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Art of no war

Published : Aug 24, 2012 00:00 IST

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On boundary disputes and how some states have coped with them.

WHEN faced with a potential boundary dispute, a country's leaders should weigh several factors; namely, its political implications, the value of the territory involved, and its impact on relations with the other side. If tackled at an early stage, public opinion will not be aroused and national prestige will not be affected by a compromise. We failed to ask whether the Aksai Chin was worth the risk of driving China into Pakistan's embrace. Kashmir arouses so much emotion that it has become blasphemous now to ask whether it was worth acquiring areas there which, as Mountbatten warned in December 1947, were opposed to Indian rule. We did right in beating back Pakistan's tribal raid. We were wrong in avoiding a plebiscite; at least one confined to the Valley and some areas.

We are very insular in our perception of such matters and refuse to learn from others. This book, almost encyclopaedic in scope, should help provide a sound perspective. That it is written by a Chinese scholar adds to its value. Hardly any Chinese writing on the boundary conflict appears in India. The subtitle of the work sums up the author's approach - the art of avoiding war. October is not far away. It will mark 50 years of the Sino-Indian war, a wasteful and wholly unnecessary conflict which blighted relations betweenthe two countries. It was preceded by inept Indian diplomacy since 1954 and particularly in 1959-60.

There is a difference between a boundary dispute and a territorial claim. In Arunachal Pradesh we had a territorial claim, which Zhou En-lai was prepared to drop in 1960. In the Aksai Chin there was a genuine boundary dispute; for, the boundary there was never defined on a map, still less demarcated on the ground. Pakistan did the sensible thing. It defined the boundary with China in 1963 and, far from ceding territory, acquired 750 square miles from China.

Right now in the South China Sea and in the Far East, unresolved territorial disputes affect China's relations with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. Few can claim to know the facts. In this book you will find a succinct statement of the facts pertaining to all the disputes in the South China Sea. There are excellent maps of the many disputes covered in the book.

Unlike The Art of War, by Sun Tzu (544-496 B.C.), this book provides a guide to the cessation of international hostilities and conflicts. It introduces some basic concepts and reviews various techniques on boundary demarcation; identifies common errors in boundary description and their influences on the evolution of the boundary and territorial disputes throughout the world. "This is intended to provide details about where and when territorial disputes might potentially occur and how they can be technically averted." Using 10 case studies the author classifies various circumstances under which boundary and territorial disputes could evolve from dormancy to activation - resource scarcity, locational feature, domestic politics, geopolitical competition and cultural difference. The book provides details about how states have coped with their boundary and territorial disputes in order to minimise or reduce the risk of conflicts and wars. "Specifically, six disputesettlement schemes (i.e., fair division scheme, joint managementscheme, international peace park, neutral zone, buffer zone and demilitarised zone) can be applied to the effective resolution of territorial disputes and cross-border resource management." An India-Pakistan peace park will be a good solution to the Siachen dispute. To help policymakers reach an agreement on territorial dispute settlement, it presents five negotiating mechanisms: round table talks, third-party mediation, international arbitration, litigation at an international court, and shelving disputes strategy. Case studies in which each negotiating technique has been successfully applied are briefly narrated.

At the end of each chapter, there is an appendix, which provides information relating to existing international boundary and territorial disputes, various technical and methodological details about the prevention and resolution of international border and territorial disputes, as well as description of how the International Court of Justice works and a list of selected laws, treaties and documents relating to wars. It is an excellent and indispensable work of reference.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Aug 24, 2012.)

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