India–China and Their War-making Capacities

Date01 April 2021
Published date01 April 2021
Subject MatterResearch Articles
Research Article
India–China and Their
War-making Capacities
Christopher K. Colley1 and
Prashant Hosur Suhas2
Much has been said about how China’s rapidly growing economy has led to
increasing power disparity between India and China over the last two decades.
China’s economic growth in this period has been spectacular, but it is not clear
whether that gives a good sense of how effective its military capabilities are
against India. In the context of the escalating Sino-Indian rivalry, this article asks
the question: what is the nature of India’s power disparity vis-à-vis China? And
does the existing power disparity between India and China give China a clear
and uncontestable advantage? We argue that while there is significant asymmetry
between India and China, the asymmetry is not as overwhelming when we
consider certain facets of war-making capacity such as capital intensiveness
of the military, military mobilisation, extractive capacity of the state and the
institutional capacities to mobilise forces on a large scale, should the occasion
demand. Moreover, India, with a more defensive posture against China, is in a
better position to counter it because it mitigates the effects of power disparity.
Therefore, we seek to understand the variation in asymmetries across different
parameters of war-making capacity and force structure to better assess where
the two countries may have advantages and disadvantages in the months and
years to come. This article’s main contribution is to demonstrate through publicly
available data the various levels of asymmetry between India and China. It also
contributes to the security studies, rising powers and conflict literature.
India, China, military capabilities, war, power disparity
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
8(1) 33–61, 2021
© The Author(s) 2021
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2347797021993962
1 National Defense College of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
2 Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY, USA.
Corresponding author:
Christopher K. Colley, National Defense College of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, United
Arab Emirates; Wilson Center, Washington, DC 20004, USA.
34 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 8(1)
Recent tensions between India and China have led many to argue that the growing
power disparity between India and China favouring China explains China’s
aggressive actions against India on the Line of Actual Control (Ganguly & Pardesi,
2020; Mohan, 2020). While power disparity is a major factor in explaining changes
in state behaviour, a single event cannot be explained by structural changes that
often occur at a relatively glacial pace as opposed to more dynamic factors on
the ground. However, whether increasing power disparity would lead to more or
less conflict in general has been a widely studied topic in international relations
(Chan, 2008; Ikenberry, 2014; Kim & Morrow, 1992; Kugler & Lemke, 1996).
In this article, we ask the following questions: (a) What is the nature of India’s
power disparity vis-à-vis China? (b) Does the existing power disparity between
India and China give China a clear and uncontestable advantage? We argue that
while there is no doubt that there is a power disparity between India and China
that favours the latter, the magnitude of such differentials varies depending on
how we conceptualise material power. Furthermore, despite the presence of power
disparity, there are geographical and strategic factors that mitigate the effects of
power disparity to India’s advantage. While China has a substantial advantage
over India in terms military hardware and advanced technology, any military
confrontation between China and India will most likely occur in areas where India
has a distinct geographical advantage. As will be elaborated below, conflict along
the disputed western border will happen much closer to Indian airfields and troop
concentrations. Any confrontation in the maritime domain will likely take place in
the Indian Ocean in the vicinity of Indian naval bases.
In this article, we assess the nature of power differentials between India and
China using different conceptualisation and measures of war-making capacity and
present our assessment of whether the current power disparity gives an undisputed
advantage to China or whether there are areas where India can compensate for the
current power disparity. We believe while China has an advantage in resources,
the prevailing disparity is not significantly wide and India still has the chance to
catch-up when it comes to closing the gap on certain variables of power. We also
show that, qualitatively, China still lags behind in terms of its naval capabilities,
especially if it seeks to establish dominance in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
This article is divided into three parts. First, we discuss how military capacity has
been defined and operationalised in the field of international relations. Second, we
discuss the scope of power disparity based on critical variables related to war-
making capacity such as military expenditures, military personnel, level of
industrialisation and measures of GDP and GDP per capita. Third, we provide a
qualitative assessment of the weapons platforms and troops’ battle preparedness.
Finally, we highlight avenues for future research and make our concluding remarks.
Assessment of Military Strength: A Literature Review
Any discussion regarding India’s ‘relative decline’1 vis-à-vis China requires us to
elaborate on how we measure power and what do the measures of military capacity

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