Why the Himalayas Are Worth Fighting For

The ocean is the reason Chinese and Indian soldiers have died over this rugged, seemingly irrelevant piece of land.

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It says quite a bit about the sheer improbability of a major China-India war in the Himalayas that this week’s deadly clash in the Galwan Valley – which produced the first fatalities along the disputed high-altitude border since 1975 – played out the way it did. No shots were fired, no explosives detonated. Rather, it was just two nuclear powers going at it the old-fashioned way: with fists and clubs and whatever else their troops could find lying around. The 20-odd Indian soldiers and their two dozen or so Chinese counterparts who reportedly lost their lives are believed to have done so by falling off a cliff and/or into a river turgid with spring snowmelt. The unforgiving terrain impeded rescue efforts on both sides, leaving the wounded exposed to sub-zero temperatures. Both China and India have been building out ambitious networks of roads and outposts in order to be able to bring substantial firepower to the frontline. Yet, evidently, neither side is capable of truly taming the unforgiving geography of the Himalayas to the extent needed to conduct complicated operations, much less stage an overland invasion into the other’s heartland. But this doesn’t mean that the high ground isn’t strategically […]

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Phillip Orchard
Phillip Orchard is an analyst at Geopolitical Futures. Prior to joining the company, Mr. Orchard spent nearly six years at Stratfor, working as an editor and writing about East Asian geopolitics. He’s spent more than six years abroad, primarily in Southeast Asia and Latin America, where he’s had formative, immersive experiences with the problems arising from mass political upheaval, civil conflict and human migration. Mr. Orchard holds a master’s degree in Security, Law and Diplomacy from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, where he focused on energy and national security, Chinese foreign policy, intelligence analysis, and institutional pathologies. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He speaks Spanish and some Thai and Lao.