India and China Prepare for War

It’s always something, isn’t it?

The Black Swan theory was developed by author Nassim Taleb – his book, “The Black Swan“, remains one of my favorites — and at its core it describes the propensity of some kind of an unexpected event to come along and disrupt things. Economic collapses, sudden outbreaks of war, that sort of thing. The key to dealing with Black Swan events is to recognize that no amount of predictive calculations — no computer models, no risk-mitigating algorithms — can ever really measure the likelihood, or the powerfully effective nature, of the event. Black Swans just happen, like black swans being born into a flock of white swans. The only way to protect yourself, according to the theory, is to hedge.

For some reason, this theory really hits me. And even though I know it’s futile to try to “predict” or “anticipate” a specific event, I still try.  

So, here’s my candidate for the Black Swan of the mid-2010′s: an unexpected war in the South China Sea.  From Reuters:

India has declared itself ready to deploy naval vessels to the South China Sea to protect its oil-exploration interests there, a potential new escalation of tensions in a disputed area where fears of armed conflict have been growing steadily.

India’s naval chief made the statement on Monday just as Vietnam’s state oil and gas company, Petrovietnam, accused Chinese boats of sabotaging an exploration operation by cutting a seismic cable being towed behind a Vietnamese vessel.

Petrovietnam said the seismic vessel, Binh Minh 02, had been operating outside the Gulf of Tonkin when the cable was severed on Friday. It had earlier been surveying the Nam Con Son basin further south — an area where Indian state-run explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) has a stake in a Vietnamese gas field.

And to think that only a decade or so ago, the world was preparing for the “inevitable” nuclear war between India and Pakistan. One of the unexpected outcomes of 9/11 was the de-escalation of those tensions (and, of course, the rise of other tensions…).

But this time, it looks like the whole region is starting to experience the friction that takes place when everyone in a neighborhood starts to get rich, get industrial, and suddenly need a lot of oil:

Parts of the South China Sea are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. The region, Asia’s biggest potential military troublespot, is believed to be rich in oil and gas — and more than half the world’s oil-tanker traffic passes through it.

Last week, Chinese state media said police in southern Hainan province would board and search ships which illegally entered what China considers its territory in the sea — a move that immediately raised fears for the free passage of international shipping and the possibility of a naval clash.

India has sparred diplomatically with China in the past over its gas and oil exploration block off the coast of Vietnam.

Any display of naval assertiveness by India in the South China Sea would likely fuel concern that the navies of the two rapidly growing Asian giants could be on a collision course as they seek to protect trade routes and lock in the supply of coal, minerals and other raw material from foreign sources.

It’s the Slasher Movie Principle at work: when all of the characters are barring one door, the killer always comes in the back way.

  1. Stuart Creque

    Just to nitpick: the term “black swan event” refers to something that has never happened before and therefore is dismissed as impossible — until it happens. Ancient logicians used “All swans are white; this bird is black; therefore this bird is not a swan” as a classic example of a syllogism… and in the 18th century, Captain Cook reached Australia and found black swans there. Taleb also applies the term to the barn doors we assume are securely closed and locked, as in his anecdote about the casino security chief who related that his employer spends millions to prevent theft and robbery, but lost tens of millions when an accounting employee retired and it was discovered he’d hoarded and failed to file withholding forms for gamblers who’d won large amounts at the casino. By assuming such a thing could never happen, the casino left the risk undefended.

  2. Rob Long
    C
    Mendel: So if I understand this post correctly, Rob is saying “there are important events which cannot be predicted, and my prediction of what the next such event will be is…” · 3 hours ago

    Edited 3 hours ago

    Exactly!  I just can’t resist it.

  3. Severely Ltd.
    Mendel: So if I understand this post correctly, Rob is saying “there are important events which cannot be predicted, and my prediction of what the next such event will be is…” ·

    Yes, by Rob expecting it and now spreading it to all of us, it’s no longer a Black Swan. If we can stay ahead of the curve and predict all possible bad outcomes, we could bring about world peace!

  4. outstripp

    Is China the Germany of the 21st century?  Remind me again…how did WWI begin?

  5. Brian Clendinen

    Actually I have never understood why the U.S. does not pressure Japan to change its constitution so they can start building up their military forces to check China. I have thought for a while Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, with U.S. Australia, New Zealand and India and some smaller players should make a Pacific NATO like alliance.

    If I were a country within a 1000 miles of China I would be worrying about them then again arms races never end well for  smaller nations.

  6. James Of England
    Brian Clendinen: Actually I have never understood why the U.S. does not pressure Japan to change its constitution so they can start building up their military forces to check China. I have thought for a while Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, with U.S. Australia, New Zealand and India and some smaller players should make a Pacific NATO like alliance.

    If I were a country within a 1000 miles of China I would be worrying about them then again arms races never end well for  smaller nations. · 12 minutes ago

    A lot of this stuff fell into the large category of “things that Mitt regularly talked about, gave speeches on, and published about, but that never receieved attention in the conservative media, leading to conservative pundits saying he never talked about it”. In this case, it’s the talks and papers about the “Reagan Economic Zone”, with some mentions in talks and papers about the need to rebuild the navy.

    PRC tantrums and military actions are on the edge of being black swans, as there are considerable numbers of people who are predicting them and attempting to mitigate the consequences.

  7. TheSophist
    outstripp: Is China the Germany of the 21st century?  Remind me again…how did WWI begin? · 35 minutes ago

    Actually, the United States is more like the Germany of the 21st century. Industrial power, check. Currency collapse, coming. Post-collapse socialist dictator, quite possible.

    Think more of how WWII began.

  8. Robert E. Lee

    China will invade India.  The Chinese population gender balance coupled with it’s rejection of homosexuality means they have millions more men than woman and no brides.  Unless they look south.  The war will probably begin with a nuclear exchange with India and Pakistan.

    China has been building a first class military for…what?  Their sudden announcements of their desire to project power throughout Asia clearly indicate their intention to widen their sphere of influence, if not economically (and make no mistake, that is a form of combat), then militarily.

  9. Cornelius Julius Sebastian
    Larry Koler: China will find itself in trouble if they go against India militarily. India is not a shy introverted country. Both their diplomats and their military have been tempered by many years of conflict with Pakistan and Kashmir, been tested on the nuclear flashpoint front…. 

    It was very foolish for India to cozy up to the USSR but they seemed to have learned the lesson that came from that. 

    They are one of the few countries who are aligned with America and staunchly against the Islamist front. Pakistan learned a lesson in back channels with India for supporting their homegrown terrorist provocateurs.

    The Indian Navy has been dealing very effectively with the pirates in their region of influence, too. Read Robert D. Kaplan’s Monsoon.  · 7 hours ago

    We share a degree of Anglo-Imperial political heritage with India. We should align with India if the [expletive] hits the fan, but under this POTUS bank on tacit if not express support for the PRC.  Shameful but true.  

  10. Cornelius Julius Sebastian
    Brian Clendinen: Actually I have never understood why the U.S. does not pressure Japan to change its constitution so they can start building up their military forces to check China. I have thought for a while Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, with U.S. Australia, New Zealand and India and some smaller players should make a Pacific NATO like alliance.

    If I were a country within a 1000 miles of China I would be worrying about them then again arms races never end well for  smaller nations. · 58 minutes ago

    Agreed.   It is time for a western tempered Samurai to rise from the ashes.  Unfortunately, I don’t think Japan has the cultural confidence to make it happen (to wit, group and individual suicide epidemic, etc.)  Plus, as noted in other posts, their demographics are moribund. 

  11. das_motorhead

    Ah, Rob, you beat me to it. I’ve been toying with putting up a post asking people for their Black Swan predictions of 2013. I wasn’t in a rush because I didn’t think anyone else would have the same idea. . .so it turns out my Black Swan event is someone else writing a post predicting Black Swan events. My head just got stuck in an infinite loop.

  12. das_motorhead

    One of Taleb’s early points is (very roughly paraphrasing) that in some cases one man’s black swan is another man’s perfectly executed plan – Think 9/11.

    Mendel: So if I understand this post correctly, Rob is saying “there are important events which cannot be predicted, and my prediction of what the next such event will be is…” · 9 hours ago

    Edited 9 hours ago

    No, I’m not accusing Rob of scheming to make his prediction come true. Although. . .

  13. Stands and Waits
    Scott Reusser

    Keith Bruzelius: Are you sure Canada won’t attack while we’re looking at China . . .

    They’ll invade, build our damn pipeline, and leave. · 9 hours ago

    I, for one, welcome our new Canuck overlords!

  14. Larry Koler
    Cornelius Julius Sebastian

    Larry Koler: 

    … Read Robert D. Kaplan’s Monsoon. 

    We share a degree of Anglo-Imperial political heritage with India. We should align with India if the [expletive] hits the fan, but under this POTUS bank on tacit if not express support for the PRC.  Shameful but true.  

    Agreed — we should strengthen our ties to India.

    The worst thing about Obama is his inexperience — and for a newbie, 4 years was not enough time for him to learn any lessons. What chickens will come home to roost in the next four? The Benghazi incident is emblematic of why Obama might just be sorry he got a second term.

    J of E is right to point out how an adult like Romney works these things out in his mind. It’s so sad really — Mitt was never more ready to serve. We lost out on a truly great leader. 

  15. Scott R
    Robert E. Lee: China will invade India.  The Chinese population gender balance coupled with it’s rejection of homosexuality means they have millions more men than woman and no brides. 

    Russia’s got the surplus babes, since it’s men are dying of liver disease and AIDS, while India has some of the same man-surplus problems as China.

    Steyn posits the horny-China-looking-to-Russia idea in a half-kidding way in America Alone.

  16. Larry Koler
    Brian Clendinen: Actually I have never understood why the U.S. does not pressure Japan to change its constitution so they can start building up their military forces to check China. I have thought for a while Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, with U.S. Australia, New Zealand and India and some smaller players should make a Pacific NATO like alliance.

    If I were a country within a 1000 miles of China I would be worrying about them then again arms races never end well for  smaller nations. · 1 hour ago

    I completely agree. This tactic serves democracies well. The world needs a NATO type alliance for countries being threatened by China and before they are coopted internally by all the insidious agents of influence and fifth columns that are being funded by ChiComs. 

    As Hemingway points out — there are worse things than war and the chief among them is losing a war. So, though small countries take a risk with such pacts they need to do what is possible as soon as possible.

  17. KC Mulville

    Last year, I mentioned the possibility of an India-China skirmish, because I still think Pakistan is going to do something stupid. Plus, when 1.5 billion people stare across the border at 1.5 billion, and each side has their own bubble that (sooner or later) is going to burst, that’s just too many chances for stupidity.

    My gut instinct is to stay out of it. Besides, who are we going to insert into that situation who could improve our angle? Hillary? Susan Rice? John Kerry? Of course, if they sent Joe Biden, we’d be at war within the hour. Stay out of it.

  18. Barkha Herman
    Robert E. Lee: China will invade India.  The Chinese population gender balance coupled with it’s rejection of homosexuality means they have millions more men than woman and no brides.  Unless they look south.  The war will probably begin with a nuclear exchange with India and Pakistan.

    India has a similar gender imbalance.  However, I doubt India and China will go to any significant war.  In implementing their population control measures, China has created a manpower problem in the long run.  

     Indians, on the other hand, are the fastest growing demographics in the world.  Many are migrating to China and rest of the world.

    Outside of the US, India is the top “culture” exporter to the rest of the world.  Their movies are popular in Asia, Africa and eastern Europe.  They produce more Doctors and Engineers than any other country and they are the pharmacists to the world.

    And, they are the biggest importers of Chinese goods outside of China itself.

    Thank you, come again :-).

  19. Hang On

    I don’t see how conflict or war in the South China Sea could possibly be thought of as a Black Swan event since this has been war gamed for over a decade.

    A war between South Africa and Brazil. Now that’s a Black Swan event.

  20. Hang On
    Brian Clendinen: Actually I have never understood why the U.S. does not pressure Japan to change its constitution so they can start building up their military forces to check China. I have thought for a while Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, with U.S. Australia, New Zealand and India and some smaller players should make a Pacific NATO like alliance.

    If I were a country within a 1000 miles of China I would be worrying about them then again arms races never end well for  smaller nations. · 2 hours ago

    Why would you be preparing to take military action against your largest trading partner? Seems like a good way to lose business and damage your economy.