China celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on October 1, 2009. It did so with the pomp and circumstance befitting a significant milestone. Fireworks, aerobatics, even a female militia in miniskirt ensemble, and of course, contingents from the world’s largest armed forces.
In India, media coverage was distressingly predictable. Labeling the military parade China’s “massive display of strength”, the media harped on about how the People’s Republic overwhelms India in military might. Like this wonderful piece, called “China vs India: Military might“ put together by an “NDTV correspondent” on their website (and also broadcast as a news item on television).
The article gives you a blow-by-blow of China’s relative superiority — 6,000 more “airplanes” in the PLAF, 100,000 more troops. Run of the mill, factually incorrect observations — like Chinese plans to build and induct an aircraft carrier by 2010. For those with an eye for the bleeding obvious, 2010 is next year. And lest the nuclear arena be ignored, the article points out that China’s most potent warhead tested was 4 mT, whereas apparently an Indian nuclear test yielded 50 kT. The author should have disclosed this a few weeks ago — it would have put an end to this ruccus.
Reading this article, you get the sense that China overwhelms India militarily and that the sanest thing for the Indian army to do under the circumstances is to pack up and go home. Except, defense and national security aren’t played out on balance sheets or through inventory counts.
Any Chinese military misadventure is contingent on a number of factors, including India’s conventional military capability, analysis of the impact of war on China’s economy and global standing, prospects of game-altering strategic alliances should war be imposed on India, and of course, China’s definition of “acceptable damage” and its assessment of India’s ability to cross that threshold via a nuclear assault.
Of course, not once was any of this remotely brought to the fore during India’s marathon coverage of China. To do so would be to bore an already disengaged audience about the intricacies of military strategy and international relations. Why complicate matters when you can shock and scandalize someone and quickly cut to a commercial where Yuvraj Singh tries to sell you a Fiat Grande Punto?
Georges ” le Tigre” Clemenceau once said “war is too important a business to be left to soldiers”. Disengagement of the public from matters relating to national security has led to very low levels of accountability in the defense of India. Of the TV news anchors and “on-site” correspondents, not many can talk intelligently on such areas and ask probing questions to defense guests. Comically, (and speaking of “le Tigre”) this blogger remembers TV coverage of the Kargil War, where one TV-news personality made repeated references to “Tiger Hills”, like it was some dashed hill station.
Today, the only honest, probing and meaningful analysis is conducted mostly by think tanks, whose publications are, unfortunately, only read by other think tanks. The Filter Coffee has long held the position that discussion on the defense of India needs to move away from think tanks and into our living rooms. It is only then that true accountability can be demanded, both from the system, riddled as it is with bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption, and from the media, who today get a free pass on peddling half-truths and sweeping generalizations on an unsuspecting public.
As it stands today on matters of defense and national security, the media fails the very democracy it says it is protecting.