The Concept of Security Dilemma: A Case Study of Sino-Indian Conflict

  1. Introduction

Security dilemma is a concept used in international security studies to refer to a situation in which a country’s intentions and actions to increase its security result in the decrease of the security of another nation; hence causing a similar response from the affected country, resulting in a cycle of competitive reactions and counter-moves that in most cases result in conflict between the two countries (Cohen, 1963). The dilemma that arises in this situation is always whether or not to enhance capabilities to boost their security. If a country chooses to increase its security, this could paradoxically lead to opposite effects on the country.[1] This dynamic also results in a dilemma whether the situation is inescapable or can be moderated or eliminated; and if that is possible, how can it be done?

This paper will use a case study of Sino-Indian conflict to define the concept of “security dilemma, outline its key aspects and explain whether it is an inescapable phenomenon or it can be moderated, or even eliminated. First, the paper will provide background information about Sino-Indian security relations. This will provide the dynamics underlying the conflict; scope, the countries affected, the extent to which the countries are affected, historical background, how the affected countries have addressed the issue, and how it can be moderated or eliminated. The paper will then explain the concept of Security Dilemma in detail using the case study of Sino-Indian dispute. In this case, the paper will explore the meaning, the causes and the impact of security dilemma in relation to the Sino-Indian Dilemma. Finally, the paper will provide a summary and conclusion of the concept of security dilemma in respect to Sino-Indian dilemma.

  1. Background of Sino-Indian Security relations

The main cause of Sino-Indian security dilemma is the Chinese effort to expand its political and security relations with other countries of the South Asian-Indian Ocean region (SA-IOR), and India’s efforts to paralyze such efforts. While this conflict can be said to have started in 1950s, studies show that its roots can be traced back to the 10th century when India claims that its western sector was sanctified in custom and tradition. 1684 treaty between Ladakh and Tibet and 1842 treaty between Dogras and Tibet also form basis of the conflict that was yet to come (Smith, 2005).

Later in 1846, the British formalized a modern territorial agreement between India and Tibet in order to secure India from the advance of Russia during the Great game which was initiated in the 19th century. China’s role in this game was to act as a buffer between Russia and Britain. Since then there were several territorial lines drawn to determine the boundaries between India and its neighbours as a way of continued protection of India from the advance of Russia. The most prominent territorial demarcation of the 19th century was the line devised by George Macartney and proposed by Claude McDonald in 1899.[2] This line followed the southerly Karakoram valley and left out Karakash valley to the China. There was an implied acceptance to this demarcation by China, but she did not give a formal response to the proposal.

On the eastern side, Russia’s advance was not the only motivation for Britain’s forward policy. China also advanced to the tribal territories that acted as a buffer between the two countries. As a result, McMahon line was drawn as a result of the Simla Conference of 1913-1914. In this conference, Tibet, Britain and China were represented; but the circumstance under which this line was drawn remains a big controversy. This line did not provide a boundary between India and Tibet; but the map that came as a result of the 1913-1914 treaty acknowledged McMahon line as the boundary.[3]

China claims that this treaty was initialed by her delegates without the consent of her government in Peking, which apparently failed to recognize or agree with the provisions of the treaty. This treaty did not feature in Indian maps until 1937. Following an extension of British administration to most of the eastern region, independent India lived up to the requirements of the McMahon line by occupying the region of Tawang in 1951. This move did not cause any reactions from China. According to India, the McMahon line just confirmed a pre-existing traditional boundary.

McMahon line elicited disputes relating to its validity and its actual course on the ground. The principles used by McMahon in his demarcation did not include any geographical approach in demarcating his boundary on the ground. India argued that the boundary is required by established practice to follow the high watershed in the atmosphere.[4] However, this principle would suggest that McMahon line was to be pushed to its course to the north on the map. India then attempted to implement this line, but it faced a lot of resistance from China. This resistance led to conflict which resulted in war in 1962.

Apart from the McMahon line supported by India, China came up with its own version of border policies. At the 1955 Bandung Afro-Asian Conference, Zhou Enlai argued that the border of China and its neighbours was yet to be determined. He said that China has not yet fixed its borders with some of its neighbouring countries, and they are ready to do so. However, Zhou contended that China was willing at that time to maintain the present circumstances by accepting the fact that parts of its borders are undetermined.

China approached its border issue in five stages: problem statement; identification of origins; identifying its nature; proposing mechanisms to solve the problems; and producing an outcome.[5] This approach led Zhou Enlai to establish a border line which would settle Sino-Burmese border. With series of consultations, Burma and China agreed settle their boundary issue in a friendly manner at the right time using diplomatic mechanisms. Zhou termed Sino-Burmese boundary dispute as a disagreement caused by history. Zhou then came up with a three-point proposal which recognized McMahon line, but made minor adjustments to it. However, the proposal did not refer the line by its original name. This proposal was then used in the border agreement between China and Burma in 1960.

Following the success of China in the Sino-Burmese boundary, China attempted to use the same formula with India. This attempt failed because India did not agree that Sino-Indian border was not defined. India believed that the border was already defined by the McMahon line, which was not accepted by China. Zhou presented a six-point proposal on his visit to New Delhi in 1960 (Jervis, 1978). The proposal suggested that both sides should accept the fact that disputes existed between them, suggested mechanisms of final settlement of the dispute, and that both sides should maintain the status quo after the final settlement.

The proposal also provided that the boundary should follow McMahon line to the west, and Macartney-McDonald line to the west. India did not agree to this because they claimed that the western frontier was non-negotiable. India also felt that China did not accept the boundary as defined by India, not because the line was undefined.[6] India also did not agree to maintain the status quo pending a final agreement because it felt that it reserved the right to advance into the regions which it claimed. Therefore, it seems that the main point of conflict in the Sino-Indian border dispute was India’s prestige gained from McMahon line to the west.

As a result of India’s rejection of Zhou’s proposal, military policy was advanced in China to claim the western territory. The main area of conflict in the west seemed to be the Tibetian uprising. China opted to advance to the west and have authority over Tibet, a stand that was rejected by India (Kanwal, 1999). Therefore, the conflict was not really a conflict of border line between India and China as nations; but it was a conflict over western territories including Tibet. China wanted to have authority over such territories while India stood on the ground that such territories should operate on their own according to the agreement of the British colonialists. This conflict sparked the war that took place in 1962.

In 1976, negotiations started to stop the conflict between the two countries. This was done in form of ambassadorial talks initiated by India. India dropped its original position that the western border dispute was non-negotiable. This led to eight boundary talks between 1981 and 1988. China’s standpoint was on Zhou’s proposal of 1960, which India disapproved.[7] After all, accepting China’s proposal which had resulted to war in 1962 would be a legitimization of the Chinese aggression. In 1988, a Joint Working Group (JWG) was established. This group managed to stop military confrontation but did not make any progress towards a boundary settlement.[8] The negotiations proceeded until 2005 when the 15th round of talks was held.

It seems that moves towards resolutions of the boundary dispute are heading towards the right direction (Goldstein, 2008). However, the main impediment to any agreement is the standoff on maintaining the status quo and making minor adjustments. China’s main aim is to advance to the west, but India opposes that proposal. This conflict has led to the Sino-Indian security dilemma whereby the security of the two countries decreased as a result of the boundary disagreements.

  1. Sino-Indian Security Dilemma

The concept of security dilemma is significantly evident in the dynamics of the complex relationship between China and India. Conflict between the two countries resulted from security ties between South Asian and Indian Ocean Sates other than India. The interactions between the two countries over the years prove an existence of a security dilemma in Sino-Indian relations. Chinese attempts to extent its territories to other areas such as Tibet, Aksai Chin, Tawang and other regions in the west of McMahon line resulted in reduced security in India during the Sino-Indian war in 1962. This is a clear indication of Sino-Indian security dilemma.

Garver (2002) argues that the anarchy in the state system of a given country is the major contributing factor to security dilemma. Each state has the responsibility to protect its own security and enhance its own survival as a member of the state system.[9] In order to ensure that the states maintain their responsibility, they seek to expand their power through economic, strategic, and military mechanisms. This will enable such states to defend themselves when it is specifically necessary to do so. However, by taking this step such states make their neighbors less secure; hence compelling them to take countermeasures to establish their own power.[10] When two states find themselves in such a situation, both powers are most likely to become less secure.

There are various factors which cause countries not to seek a mutual goal of general security. These factors lead to security dilemma. Jervis (1978) suggests that one of these factors is the changing leadership approaches in countries. Minds of leaders often change, and new leaders emerge. Values also shift, and new threats and opportunities arise. Leaders of a country may perceive that currently less threatening policies of other countries may become more threatening in the future. While the capabilities of nations change slowly, their intentions often change rapidly.[11] As a result, objective leaders often remain vigilant of the capabilities of other nations, on both their current and future intentions.

Nations may also protect their territories by influencing or controlling other areas outside their own geographical jurisdictions. However, other nations may find this act of expanding territories as an indication of aggressive intention. Nations may also attempt to control or neutralize some areas on their borders in order to create buffers.[12] The disadvantage of creating such buffers is that one country’s buffer may become another country’s vulnerability. In order to maintain a buffer zone, the buffer country requires increasing its influence. This increases the country’s commitments; hence boosting its control over the buffer zone. Consequentially, this control exhibits aggressive intent of the buffer country and causes vulnerability to the state which does not control the buffer zone.

Military instruments which are intended to increase the security of one country also act as a threat to another country’s security. The ultimate reliance on military forces by nations for their enhanced security leads to security dilemma by menacing other states.[13] The strength of a country’s interests also affects security of nations. If the interests that require protection in a given country are have great strength, the national efforts of that country will most likely clash with those of other countries. Furthermore, if a wide range of a country’s interests are threatened, its efforts to defend these interests will lead to conflict with the efforts of another country. Both countries will be determined to demonstrate their dominance or leadership.

These factors causing security dilemma are evident from the Sino-Indian conflict; thus making the conflict a center of Sino-Indian security dilemma. It can be argued from this perspective that China seems to predict a possibility of India’s future policies over Tibet.[14] Similarly, India seems to predict a future interference of China in the Indian-Pakistan war. These suspicions caused the two countries to devise military actions and counter-actions against each other, and a series of disputes which have never been resolved in any of the negotiations that have taken place over the years.

While China attempts to maintain a balance of power in South Asia, a region which is outside its major population and industrial centers, India seeks to attain significant control over strategic frontier zones in Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan (Dittmer, 2004). These are parts of the Himalayan lands which China seeks to neutralize India’s control over. The military actions of the two countries also cause treats to each other’s security. In an attempt to expand its territories, China has engaged in powerful and long-range naval forces which lead to both intended and unintended security threats to India, especially along the Indian Ocean.

India maintains Tibetan Paramilitary forces including Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and Special Frontier Forces (SFF). ITBP is a component of India’s central Paramilitary Forces. On the other hand, SFF is part of India’s external intelligence agency. These military involvements touch on the vulnerabilities of China as it seeks to take control over Tibet (Holslag, 2010). China and India also believe that their international statuses and reputations are compromised by the interactions between each other. Each of the two countries looks at a small issue as tied to larger issues which make up a balance of power that causes security dilemma between them.

India and China see each other’s efforts as threatening to their national security. Each of the two countries attributes hostile motives to the actions of the other country. The pulling and tagging over China’s security ties with Indian Ocean region states leads both countries to consider themselves as acting defensively.[15] None of the countries perceives that it is acting aggressively in their security relations with each other. On the contrary, they both see the actions of the other as threatening and they take actions to counter such threats. These seemingly defensive counter-actions are also perceived as threatening moves by the other country, which then establishes its defensive counter-actions as a response to the counter-actions of the other power.[16] These defensive actions and counter-actions lead to a situation of security threats to both countries, which is in essence a security dilemma.

Indian leaders and strategists hold a traditional view that South Asia-Indian Ocean Region is Indian security zone. This is evidenced by Indian’s behavior in that region. This Indian view has made India to become concerned about Chinese intentions to expand its territories to the South Asian-Indian Ocean Region (Tanham, 1992). Therefore, Chinese military establishments in SA-IOR threaten the security of India. There are various Chinese activities which posed a threat to the security of India. One of these actions is the assistance they accorded Pakistan in its missile efforts. Another action was the initiation of military relations with Nepal and Bangladesh. The people’s liberation army (PLA) in the Indian Ocean also led to reduced security in India. These actions indicate an occurrence of a Sino-Indian security dilemma which entails the reduction of one country’s security as a result of another country’s to expand its territories or to gain more power within a given region.

Indian counter-moves on China also cause a similar problem – decreased security of China. China’s stand is that Tibet has been part of China for hundreds of years, a fact that is disagreed by India which fights in support of Tibet’s independence. For instance, Indian authorities attempted to prevent China’s military intentions to occupy Tibet in 1950.[17] India also ascertained various Tibetian rights initiated by the British imperialists. In this view (Chinese view), India sought to undermine the authority of China in Tibet. According to Chinese authoritative history regarding to the Sino-Indian conflict, the intention of Indian policy was to expel the authority of china in Tibet and transform Tibet into a buffer zone between India and China (Dittmer, 2004). It is also asserted that between 1960 and 2002, the Indian leadership allowed Dalai Lama to organize quasi-governmental bodies in India.[18] This led to the maintenance of the exile community if Tibet in India. The community was then to become a base for anti-Chinese’s operation activities.

  1. Conclusion

In either case – the Indian or Chinese perspective, Sino-Indian conflict is a clear indication of a security dilemma. Moves and counter-moves which rooted from Chinese intentions to maintain control over SA-IORs such as Tibet caused a reduction in security levels of both China and India. While China attempted to extend its power to areas beyond its political and industrial centers, India attempted to thwart such moves by supporting the independence of such territories as Tibet. Furthermore, China was seen to be a partisan party in India-Pakistani conflict; this also formed a basis of the Sino-Indian security threat. Military interventions between the two countries, which led to the 1962 war is a key cause of the decline in security of both India and China.

Influenced by the changing leadership and circumstances in both countries, the need to extent each country’s power or territorial influence, especially in the case of China, has led to security problems as moves to extent such power and counter moves to thwart continue from over the past many years. For instance, China attempts to exercise its power over Tibet while India seeks to enhance its independence. These conflicts and disputes have become persistent over the years despite constant series of negotiations being held between the two countries. As a result, Sino-Indian security has declined significantly due to the pulling and tagging of the two countries over such boundary and territorial controls. Therefore, Sino-Indian relations are clear indications of security dilemma as a real problem in international relations.

References List

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[3] Hagerty, D. T. (2005). South Asia in world politics. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.

[4] Cohen, B. C. (1963). The Press and Foreign Policy. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

[5]Garver, J. W. (2002). The Security Dilemma in Sino-Indian Relations. India Review, 1(4), 1-38.

[6] Mansignh, S. (1994). China-Bhutan Relations. China Report, 39(2), 177-179.

[7] Hagerty, D.T. (1991). India’s regional Security Doctrine. Asian Survey, 31 (4), 351-363.

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[12] Jervis, R. (1978). Cooperation under security dilemma. World Politics, 30(2), 167-214.

[13] McKnight, D. (2003). A World Hungry for a New Philosophy: Rupert Murdoch and the rise of neo-liberalism. Journalism Studies, 4(3), 347-58.

[14] Goldstein, A. (2008). Rising to the challenge: China’s grand strategy and international security. Singapore: NUS Press.

[15] Hagerty, D.T. (1991). India’s regional Security Doctrine. Asian Survey, 31 (4), 351-363.

[16] Holslag, J. (2010). China and India: Prospects for peace. New York: Columbia University Press.

[17] Dittmer, L. (2004). South Asia’s nuclear security dilemma: India, Pakistan, and China. Armonk, N.Y: Sharpe.

[18] Tanham, G. (1992). Indian Strategic Culture. Washington Quarterly, 129-142.

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