.”

The Sino-Indian Rivalry Is Reshaping Asia


By standing up to China, India has openly challenged Xi Jinping’s expansionism in a way that no other world power has done. The current military stalemate in the Himalayas serves as yet another reminder that Xi has picked a border fight with India that he cannot win.


Three years after China stealthily began encroaching on India’s territory in the Himalayas, no end is in sight for the two countries’ border standoff. While the rival military buildups and intermittent clashes have received little attention in the West, the escalating border confrontation has set in motion a long-term rivalry that could reshape Asian geopolitics.

By locking horns with China despite the risk of a full-scale war, India has openly challenged Chinese power in a way no other world power, including the United States, has done in this century. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s strategic overreach has caused India to shift away from its previous appeasement policy and accelerate its military buildup, turning a potential partner into an enduring foe, while appearing determined to forestall a Sinocentric Asia.

Similarly, Xi’s muscular revisionism and geopolitical ambitions have forced Japan and Australia to readjust their strategic frameworks and work to counter China’s expansionism in the Indo-Pacific. By drawing up plans to double defense spending by 2027, Japan has effectively abandoned its pacifist postwar national-security policy. Australia, for its part, has renounced its previous hedging approach and joined the AUKUS defense pact with the US and the United Kingdom.

China’s attempt in spring 2020 to occupy hundreds of square kilometers in the icy borderlands of India’s northernmost Ladakh region, at a time when India was enforcing the world’s strictest national lockdown, amounted to a cynical effort to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to further Xi’s strategic aims. But Xi miscalculated when he assumed that China could force India to accept the new status quo as a fait accompli. Since then, India has more than matched China’s military deployments, fueling the largest-ever military buildup in the Himalayas, one of the world’s most inhospitable regions.

With India refusing to buckle, Xi has sought to overwhelm its defenses by opening up a new front in the eastern Himalayas, more than 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) from China’s 2020 land grabs. In December 2022, a Chinese incursion into the strategically crucial border state of Arunachal Pradesh was repelled by Indian forces, reportedly with help from US intelligence.

In an effort to strengthen its territorial claim and provoke India, China has Sinicized the names of sites in Arunachal Pradesh. Calling Arunachal Pradesh “South Tibet,” the Chinese government has asserted that the sprawling state – more than twice the size of Taiwan – is “Chinese territory” and that Sinicizing Indian lands is its “sovereign right.”

All this has given India a stake in Taiwan’s continued autonomous status. If Taiwan were to fall to China, the Austria-sized Arunachal Pradesh could become the Chinese government’s next target for “reunification.” China’s annexation of Tibet in 1951 proved to be one of the most significant geopolitical developments in post-World War II history, giving China common borders with India, Nepal, Bhutan, and northwest Myanmar. A Chinese takeover of Taiwan could lead to a similar geopolitical reordering, enabling Chinese naval forces to break out of the “first island chain” and easily access the Pacific.

China’s claim that Taiwan has “always been” part of China is historically dubious. Taiwan did not become a Chinese province before the late nineteenth century, and China lost control of the island just eight years later, when the Qing Dynasty ceded it to Japan in perpetuity following its defeat in the 1895 Sino-Japanese War. But in laying claim to Taiwan, Xi is working to complete Mao Zedong’s expansionist vision of a “Greater China.”

Similarly, Tibet is the key to Chinese expansionism in the Himalayas despite the fact that it was a part of China only when China itself was occupied by outsiders like the Mongols and the Manchus. Because it cannot claim any Han-Chinese connection, its territorial claims in the Himalayas rest on alleged Tibetan ecclesial or tutelary links. Even tiny Bhutan has not been spared; China has been nibbling away at its borderlands.

Against this backdrop, India’s willingness to stand up to China is crimping Xi’s expansionist agenda. As Admiral Michael M. Gilday, the US Navy’s chief of naval operations, put it last year, India presents China with a “two-front” problem. “They [Indians] now force China to not only look east, toward the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, but they now have to be looking over their shoulder at India,” he said.

Moreover, the Sino-Indian rivalry has flared up at a time when China’s economy is running into long-term constraints, including a shrinking and rapidly aging population and slowing productivity growth. By contrast, India, which has one of the world’s youngest populations with a median age of 28.4, is reaping a demographic dividend. While its GDP is still smaller than China’s, it is the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

Given that its military is the world’s most experienced in hybrid mountain warfare, India has an edge in the high-altitude Himalayan environment. Moreover, in contrast to India’s all-volunteer military, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army largely relies on conscripts who ostensibly “volunteer” for two years of service after they reach the age of 18. That helps explain why China has chosen to engage in stealth encroachments rather than direct combat.

The current military stalemate in the Himalayas serves as yet another reminder that Xi has picked a border fight with India that he cannot win. With the US-China rivalry deepening, the last thing China needed was to make a permanent enemy of its largest neighbor. Ultimately, bringing India and America closer could prove to be Xi’s lasting legacy – an unintended consequence that threatens to undermine his regime’s aggressive irredentism.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2023.

A Chinese spy station in India’s strategic backyard?


China’s Yuan Wang 5 arrives at Chinese-run Hambantota International Port in Sri Lanka on Aug. 16, 2022. © AP

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

China appears to be building a military listening post on Great Coco Island, which sits between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea just north of the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago where India has multiple naval and air force facilities and about 210 kilometers southwest of the mouth of Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River. 

Such a spy station could be used to carry out maritime surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence collection against India — and would highlight how U.S.-led sanctions are exacerbating regional-security challenges by pushing military-ruled Myanmar into China’s strategic lap.

Great Coco Island, measuring nearly 8 sq. kilometers and home to around 1,500 people, is one of three main islands in Myanmar’s Coco group, which also includes several small islets. The Coco Islands are separated from India’s North Andaman Island by the 20-km wide Coco Channel.

Beijing and Naypyitaw have each denied Chinese involvement in militarizing the Coco Islands. However, satellite images of an expanded airstrip, new aircraft hangars, a large pier and a radar station with a protective dome indicate that military infrastructure is rapidly going up on Great Coco, previously home to rudimentary infrastructure.

In recent months, India has confronted Myanmar with satellite imagery and other intelligence about assistance being provided by China for building military and dual-use facilities on Great Coco. Chinese military engineers and other personnel have been spotted there, Indian officials say.

A causeway is under construction at the southern end of Great Coco to connect it with a neighboring island, where the clearing of forested land suggests a further extension of facilities.

China has a record of issuing denials while expanding its strategic footprint through stealthy but incremental moves. It set up its first overseas military base in Djibouti while insisting it had no such plan.

A more striking example is how China turned its artificially created islands in the South China Sea into forward military bases soon after President Xi Jinping, standing with then-U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House Rose Garden in 2015, said, “China does not intend to pursue militarization.”

The U.S. believes that China is working to establish an international network of logistics and base infrastructure while concealing the terms of its agreements with host nations and the intended purpose of dual-use facilities that it finances, possibly including a naval outpost in Cambodia. Facilities under scrutiny include commercial ports in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, and Gwadar, Pakistan that have been taken over by Chinese state-owned companies.

China’s large spy ships, which serve as mobile listening and tracking platforms, are also playing a role. One such ship, the Yuan Wang 5, docked at Hambantota International Port last August despite Indian protests. The Yuan Wang 6 appeared in the Indian Ocean in December when New Delhi tested the Agni 5 intercontinental ballistic missile.

Myanmar’s junta, faced with crippling Western sanctions and foreign-backed armed resistance to its rule, has neither the capability nor the motivation to build sophisticated maritime reconnaissance and surveillance facilities on remote Great Coco on its own. At a time when it is struggling to retake control of large swaths of the country, the last thing it would do is build a spy station directed at friendly India, which has refused to join the American-led sanctions campaign.

The Indian military’s only tri-service command is headquartered at a base in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands capital of Port Blair, seen here in 2014. © Reuters

But Beijing has the means, strategic impetus and ambition to set up facilities to monitor Indian activities, including naval communications and movements, satellite launches and tests of missiles which often splash down in the Bay of Bengal. China has long had interest in the Coco Islands, with talk of building a signals-intelligence facility there first surfacing in the early 1990s.

U.S.-led sanctions against Myanmar are now working to China’s advantage just as they did for nearly a quarter of a century before Obama’s historic Myanmar visit in 2012 heralded a change of policy. In response to the military’s February 2021 seizure of power, U.S. President Joe Biden promptly reimposed sanctions without heeding the history of how China had earlier become Myanmar’s dominant trading partner and investor.

The militarization of the Coco Islands will extend China’s growing penetration of Myanmar, which serves Beijing as a strategic gateway to the Indian Ocean, an important source of natural resources and a major market for its arms exports.

To bypass the narrow Malacca Strait between Peninsular Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, Beijing has been investing heavily in the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor. The initiative includes a deep-sea port at Kyaukpyu and seeks to facilitate direct energy imports overland into Yunnan province.

In the past, the Coco Islands were administratively grouped with the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, but British colonial authorities split off the Cocos after the killing of a British lighthouse keeper by an Indian in 1877, reassigning responsibility to their outpost in Rangoon, now Yangon.

In 1942, the island groups were reunited by invading Japanese forces, who soon passed control to Indian nationalist forces fighting for independence from British rule. But upon independence in 1947, the Indian government did not assert control over the Cocos which then stayed with Burma as it too moved toward independence from the U.K. 

Spread across 750 km, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands give India commanding oversight over a key stretch of the main sea lanes that connect East Asia with Europe and the Middle East. The islands’ strategic importance in relation to the Malacca Strait explains why the Indian military’s only tri-service command is headquartered there.

China’s strategic foothold on the Coco Islands, if confirmed, will not only weaken this Indian advantage but also create a new maritime threat to India.

Is America’s global preeminence under threat?


FILE – The American and Chinese flags wave at Genting Snow Park ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Feb. 2, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. The Commerce Department is tightening export controls to limit China’s ability to get advanced computing chips, develop and maintain supercomputers, and make advanced semiconductors. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)


If it is to remain the world’s preeminent power, the United States must focus its attention on the globally ascendant and expansionist China, which, as President Biden acknowledged in his 48-page national security strategy in October, “is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to advance that objective.”

The subsequently released National Defense Strategy bluntly stated that China represents “the most comprehensive and serious challenge to U.S. national security.”

Yet America’s deepening involvement in the proxy war with Russia over Ukraine’s future is deflecting U.S. attention from the core challenge posed by China. Instead of exploring a ceasefire agreement to halt what has increasingly become a war of attrition, with neither side in a position to make major advances on the battlefield, the Biden administration and several U.S. allies are training thousands of new Ukrainian military recruits and rapidly arming Ukraine for a spring offensive to help it regain some of its Russia-occupied territories.

With the West sending 40 percent of all its weapons to Ukraine since December, the flow of arms has become a torrent. But offense is inherently much tougher than defense. A major spring offensive by Ukrainian forces (relying on newly supplied Western equipment and with mostly new recruits) could result in massive casualties on their side.

In fact, the longer the war in Ukraine extends, the greater is the likelihood of two tectonic developments unfolding: Russia and China cementing a strategic axis against the West; and Chinese President Xi Jinping launching aggression against Taiwan.

In the second half of the Cold War, following President Nixon’s opening to China, the U.S. co-opted China against the Soviet Union, gradually turning the Sino-American relationship into an informal alliance geared toward containing and rolling back Soviet influence. This two-against-one competition contributed to the Soviet Union’s imperial overstretch and, ultimately, to the West’s triumph in the Cold War without armed conflict.

Today, a two-against-one competition is emerging again, but with China and Russia bandying together against the U.S.

A forward-looking U.S. administration would avoid confronting Russia and China simultaneously, and instead seek to play one off against the other. Yet, U.S. policy is helping turn two natural competitors, Russia and China, into close strategic partners. Consequently, the U.S. seriously risks accelerating its relative decline through strategic overreach

U.S. sanctions policy is promoting a mutually beneficial partnership between Russia and China by helping advance a natural division of strategic priorities. China’s primary focus is on its periphery, stretching from Japan across Southeast Asia to India, while Russia’s attention is concentrated largely on Eastern and Central Europe. While Russia seeks to regain influence among states bordering its western flank, China’s muscular revisionism is aimed at establishing “hegemony along its periphery, especially regarding Taiwan, the South China Sea and India.”

Today, with Russia tying the U.S. down in the European theater, Xi has greater strategic room to achieve what he has called China’s “historic mission” — the forcible absorption of Taiwan.

The issue is no longer if but when Xi will move against Taiwan, a thriving democracy that also happens to be the world’s semiconductor superpower. Just the giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) accounts for more than 90 percent of the global output of the most advanced semiconductors. The U.S. National Security Council has projected that a Chinese takeover of TSMC could cause a more than $1 trillion disruption of the global economy, besides threatening U.S. military and technological leadership.

In his first speech as a third-term president on March 13, Xi unambiguously linked the incorporation of Taiwan to the success of his national rejuvenation policy, saying the “essence” of his great rejuvenation drive was “the unification of the motherland.” 

More ominously, at a time when his communist regime has unveiled new air-raid shelters in cities across the strait from Taiwan; new military readiness laws, including to more easily activate reservists; and new countrywide mobilization offices, Xi said last month that China must prepare for war to cope with a new phase of ideological and geostrategic “struggle.” Before demitting office as premier, Li Keqiang also called for heightened “preparations for war.” 

After changing the territorial status quo in the South China Sea and the Himalayas, Xi is itching to move against Taiwan, despite the risk of direct conflict with the U.S.

Before meeting Xi in Bali, Indonesia, in November, Biden had said he wanted to discuss “red lines” in the tense relationship with Beijing. But it was Xi who, in great detail, spelled out China’s No. 1 red line — Taiwan. A lengthy account in the Chinese readout of the meeting said Xi “stressed that the Taiwan question is at the very core of China’s core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations.”

Xi, in speeches at home last month, singled out the U.S. as China’s foe and then joined hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in explicitly identifying America in a nine-point joint statement as their common adversary.

Against this backdrop, deterring China from upending the world order by invading Taiwan has become more imperative than ever for the Biden administration.

But instead of committing sufficient resources to defend Taiwan, the administration is signaling anxiety over America’s dependency on that island’s cutting-edge chip industry. It is ramping up U.S. chip-making capacity with the help of American companies that have pledged tens of billions of dollars for semiconductor projects.

The scale of the ramp-up in the U.S. chip-making plans has been likened to America’s Cold War-era investments in the space race following the Soviet Union’s launch of its Sputnik satellite in 1957.

More fundamentally, the U.S. should be addressing its strategic overstretch, not exacerbating it through greater entanglement in European security. The current U.S. focus on containing Russia’s regional ambitions is at the cost of countering China’s drive to supplant America as the world’s foremost power.

The longer the U.S. is involved in the war in Ukraine, the greater will be the strategic space for China to advance its expansionist agenda, including by accelerating its accumulation of military and economic power.

Meanwhile, Biden, by opposing a unilateral change in the Taiwan status quo without credibly signaling a genuine willingness to defend the island militarily, risks encouraging China to launch aggression that takes the U.S. by surprise.

In fact, just when Xi is seeking to raise the cost of American intervention over Taiwan, the U.S., in supporting Ukraine, is rapidly depleting its munitions stockpiles and exposing its woefully inadequate capacity to restock, setting off alarm bells in Washington.

If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shaken the foundations of the international order, as many in the West believe, a Chinese takeover of Taiwan would usher in a new global order by ending America’s global preeminence and undermining the U.S.-led alliance system. It would change the trajectory of the 21st century in the way that World War I transformed the 20th.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Georgetown University Press), which won the Bernard Schwartz Award.

America’s Broken Democracy


Brahma Chellaney, The New Indian Express

In his national security strategy released in October, U.S. President Joe Biden promised to focus on restoring a damaged democracy at home. But the first-ever indictment of a former president in American history is likely to deepen the divide in an already bitterly polarized United States. Biden, far from promoting national reconciliation and healing as president, has proved as divisive as his predecessor, Donald Trump.

After the unsealing of the indictment, the criminal case against Trump looks even weaker than expected.

Indeed, some of former Trump’s fiercest critics, like Mitt Romney, have slammed the Manhattan district attorney’s case against the former president (who is running again for the same office) as flimsy and designed “to fit a political agenda.” Legal experts say it sets a dangerous precedent to go after political opponents. The district attorney belongs to the same party as Biden, against whom Trump is running.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll, more than two-thirds of Americans think U.S. democracy is broken. America’s image as a flawed democracy is likely be reinforced by the weaponization of the justice system, which is what Trump’s indictment represents.

The essence of democracy is that those in office will not misuse their power to go after political opponents. Yet high-profile political prosecutions through the misuse of the judicial apparatus are increasing in democracies.

For example, Brazil’s current president, Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, was in 2017 convicted for alleged corruption and jailed until the country’s Supreme Court ruled that the judge who presided over the trial was biased against da Silva. Indeed, that judge became justice minister under President Jair Bolsonaro, who possibly would not have been elected in 2018 had da Silva not been in prison.

Stretching the law to target Biden’s leading opponent will make it more difficult for the U.S. to heal the deep split in society and transcend hardened polarization. Trump’s indictment followed the FBI’s unusual raid last August on his Mar-a-Lago residence in search of classified documents. Ironically, classified documents from Biden’s time as vice president were subsequently discovered at his Delaware home and elsewhere.

As president, Trump’s remarks often bore the hallmarks of bombastic assertions. But he also at times displayed refreshing candour and honesty on U.S. national security and foreign policy, which made him a key target of the “Deep State”, thus spurring false Russia-collusion claims and two failed impeachments.

To be sure, democratic ethics and values have come under growing pressure across the free world. The fever of polarizing politics has risen largely because the quality of political leadership has declined in almost all democratic countries. Instead of seeking national reconciliation, leaders have fanned the embers of divisive politics.

Media outlets have helped amplify such hyper-partisanship. They not only reflect but also drive the polarization in many democracies. Instead of adhering to a guiding ethic to report news objectively and in a balanced way, many newspapers and TV channels market, not report, news. According to one Gallup poll, Americans’ trust in the media has sunk to just 36%.

Many democracies are intensely polarized — from South Africa and India to South Korea and Brazil. Public trust in politicians across the democratic world has reached an all-time low.

But the U.S. is so polarized that it has been referred to as “One America, Two Nations.” It has morphed into the Polarized States of America, with both sides of the political divide resorting to inflammatory rhetoric and fuelling the deep divide.

Thanks to the widening schism between the two sides — which are segregated in their own ideological silos — tolerance for opposing views is increasingly in short supply. Such is America’s political divide that people holding rival beliefs are unwilling to even communicate with each other.

The partisan divide extends even to foreign policy. While U.S. public opinion surveys show that China has left Russia far behind to become America’s greatest enemy, far more Democrats than Republicans remain fixated on Russia. This has a bearing on actual policy, with Biden more focused on a declining Russia than on a globally expansionist China.

Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to move further away from the healing and unity Biden called for in his inauguration speech. Far from helping to end what he described as the “uncivil war” between liberals and conservatives, Biden has added fuel to the divisive politics. As Biden acknowledges in his national security strategy, “We live at a moment of passionate political intensities and ferment that sometimes tears at the fabric of the nation”.

U.S. hyper-partisan politics is plumbing new depths, cementing political divisions and poisoning national discourse. It is also undermining America’s international standing. This has emboldened the world’s largest and longest-surviving autocracy, China, to cheekily lecture the U.S. on human rights and democracy. For example, Yang Jiechi, the leader of the Chinese delegation at the March 2021 talks in Anchorage, Alaska, delivered a 16-minute jeremiad against U.S. hypocrisy and double standards.

Instead of fixing its broken democracy, the U.S. seeks regime change in the countries it targets — from Russia to Myanmar and Iran. It also lectures other countries, including India, on human rights, even as the human rights situation remains appalling within the U.S., where police kill more than 1,000 civilians each year.

For example, the State Department annually releases country reports on human rights practices that target America’s friends and foes alike. Meanwhile, the killing and maiming of unarmed Black people by police in the U.S. continues to increase.

The blunt truth is that hyper-partisan politics and debilitating polarization are not just weighing American democracy down, but also threatening to erode America’s global pre-eminence. After all, the bitterly divisive politics impedes the pursuit of long-term objectives.

Given the relative decline of its power, the U.S. needs a dynamic, forward-looking president who can unify an increasingly divided country. A poll last year found that almost two-thirds of Americans believe that the U.S. is on the wrong track under Biden.

Against this background, the last thing America needed is a criminal case against a former president that represents a further erosion of legal and democratic norms. More than China or Russia, America’s biggest enemy is within: It needs to find ways to move past its politics of polarization and vituperation so as to heal the wide divide in society.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Water: Asia’s New Battleground”.

Is India’s China policy faltering?


Brahma Chellaney  |  Open magazine

The United States and India are close friends today, but American policy has long undermined Indian security, first by arming Pakistan as a counterweight to India from the 1950s onward and then aiding China’s rise following President Richard Nixon’s opening to China. That helped create an expansionist power on India’s northern borders. As president, Donald Trump acknowledged that his predecessors “created a monster” by facilitating China’s rise.

Under President Xi Jinping, China seems determined to achieve hegemony in Asia, which explains its stealth border aggression against India in April 2020 that has resulted in continuing military standoffs along the Himalayan border. India-China relations have fallen to their lowest point in decades, with no end in sight to the border confrontation between the two countries.

Yet, amid the military standoffs, Xi’s regime persists with provocative actions against India, including seeking to open new fronts. The fact that Beijing continues to provoke India without incurring any tangible costs points to a faltering China policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Despite the imperative to create incentives and disincentives to influence China’s conduct, New Delhi has shied away from substantive action, other than reinforcing military deployments and stepping up infrastructure development along the Himalayan frontier in response to the buildup of Chinese forces. The Indian government has refused to employ economic and diplomatic cards against Beijing, let alone name and shame China for its continuing border aggression.

Unfortunately for New Delhi, American policy under President Joe Biden is likely to further embolden Xi’s regime, with China’s neighbours likely to bear the brunt of the heightened Chinese revisionism.

Biden’s preoccupation with Russia, including bleeding it on the Ukrainian battlefields, limits his administration’s strategic space to deal with the threat from a globally expansionist China. The US may still be the world’s foremost military power but it is in no position to meaningfully take on Russia and China simultaneously.

The only potential winner from the war in Ukraine is likely to be America’s main rival, China. A recent report from a Washington-based organization said that China was already the “biggest winner” from the Western sanctions on Moscow. China has become Russia’s banker and most-important trade partner. China is also building an energy safety net through greater overland oil and gas flows from Russia at heavily discounted prices, thereby setting up secure supply lines that cannot be interrupted even if it invaded or blockaded Taiwan.

Indeed, the longer and deeper the US is involved in the war in Ukraine, the greater will be the dual likelihood of Xi launching aggression against Taiwan and Washington’s strategic nightmare — a Sino-Russian strategic axis — turning into reality. By compelling Russia (now the world’s most-sanctioned country) to pivot to China, US sanctions policy is chipping away at India’s strategic interests by making it more difficult to build Asian power equilibrium.


The big question facing the world today is whether Taiwan could become the next Ukraine. If China were to succeed in incorporating Taiwan, Chinese military and strategic pressure on India would intensify. Indeed, India could bear the brunt of the geopolitical fallout from such a development.

Just as Russian President Vladimir Putin was clear about his plans for invading Ukraine, so has Xi been explicit about absorbing Taiwan.

The live-fire Chinese military drills around Taiwan last August, by simulating an air and sea blockade, demonstrated China’s combat capability to accomplish Xi’s “historic mission” to absorb that island. The drills allowed Chinese troops to practice enforcing Taiwan’s gradual economic strangulation or quarantine, suggesting that Xi could prefer a strategy of calibrated squeeze so as to force that island democracy to merge with China.

Make no mistake: Chinese aggression against Taiwan would likely have a greater global fallout than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Conflict over Taiwan would shape the new global order. A Chinese takeover of Taiwan would upend the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region, and irreparably damage America’s reputation as a reliable ally, prompting US allies to re-evaluate their alliances.

The US National Security Council has projected that China’s annexation of Taiwan “could disrupt the world economy to the tune of more than $1 trillion.” Taiwan, after all, is the world’s unrivalled superpower in semiconductors. Just the giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) accounts for more than 90% of the global output of the most advanced semiconductors.

Xi seems pleased that the war in Ukraine is revealing Western military shortcomings, with weapons in short supply, critical munitions being depleted, and US capacity to restock insufficient, even as the American and European political consensus on the war is weakening.

Such shortcomings could tempt Xi, before moving on Taiwan, to help further deplete US weapons arsenals through indirect arms shipments to Russia, forcing the West to increase arms supplies to Ukraine. Xi is already aiding Putin’s war to a limited extent by supplying navigation equipment, jamming technology, fighter-jet parts, and semiconductors to sanctioned Russian entities.

Those in the West that say a negotiated armistice in Ukraine would only embolden Beijing’s designs against Taiwan overlook the fact that Xi, given his own cost-free expansionism from the South China Sea to the Himalayas, does not need to learn from Russia that aggression works. As a recent report from the influential think tank Rand Corporation suggested, a protracted Ukraine war — with its constant flows of US money and weapons and dangerously elevated risk of NATO-Russia conflict — would crimp a US pivot to the growing China challenge.

Xi, after changing the territorial status quo in the South China Sea and the Himalayas, is itching to move against Taiwan. With Russia tying the US down in the European theatre, Xi has greater strategic room to forcibly incorporate Taiwan. The issue is no longer if but when Xi will move against Taiwan.

Taiwan’s autonomous existence presently ties up a sizable portion of the armed forces of China, which also faces a strong US-Japan alliance in the defence of that island.

India likewise is helping Taiwanese defences by tying down a complete Chinese theatre force, which could otherwise be employed against Taiwan. Admiral Mike Gilday, the US Navy chief, said last August that India presents China a two-front problem: “They [Indians] now force China to not only look east, toward the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, but they now have to be looking over their shoulder at India”.

Still, given the looming spectre of Chinese aggression, deterring an attack on Taiwan has become more pressing than ever. Admiral Philip Davidson, who led the US Indo-Pacific Command, told the US Congress in 2021 that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan could happen by 2027. But US intelligence now reportedly believes that Xi could move against Taiwan much earlier, possibly during President Biden’s current term. As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said some months ago, China seems determined to absorb Taiwan “on a much faster timeline” than it had previously contemplated.

Biden’s surrender of Afghanistan to a terrorist militia in August 2021, and his growing involvement in the Ukraine war after failing to deter a Russian invasion of that country, have presented the US in a weakened position. Xi’s designs against Taiwan are also being encouraged by the failure of the unprecedented US-led Western sanctions to bring about economic collapse or regime change in Russia or even to force Russian forces to retreat from Ukraine. Economic war on this scale has never been waged against any country before.

Taiwan’s fall would significantly advance China’s hegemonic ambitions in Asia, not least by enabling China to break out of the “first island chain” that runs from the Japanese archipelago, through Taiwan, the Philippines, and on to Borneo, enclosing China’s coastal seas.

The security implications for India of Taiwan’s annexation would be particularly ominous. The largest Asian territory Beijing covets is the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is almost three times as large as Taiwan. If Taiwan’s falls, China’s attention would shift to Arunachal Pradesh.

Against this background, it has become imperative for India, the US, Japan and Australia to step up consultations with each other, and with Taipei, on how they could contribute to shoring up Taiwan’s defences and deterring a Chinese attack on that island.

To be sure, America’s role is central to Taiwan’s autonomous future. If the US fails to prevent Taiwan’s subjugation, it would be widely seen as unable or unwilling to defend any other ally, including Japan, which hosts more American soldiers than any other foreign country.

The only thing that can deter China from attacking Taiwan is an understanding with certitude that it would incur unbearably high costs.


The enduring costs of China’s stealthy land grabs in Ladakh in April 2020 have transformed the Himalayan frontier, fostering rival military buildups and raising the risks of armed conflict. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar acknowledged recently that the India-China border situation remains “very fragile” and, with rival forces deployed in close proximity, “dangerous”, while the Army chief Gen. Manoj Pande said China is building new military infrastructure along the border “at a very hectic pace”.

More fundamentally, China’s actions, including the forward deployment of artillery, missiles and bombers, are turning what was once a lightly patrolled frontier into a perennially hot border. The Tibetan Plateau has become a vast military base for China, which enjoys the advantage of a relatively flat terrain against India.

For India, a hot border means the diversion of even greater resources for frontier defence. This development would not only make it more difficult for India to focus on its broader strategic competition with China, but also further strengthen China’s alliance with Pakistan with the shared goal to box India in and present it with a two-front war scenario.

Not content with the military standoffs in Ladakh, China has more recently built up offensive new forces along the Arunachal and Sikkim borders and in occupied Doklam. Over the past winter, it aggressively deployed thousands of additional troops along the border of Arunachal Pradesh and thousands more near India’s “chicken-neck”, a narrow, 22-kilometer-wide corridor that connects the country’s northeast to the mainland. Xi’s Lunar New Year inspection in February of the Chinese military’s combat readiness against India showed how involved he is in the Himalayan military confrontation.

Relations between Beijing and New Delhi may be at a nadir, but that hasn’t stopped Xi’s regime from continuing to provoke India. This only exposes India’s China policy as ineffectual.

In December, Chinese forces attempted to seize key mountaintop positions in the Yangtse area of Tawang, which is the birthplace of a previous Dalai Lama. Tawang controls access to Bhutan’s Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, which China has claimed since mid-2020.

China, meanwhile, has stepped up its campaign to Sinicize names of places in India’s sprawling Arunachal state. It released this month a new set of Chinese names for places in Arunachal Pradesh. Enacting a Land Borders Law in 2021 and then accelerating the Sinicization of places in Arunachal seem part of a well-thought-out revanchist strategy.

Yet India’s Ministry of External Affairs issued a tame response to Beijing’s latest provocation, that too a day late, which allowed China to hog the headlines with its action. The MEA has yet to grasp that timely communication is critical for foreign policy in an era in which social media and mass media increasingly help shape narratives. It invariably is slow to respond to China’s infowar, psy-ops or lawfare. At times it even fails to respond.

Meanwhile, China is possibly seeking to open a front against India in the Bay of Bengal by assisting Myanmar’s militarization of the Coco Islands, which are a northern extension of the Andaman and Nicobar chain. Myanmar’s military regime, increasingly isolated and squeezed by US-led Western sanctions, is in no position to build military facilities on its own on the Coco Islands. The plain fact is that Western sanctions are counterproductively pushing Myanmar into China’s arms.

Separated from India’s North Andaman Island by the 20-kilometer-wide Coco Channel, the Coco Islands were historically Indian possessions. But in 1887, after a British lighthouse keeper was killed by an Indian, the Calcutta-based British colonial authorities transferred jurisdiction of the Coco Islands to Rangoon. India gained independence before Myanmar, yet Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s government failed to assert Indian control over the Coco Islands.

The fact that Xi’s regime is seeking to open new fronts against India — from Tawang to the Coco Islands — casts an unflattering light on the Modi government’s China policy. China is also continuing to build up force levels along the Himalayas even as its military standoffs with India enter the 35th month.

To Modi’s credit, India has refused to buckle to the increasing Chinese military pressure. India has more than matched China’s Himalayan military deployments. By locking horns with China in this manner despite the risk of a full-scale war, India has openly challenged Chinese capability and power in a way no other power, including the US, has done in this century.

China’s April 2020 land-grabs in Ladakh and the consequent military standoffs have set in motion a major Indian defence buildup. India has ramped up construction of new border infrastructure, and last month appointed a committee of secretaries to fast-track all such projects.

So, why has India, despite its strong military response, failed to persuade China to end the border crisis or deter it from committing other acts of aggression?

The answer is that Indian policymakers have failed to comprehend that deterrence can never be effective without a comprehensive approach that extends beyond military-power projection to the use of all available tools, including economic and diplomatic leverage. The Modi government’s ban on numerous Chinese mobile phone apps, its restriction of Chinese companies’ access to official Indian contracts, and its launch of tax and customs probes against Chinese phone makers have been no more than an annoyance for Beijing.

India’s overly defensive, risk-averse approach, including a reluctance to impose tangible costs, is aiding China’s strategy of having its cake and eating it too.

In fact, New Delhi has allowed China’s bilateral trade surplus to far surpass India’s total defence budget (the world’s third largest). Last year, China’s trade surplus with India jumped nearly 50% — from $69.38 billion in 2021 to $101.02 billion in 2022. This means that the Indian trade deficit with just one country, China, now accounts for about 64% of India’s total global trade deficit.

China’s international trade surplus is now the main engine of its slowing economy, allowing it to finance its aggressive manoeuvres in the Himalayas and other Indo-Pacific theatres. And India last year contributed 11.51% to China’s overall trade surplus of $877.6 billion.

This shows that India, instead of establishing disincentives to Chinese military belligerence, has handed Beijing a potent incentive to sustain its aggressive behaviour and even seek to open new fronts.

India is reluctant to even impose any diplomatic costs on China. Far from launching a diplomatic offensive to spotlight the Chinese aggression, New Delhi remains reticent to name and shame China, even as Beijing has had no hesitation in raking up the Kashmir issue at the United Nations Security Council. Indeed, New Delhi maintains a normal diplomatic relationship with Beijing.

Furthermore, New Delhi still uses euphemisms to describe the Himalayan crisis: “unilateral change of status quo” for China’s aggression; “friction points” for captured areas; and “full restoration of peace and tranquillity,” or rollback of the Chinese intrusions, for bilateral relations to become “normal” again.

While publicly contending that bilateral ties cannot return to normal as long as disengagement and de-escalation don’t happen, India is pursuing normal relations with China in the economic and diplomatic realms. In effect, despite its rhetoric, India is doing exactly what China wants — separating the border confrontation from the rest of the relationship. It is thus no wonder that Beijing gloats over what it calls a “recovery momentum” in ties with India.

The long-term implications of China’s actions are ominous for Indian security. Consider, for example, China’s frenzied construction of new military infrastructure along the inhospitable Himalayan border. This big buildup either signals that Beijing sees war as likely, or that it intends to ramp up sustained pressure on India over the long-term.

Indeed, tying India down along the long Himalayan frontier could even help China secure a greater foothold in the Indian Ocean. Opening a maritime front against India, including by gaining a foothold on the Coco Islands, would complete its strategic encirclement of India.

Since Sardar Patel’s forewarning to Nehru that the Chinese communists intended to annex Tibet—a warning Nehru dismissed—India has repeatedly failed to take China’s words and moves seriously, only to pay a heavy price later. Some in India today are scoffing at China’s stepped-up campaign to Sinicize names of places in Arunachal Pradesh, terming it silly.

But there seems a method to the Chinese madness. China enacts a Land Borders Law one and a half years after its land-grabs in Ladakh and then accelerates the Sinicization of places in Arunachal, which suggests that this is part of a well-thought-out revanchist strategy.

By renaming places in Arunachal Pradesh, China is perhaps laying the groundwork for waging war to “reclaim” that region. Whether it would succeed or not in such an endeavour is a moot point, but it would be a mistake on India’s part to dismiss the Chinese move as little more than a meaningless effort to rename places under Indian control.

The 2021 Land Borders Law was enacted primarily with the aim of advancing China’s territorial revisionism in the Himalayas. The law effectively negates the possibility of peacefully resolving the territorial disputes with India. Instead of mutually settled borders, the law enables unilaterally imposed borders.

The Land Borders Law also extends to transboundary river waters. With Xi’s regime approving the construction near the India border of a “super dam” larger than even the Three Gorges Dam, this law seeks to uphold China’s “legitimate rights and interests” over the Tibet-originating cross-border rivers.

Xi is increasingly using lawfare (or the misuse and abuse of domestic law for strategic ends) to underpin China’s expansionism. Xi, for example, used a new national security law to crush Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and bring the city into political lockstep with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in breach of China’s United Nations-registered treaty with Britain.

Who predicted that Xi-led China would redraw the geopolitical map of the South China Sea without firing a single shot or without incurring any international costs? No one. It would be a serious mistake to discount the possibility of Xi launching aggression against Taiwan.

If Taiwan falls, China’s next target in the name of “reunification” would likely be Arunachal Pradesh.

Against this background, India needs to rethink and recalibrate its China policy. India needs a wiser, more forward-looking China policy that leverages Indian buying power and diplomatic strength. India should be less reactive and more proactive. For example, why should salami-slicing be the prerogative of only the Chinese side?

Given that Beijing’s claims on Indian territories are based on its occupation of Tibet, including calling Arunachal Pradesh “South Tibet”, it is self-defeating for New Delhi to still hew to the stance that Tibet is an integral part of China. New Delhi must adopt a more nuanced approach, including referring to the Himalayan border as the “Indo-Tibetan” frontier and showing in its official maps that India borders Tibet.

India also needs to find ways to stop Beijing from reaping rewards of aggression. For starters, it must address its burgeoning trade deficit with China, including by slashing non-essential imports. It is very counterproductive to India’s interests that New Delhi is effectively underwriting the economic and geopolitical power of an adversary that is playing the long game in the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean.

America’s Interest in Ending the Ukraine Crisis


BRAHMA CHELLANEY, Project Syndicate

After more than a year of fighting, it is clear that neither side in the Russia-Ukraine war can win on the battlefield. A negotiated ceasefire is the only way out of the current military deadlock, and it must happen before Russia and China cement a strategic axis that weakens the West and leaves Taiwan more vulnerable than ever.

The recent face-to-face meeting in New Delhi between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov – the first such high-level interaction since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine – suggests that diplomacy may no longer be a dirty word.

The ten-minute meeting on the sidelines of the G20 gathering occurred after US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan reportedly urged Ukraine to show Russia that it is open to negotiating an end to the war. Together, these recent developments offer a glimmer of hope that a ceasefire is within the realm of the possible.

The war in Ukraine, which has shaken the foundations of the international order, is in many ways a proxy war between the world’s two major powers, with Russia backed by China and Ukraine backed by the United States. Over the past year, the war has triggered global energy and food crises, spurred higher inflation amid slowing global growth, and heightened the risks – underscored by Russia’s recent downing of a US drone over the Black Sea – of a direct Russia-NATO conflict.

And yet, after more than a year of fighting, it is clear that the conflict has settled into a war of attrition, with both sides struggling to make significant advances on the battlefield. A ceasefire is the only way out of this military deadlock, but reaching an agreement could take a long time. The 1950-53 Korean War, for example, was deadlocked for two years before an armistice agreement was reached.

Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly believes that a prolonged war of attrition works in his favor, enabling his army to wreak havoc on Ukraine and testing Western resolve. To overwhelm Ukrainian air defenses, Russia is launching more missiles simultaneously, including its Kinzhal hypersonic weapons, which are all but impossible to shoot down. Despite the flood of Western weapons systems it has received, Ukraine is in no position to thwart Russia’s intensifying aerial assaults.

But it is also becoming increasingly clear that Russia cannot achieve its strategic objective in Ukraine. It may have occupied nearly one-fifth of the country’s territory but it has created a more hostile neighbor and reinvigorated NATO, which is now poised to admit Finland and most likely Sweden. Moreover, many of the unprecedented sanctions the West has imposed on Russia will likely endure beyond the war and inflict long-lasting damage on the Russian economy.

At the same time, US President Joe Biden’s “hybrid war” strategy, which seeks to cripple Russia through soft-power techniques and the weaponization of global finance, has failed to bring about Putin’s downfall or turn the ruble into “rubble,” as Biden vowed in the early stages of the war. The US-led sanctions regime has severely limited Russia’s ability to resupply its forces but has fallen short of halting the Kremlin’s war machine. While the sanctions have dented its earnings from energy exports, Russia has found willing buyers for its oil and natural gas in non-Western markets (albeit at a discount).

Short of a collapse in morale causing Russian soldiers to surrender en masse – which is a possibility, given the history of the Russian army – it is unlikely that Ukraine will be able to force Russia to withdraw fully from the territories it has occupied in the country’s east and south. While the US has committed to upholding Ukraine’s territorial integrity, restoring Ukrainian control over these regions seems like a distant goal at best.

Meanwhile, China is the only country that stands to benefit from a protracted conflict. As a recent report by the Washington, DC-based Free Russia Foundation says, China is already the “biggest winner” from the Western sanctions on Russia. China has become Russia’s banker and most important trade partner, using the war to implement an energy safety net by securing greater Russian oil and gas supplies that could not be disrupted even if China decided to invade Taiwan.

The more the US is dragged into the war in Ukraine, the greater the likelihood that China invades Taiwan and America realizes its worst geopolitical nightmare: a Sino-Russian strategic axis. The US may remain the world’s foremost military power for now, but taking on the combined force of China and Russia would be a herculean task.

The war has already exposed the West’s military shortcomings, such as depletion of supplies of critical munitions, America’s struggle to scale up weapons manufacturing, and the weakening of the US-European consensus on Ukraine. All this could tempt Chinese President Xi Jinping to seek to deplete Western arsenals further before invading Taiwan, by indirectly shipping arms to Russia and forcing the US and other governments to increase weapons supplies to Ukraine. Xi is already aiding Putin’s war to a limited extent by supplying Russia and sanctioned Russian entities with drones, navigation equipment, jamming technology, fighter-jet parts, and semiconductors.

While some in the West believe that a negotiated ceasefire in Ukraine would embolden China to attack Taiwan, Xi does not need Russia to show him that aggression works. China’s own cost-free expansionism, from the South China Sea to the Himalayas, is all the proof he needs.

As a recent RAND report points out, a protracted Ukraine war is not in America’s interest. A prolonged conflict would lead to increased flows of US money and weapons into Ukraine, elevating the risk of a NATO-Russia conflict and hindering the ability of the US to respond to the China challenge. As Biden has already acknowledged, a “negotiated settlement” is the only way to end the war – better to seek it now than after months or years of bloodshed and devastation.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2023.

Why a de facto Japan-India alliance can be a game changer


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, meets with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Sept. 27, 2022. © Reuters

The India-Japan relationship is central to Indo-Pacific region’s power equilibrium and stability

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asia

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s trip this coming weekend to New Delhi, close on the heels of Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese’s own India tour, is indicative of growing strategic cooperation among the Indo-Pacific region’s major democracies.

Just as Germany’s rapid rise prior to World War I led to the Triple Entente among France, Britain and Russia, China’s aggressive expansionism has given the key Indo-Pacific democracies strong impetus to work together as a countervailing coalition.

The Quad, though without the form of a formal alliance, represents an emerging entente among the Indo-Pacific region’s four leading democracies: Australia, India, Japan and the U.S.

More fundamentally, the Indo-Pacific power balance will be determined, first and foremost, by events in East Asia and the Indian Ocean. This in turn makes the Japan-India relationship central to the region’s power equilibrium and stability.

Unlike the U.S. and Australia, India and Japan, which share frontiers with China, have seen their security come under direct pressure from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s muscular revisionism.

Kishida has pledged to double defense spending over the next five years following his government’s release of a new National Security Strategy which concluded that the country faces “the most severe and complex security environment since the end of World War II.”

This would potentially give Japan the world’s third-largest military budget, after the U.S. and China.

India, now No. 3 in defense spending, has been locked in a tense, 34-month military standoff with China along their disputed Himalayan border after being taken unawares by stealth incursions into Ladakh, its northernmost territory. India-China relations are at their lowest level in decades as clashes continue to erupt intermittently.

By locking horns with Beijing despite the risk of full-scale war, India may have openly challenged Chinese capability and power in a way no other power has done yet in this century.

Yet there is growing recognition in New Delhi and Tokyo — this year’s Group of 20 and Group of Seven presidents, respectively — that no single democratic power can impose sufficient costs on Xi’s regime for its maritime and territorial revisionism, much less compel Beijing to change course.

In this light, Japan and India, which are China’s main peer rivals in Asia and are strategically located on its opposite flanks, aim to frustrate Beijing’s ambition to achieve hegemony in Asia by forging deepening strategic and economic bonds.

By working together to constrain Chinese behavior without provoking escalation or open conflict, Japan and India can also help stabilize Asian power dynamics.

To be sure, Japanese and Indian defense priorities are not the same.

As an island nation, Japan has traditionally focused on maritime defense, a posture reinforced by the growing frequency of China’s forays into the territorial waters and airspace around the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing calls the Diaoyu.

China’s “gray zone” tactics just below the threshold of armed conflict have been so successful in the South China Sea that it is seeking to replicate them against Japan in the East China Sea.

India, faced with the strengthening China-Pakistan strategic nexus, maintains a land-based defense posture. It is the only Quad member to have gone to war with China in the post-World War II period.

There are important parallels between the way Xi’s regime is pursuing its territorial revisionism against Japan and India, including following a strategy of attrition, friction and containment to weigh them down and strengthen its own claims of sovereignty over disputed areas.

Against this backdrop, Japan and India share common strategic objectives in the Indo-Pacific region. An economically ascendant India and a politically rising Japan are both seeking to uphold the present Asian order. After all, the alternative would be a Sinocentric Asia inimical to their interests.

Unlike China, India and Japan are not seen as hungry for the land and resources of others. Indeed, Japan has not fired a shot in anger since its defeat in World War II, while India’s rise has not been accompanied by greater assertiveness toward its neighbors.

In fact, Japan-India cooperation is driven by complementary interests, the absence of historical baggage or disputes, and a shared vision for a rules-based order free from unilateralism or coercion.

To underpin a liberal and values-based order, the two countries in 2017 created the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, but it remains much smaller than China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. In India’s politically sensitive northeast region, sandwiched between Chinese-ruled Tibet, Myanmar and Bangladesh, Japan is the only foreign government that New Delhi has allowed to participate in infrastructure projects.

Impediments to speedier development of India-Japan collaboration are essentially bureaucratic and cultural: Ethnically and linguistically diverse India contrasts starkly with comparatively homogenous Japan, some of whose companies struggle to navigate New Delhi’s bureaucracy and regulatory environment.

The stakes could not be higher for India and Japan. Without building a de facto alliance that puts discreet checks on the exercise of Chinese power, the two are likely to bear the brunt of Beijing’s revisionist policies.

Japan and India need to quietly move from emphasizing shared values to jointly advancing shared interests, including thwarting China’s effort to establish itself as the hegemon of an illiberal regional order. Their close strategic collaboration can help lay the foundation for what late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a “democratic security diamond” in the Indo-Pacific region.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and a former adviser to India’s National Security Council. He is the author of nine books, including “Water: Asia’s New Battleground.”

South Asia’s Looming Water War


For any treaty to survive, the advantages it confers on all parties must outweigh the duties and responsibilities it imposes. The Indus Waters Treaty – widely considered the world’s most generous water-sharing pact – is nowhere near meeting that standard for India, and it is in Pakistan’s interest to remedy that.


More than six decades ago, the world’s most generous water-sharing pact was concluded. Under the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), upstream India left the lion’s share of the waters from the subcontinent’s six-river Indus system for downstream Pakistan. But repeated Pakistani efforts to use the treaty to disrupt India’s efforts to safeguard its own water security have driven India to rethink its largesse.

Last month, India issued notice to Pakistan that it intends to negotiate new terms for the IWT. In its current form, the treaty permits the World Bank to refer any India-Pakistan disagreement to either a neutral international expert or a court of arbitration in The Hague. But India contends that Pakistan, with its repeated bids for international intercession to block modestly sized Indian hydropower projects over technical objections, has abused and even breached the IWT’s dispute-settlement provisions.

India’s frustration intensified last October when the World Bank appointed both a neutral expert and a court of arbitration, under two separate processes, to resolve differences with Pakistan over India’s Kishenganga and Ratle hydroelectric projects in Jammu and Kashmir. India claims that the arbitral court proceedings, which began two days after it issued its notice to Pakistan, contravene the IWT, so it is boycotting them. The World Bank, for its part, has acknowledged that “carrying out the two processes concurrently poses practical and legal challenges.”

India’s renegotiation plan – which focuses on barring third parties from intervening in bilateral disputes under the IWT – appears to be a direct response to these developments. But, as India well knows, Pakistan is highly unlikely to agree to negotiations. This suggests that India’s recent notice to Pakistan is just its opening gambit. The next step may well be an attempt to force Pakistan’s hand on its long-term sponsorship of cross-border terrorism.

This has been coming for some time. Six years ago, after an attack by Pakistan-based terrorists on the Indian military in Jammu and Kashmir killed 19 troops, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that “blood and water cannot flow together.” In a sense, his statement got to the heart of the IWT, which India pursued precisely to improve relations with Pakistan and avoid bloodshed on the subcontinent.

When the IWT was signed in 1960, Sino-Indian tensions were high, so India effectively attempted to trade water for peace with its other large neighbor, Pakistan. The IWT – under which India keeps less than 20% of the total basin waters – is the only international water agreement embodying the doctrine of restricted sovereignty, with the upstream country agreeing to forego significant use of a river system for the benefit of its downstream counterpart.

But the deal appeared only to whet Pakistan’s appetite for the Indian-administered region of Jammu and Kashmir, through which the largest three rivers of the Indus system flow. Five years later, in 1965, Pakistan launched a surprise war – the second conflict between the two countries over the region’s status.

All the while, the IWT guaranteed to Pakistan a huge share of Jammu and Kashmir’s water – the region’s main natural resource. This hampered economic development, led to chronic electricity shortages, and fueled popular frustration in that territory. And when India attempted to address the region’s energy crunch by building run-of-the-river hydropower plants – which are permitted by the Indus treaty, and would not materially alter transboundary water flows – Pakistan did everything it could to block progress.

Ironically, Pakistani officials and lawmakers have sometimes issued their own calls to renegotiate the IWT, with the Pakistani Senate even passing a 2016 resolution to “revisit” the treaty and “make new provisions” that favored Pakistan. But far from advancing Pakistan’s interests, such actions have merely reminded the Indian public that, at a time of growing water stress, the Indus treaty is an albatross around their country’s neck.

To be sure, Pakistan has plenty of its own water-related problems. A deep divide has emerged between downriver provinces and the upriver Punjab province, which appropriates the bulk of the Indus waters to sustain its profligate agricultural practices. Punjab’s water diversion – aided by large China-backed dams in the Pakistani portion of Kashmir, including the massive Diamer Bhasha Dam – is turning the Indus Delta into a saline marsh, which represents a major ecological disaster.

But none of this is the fault of the IWT, which is clearly in Pakistan’s interest to safeguard. To do that, Pakistan must stop focusing only on its treaty-related rights, while neglecting its responsibilities. This includes rethinking the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy – a tactic that runs counter to the spirit of the IWT and threatens to drive India unilaterally to withdraw from it.

Such action would not cause river flows to Pakistan suddenly to stop, as India lacks the kind of hydro infrastructure this would require, and has no plans to change that. But it would enable India to pursue reasonable hydro projects without dam reservoirs, regardless of Pakistani objections. More fundamentally, it would sever a crucial diplomatic thread between India and Pakistan.

For any treaty to survive, the advantages it confers on all parties must outweigh the duties and responsibilities it imposes. The IWT is nowhere near meeting that standard for India, which has so far accrued no tangible benefits from it. What has been called the “world’s most successful water treaty” has overwhelmingly benefited Pakistan, which has a powerful incentive to abandon its combative approach and embrace the compromise and cooperation needed to save it.

Brahma Chellaney

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2023.