Thursday, 18 December 2014

Nationalism and Nuclear Risk

India and China: Nationalism and Nuclear Risk

Following Gaurav Kampani’s recent essay inInternational Security, another paper by the author was published by the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies. This new paper is quite compelling and deserves a close look, especially where he notes two tendencies increasing deterrence instability between India and China. However, there may be a blind spot in Kampani’s analysis.
But let’s start with the first tendency noted by Kampani: As both militaries have entered nuclear strategic decision making – with the Indian military lagging behind by about a decade – there is a push to move from minimal to limited deterrence. This involves, in part, seeking to enhance deterrence by building in options for limited nuclear use. The second tendency is in the negative implications this carries for no-first use (NFU), which is currently the professed policy of both states. This was particularly evident in the now-defunct Indian debate on the expected revision of its nuclear doctrine.
Taken together, the two beget a situation of instability described by Kampani as: “… limited options render deterrence more credible and are more likely to achieve intra-war deterrence … The net strategic effect of these operational changes will be the lowering of the bar for nuclear weapons use in the future.” Kampani rightly notes that there are mitigating structural and institutional features, namely large and strong militaries and balancing institutional pulls from political and scientific establishments, that make for stability.
Kampani’s case is that while “there is reason for concern, the case for nuclear pessimism in the China–India nuclear dyad is overstated,” so can’t we, on account of that stability, leave well enough alone?
To be sure, the two states have considerable depth in both territory and forces, thus precluding the ready or early resort to nuclear weapons. However, nationalism is growing stronger in the politics of both states. Chinese nationalism is being fanned by the nationalist turns in Japan, and this year India elected a nationalist government.
The impact of nationalism on strategic rationality is to force everything towards the hard option. During crises or conflicts, there are also media-induced nationalist pulls and pressures magnifying this force. Of course, this force is further strengthened by both states being on the cusp of rising to the next echelon in power, with China poised to become a superpower and India a great power. The adverse effect of downward movement by either will be taken as impacting its standing. In India’s case this would include its regional salience in relation to Pakistan. Finally, while nationalism in both states can prove fatal, it is bad enough in just one as that would suffice to ensure a mirroring in the other.
The net effect of this is the escalation of the several border incidents in the recent past between the two states, such as the most recent, which coincided with the Chinese premier’s visit to Delhi. Clearly, there is nothing positive to be found here. A nudge is more liable to end up as a push, and a push more liable to transform into a shove. Nationalism and the cultural need to save face at this stage will likely kick in with greater gusto. The side that perceives itself to be on the losing end can be expected to escalate to escape disadvantage.
To be sure, escalation can very well occur. Indeed, directions in the military preparedness of both states betray as much. Even though there is only a border dispute between them, an incipient rivalry in the Indian Ocean is being played out. This horizontal escalation is building in scope. Coupled with the nationalist impulse in strategic thinking, vertical escalation is becoming a certainty where otherwise it would have remained a mere possibility.
What will vertical escalation look like? Nationalism-inspired strategies will place a premium on territory. With forces available and mobile thanks to increased investment in infrastructure and aerial transport fleets, the rapid concentration of forces can be foreseen. This might potentially set the stage for de-escalation, since neither would be able to claim an easy victory. In fact, precedence does favor this in that China withdrew after its earlier forays into India and Vietnam, and India has restricted its actions against Pakistan in Kargil to that theater itself. However, nationalism, with its effects on strategy, is the wildcard, making it difficult to rule out escalation.
Traditional nuclear strategists would claim that India currently lacks strategic deterrence, since its Agni series is not yet complete and the K series has not yet been tested from the nuclear submarine. Even so, India will likely have enough deterrence elements to please such strategists by the end of the decade. In the interim, it is exercising minimal deterrence, the effect of which cannot be discounted, as China values its economic trajectory. However, this can, at best, only ensure deterrence stability at the upper reaches of city busting levels.
As Kampani notes in his warning of military pushes in both states towards the operational – instead of political – utility of nuclear weapons, there will also likely be military pushes in both states for operational level leverage with nuclear weapons. Kampani admits to both militaries being capable of nuclear use from demonstration shots to shots across the bow.
A nationalist strategy, coupled with a military need to recuperate from a bad bargain, may foreshadow the operational use of nuclear weapons. Use of nuclear weapons will not necessarily bring about a doomsday scenario in that the choice of nuclear first use and its response will be in areas marginal to the territorial and socio-political heartland of both states. Nuclear first use of this kind would likely invoke the strategic benefit in the deterrence logic of the “threat that leaves something to chance.”
The scenario here relies on a factor usually discounted in traditional strategic analyses, which presume strategic rationality and have internal political factors as a blind spot. Consequently, though Kampani is right that the “competition is unlikely to assume the unbridled nature of the former superpower rivalry,” that is not quite the real fear.

Monday, 10 November 2014

India on the LC

A More Aggressive India

For its part, Pakistan has used its prime minister’s foreign policy and the NSA to spell out that it will not accept India’s hegemonic designs and will settle only for “meaningful” talks that lead to a settlement on the outstanding issue of Kashmir. Its army chief has vowed an “effective” response, while the more colorful former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf called for “inciting” rebellion in Kashmir.
So, not much has changed.
One thing looks different, however: India appears more aggressive on the LoC, in one report firing more than1000 mortar rounds in one day. And the reasons for this go beyond a mere shift in policy.
First, the firing has been in response to Pakistan’s raising of the stakes. Since the beheading of an Indian soldier in early 2013, the Indian Army has the mandate of giving a “befitting reply” at a time and place of its choosing. This time, with a soldier reportedly killed in an IED attack in Balnoi sector, the opportunity presented itself.
Second, India is reporting more infiltration attempts, probably a result of the unprecedented rains on the anti-infiltration fence along the LoC. The Army’s spokesman in Kashmir explained the spurt as Pakistan preparing to disrupt the impending elections in Jammu and Kashmir and as the annual last-ditch infiltration before winter. Additionally, the firing sets the stage for the elections in Jammu and Kashmir by warning off Pakistan.
Finally, the Indian government has gained some electoral advantages in the run-up to provincial elections, during which Prime Minister Narendra Modi alluded to “shutting up” Pakistan’s army by leaving it “screaming.” Having demonstrated that this Indian government is different from its predecessor, there are hints of a revival of talks as early as the forthcoming SAARC gathering in Kathmandu in November.
The firing could also be said to have kicked-off India’s grand strategy, aimed at economic development over Modi’s ten-year timeline. In its initial phase, the government is focused on bolstering its position, taking political gains from projects already underway such as the recent test flight of the Nirbhay cruise missile or the launch ofthe Vikramaditya aircraft carrier. To quote the NSA at his address at the Munich Security Conference in New Delhi, it is India’s “effective deterrence” against terrorism.
All in all, whether it be in confronting Pakistan or China, this Indian government has adopted a more aggressive posture, even if in actual policy terms the changes are mostly subtle, such as rescinding environmental constraints on road building in the fragile Himalayas.
Strategic commentary by analysts ranging from realist theoretician Rajesh Rajagopalan to practitioner Ashok Mehta advises the government to tread more softly. Their arguments are based on the strategic logic that India can ill afford to be tested prematurely on either front. In the event of a conflict with Pakistan, it is India that has something to lose, not Pakistan. Against China, India might be able to give a credible account of itself, but the costs would be immense – the government has just set aside $13 billion of an intended $100 billion over the next ten years to plug the gaps the strategists have outlined.
However, the strategic commentary does not quite capture the ongoing change taking place. Previous governments have shown an admirable distaste for militarism. They might have played a strategic game, including, if Musharraf is to be believed, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Baluchistan, but it was more subtle and without the current grandstanding.
In contrast, the Modi government has interpreted firing episodes along the LoC as giving the military a free hand, a departure from the days when the military was stifled by bureaucratic layers and diplomatic niceties. Meanwhile, the government has agreed to a national war memorial and will also appease the military with the expected pay commission. It has kept the ministerial weight on the military light by persisting with a part-time defense minister, despite his ill health. This enables Modi to forge a direct relationship with the military himself through repeated visits, the most recent one being to Siachen.
The seeming responsiveness of Modi to the military can potentially transform civil-military relations from objective civilian control, relying on military professionalism alone, to subjective civilian control reliant on affinity. The goal could be to bring about a convergence of thinking between the political master and the subservient military.
Clearly, if the sociological perspective is adopted, there is more to the LoC firing and increased visibility of the military than strategic commentary lets on.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Modi and the military

Modi and the Military

Universally, militaries are conservative-realist entities. India’s is no different. Therefore, though an apolitical one, it is probably not unhappy with the election of a conservative government to power in Delhi. Whereas other governments have been constrained by their parliamentary strength and have used the military sparingly, this government does not need to look over its shoulder. In fact, it is already delivering on several of the military’s long standing demands. Mr. Modi’s Diwali foray to Siachen suggests there is more to the Modi-military relationship than mere photo opportunities. What might this be?
Commentators, citing the recent disruption of the decade long ceasefire on the Line of Control (LOC), have it that India has changed its policy from passivity to greater aggressiveness. It is also being prickly on the China front, so much so that analysts have advised greater caution. While the army has been given a ‘free hand’ in one report on the LOC owing in the defence minister’s words to India having greater ‘conventional strength’, on the China front, since India has a lot of catching up to do, India is probably more restrained, even if it  is projecting a tougher  stance.
Assuming Indian strategy is, in the words of its National Security Adviser, ‘effective deterrence’, then India would have strengthened its fences early and then settled down to concentrating on its economic development. As a grand strategy, this is unexceptionable, even if the initial phase could well have been different with Mr. Modi following up on the promise of the meeting with Mr. Sharif in Rashtrapati Bhawan forecourt.
Mr. Modi rightly reasoned that Mr. Sharif was not the best interlocutor in Pakistan and that he could not deliver on what the only other credible interlocutor in Pakistan, its army, can possibly settle for. This best explains India’s strategic line taken. It has essentially told Pakistan off, even if has not ‘shut up’ that army as Mr. Modi imagines. Mr. Modi’s going to Siachen only strengthens this message, that even the supposed low hanging fruit, a solution to Siachen, is out of reach. By aggression on the LOC, Mr. Modi and his hard-line security adviser, Mr. Dovel, are messaging that if Pakistan does not accept the new status quo, then India can and will inflict ‘pain’ for ‘adventurism’ in the words of its defence minister.
Messaging thus can only be based on prior strategic calculation that the Pakistan army would play along. So while Pakistan’s army may use its former maverick chief, Musharraf, to plug the hardline for its part and have its spokesperson mimic India’s warning with his own on Indian ‘misadventure’, as a calculating strategic player, it will see the strategic imbalance and lay off India. In any case, it is somewhat busy warding off its own Jihadis. India can aggravate its western front at will through its higher profile in Afghanistan and proximity with the new government in Kabul. Will the Pakistan army see things this way?
India is no doubt aware that Pakistan’s army has proven irrational before, be it in 1971, when it lost half the country; and more recently, at Kargil. Therefore, if India is going in for an aggressive strategy, it is aware that Pakistan army may not get the message of deterrence and there could well be conflict.
This can also be taken as a form of deterrence in that it is India that is playing irrational. It is seemingly in the game of ‘chicken’ in which it has got into the car and stepping on the accelerator, has thrown away the steering. This way Pakistan will have to veer away lest it be crushed by the Indian juggernaut. This is indeed deterrence strategy of sorts.
Even if it does not work, India has readied itself over the past decade with its switch over and its practice of the ‘cold start’ doctrine. India has therefore catered for the worst case. While most would cry ‘watch out for the nukes’, India is perhaps banking on these not coming into the equation in a brief, limited war, irrespective of the spent-force, General Musharraf’s vainglorious threats.
While to most war spells economic downslide, to India’s decision makers it may well stimulate the economy. As it is, India is privileging the defence sector. It has opened it up to foreign investment. It is set to stay at the top of the arms importers table for the remainder of the decade. The US has displaced Russia as its largest supplier. More widely, the government is itself fronting for big corporations interested in the defence sector. The ‘make in India’ slogan can be defence sector led.
Therefore, the only restraint on war, the notion that it would be bad for the economy, is not one that the government may find overly persuasive. In fact, the political gains from a short, sharp war in which Pakistan is taught a lesson or two may be worth the risk. Externally, it may displace Pakistani military from the decision apex in Pakistan, enabling finally the ascendance of the peace lobby there. Internally, a victory would prove as good for the BJP as it was for Indira Gandhi.
Therefore, the Indian strategy is a win-win one—for itself. In case Pakistan takes the hint, then India can proceed with its economic trajectory unmolested. In case Pakistan does not play ball, then India can use the economic stimulus of a brief bout of hostilities to continue, after a short pause, down its economic trajectory.
As with any strategy, there is an element of risk. However, are assumptions such as of Pakistani rationality; on the economic fallout of war; and unlikelihood of a war going nuclear, one too many? Can it be that the conservative-realists, new to power and itsexercise, in presenting themselves as different from their predecessors, are stretching tad too far? Or are there military-societal explanations for the military-Modi chemistry on display that strategic analysts cannot quite capture? Answers will emerge, and hopefully not through a mushroom cloud.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The maulvi protests too much

Wearing religion on their uniform sleeves
4 October 2014, New Delhi, Ali Ahmed
The Indian Army cannot afford a controversy where its secular credentials get questioned in the open.
If a recent newspaper report is to be believed, a Maulvi in the army has been censured for using the salutation ‘Jai Hind’. Reading the rest of the news story reveals that he declined to use the regimental salutations, Jai Mata Di and Ram Ram, in vogue within his regiment, the Rajputana Rifles. He preferred using Jai Hind instead, citing religious reasons. Media reports have it that the Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) has alleged in his court submission that the army has denigrated Jai Hind as a greeting.

This is far from the truth since the salutation between officers in the army is Jai Hind. However, by not following the traditions in the battalion, the JCO is indirectly calling these into question. He not only thereby detracts from the entire edifice of regimental traditions but in his public challenge to this particular one brings a major issue to the fore, that of relationship of an orthodox version of religion with the military.

Regimentation is part of the course for members of fighting units which all frontline infantry units are, including 3 Raj Rif, the JCO’s current outfit. This is the difference between norms, ethics and the law. Norms go beyond the written word. Compliance is necessary since these units are not tasked for ‘normal’ activity. They are to go into battle, the daunting sounds and sights of which are familiar to all across the country post Kargil. This requires a bonding between members of the units and a horizontal cohesion in sub-units that will enable them to go the last hundred yards under fire.

While this can come about by shared dangers and privations of war as conscript armies have demonstrated in military history, our army has chosen the regimental system to keep the regimental spirit alive and well. This owes to undemarcated borders, unresolved disputes with neighbours and live insurgencies sometimes compelling sudden deployment in operations. In such situations, pre-existing bonds can sustain the fighting man. Such bonds are created in peace times through practices that go back three centuries such as eating the same food, speaking the same language, wearing the same uniform and sharing the same greeting.

His challenge to the salutation in his present place of posting has critical morale sapping connotations. A religious teacher (RT) is usually authorised where there is a company worth of troops from a particular religion. He has in his challenge adversely impacted the practices that the Muslim jawans are used to. In case they see their religious teacher not following traditions, they can begin to doubt these. This will bring about an avoidable divide between them and their Hindu comrades.

At one remove, Muslim soldiers who have gained immortality in fighting for the country, ranging from Brigadier Usman to Haneefuddin, are icons for their co-religionists. A commanding officer in Kargil swears by their role there. Such inspiring feats have wider repercussions, leading, for instance, to the politician Azam Khan in a display of patriotic fervour claiming the Kargil victory as a Muslim contribution to the nation! The prime minister was right in his observation that Muslims both live and die for the country. Such sacrifice is generated by the identification of soldiers with their comrades, sub-units and units, a sentiment that traditions help foster. The RT JCO in questioning traditions and practices is disrupting the harmony that gives rise to martial exploits. These are important not only in themselves but also serve as a building block for the the wider mosaic of Indian Muslim communities across India to identify with and be proud of their army and their country.

The RT JCO cites his religious convictions as standing in the way. Several Muslims, some of whom have been staunch believers and avid practitioners, have gone through service without having their religion come in way of their regimental duties. Aligarh Muslim University Vice Chancellor Zameeruddin Shah has acknowledged as much in a recent interview. At least one such Muslim with an unmatched reputation of never having missed a fast in the month of Ramzan, even when in exercises or operations, or his five-times prayer is Lt Gen Zaki, former vice chancellor of the Jamia Millia Islamia. He was from a regiment that continues to use Ram-Ram as its salutation.

Nevertheless, since India allows freedom to profess religion and followers of all faiths have the right to contribute to the country’s defence, the question is how can the RT JCO’s rights be preserved? He could well have been transferred out of his unit to another where the traditional greeting is Jai Hind. This would have preserved his religious convictions and prevented the cohesion from being threatened in his unit. Since he has chosen instead to go to the press, military justice must now take its own course.

However, the more significant point from this episode is of the relationship of extreme forms of religion with the military. In this case, it is possible that the RT JCO subscribes to an orthodox version of Islam that is seemingly less tolerant of the traditional face of subcontinental Islam. The eclipse of the greeting ‘Khuda-hafez’ by ‘Allah-hafez’ is symbolic and symptomatic of this version. He has perhaps been a victim of taking a particular trend in Islam as the correct and the only version of Islam. As a result his ultra-orthodox religious convictions have got better of his score years of military service and his sensitivity to the injunctions in Islam of service to the country.

The trend bears watching since in both majority’s religion, Hinduism, and Islam are each witnessing a tussle within, in which less tolerant forms are vying to be the dominant version of respective religion. The army cannot afford to serve as a site for such tryst. It cannot afford controversy in which its secular credentials are questioned. It is clear that the agenda of its Institute for National Integration in Pune that graduates religious teachers has suddenly got heavier. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

book extract

An extract from the book India's Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia:

The organisational culture has also been considerably influenced by the kargil war and the near-war situation of 2001–02. Just as the 1962 war prompted much internal tumult, the initial surprise (V.P. Malik) in kargil and later, the inability to deal Pakistan a return blow in 2002 despite the Parliament attack and later the kalu Chak incident, referred to in subsequent literature as the ‘twin peaks crisis’, has prompted much introspection. The military’s image and self-image was considerably dented. ‘Face’ has well-known cultural connotations. Thus it had to come up with an answer to the con- tinuing problem posed by Pakistan. The outcome was Limited war thinking (kapoor 2010: 3). A change in organisational culture per- ceptibly towards the offensive was the result. only a change from defensive mindset to offensive, from attrition orientation to maneu- verist thinking could operationalise the doctrine (kapoor 2010: 4). The internal measures taken to foster an offensive mindset are not dealt in detail here.
The defensive mindset has been partially ingrained by the foremost role of the military involving defence of national territory interpreted earlier as a need to defend ‘every inch’ has been over-shadowed instead by an inclination to undertake the same role differently by taking the offensive. Forces for this in pivot forma- tions have been created by thinning out on the defences and accept- ing the risk of loss of territory that this entails. earlier, loss was not possible to envisage as in a short duration war it was felt that losses in territory would serve as bargaining chips in adverse hands and would be politically costly. however, by taking to the offensive through building the capability and an enabling doctrine, the bar-gaining advantage would be with the side on the offensive. There- fore, by taking the offensive, this risk stands minimised.
General V.P. Malik recalls that he had mooted the idea of Limited war prior to the Kargil war but not been taken seriously (Basrur 2009: 328; Malik 2010). The Army, having been at the receiving end of the Pakistani intrusion at kargil, was determined to exploit the gap below the nuclear threshold for a limited conventional operation. The assumption was that Pakistan would be ‘finished’ in case of a nuclear exchange; therefore space existed for conventional operations (Basrur 2009: 328). This would have enabled it to deal decisively with the sub-conventional proxy war. its earlier doctrine involved not only deterring an enemy attack by being ready for it (‘deterrence by denial’) but also launching counter offensives in line with ‘deterrence by punishment’. The accent is now no longer on ‘deterrence by denial’. in fact, the troops for the new offensive tasks of pivot corps have been taken off defensive roles. The aim is to take the initiative and fight the war on enemy territory. The war intended as a short one, would not require defending one’s own territory to the extent once done. Therefore, thinning out is possible in the ground-holding role of forces in defence. This does not imply dilution of ability to defend, but a substitution of manpower by technology and firepower.
The earlier ‘deterrence by punishment’ was deterrence of conventional action by the enemy on the offensive. now ‘deterrence by punishment’ implies punishment for sub-conventional infringements. A shift has taken place in doctrine towards the offensive in the form of proactive operations. This is in keeping with organisational culture that favoured the offensive in any case, as evident from its earlier intent for prosecution of ‘deterrence by denial’ through counter offensives.
The apparent neglect of the nuclear context points to the working of organisational culture. That a blind-spot exists where dan- gers should otherwise be starkly visible, suggests the operation of culture. According to rajesh rajagopalan, the development of the doctrine is, ‘another indication of the indian effort to overcome the limits imposed by nuclearisation and the limitations of that effort’ (2008: 205). he thinks that success would increase Pakistani propensity for nuclear first use. he notes that, ‘whether it is possible to think in terms of military victory in a nuclearised environment is left unaddressed in this doctrine’ (rajagopalan 2008: 206). The military wishes to fulfill its obligation through doctrinal innovation in the direction of what S. Paul kapur calls, ‘Aggressive conventional posture’ (kapur 2008: 88), the dilemma of Pakistani nuclear response notwithstanding. rajesh Basrur asserts that, ‘The “lesson” of kargil — that force projection would work better than diplomacy — was a case of “incorrect learning”. in practice, the whole argument for limited war came to naught in 2002’ (Basrur 2009: 330). Yet, kapur notes, ‘Military thinking has not changed. General Malik continues to hold that “limited war was, and still is, a strategic possibility so long as proxy war continues in the sub- continent”’ (Malik 2009: 330). To Basrur, ‘This represents a military professional’s thinking, and does not reflect the perspective of political decision makers, who have been reluctant to return to the limited war logic that preceded the 2001–2002 crisis. The politicians, at least, seem to have learned the combined lesson of the two crises: that limited war is not a viable option in the nuclear context’ (Basrur 1998: 331).
This ‘learning’ has led to persistence of the ‘strategy of restraint’, despite the provocation of Mumbai attacks of 26/11. it is this that perhaps accounts for a distancing by the military away from Cold Start in favour for what it terms proactive ‘contingency’ operations. in terms of cultural theory, this can be explained as persistence of india’s symbolic strategic culture. despite having an offensive option as an artifact of parabellum or operational strategic culture, that it remains unexercised, indicates the scope of symbolic strategic culture of restraint.
India's Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia,
Ali Ahmed 
Routledge, 2014, pp. 240, Rs 695

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


Demystifying India’s Volte-Face on Pakistan
India’s new government has sprung two back-to-back surprises on Pakistan: the first was inviting Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the swearing-in of Prime Minister Narendra Modi; the second was the about-face on foreign secretary level talks upon the resumption of dialogue.
The first of these was seemingly couched in Indian regional diplomacy, but was mainly directed at Pakistan. The message was that with a new right-leaning government in New Delhi, Pakistan could expect bolder movement on the outstanding issues between the two.
However, the second stemmed from the new government’s reluctance to be brought to the negotiating table under Pakistani pressure. There were an estimated 95 incidents along the Line of Control (LoC) this summer, with 25 on the international border (or “working boundary,” according to Pakistan).
A strategic view of the increase in action along the LoC is that it is the Pakistani military’s attempt to get India to engage meaningfully. A political view is that it was intended to position the military favorably within Pakistan, to first gain credibility for the talks by pushing India to the table, and second to caution the Pakistani government against any “sell out.”
In this event, the Pakistani high commissioner’s meeting with Kashmiri separatists, something traditionally acceded to by India, provided the pretext for the cancellation. It was India’s message to Pakistan’s “miltastablishment,” to use former Punjab acting chief minister, Najam Sethi’s phrase, that force will not work, particularly on a new government with a “tough” self-image.
India’s outstretched hand in the Rashtrapati Bhawan (Presidential Residence) forecourt appeared promising for the peace constituency in Pakistan, which comprises liberals and the business lobby. It is a longstanding Indian policy to expand the peace constituency by holding out economic benefits as an incentive for Pakistan to go beyond the Kashmir question. Cancelling talks was unhelpful in empowering the peace lobby relative to India-skeptics in Pakistan.
It is apparent that India’s strategy does not rely on this constituency’s ability to marginalize hardliners. The cancellation and the manner it was done together suggest India’s intent to bring about change through other means.
In a speech to troops while in Leh, Modi pointed out that the Pakistani military’s shift to a proxy war was due to India’s conventional advantages. Obviously these advantages have not been so overwhelming they could deter a proxy war.
The ability to administer military punishment was found wanting when it was tested during the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Even though India has had a conventional doctrine for the nuclear age, called Cold Start, since the attack on India’s Parliament in December 2001, the military’s wherewithal to execute its policy could not keep pace given the strained economic circumstances during the later part of the last decade.
Deterrence deemed insufficient, India is now attempting to compel.
India is expected to import $250 billion in arms over the next ten years. It is filling in the gaps in its conventional inventory, such as artillery, to remove any doubt of credibility about its conventional deterrence. The amount of foreign investment allowed in defense manufacturing has been upped to 49 percent. Since assuming office, the prime minister has visited Jammu and Kashmir twice, addressing troops on both occasions. Additionally, keeping the defense portfolio without a full-time minister has allowed Modi to keep a closer eye on it.
Three warships have been commissioned in close succession, although two of them are reportedly not quite ready. The buildup on the Chinese front, reviewed most recently by the part-time defense minister in August when he visited the mountain strike corps forming there, could prove useful on the western front too. Carte blanche has been given to the Army and the Border Security Force by respective ministers to administer a “befitting reply” on the LoC and international border.
Within this flurry of activity is couched a message for Pakistan. Thus far, Pakistan has been upping the ante in the hope of getting India to move on Kashmir. This time around, India hopes to increase pressure to get Pakistan to forget Kashmir.
Will this strategy succeed?
Pakistan, for its part, has a counter-strategy of ensuring that it is always in a position to credibly show itself in conflict with India. All it needs to do to win is to avoid losing. Further, its moves on the nuclear front are meant to convey the threat of escalation. This places India’s conventional threat in question, as it is based on keeping any conflict non-nuclear.
Indeed, a paradox emerges in that the more successful India is in its armament program, the greater is the probability of Pakistan’s proxy war challenge heightening at the lower end of the conflict spectrum, and the nuclear shadow lengthening at the upper end.
In Rawalpindi’s perception, with the U.S. set to exit Afghanistan and “good behavior” on Kashmir over the past decade not having “worked,” it may be back to business. Besides, it might be better for Kashmir to act as a sink for surplus Islamist energy than Pakistan’s cities and Punjab. The spike in firing incidents since talks were cancelled suggests as much.
India could also undertake a proxy war itself, an accusation Pakistan has made before, most notably at the Sharm-el Sheikh joint statement in Egypt. The appointment of an intelligence czar as India’s national security advisor is an indicator. Afghanistan readily lends itself as a suitable site for such an endeavor. Any such conflict would certainly spill-over into Pakistan. In India’s calculation, placing Pakistan on its back foot could make it less adventurous in Kashmir.
A strategy of overawing Pakistan is dangerous. Four potential proxy wars threaten: in Afghanistan, its spillover into Pakistan, in Kashmir, and in Islamist terror in India; this last heightened by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahari’s latest video. At the same time there would be conventional and nuclear muscle-flexing by both sides.
Given such dangers, India and Pakistan would do well to restart the peace process at the earliest opportunity, during the two prime ministers’ appearances at the U.N. at the end of next month. At the least, it would reinsert a buffer between crisis and conflict.
Realistically, this may not be on the cards. India, set on upping the ante, may have decided to hold course no matter what. In this game of chicken, it hopes Pakistan’s army will be the first to blink. This is a touching, if entirely unfounded, faith in Pakistan’s army.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

what does india mean by 'two front' problem?

The phrase ‘two front’ was firmly placed in Indian strategic discussion by its army chief referring to it in a closed-door meeting of army brass at the turn of the decade in the context of Chinese presence in Gilgit. The ‘two front’ reference was to the ‘collusive threat’ from China and Pakistan seen as developing along the Himalayan watershed. While the term may be new, India has long been sensitive to the threat. In the April 1971 considerations of a military response to troubles in East Pakistan, India had refrained from action wary of the second front. Today, India’s naval exertions have expanded the scope of the term to the maritime domain.
The article examines what India means by the term by discussing it in its two connotations: one in peace time, and the other in its implications in conflict. The latter while hypothetical, is not on that account insignificant. It informs the ‘worst case’ that best explains the monies to the tune of $250 billion set to be expended by India over the coming decade.

Peacetime connotations

The prime minister while commissioning India’s largest indigenously manufactured destroyer, INS Kolkata, indicated India’s strategic doctrine as one of deterrence. The military prong is in being able to respond militarily to offensive action. This will reduce any incentive for aggressive behavior, leaving the diplomatic route open for dispute settlement. The diplomatic prong is in external balancing, for instance in the just-completed strategic dialogue with the US best signified by the US taking over as India’s largest defence supplier. Taking advantage of deterrence, India continues to engage diplomatically with both neighbours.
The prime minister has indicated that sufficient monies are being set apart for deterrence, with the 12 per cent increase in defence budget illustrating the government’s seriousness. On the China front, improved Tibetan infrastructure has given China the theoretical ability to launch 30 divisions. China has practiced rapid trans-regional mobilization in the Chengdu and Lanzhau military regions to enable this. India in rebound has shifted from a defensive to a posture of active deterrence on the China front by expanding airfields, placing strike aircraft forward and rescinding environmental rules for developing border roads at a gallop.
The Pakistan part of the ‘two front’ has stabilized since India rejigged its conventional doctrine. It was able to convert from its Second World War style conventional doctrine to one more appropriate for the nuclear age. It has reappraised the manner in which it will use its three strike corps in light of Pakistan’s nuclear thresholds. The raising of one of the two divisions of the mountain strike corps in Pathankot on the Pakistan border suggests that the corps advertised for the China front can be dual-tasked for the Pakistan front. This suggests that India has an offensive capability for the Pakistan front. ‘Deterrence by punishment’ is being worked towards in order to be able to respond on the conventional level in case of subconventional terror provocation.

Connotation in conflict

The second connotation, that of how the ‘two front’ concept could manifest in conflict, is indeed difficult to visualize. China would not want to get into a conflict with India since it would not like to divert its energy and attention from its emergence at the global level as the main challenger. An India-China conflict itself being remote, the ‘second front’, on the west with Pakistan, is unlikely to materialize.
Reversing the consideration, in any future India-Pakistan conflict, China may side with Pakistan without necessarily opening up a ‘front’. However, in case of a conflict originating in terror provocation, China will unlikely weigh in on Paksitan’s side. Besides, from China’s past record in India-Pakistan wars, though India has kept a watchful eye on it such as in 1971, China has remained dormant.

India’s conflict options

Therefore, a two-front consideration in conflict can only be hypothetical. India would essentially have three options: the first is to hold on both fronts and the second is to progress matters on one front while holding on the other front. That latter has two variants – hold on the Pakistan front and progress matters on the China front and vice versa – leading to three Indian options.
The first – holding on both fronts – is feasible in terms of India having the requisite defensive capability for both fronts. The option enables time for strategic partners to step in on India’s side. This is the dividend India seeks in its current day diplomacy’s targeting of democracies. The second – hold on the China front while progressing matters on the Pakistan front – is feasible since India has the capability for offensive on the Pakistan front with mechanized forces that does not affect its capacity on the China front. This may be in Chinese interests in that it would leave Pakistan to dissipate India’s military might. Consequently, the third – to progress operations against China while holding on the Pakistan front – cannot be ruled out. China, the major opponent, would require India to have singularity of aim and concentration of effort for a credible showing. Success in this will also prevent any hyena-act on Pakistan’s part.
However, the ‘two front’ problem would tend to converge in the J&K in which there could be one theatre but two opponents. India has advantages of inner lines and that mountains favour defence. It’s location of an armoured brigade in Ladakh and presence of five divisions of the paramilitary, the Rashtriya Rifles, in Kashmir, indicates resilience. India may require spreading the adversaries’ attention and dissipating their strength to the other theatres/sectors, such as the plains sector in case of Pakistan and the eastern sector in case of China, by posturing respectively of its strike corps and the mountain strike corps.

The nuclear dimension

Such a discussion cannot be in isolation of the nuclear factor. India is relatively well placed conventionally not to dislodge the No First Use pillar of its nuclear doctrine. There is also the buffer on the maritime front available for pressuring China in case India is adversely placed on the Himalayan waterfront. India has only recently pointedly commissioned India’s aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, INS Kolkata and the antisubmarine warfare ship, INS Kamorta. On the Pakistan front, since India has the mechanized forces with a single front applicability, it would not be India that brings the nuclear factor into the reckoning. It would be Pakistan.
Pakistan has been projecting a low nuclear threshold since its 2011-introduction of and late 2013 testing of the tactical nuclear missile system, Nasr. In a ‘two front’ scenario, it can be assumed to be acting as a junior partner to China, so it would not be able to consider its nuclear actions without recourse to China. Therefore, how China appreciates the nuclear factor is a key question. China is in the game with global power stakes. Any action against India can at best be with a preventive intent. This limited aim can do without the complications of a nuclear dimension. Therefore, in a two-front scenario, China will likely dampen any Pakistani propensity to reach for the nuclear button.
Pakistan, with China alongside, is also unlikely to need to do so. Nuclear dangers on the China front are minimal since both India and China have an NFU in place as also have sufficient conventional forces for enabling respective aims. The nuclear dimension will unlikely figure unless any of the three is gravely conventionally disadvantaged. All three are aware that a nuclear power is never to be pushed into such a corner.

The future

The ‘two-front’ formulation has not outlived its utility. Deterrence is in any case always a work-in-progress. Therefore, while finishing touches are being made, the time is ripe for shifting from the military to the diplomatic prong of its ‘two front’ strategy. India is apparently making such a shift. India could aim at achieving a position of greater proximity with either state than each has with the other. It could consider such proximity with China so as to displace Pakistan from its favoured position. Precedence exists in the changed equations in the US-India-Pakistan triad.

India’s approach to the ‘transgressions’ on the Line of Actual Control has drawn positive comment with China calling it ‘objective’. It is set to receive Chinese premier. On the Pakistan front, however, India is being ‘tough’, having put off a promising beginning in the recent calling off of foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan. It is also engaging in firefights, termed as ‘befitting reply’ in press handouts, along the Line of Control.
Summing up, it can be said that India has a differentiated ‘two front’ policy. While on the China front it has defensive deterrence in place behind which it is engaging China diplomatically, for the Pakistan front it is reliant on offensive deterrence and has a harder diplomatic line. This suggests India’s strategy to be one of mitigating the ‘two front’ problem by isolating Pakistan. This sets the stage for it to tackle Pakistan more forcefully in case of terror provocation, without China weighing in.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Limiting Nuclear War in South Asia

Limiting Nuclear War in South Asia

SP's Landforces 4/2014

Unedited version

The strategic cul de sac
Pakistan by introducing tactical nuclear weapons into its armoury has attempted to checkmate India’s conventional war doctrine of proactive offensive from a ‘cold start’. Since India’s military has been preparing to fight in a nuclear environment since its Exercise Total Victory in 2001, it is not at the conventional level that India is seeking an answer to Pakistan’s nuclear challenge. From the recent flurry in strategic circles brought on by BJP’s reference to nuclear doctrine in its manifesto has emerged contending views on what India must do, firstly to deter Pakistan and secondly, to respond effectively.
Nuclear orthodoxy would lie in believing that ensuring the credibility of ‘massive’ retaliation assures deterrence. Faced by credible Indian actions to ensure follow through with its doctrine will stay Pakistan’s nuclear hand. India by not recognising any distinction between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons and believing that limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms will appear implacable to Pakistan. Pakistan will then desist from nuclear first use.
Questioning the status quo
Some have questioned the credibility of an intention to go ‘massive’, short hand for counter value targeting. Even if counter value targeting is abjured, in order to preserve own value targets from being the object of the enemy’s counter retaliation, then ‘massive’ would imply higher order counter military targeting. This implies considerable collateral damage of an order as to make counter value targeting indistinguishable from higher order counter military targeting.
Given the magnitude of such a strike, it can plausibly be argued that Pakistan would be ‘finished’. But would the war end at that? Pakistan has taken care to get into the lower three digits in terms of warhead numbers. These it has been cautious enough to spread across six to ten or more sites. Therefore, it has potential for counter strike, or a second strike capability. It is unlikely that India’s missile defences, currently in infancy and likely to be of limited credibility when mature, would be able to ward off the counter strike entirely. Even if such a counter is broken-backed, it would be considerably damaging and likely of ‘unacceptable damage’ levels if not more. India would then, as part of its ‘massive’ strike, have to ensure a counter force attack to set back this residual ability of counter strike of Pakistan.
A counter force attack targeting Pakistan’s nuclear assets would of necessity have to be considerably large. India would be faced with a large target set and widely spread with Pakistan’s ‘crown jewels’ being with the strategic forces commands of all three services across Pakistan and indeed if on diesel submarines, also at sea. Some would be postured forward to give credibility to the low nuclear threshold it projects. Some may be held back as reserve in order to provide for a second strike capability.
India can decrease the nuclear ordnance used by ensuring degradation through conventional means as also by selective targeting, such as of Pakistan’s command and control systems. At places even Special Forces could be employed. It can make the nuclear degradation task easier by relying on intelligence, both technological and human and on foreign sources of support on this score, including perhaps Israel and at a pinch even the US.
A degraded arsenal would imply reduction (conservatively estimated for our purpose here of back-of-the-envelope calculation) by about a third, which means taking out about 40 warheads. Even if conventional attacks take care of a fourth of this amount, there are still 30 remaining. To take out 30 weapons that are militarily ready to use, would require at least an equivalent number to be launched. More likely, a nuclear degradation strike would involve a minimum 50 nuclear explosions in Pakistan.
As mentioned if Pakistan was to launch a bedraggled counter strike, comprising, say, a sixth of its numbers left, this number increases to sixty explosions. Even if India takes care to configure most of its retaliatory strike to ensure against fallout, Pakistan is unlikely to be so inclined. Therefore, there can be expected to be at least 30 mushroom clouds formed by about 60 explosions across the subcontinent.
Pakistan with its ten nuclear bombs lobbed cannot be expected to take out more than perhaps three cities. Even if we are to here assume that Mumbai and Delhi are not among these and India can cope with three cities less, visualising 30 fallout hotspots, including urban centres, may give a better idea of the post nuclear exchange environment for the region.
A report late last year by the Physicians for Social Responsibility and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, ‘Nuclear famine: Two billion people at risk?’, is on effects on climate and in turn impact on agricultural production. Its hypothetical scenario is of a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan involving 100 detonations. Since in our scenario only 60 weapons have been used, it would imply that these figures can be reduced by about a third. Even so, they are bad enough.
Surely then, such a possibility should deter Pakistan from nuclear first use. Therefore, at first blush, ‘massive’ seems to be a plausible doctrine. However, the problem is that since the major portion of the nuclear winter would be brought on by India’s doing - its going ‘massive’ - India too would be self-deterred. This would increase Pakistan’s propensity for nuclear first use, especially in a low-threshold, early-use mode comprising low opprobrium levels of attack with limited nuclear ordnance.
Looking for answers
If first use possibility is heightened for want of credibility of the ‘massive’ formulation, anticipating the nature of Pakistani nuclear first use and having an appropriate response is in order. This owes to India wanting to work its conventional advantage in case necessary. The conventional advantage stands faced with a stalemate brought about by introduction of Nasr by Pakistan. This implies that India must also have limited nuclear options up its sleeve.
It is also evident that neither country can possibly think of taking further step up the nuclear ladder than the very lower rungs. Receiving ‘unacceptable damage’ from Pakistan may set India back with respect to its main long term challenge on the eastern front. It is here that a ‘flexible’ nuclear retaliation doctrine makes more sense than ‘massive’. The apprehension among advocates of ‘massive’ is that in case ‘massive’ is abandoned in favour of ‘flexible’ then there is a threat of going down the Cold War nuclear war waging doctrinal route of hyper alertness, abandonment of ‘minimum’ in the doctrine and an operational readiness enabling the military greater say at the strategic and operational levels. There is also the need to think about escalation control and war termination.
This debate between ‘massive’ and ‘flexible’ currently ongoing means a ‘third model’ is necessary. The third model has not found mention in the recent debate though it has been around in since the early nineties in the writings of General Sundarji. His conventional war thinking, recently revised by the move towards Cold Start, eclipsed his nuclear doctrinal recommendation. His sage advice of the early nineties can help pull India out of its strategic cul de sac.
The Sundarji doctrine has it that adversarial nuclear states must work out a modus vivendi to end a nuclear confrontation at the lowest threshold of nuclear use, if necessary by mutual political and diplomatic concessions. The sense in the Sundarji doctrine is that it eliminates ‘massive’ as option and caters for the shortfalls of ‘flexible’ doctrine.
It is predicated on the cooperation possible between both nuclear belligerents mutually interested to avoid a worse outcome. This would entail creating the necessary nuclear risk reduction measures prior and working these with the help of the international community in case conventional push comes to nuclear shove. The opportunity for a review can help bring Sundarji’s nuclear sense back to the subcontinent.
Contours of the doctrine review
It is possible that this is already present in ample measure in that even as India maintains the ‘massive’ declaratory doctrine for deterrence; it may well have an operational doctrine that envisages limited nuclear operations for the contingency of breakdown of deterrence. Therefore the operational nuclear doctrine may already be different and predicated on ‘flexible’ doctrine. In this case, the impending doctrine review provides India an opportunity to, firstly, to match the declaratory and operational nuclear doctrines, and, secondly, cater for escalation control through nuclear risk reduction measures.
That a convergence between declaratory and operational nuclear doctrines is necessary stems from the need for credibility. A nuclear state must say what it means and means what it says. The fear may be that admitting to ‘flexible’ doctrine involving limited nuclear operations may be to admit incredibility of the ‘massive’ formulation. It may be thought to reduce India’s status as a responsible and mature nuclear power that abstains from nuclear war fighting thinking, believing that nuclear weapons are a class apart as weapons. Also, there may be skepticism on Pakistan’s credibility as an cooperative interlocutor in a nuclear risk reduction mechanism such as a nuclear risk reduction center.
However, a convergence between the two – declaratory and operational - would enable limiting nuclear war in case it does break out. Given that potential triggers remain active; this is not a non-trivial consideration, especially when both states continue to be proactive on the subconventional and conventional levels respectively.
But more importantly, any such shift must not degrade deterrence. While it is self-evident that ‘massive’ is incredible, it is arguable that ‘flexible’, with escalation controls of the ‘third model’, does not degrade deterrence. Therefore, while a shift is incumbent to make to ‘flexible’, can it involve a move all the way to the ‘third (Sundarji) model’ is the question.
Since ‘flexible’ does not answer to the critique of the ‘massive’ votaries that escalation is ‘inexorable’, the third model can be used to supplement the ‘flexible’ model to enable escalation control and conflict termination. Clearly, war being an act of politics, limiting nuclear war is a must and only conducting limited nuclear operations aimed at exchange(s) termination and conflict termination can bring this about.
Therefore, thinking on how the combined political-diplomatic-information-military-nuclear operations will work out is what the doctrine review must strive towards. This is ever more so if indeed limited nuclear operations are what the Strategic Forces Command is already seized with. It cannot be solely a military exercise nor be military led. Doctrinal clarity towards this end will bring about the ‘all of government approach’ necessary to limit nuclear war.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

dissonance in strategic doctrine

Dissonance in India’s Strategic Doctrine
India’s prime minister while commissioning India’s largest indigenously build frigate, INS (Indian Naval Ship) Kolkata, gave out his government’s strategic doctrine as deterrence. As he put it, a strong military ensures that no one dare cast an evil eye on India. Deterrence is the ability to influence a putative adversary’s calculations of relative gains and losses in a way that he decides against taking action that may harm us. A strong military signals to the adversary impossibility of military gains either in face of heavy losses or by the surety of punishment. This stops an adversary from an action undesired by us.
This article reviews India’s strategic doctrine of deterrence and tests whether this is true for India’s two fronts: China and Pakistan. While deterrence serves India on the China front, India’s cancellation this week of the talks with Pakistan suggests that on the Pakistan front there is more to India’s strategic doctrine than deterrence.
India has managed to arrive at deterrence after investing in its military over the past decade. On the Pakistan front it has three strike corps, one more than Pakistan, and has a doctrine by way of which it can use these in a nuclear setting. On the China front, it has raised two mountain divisions and a mountain strike corps, opened up high altitude airfields and staged forward combat aircraft. It has sensitized China to its maritime vulnerability with the prime minister commissioning two warships in quick succession: aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, as his first official act, and more recently INS Kolkata.
Since deterrence is always a work-in-progress, these efforts continue with the country spending $350 million on arms imports this year. It has also upped the strategic partnership with the US, with the US becoming the largest military supplier to India, which incidentally is the largest arms importer in the world. This helps in external balancing or leveraging diplomatic resources to enhance power especially since China’s defense spending is three times India’s. On the nuclear dimension, India has given itself a Strategic Programs Staff, headed by a former three star rank officer, presumably to upgrade operationalization of its nuclear deterrent.
Against the ‘two front’ ‘collusive’ threat in which Pakistan and China are taken as ganging up against India, particularly where the two fronts converge in Ladakh, India has inducted an armored regiment and is to induct an armored brigade onto the Leh plateau. One of the two divisions of the mountain strike corps is being raised in Pathankot, perhaps to be immediately on hand for induction into Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The mountain strike corps could build up in its wake. Therefore, the worst-case has also been catered for.
These efforts suggest that deterrence alluded to by the prime minister is in place. Pakistan has already registered as much, a fact mentioned in the prime minister’s Leh speech in his reference to Pakistan resorting to proxy war since it was not able to conventionally move India on Kashmir. Instead, India has the capability of going on the offensive against Pakistan, albeit one restricted by the nuclear threshold. Thus, it has ability for both ‘deterrence by denial’ and ‘deterrence by punishment’.
Against China, India is in a position to ensure that China cannot ‘teach it a lesson’. While China may make localized gains owing to its investment in Tibetan infrastructure, India’s offensive capability in mountains can either negate these by counter attack or can make equivalent gains elsewhere. China, in the midst of a growth trajectory, intended to match the US, is unlikely therefore to test waters. However, India’s deterrence preparedness being incomplete, with army expansion and road building underway and artillery purchases only signed on now, India reasonably is underplaying the ‘transgressions’ that take place on the Line of Actual Control as ‘routine’. Diplomatically, the
Chinese president’s visit to Delhi next month indicates India’s diplomatic outreach to keep deterrence from being tested.
It is on the Pakistan front that dissonance in strategic doctrine is apparent. This week, India has proceeded to summarily cancel the exploratory talks with Pakistan. Pakistan for its part said that it was not subservient to India. This exchange between the two sides suggests that Pakistan is projecting itself as a state that will not be intimidated and India in its cancellation of talks appeared peremptory. As seen with offensive deterrence in place, India was militarily in a comfortable position with Pakistan. And yet it chose not to use the favorable military positioning to diplomatic advantage. What does this imply?
India’s deterrence subsumes its defense against proxy war with its military poised to deliver a ‘befitting reply’ on the Line of Control (LC) and continuing to dominate the hinterland in Kashmir. India fears possible diversion of Islamist energy by Pakistan into Kashmir with the planned US drawdown in Afghanistan by 2016. It is here that India’s offensive capability kicks in. The capability is to send the message that India has the capability and new conventional doctrine it lacked earlier in the nineties to administer conventional punishment. However, the dynamics at the nuclear level, in particular Pakistan’s testing of its tactical nuclear missile system in November 2013, have emboldened Pakistan.
Increased LC clashes are evidence that it is sensitizing India; thereby attempting to incentivize India to talk. In the event, this proved counter-productive. For India, the current juncture indicates the limits of offensive deterrence. At best it can create a favorable condition for talks. It cannot bring about the outcome of Pakistan abandoning Kashmir. Only meaningful talks can and so can ‘compellence’, a strategic concept involving compelling the adversary to give up a course of action embarked on, if successful. By not keeping up with talks, India is tending towards the latter.
Given that India has an active diplomatic prong to complement deterrence for the China front it needs to replicate this for the Pakistan front. On this score, its cancellation of the talks with Pakistan right at the inception earlier this week is counter-productive. The self-fulfilling prophecy could well kick in: India’s tendency towards compellence can only prompt Pakistan’s ‘deep state’ or ‘establishment’ to up-the-ante and vice versa. India can do without such dissonance in its strategic doctrine.