The Challenge of a Two-Front War: India’s China-Pakistan Dilemma

The Challenge of a Two-Front War: India’s China-Pakistan Dilemma

Stimson, 19 April 2021

Concerns over a two-front military threat from China and Pakistan in the early 2000s led India to develop a strategy based on deterrence and dissuasion to prevent any loss of territory. The military was never resourced accordingly, however, leaving open serious vulnerabilities. Despite recent improvements in India-China and India-Pakistan relations, the two-front military threat remains a formidable challenge with no easy answers. India does not have the economic wherewithal to resource its military to fight a two-front war. The alternative—seeking partnerships with other powers to externally rebalance—will also prove difficult, given that the Quad initiative is still in its early stages and cannot provide reliable protection as of now. The smartest choice for New Delhi, therefore, is to neither fight nor prepare to fight a two-front war. Instead, India should seek durable and enduring peace with one of its adversaries. Since China remains a long-term strategic competitor and permanent peace with Pakistan is at odds with the dominant political ideology in New Delhi, however, the Indian military is likely to remain in an unviable position: resource-constrained, overstretched, and vulnerable.