RUMBLE IN THE ASIA PACIFIC
“When Barbarossa begins, the earth will hold its breath”
Adolf Hitler (as quoted by Alan Clark in ‘Barbarossa’)
And indeed, the world held its breath, as three million men were launched into what would be the largest known invasion in land warfare
– Hitler’s invasion of Soviet Russia in June 1941, codenamed Operation Barbarossa. The invasion began with thousands of guns hurling tons of TNT into the hapless Soviet positions and swarms of Stukas, Messerschmitts as well as Junker fighter aircraft raining hell from the sky.
Three Army Groups, North, Centre and South tore across the German boundary with Soviet East European territories. Army Group North,
Commanded by General Ritter Von Leeb was headed 800 miles away towards Leningrad, Army Group Centre under General Feder Von Bock set for Moscow 700 miles off and Army Group South led by General Gerd Von Rundstedt had Stalingrad as the objective, 1300 miles away. The German blitz caught the Red Army completely unprepared and they were slaughtered as the advancing forces swept across the steppes of eastern Europe.
After all Hitler had given clear directions to his commanders. “The war against Russia will be such that it cannot be conducted in a
knightly fashion. This struggle is one of ideologies and racial differences and will have to be conducted with unprecedented,
unmerciful, and unrelenting harshness. All officers will have to rid themselves of obsolete ideologies. I know that the necessity for such means of waging war is beyond the comprehension of you generals but . . . I insist absolutely that my orders be executed without
ACCOUNT OF WORLD WAR II IS WELL KNOWN TO BE REPEATED
The account of World War II is too well known to be repeated. There were ignominies galore during the War. Britain faced the humiliation
of retreating across the English Channel at Dunkirk and the French pride had been crushed by the stomping of Nazi boots on the Champs
Elysees in Paris.
On the Eastern Front town after town fell to the Germans and thousands of Red Army soldiers were slaughtered mercilessly or taken prisoner, leading the Soviet commander Zhukov to bluntly order all commanders down the line to stay put and fight where they were or be prepared to be shot in the Red Square at Moscow. On the other side of the globe, the United States could not believe its eyes at the utter devastation wrought on its Pacific fleet by the Japanese Admiral Yamamoto’s aircraft at Pearl Harbour in Oahu, Hawaii.
Once the tide turned, the fall of Berlin and Hitler’s suicide, the anonymous death of Mussolini and the dropping of atom bombs on the
Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought an end to this dance of death. What was the price of the war? Almost 80 million dead,
cities reduced to rubble, fields scorched, economies devastated and the effects of nuclear radiation festering among generations to come
in the two cities struck by the atom bombs. It was a scale of savagery and brutality the world had never seen before!
What could be the reason for the world to go into this suicidal tragedy? The seeds were sown with the idea of ‘Lebensraum’ (living space), the expansionist dreams of the megalomaniac Hitler and his cohorts who believed that German territories were not sufficient for their population and more needed to be occupied. This was encouraged indirectly in no small measure by the appeasement of this tyrant by
the European powers during the decade preceding the War.
Germany had embarked on a frantic militarization programme in the early 30s which virtually went unchallenged. By 1935 the process of
“Nazification” of Germany was complete and a totalitarian regime was firmly in place. Thereafter, Hitler occupied Rhineland in 1936 and
Austria in 1938. The British accepted this blatant expansionism after extracting a promise of “no more territorial demands in Europe” from
Hitler. This promise was thrown to the winds as quickly as it was made when Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia and Poland in quick succession in 1939. The rest is history.
Eighty years later there is a stark reminder. Another hegemonic is on the rise in the Eastern Hemisphere.
CHINA AS CHALLENGER FOR US
Over the last thirty years since the end of the Cold War, the Asia Pacific region has seen the inexorable rise of China as the primary
challenger to the United States. It has relentlessly increased its influence globally while at the same time it attempts to curb the
reach of its adversaries. Territorially, China seeks to continually extend its borders while claiming territories belonging to other
countries as its own. It started with the occupation of Tibet in 1951 and has followed it up with a long list of territorial claims on its
Territory is indeed in the middle of China’s disputes with its neighbours. China claims the Senkaku islands of Japan in the East China Sea as its own. It is firmly opposed to Taiwan’s existence as an independent entity and propagates the “one China” policy, favouring
reunification of Taiwan with the mainland. China is against any form of autonomy to Hongkong and believes it must be completely amalgamated with the rest of the country.
China lays claim practically to the entire South China Sea including the Spratly and Paracel Islands as well as the Gulf of Tonkin. Along
its border with India, China lays claim to entire Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. Bhutan is not spared either with China still claiming
territories along the border as its own. In all these disputes, China believes that the settlement must be on its terms and the claims of
the other countries have little or no relevance. To achieve its ends, China is ready to wait it out, browbeat or buy out its adversaries or
apply any other means at its disposal.
Significantly, China has not involved itself in any major military confrontation with its neighbours since its war with Vietnam in 1979
although it continues to pressurise its neighbours to do its bidding. China’s preferred weapon of coercion with its other neighbours is its economic might. In the present standoff with India in Ladakh however, there is a difference. China is openly flaunting the threat of use of its military power in the crisis, having amassed substantial forces in the region to back its moves along the Line of Actual Control between the two countries.
Great Powers do not hesitate to go to war as and when their vital national interests are threatened. The United States has been at war in one part of the globe or another throughout much of its existence since independence. The costs, both economic and human have no doubt been immense, but that is the price the Superpower must pay to retain its pre eminence in the world order.
Nations aspiring for Great Power status must also be ready to bite the bullet should the need arise. The Indian Prime Minister’s statement
that the age of expansionism is over could not have come at a more appropriate moment and has signaled India’s intent unambiguously.
Clearly this nibbling, creeping invasion and salami slicing by China on our borders and any other form of coercion cannot be allowed to go
on unchallenged any longer. India must stand up to the Dragon. In the century of the Asia Pacific, it is India’s defining moment.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
About the author:
Major General Vijay Pande, VSM (Retd) was commissioned into the Indian Army in Dec 1979 and retired in March 2017. Among important
assignments he had held includes GOC 39 Mountain Division, Major General in Charge Logistics, HQ Western Command and Head of Training in the Senior Command and Staff College in Uganda. He’s M Sc, M Phil and at present pursuing a Ph D from Punjabi University Patiala on India Africa Relations.