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The possibility of a two-front war


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 3- The possibility of three-front war

The possibility of a two-front war has been debated for long in the Indian security establishment. However, the Galwan valley incident has added an urgency to that possibility. 


Two front situation

  • In the Indian military’s thinking, while China was the more powerful, the chance of a conventional conflict breaking out was low.
  • The Chinese intrusions in Ladakh in May this year, the violence that resulted from clashes have now made the Chinese military threat more apparent and real.
  • This comes at a time when the situation along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan has been steadily deteriorating.
  • Between 2017 and 2019, there has been a four-fold increase in ceasefire violations.
  • The larger challenge for India’s military would come if the hostilities break out along the northern border with China.
  • In such a situation, it is unlikely that Pakistan would initiate a large-scale conflict to capture significant chunks of territory as that would lead to a full-blown war between three nuclear-armed states.

China-Pakistan relationship

  • China has always looked at Pakistan as a counter to India’s influence in South Asia.
  • There is a great deal of alignment in their strategic thinking.
  • Military cooperation is growing, with China accounting for 73% of the total arms imports of Pakistan between 2015-2019.
  • It would, therefore, be prudent for India to be ready for a two-front threat.

The dilemma for India: In resources and strategy

  • It is neither practical nor feasible to build a level of capability that enables independent warfighting on both fronts.
  • A major decision will be the quantum of resources to be allocated for the primary front. This is the dilemma of resources.
  • If a majority of the assets of the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force are sent towards the northern border, it will require the military to rethink its strategy for the western border.
  • This is the second dilemma.
  • Even though Pakistan may only be pursuing a hybrid war, should the Indian military remain entirely defensive?
  • Adopting a more offensive strategy against Pakistan could draw limited resources into a wider conflict.

Way forward

  • We need to develop both the doctrine and the capability to deal with this contingency.
  • Capability building also requires a serious debate, particularly in view of the country’s economic situation.
  • We need to focus on future technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, cyber, electronic warfare, etc.
  • The right balance will have to be struck based on a detailed assessment of China and Pakistan’s war-fighting strategies.
  • Diplomacy has a crucial role to play.
  • India would do well to improve relations with its neighbors so as not to be caught in an unfriendly neighborhood.
  • The engagement of the key powers in West Asia, including Iran, should be further strengthened.
  • Relationship with Moscow should not be sacrificed in favor of India-United States relations given that Russia could play a key role in defusing the severity of a regional gang up against India.
  • Political outreach to Kashmir aimed at pacifying the aggrieved citizens would help in easing the pressure from the western front.

Consider the question “India faces the possibility of a two-front war. What strategy India should follow to deal with such a challenge?” 


A politically-guided doctrine, comprehensive military capability, and exploring other options will help to deal with the China-Pakistan threat.

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