|Towards A Limited War
|Research Fellow, IDSA|
That the Army Training Command’s (ARTRAC) flagship publication, Pinnacle, has chosen a discussion on the Indian Army Doctrine as its theme for a forthcoming issue, indicates the doctrinal effervescence in the military brought about in part by nuclearisation in the last decade. The current issue also reports on a seminar on Joint Air Land Operations in which a sub-theme was ‘Nature and limits of employment of military power and its strategy’. This is proof, if any, that limited war thinking, begun promisingly in a seminar at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in wake of the Kargil War in early January 2000, is coming of age in the military. The thinking since that seminal seminar culminated in the Indian Army Doctrine, a publication of the ARTRAC in 2004. However, in this, there was no explicit mention of a Limited War doctrine. This article recommends further evolution in Limited War doctrinal thinking in light of the strategic circumstance current in South Asia.
That such thinking is well underway can be discerned from the Centre for Land and Warfare Studies (CLAWS) having commissioned a book by Maj Gen (Retd) GD Bakshi on the subject. It is to be noted that along with GD Bakshi, Manpreet Sethi in her recent book Nuclear Strategy: India’s March Towards Credible Deterrence (New Dehi: Knowledge World, 2009), also underlines that air power, due to its inherent flexibility, readily lends itself as primary instrument in the prosecution of Limited War. Perhaps, the Army doctrine, currently reportedly under review, would evolve along these lines. A range of possibilities exist in strategic literature.
Characteristically, it was the perceptive General Krishnaswamy Sundarji who had already by the early nineties discerned that this was the direction of future writing: “Indian conventional operations should be modulated in scope and depth of penetration into Pakistani territory so that ingress can stop before Pakistan resorts to the use of nuclear weapons.” Sethi, in the same vein in her book, states, “Military strikes would need to be restricted in depth into enemy territory and spread in geographical expanse, or limited in scope to carry out deeper, narrow thrusts into adversary territory in order to remain well away from the expressed ‘red lines’ of the nuclear threshold…”. Bharat Karnad, dilating on the topic in the War College Journal (Autumn 2005), writes: “Converging rapidly on major towns…for shallow but decisive ingress into Pakistani territory is that it is doable…and in each case confronts the GHQ with the dilemma of major proportions of how to stanch the flow…restricting advance to populated environs…capturing a string of major towns.” However, Gurmeet Kanwal, in his Indian Army: Vision 2020 (New Delhi, Harper Collins, 2008), is skeptical believing that: ‘‘Broad Front – Shallow Objective” offensive planning is unlikely to dissuade Pakistan…The only sensible option for India would be to call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff and plan to launch Strike Corps offensive operations to ‘Strike Hard – Strike Deep’.” Nevertheless, in his current assignment as Director CLAWS, he has in its recent seminar ‘Limited Wars in South Asia – Urgent Need for an Indian Doctrine’ weighed in on the side of the need to formulate a military doctrine on limited war under nuclear overhang.
Since Limited War would unfold under the nuclear backdrop, thinking on the implications for nuclear doctrine and the implications of nuclear doctrine needs also be factored in. Here again there appears to be a menu of options. For Sethi, it would be “logical to use the weapons on cities… (to cause) unacceptable damage to make deterrence work best”. She is not persuaded by India’s current doctrinal understanding that unacceptable damage requires ‘massive’ punitive retaliation. Kanwal wishes to retain the threat of “massive punitive retaliation with full force of nuclear capability” so as to perhaps keep an enemy appropriately deterred. Karnad has been a strong votary for “Graduated deterrence or discriminate deterrence…A nuclear version of ‘flexible response’.” But, in the opinion of this author, General Sundarji’s take on this requires greater deliberation than it has received. He wrote: “Terminate nuclear exchange at lowest possible level with a view to negotiating the best peace that is politically acceptable.”
Presently, the term ‘Limited War’ occurs but once in the Indian Army Doctrine and that too on a graphic on Spectrum of Conflict (p. 12). This is understandable as the doctrine had a wider ambit. But just as the Army and the HQ IDS have since taken out doctrines on other aspects with unique characteristics such as Special Forces, joint warfare, amphibious warfare, sub-conventional warfare among others, there is a need to do the same for Limited War. This is particularly so since the graphic in question seamlessly melds Limited War with the next stage of Total War but makes a distinction with the next higher stage of Nuclear War. Doctrinal reflection would do well to revisit this conceptualisation for two reasons: one, that in the nuclear era keeping war from becoming Total War is imperative; and two, that Nuclear War could yet erupt even during prosecution of what is originally intended as a Limited War. The nuclear overhang virtually negates the conception of Total War. Therefore, Limited War is here to stay and requires deliberateness in thinking through that only a separately articulated doctrine can ensure.
While thinking through military dimensions of Limited War is undeniable, more importantly it needs to be done in keeping the nuclear doctrine in mind. Movement in one may entail a corresponding movement in the other. Therefore, the doctrinal exercise cannot be restricted to being one internal to the military. It should instead be ‘military led’, considering input and cross fertilisation from a wider field, not excluding in particular, the National Security Council. Thus, jointness – quite apparent from the ARTRAC seminar referred to also having as which also had a subtheme, ‘Synergising Air/Land Warfare for Dominance’ – needs to be carried further to a ‘whole of government’ approach to doctrinal formulation. For instance, Limited War, not being only for punishment, but for wider political effect, may require an equally prominent diplomatic prong. This widening of the doctrinal process, while seemingly far-fetched in light of the disrepair in our higher defence organisation can be initiated only by an enlightened military.