Weekend border clashes between a nuclear armed China and a nuclear armed India have the potential, if the situation escalated, to bring the U.S. into a nuke fight on India’s side if war broke out.

While these clashes are far from at that level (at this point), ancient enmities and modern geopolitics could change the situation overnight.

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Over the years India and the U.S. have grown close in regard to national security. The friendship between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi attests to that. After the Pakistani military, India’s traditional enemy, not only harbored Osama bin Laden in safety but sidled up to the Chinese, the U.S. has put distance between America and Pakistan. The Chinese have noticed and strengthened ties to Pakistan.

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And their respective militaries are not in a trusting frame of mind these days.

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India and China have been to war before. For a month in late 1962 the nations clashed over their mutual Himalayan border region. The Chinese came out on top. The Indians haven’t forgotten it. Now both have nukes. That’s one of the reasons the small recent clashes are troublesome.

Because of Chinese moves on the border, the Indian Air Force recently began carrying out flights near the India-China border. According to intel and press reports, the Indian military is preparing for a possible escalation in tensions with China.

The air patrols came one day after Indian Prime Minister Modi visited the base where 20 of his soldiers were killed in a battle with the Chinese last month. He thanked the wounded infantry and said they’ve sent a message to the world of India’s courage. “The braves who left us, they didn’t depart without reason, all of you gave a befitting reply. You are injured and in the hospital, so you do not know that 1.3 billion countrymen are proud of you.”

In the meantime, Indian Air Force Force members say they are prepared for any challenge that arises. “Every air warrior at this base and across the entire Indian Air Force is fully trained and capable to meet all the challenges. Our josh [spirits] have always been high and touching the sky with glory,” said a spokesman.

The toll even in a small nuclear exchange between the two would be horrendous and could cost tens of millions of lives. Other nations could be drawn in. Britain, with its imperial past in India, could come to the aid of the former jewel in the crown.

Russia, who has interests in the region and a burgeoning but suspicious defense relationship with China, could get involved. And the U.S., with rising resentment and ire towards China over coronavirus and now regarding India as an ally, could hardly stay neutral in a geopolitical situation that volatile. So the world waits and hopes the small clashes do not climb the escalation ladder. If they do, most other concerns would be wiped off the headlines posthaste.

This piece was written by David Kamioner on July 7, 2020. It originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.

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