Weather Gods limit options as seasons change. Crops, lifestyle, clothing, et al. are governed by limitations since climatic conditions influence decisions. Summer food and clothing are not possible in winter, and vice versa. Such situational awareness has always dictated human choices, and even more so when it comes to military matters. As far as operational choices are concerned, weather has an even more critical role to play since what is at stake is national success and costly human lives. Desert combat during summer, or a campaign during monsoon, is avoidable at the best of times.
Winter weather closes options for India in Ladakh as it confronts a Chinese ingress, but that needn’t limit military choices for New Delhi as it seeks to find a way out of the quagmire. Endless rounds of military and diplomatic talks have not resulted in any forward movement in diffusing the crisis. Silence at the lack of progress won’t solve the problem, rather it only enhances China’s belligerence and consolidates its positions in lands already occupied. But it needn’t always be this way, for it is a reflection as much on China’s perfidy as it is on self-imposed limitations.
New Delhi is located so far from the seas and an ocean that surround India that it cannot conceptualise national security options other than those which are land-based. This has conditioned most Indians to see national security from the prism of land- based threats, and all else is secondary, or even ignored. Nothing underlines this national malaise more than the stalemate in Ladakh, and almost nine months since it first erupted, India has yet to operationalise geography to its advantage. It doesn’t take rocket science to see that India is at an advantage in the Indian Ocean and its seas.
Decades of relegating the navy to the least funded service, ignoring the economic logic of trade routes, and China’s dependence on energy imports, has prevented India from exercising military pressure on the seas. New Delhi has inhibited itself and no other country could be held responsible. After all India should be aware of its own geographical advantages, as well as a historical legacy of being a great seafaring nation. The Chola empire did not reach deep into Indo-China by simply sweet talking, but was backed by a formidable military capability centred on an impressive armada.
Even as India hopes to impress China and the rest of the world by hosting the latest Malabar series of naval exercises, it should realise that a military is only as good as the force it can apply at a point of advantage. Despite years of neglect and relegation, the navy is still a formidable force, and it must be allowed to demonstrate its capability far from the shores of India. Malabar exercises could well be conducted over Malacca, or further east where India and China meet, in South East Asia. That would be a more advantageous quid pro quo for Indian than any being contemplated over Ladakh. Which is, of course, the only language understood by a bully.