“Offshore balancing” is a strategic concept used in realistic analysis in International Relations. It is a strategy whereby a great power uses favoured regional powers to check the rise of a potential hostile power. Offshore Balancing arguably permits a great power to maintain its power without the costs of large military deployments around the world.

According to John J. Mearsheimer in his University of Chicago ‘American Grand Strategy’ class, offshore balancing was the strategy used by the US in the 1930s and also in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Mearsheimer argues too that when the US gave the Lend-Lease aid to Great Britain in the 1940s, the US was engaging in offshore balancing by being the “arsenal of democracy, not the fighter for it”.

The current state of the US economy and President Trump’s isolationist policies will limit the Pentagon to such and/or similar strategies in the foreseeable future. In pursuit of its national interests the US is now wont to “outsourcing its conflicts” to regional players. It provides/sells them the “arsenal” and then gets them to do the dirty “fighting” till it becomes necessary for it to intervene and tilt the balance in its ally’s and essentially its own favour.

The US is still following this strategy to extremely critical and telling effect.

It is generally believed that in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war the US supported the losing side (Iraq) to prevent the emergence of a regional hegemon (Iran), which could ultimately threaten US interests and Israel. One believes that the US-led West supplied weapons to and encouraged both major Muslim powers to fight each other for eight long years. They mutually ruined their economies, decimated their militaries and nullified all, if any, threat potentials to US regional interests including Israel. The US later lured Iraq into Kuwait and then attacked it for that indiscretion (Operation Desert Storm, January 1991-February 1991) and destroyed whatever little remained of its military might. By default then Israel emerged as the most dominant pro-US regional hegemon in the Middle East: a classic manifestation of the strategy.

History is about to repeat itself in the Middle East now. The US has identified Iran once again as a would-be regional hegemon threatening its interests. Having successfully scuttled its nuclear program the US now wants it to be comprehensively neutered. It has maneuvered masterfully in the geopolitical domain and created the desired strategic environment. It has played the sectarian card to perfection in the ME splitting it cleanly into belligerent Sunni and Shiite worlds. Resultantly, the KSA led GCC (economic powerhouses) is almost aligned with the US and Israel (military powerhouses) and pitched against Iran which stands literally isolated. To encourage it further, KSA has been initially sold weapon systems worth a whopping US $ 110 billion -“the arsenal”. The US will now push the KSA led Arab world to take the “fight” to Iran. Perfectly timed economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, terrorist attacks, social upheavals, naval blockades and/or air and missile attacks by a US-led coalition may be employed to deliver the coup de grace to the Iranians as and when required. By default again, US interests will get further secured and a pro-US hegemon, Israel, will continue to dominate the region. The Muslim world however would have foolishly self destructed once again!

Elsewhere in Asia the US is exploiting India to stymie China’s rise as an uncontested Asian hegemon and a potential global political, military and economic behemoth. The US would like India to engage China in an essentially limited regional conflict (staying well below global thresholds) albeit intense enough to seriously stunt its ambitions at the regional and global levels effectively. A regional Indo-China war, with the US-led West in full backup support of India, would serve US objectives perfectly. To that end the US and its western allies including Israel are selling India the requisite “arsenal” and encouraging it to fight the “fight”!

India is readily following US diktats and has challenged China in various domains. On the geopolitical plane it has raised unwarranted concerns on the OBOR/CPEC passing through Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. Secondly, India is using terrorists and proxies from strategic spaces in Afghanistan and Iran to carry out terrorist activities to destabilise Balochistan and FATA thereby directly threatening the OBOR/CPEC. Thirdly, the Indians have confronted the Chinese on the Doklam plateau at the junction of the tri-boundary between China, Sikkim (India) and Bhutan. Any miscalculation could spark off a war. Fourthly, India, Japan and the US have carried out the naval EX MALABAR in the Bay of Bengal. This could ominously threaten to cut off potential linkups between China’s East Asian maritime trade corridors with the CPEC thus impacting the objectives of its OBOR/CPEC. Finally, to establish her credentials India is literally fishing for a role in the South China Sea conundrum.

Much to the US’ satisfaction India’s aggravation of China is on a consistently upward and increasingly intimidating curve.

The strategic environment in South Asia and China however has transformed radically of late. India, China (and Pakistan) are no longer at the same levels of military capacities, intents and capabilities as they were during the 1962 Sino-India war. They are all nuclear powers now and boast of some of the largest, most sophisticated, professionally trained and equipped conventional, missile and nuclear forces in the world. The mutual devastation that they can wreak upon one another is colossal. Any Sino-India conflict will invariably drag Pakistan into the fray. The operational connotation would be of India essentially fighting a two front war. This time India may not be able to free up troops from its Western and/or South Western fronts. Presented an opportunity in Kashmir again Pakistan’s response will be much more aggressive than it was during the Sino-India War of 1962. It is unlikely to accept external pressures.

The unasked question is: Will the US intervene physically to tilt the balance in its ally India’s favor, ever? The strategic connotations of such belligerence will surely be untold and catastrophic beyond description.

Asia as a whole and India in particular, need to find an answer to this fateful question.

The author is a retired Brigadier and a faculty member of NUST (NIPCONS).