- Professor Rajesh Basrur, Visiting Professor, South Asia Programme, IDSS, RSIS
- Dr Pascal Vennesson, Senior Fellow and Head of Research, IDSS, RSIS
The India-China strategic relationship, fraught with varying degrees of tension since the 1950s, has been on edge over the past decade. Its history spans an on-going territorial dispute, a war (1962), periodic confrontations since then, and a violent though limited military clash in 2020. I examine the dynamics of the relationship through a theoretical lens that focuses on the singular characteristics of nuclear rivalries. Since war is no longer a rationally sensible option for hostile nuclear-armed states, the strategic behaviour exhibited by them should have undergone a substantial, indeed foundational, transformation. Yet it is evident that this is not quite true. When crises break out, nuclear-armed states clearly show an appreciation of the constraints imposed by nuclear weapons on the employment of military force. But in non-crisis situations – that is, most of the time – nuclear powers tend to behave in conventional (i.e. pre-nuclear) ways. In this paper, I attempt to explain how and why nuclear powers exhibit conventional strategic behaviour in a post-conventional world by a close examination of the India-China strategic relationship.