Tuesday, 20 December 2016
Strategic proactivism appraised through a Cluasewitzian-Trinitarian lens
Agni, December 2016
Midway through its term the government has indicated a shift towards strategic proactivism. By launching ‘surgical strikes’ in reprisal for the Uri terror attack and taking public credit for these it has upped-the-ante. Whereas surgical strikes were not absent earlier from India’s repertoire of anti-terror responses, this time round India has acknowledged these and the strikes were across a larger frontage. The political leadership has taken credit for ordering the strikes, attributing it variously to leadership boldness and ideological affiliations of members of the ruling party. This political brouhaha in wake of the strikes was possibly prompted by the opposition criticizing the seeming inaction in immediate wake of the Uri terror attack. The UN General Assembly session behind it and the prime minister’s speech in Goa in which he said the war in South Asia should be against poverty, the government timed the attack in a manner as to catch terror launch pads and the Pakistani army with a lowered guard. The retaliation was well received by the people. This interest and involvement of the military, the government and the people in the surgical strike episode brings to fore a Trinitarian analytical framework for viewing the shift to strategic proactivism.
Clausewitz’s perspective on war is that it is a social phenomenon explicable in a framework involving chance, subordination to political imperatives and passion. The three characteristics of war have been associated in Clausewitzian literature with the military, the political class and people respectively. For the military, war is an uncertain enterprise, covered by a fog of war and subject to friction. It requires the military leader to impose order on it and, in doing so, shape it to deliver military objectives. The political leadership is to ensure the control through its subordinate, the military, over war as a means to political ends. The people are associated with elemental hatred and enmity generated in war, utilized by the government and the military as an enabling resource to prosecute the war.
The Uri episode and surgical strikes provide a moment, though not of war per se, but of a visible interaction between the three elements of Clausewitzian Trinity in operations other than war. This article attempts such an analysis using the Trinitarian lens and in doing so appraises the immanent shift from strategic restraint to strategic proactivism surgical strikes herald.
The military has been contending with the proxy war for a quarter century. This has been largely defensive, resulting in responsive and reactive operations including those with an offensive bias such as the earlier surgical strikes. This has owed to a strategic doctrine of strategic restraint by this and earlier governments, that relied on strategic reticence in order to ensure, firstly, the husbanding of power over time, and, secondly, to ensure that military digressions do not impact adversely on India’s economic trajectory. In the nineties, the military doctrine reflected this strategic doctrine of restraint in its location at the defensive deterrence segment of the continuum of doctrines. However, tested by the Kargil War and the Operation Parakram challenges, the military doctrine registered a shift within the deterrence segment from defensive to offensive, making for a shift to offensive deterrence in the 2000s. This can be seen in its shift to the so-called Cold Start doctrine and its operationalisation in organization changes and through successive large scale military exercises through the decade. The monies spent of defence have also been considerable, all designed to bolster the offensive content of offensive deterrence. At the tactical level, it has ensured a psychological ascendancy is maintained along the Line of Control (LC) with reprisal attacks following close on heels of terror episodes or Border Action Team challenges on the LC. This also served to restore deterrence at the tactical level, at least temporarily, till the tit-for-tat game on LC between the two militaries set up the next opportunity for offensive tactical action.
Within the military there has been constant discussion on the desirability and possible efficacy of offensive action in response to Pakistani proxy war. The discussion acknowledges the escalatory matrix that inevitably frames military action. It focuses on escalation dominance in order to deter movement up the escalatory ladder. The idea is to be strong at all levels of the spectrum of conflict in a manner as to leave the adversary a choice between persisting with receiving punishment at the current level of military engagement in the spectrum of conflict or escalating to the next higher level, wherein it is similarly disadvantaged by an adverse power ratio.
To illustrate, if Pakistan is unable to compel Indian political action through proxy war due to an apt Indian military counter, Pakistan would be compelled to resort to terror attacks predicated on greater violence. To such mega terror attacks, India has a doctrinal answer at both the subconventional and conventional levels. At the subconventional level, it can deliver a reprisal at the LC through activating it physically and by fire. At the conventional level, it has built in a two step capability, with the first step reliant on the offensive content held with pivot corps and the second held with strike corps. Thus far, it has not resorted to the conventional level, even after the dastardly 26/11 attack, presumably because the capability was then under construction. The government in signaling the shift to strategic proactivism has gone in for fast track purchase of Rs 5000 crore worth of ammunition for air defence, artillery and Su 30s. It has also cleared a Rs 80000 crore equipment purchase.
The shift now to strategic proactivism implies it has a military answer ready and the likelihood of authorization to proceed would be more readily available, certainly at the subconventional level. The likelihood rests on the logic that the surgical strikes were not a one-off episode, but are the new normal at the LC. That would distinguish them from earlier surgical strikes. The emulation on the Kashmir front of the surgical strikes that were last year initiated at the Myanmar border against north eastern terror groups implies there is no stepping back to strategic restraint. Escalation dominance refurbishes offensive deterrence in its entailing of a consistency in reprisal action, especially since Pakistan appears to have upped the terror ante in its series of terror strikes from Dinanagar through Pathankot to Uri.
Escalation dominance at the next level of the conflict spectrum – nuclear – has so far eluded the military. The military is constrained by the declaratory nuclear doctrine and has to per force to genuflect towards it in its discussions on nuclear retaliation. However, it is clear that environmental consequence of ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation is unsustainable. The pollution levels in Delhi in early November resulting from farmers in Punjab burning their fields testify that north India cannot sustain the effect of burning Pakistani cities. Coming up with an answer to Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) is therefore necessary. Not only is ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation not credible, it is also not ‘wise’ (to paraphrase Tom Shelling) in that it opens up India’s cities to like retaliation. The answer stares India in the face – proportional retaliation.
India has the capability resting on its range of short range missiles – Prahaar – and on sub-kiloton weapons. For the military, this implies an expectation of nuclearisation of the battlefield. This means it must be able to fight through nuclear conditions and its Strategic Forces Command must be able to employ TNW in conjunction with the conventional battle. The aim of proportional retaliation would be to ensure that Pakistan does not steal a conventional march over India’s offensives, even while signaling both resolve to retaliate in kind and a willingness not to escalate. With assured destruction capability resting on longer range missiles, strategic weapons and a triad, predominance at the next higher nuclear sublevel exists. This will ensure escalation dominance at the nuclear sublevel of TNW exchange, insuring against escalation by Pakistan. Shadowing its nuclear use through proportional response would leave Pakistan with but one option: discontinue nuclear strikes.
To sum up this section, strategic proactivism implies a greater propensity for tactical action on the LC with surgical strikes as precedent. These could be supplemented - in case of mega terror attacks - with conventional level ‘cold start lite’ attacks. A ‘short, sharp war’ can be ruled-in under strategic proactivism, since a shift from strategic restraint essentially entails unlocking India’s military advantage at the conventional level. Obviously, the conventional might so unlocked would require limitation as overriding criteria in employment. Therefore, ‘cold start’ requires hedging in the form of ‘cold start lite’. At the nuclear level, it implies moving to a nuclear warfighting capability and intent based on proportionate response, with No First Use remaining sacrosanct.
The political class
Politicisation of a security issue has not been absent in India. While the government took credit, according to some political analysts with an eye towards UP elections, the opposition too is active in chipping away at the edges using security related issues for its sniping, such as ‘one rank, one pension’ and seventh pay commission award. The assumption that national security requires a non-partisan consensus is turned on its head. An example is the manner the ruling party tried to take credit for ordering the surgical strikes. This provoked the opposition to revealing that such strikes took place on its watch too and, further, to question the efficacy of the strikes to pull the ruling party down a peg or two.
Strategic restraint has been associated with the earlier stints in power of both the National Democratic Alliance and the United Progressive Alliance. The pre-Uri attack phase of the current government witnessed continuity on this score. However, strategic restraint has never been altogether as advertised. Whereas militarily India has been reticent, this may have owed to deficit in capability, making it a restraint born in necessity rather than choice. Also, Pakistan was also relatively less provocative in the UPA period that had taken up the Vajpayee initiative begun in the NDA I period. Four rounds of talks took place, with the fifth half way through when 26/11 happened. However, UPA’s go-slow on the initiative – supposedly due to absence of a viable interlocutor in Pakistan when Musharraf went under – and subsequent abandonment after 26/11, has led to Pakistani return to proxy war, one also emboldened by the disaffection in Kashmir played out between 2008 and 2010 and, after a hiatus, over this year. Between 2010 and 2013, UPA II had desultorily resumed talks with two rounds taking place. They were abandoned when UPA II lost its way at the fag-end of its tenure and due to the beheading episode on the LC in early 2013. Strategic restraint thus was an apt doctrine for the period of relatively greater engagement with Pakistan.
However, it was never fully one of restraint, since the intelligence game with Pakistan continued in a proxy war between the two states in Afghanistan, one that also enveloped Balochistan. Since plausible deniability attend intelligence operations this is difficult to prove, but to be in denial over the incidence of intelligence operations is to deprive the domain of strategic analysis of autonomy from contamination of sentiments emanating from nationalism. Militarily, the conventional forces acquired a new offensive doctrine and created the warewithal. At the nuclear level, the official nuclear doctrine was challenged for sticking with NFU and criticized for its ostrich like behavior in maintaining ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation as viable in face of the global environmental ramifications of such nuclear use. Politically, there was a consistent refusal to engage meaningfully with Pakistan or shift from military reliant conflict management to politically purposive conflict resolution in Kashmir. Consequently, strategic restraint can be seen more accurately as ‘strategic restraint plus’ or ‘strategic practivism minus’. On the continuum of strategic doctrine it was someplace ahead of offensive deterrence, while being short of compellence. The current day shift to strategic proactivism therefore completes the final step to compellence.
Setting strategic doctrine is essentially a politically driven exercise. The strategic coordinates provide a strategic rationale, but also serve to obscure the essentially political nature of strategic doctrine. The politics of strategic doctrine are not only informed by the external political sphere - international politics and geopolitics – but also by internal politics. For instance, a conservative regime in power would ordinarily have a strategic doctrine coloured by conservative realism. This is what distinguishes, for instance, the Obama presidency from the preceding presidency of Bush and the likely hue of the impending presidency of Trump. Likewise and understandably, the BJP – a conservative political party – cannot but have a conservative realist inclination to its strategic doctrine. This is best evidenced by its choice of national security adviser.
Here it is hazarded that the impetus to strategic proactivism does not lie in the strategic coordinates of India’s strategic circumstance alone. Conservative realism would normally be reconciled to a strategic doctrine of ‘strategic restraint plus’. In fact, it is possible that the location at strategic restraint plus of strategic doctrine in the UPA years owed to the fear of the UPA of being called ‘soft’ on security by its right wing challenger, the BJP. Therefore, with the BJP coming to power, a shift was not readily discernible; on the contrary there seemed to be continuity. However, that there is now a shift has been attributed by the defence minister to ideological mentoring under cultural nationalism. This nascent shift to compellence thus has political pedigree, one that needs acknowledging upfront.
This is necessary to do since compellence is widely regarded as more difficult to achieve than deterrence. Since it is widely accepted that India has not entirely succeeded in deterrence, it cannot be said that it would be more adept at compellence. Consequently, the strategic sense behind the shift is questionable. But the answer lying in the political plane, and not the strategic plane, implies that this is a moot question.
The concerns of Indian people are largely existential. There is a visible focus on economic development and its trickle down uplifting all boats. However, there are multiple transformations ongoing in society, which includes social churning and its political fallout. The latter has given rise to cultural nationalism as a means to creation of stability around a central narrative on the nation based supposedly on a common and shared culture. This comprises the majoritarian project in which insecurity is partially welcomed so as to inject a sense of unity and generation of a herd instinct for adherence to the proffered common national narrative. Information war strategies are the primary manner this is furthered, with social media being a significant battleground.
A nuanced retelling of the Uri terror attack is necessary to reprise how people reacted to the Uri attack and the surgical strikes. The Uri terror attack was by four Pakistani terrorists in which 19 soldiers were killed. However it bears mention that 14 of them died in a fire, as indirect victims. This means that the four fully armed terrorists with surprise behind them managed to kill only four soldiers; one succumbed to wounds later. In other words, had the fire not occurred, there would have been fewer casualties. This tempers the manner Uri terror attack and places the surgical strikes in context. The latter thus appear an overreaction to the Uri terror attack. The national, media-induced hype therefore appears unwarranted. That it has nevertheless been fanned and used to legitimize a strategic shift in India suggests the manner the state has used national sentiment, whipped up by it not only over the episode in question but also over time, for its purpose of pursuing a hard-line against Pakistan.
As seen from the Uri episode, the terrorist has to be lucky but once and security forces always. The subsequent activation of the LC indicates continuing terror attacks and higher threshold reprisals. The popular sentiment appears to be in favour of retaliation in kind. This popular endorsement will serve to legitimise strategic proactivism. The government, having demonstrated a penchant for sudden action ranging from cancellation of talks with Pakistan to clinching the Rs 35000 crore Rafale arms deal and most recently in demonetizing higher denomination currency, would use the popular saleability of the hard-line on security to continue down the strategic proactivism route. In effect, an in-part manufactured public approbation would be buoying a strategic doctrine of unproven efficacy.
The shift to strategic proactivism appears to have a basis in the Clausewitzian trinity: the military, the government and the people. The military had termed its offensive doctrinal shift in the 2000s as ‘proactive operations’ strategy, presaging the term strategic proactivism. It has preferred an inclination towards the offensive and being proactive, since that enables it to take the initiative and maintain it. This is enabled by a shift in the strategic doctrine away from strategic restraint, that the military felt held it back, even if for good economy-centric reasons. For its part, the government’s inclination for strategic proactivism owes to its belief that it has finally the military capability in place for military reprisal. It also sees political gain in the hard-line, in part to deny the opposition any claim of continuity in security policies. While the economic domain has largely seen such continuity, the ruling party has maintained that its difference is in its commitment to national security. The public endorsement for the surgical strikes is liable to be stretched as approval of the shift in strategic doctrine. Since strategic affairs is not a plebiscitary field, cautionary advice not to take the public sentiment as a driver of strategy is warranted at this incipient stage of the shift. The look here at the Uri episode in the Clausewitzian-trinitarian framework has been instructive. It suggests that there are strategic impulses at play that owe little to strategic rationality and may have origin in the polity itself. This is the potential Achilles heel of the shift to strategic proactivism.
Saluting Bipin Rawat but with a caveat
Saluting Bipin Rawat but with a caveat
The recent announcement at long last of the name of the new army chief provides merely an entry point for discussing the fallacy of operational experience as a pointer to either tactical sense or strategic judgment. The army chief designate has a formidable military reputation and matching record. There is no begrudging his elevation to the august appointment. There may however be issues over the supersession of two equally competent generals.
That the BJP government slept over making the appointment for almost a month and half is suggestive of the politics that inevitably attend the discussions. The BJP would like to be sure it has a candidate that would either be complicit or silent, the latter being preferred since it would be in keeping with the apolitical ethos of the army. The former attitude in a chief would be rather obvious and would compromise him and the service, whereas the latter can be rationalized as a sign of professionalism.
Silence of course does not imply pliable, but an attitude that is wary of politicization of the service and therefore one that keeps the military to the straight and narrow. The ruling party, that is the political face of a larger national reorientation project, needs to be sure that a future chief would be of this kind. By that yardstick, all three candidates would have met the bill. Neither has Bipin Rawat done or said anything that endears him to the ruling party, nor have the other two – Praveen Bakshi and Hariz - disqualified themselves by doing or saying anything that the ruling dispensation could take amiss.
Therefore it bears speculation as to why the supersession. It is easy to neglect Hariz’s claims to the post since he was the second in line of seniority. There was nothing in him that could make him pip Bakshi at the post. So the face-off is between Bakshi and Rawat. The possibility that Bakshi’s claims to a top job have not been altogether neglected is evident from rumours that he might make it to being India’s first permanent chairman chiefs of staff committee.
Currently, it is an appointment that goes to the senior-most serving chief, a thoroughly inadequate arrangement given the increased need for a single-point military adviser to the government, jointness and to oversee the nuclear deterrent. Should Bakshi get the slot it would only be befitting and the twin appointments would amount to a successful ‘surgical strike’ by the government.
In the fitness of things, if the rumours are proved right, the surgical strike would have been better executed in case news of the two appointments had been released together. This indicates current potential for yet another hit-wicket for the government in case it forces Bakshi to turn in his papers, quite like Lt Gen SK Sinha did three decades back. It appears yet another self-goal by this government is in the offing.
Be that as it may, one aspect needs interrogation. If Bakshi was ruled out for the army top job if only for being lined up for an equally significant one soon as India’s chief of defence staff equivalent, then Hariz resurfaces as a candidate. Over looking his claim for the top job requires explanation. The easy explanation is to see it in his name. As the first muslim in quarter century to make it to army commander level, he has already accomplished much. Elevating him, alongside Bakshi, would have been least controversial. Thus, the possibility of the government being unable to swallow the fact of the religion he was born into cannot be easily wished away, in light of the prime minister’s well known ad often ventilated levels of regard for India’s largest minority. The ruling party did not even think it fit to have a muslim name, if only for its propaganda value for it to debunk allegations that it views muslims somewhat warily. The BJP election victory had one emphatic lesson for it and democratic India: that it can afford to ignore the minority owing to its successful consolidation of the majority through majoritarian and cultural nationalist gimmicks. That said, it would be tad too easy to ascribe Hariz being overlooked to his religion, though the case itself cannot in light of Hariz’s supersession ever be ruled out.
Media speculation has it that Rawat had operational experience behind him to a degree that the other two did not. This owed in large part to Rawat being an infanteer and the other two from the mechanized forces, Bakshi being a cavalier and Hariz a mechnised infantryman. The start of their military journeys naturally made them gravitate to areas of deployment and expertise of their parent arm. Eventually, as they neared the last goal post, the goal posts were shifted for the two from the mechanized forces. This is not a new issue in the army. It has been controversial for at least a decade and a half now. This time round the situation has been shown up too glaringly on the radar to sweep under the carpet as the army has continued to do over the duration.
It is no secret by now that the infantry and artillery have under successive chiefs from these two arms appropriated the upper ranks of the army for those belonging to these arms. This has been under the pro-rata system, called by its critics as mandalisation of the army. The two arms having a large proportion of the army have a correspondingly large cadre of officers. They have so arranged the promotion system that the proportion of higher rank officers is proportional to the numbers signing into the arm at entry. This makes for an uneven playfield for the other arms such as the mechanized forces. It also has impacted the services, reducing their vacancies in higher ranks disproportionately. This has led to considerable heartburn in other arms and services and several court cases. The overlooking of the claim of at least one form the mechanized lobby for the highest rank is just one more nail being driven in. In this case, an unwary government could well be carrying the can for the army’s inappropriate career progression policies.
The assumption is that the infantry and artillery officers are exposed to an operational environment on account of their postings in hardship and operational locations either on the line of control, high altitude or counter insurgency situations. It is not explained how this experience conditions them better into being better higher commanders. If hardship is a criterion, then they should certainly be compensated perhaps by higher allowances.
But to reserve higher slots for them rules out more credible candidates from arms that cannot serve in such environments on account of their expertise being restricted to mechanized warfare that can only be undertaken in the deserts and plains. They cannot be penalized for their success in deterring conventional war to the extent that Pakistan is restricted to keeping the pot boiling in Kashmir. They should not be made to pay for their success which inadvertently only serves the infantry and gunner lobby. The infantry and artillery cannot be allowed to ticket punch their way through India’s troubled lands under cover of AFSPA. It would amount to having these arms, and the army, gain a stake in the troubled conditions, with the ‘disturbed areas’ serving as training grounds for officers to gain operational experience.
This scrutiny would be entirely incomplete without drawing blood. It needs being said out and loud that far too many officers have gained their next rank using ‘operational’ experience as their card. Not a few of them can reasonably be charged with war crimes for egregious rounds of violence that have been visited on the people in their areas of operational responsibility.
The troubled period of the nineties in Kashmir is a case to point. There was a bean count syndrome for a proportion of the time. There was not only inadequate operational level attention but such officers might have even detected a permissive atmosphere to further careers on the back of broken lives. This has not gone away yet. The killing of Burhan Wani’s brother in unknown circumstances for his reportedly being an over ground worker is a case to point. Bluntly put, multiple tenures in counter insurgency mean nothing. How officers conduct themselves ethically and professionally while in it is everything.
And even then, great achievement at tactical level in counter insurgency – any command division and below is at that level – is no guarantee of strategic good sense, required in military brass at the apex level. The case of the current chief is a live example. His exemplary tenure as company commander in Operation Pavan did little to prepare him as chief. Pin a medal on their chest for such showing, but do not allow such showing to get them into war rooms where we rue their over promotion. Else the likes of the national security adviser and his ilk will run rings round the service, such as through letting loose the NIA on military bases subject to terror attack.The broader observation has nothing to do with Bipin Rawat. He has gained what he rightly deserved in the right way. It is about the media speculation on why he made it past two of his compatriots. Even if he was the more illustrious - and this can easily be proven - do his advantages justify supersession? Is the army over-relying on false indicators of strategic good sense? To take up his place in history, Bipin Rawat needs to roll back the policies that militate against competence and privilege mediocrity in the general cadre.
Wednesday, 14 December 2016
India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Coming Out of the Closet
Indian defence minister’s penchant for verbal gaffes has acquired respectability. One strategic community stalwart has suggested that the defence minister’s voicing of his ‘personal opinion’ on India’s No First Use (NFU) pledge is designed to build in ambiguity in India’s nuclear posture. He suggests that for deterrence, it is necessary to keep the nuclear adversary guessing.
Releasing itself from the NFU pledge will enable India to build-in the option of nuclear first use in its nuclear preparedness and posture. A nuclear adversary (read Pakistan) would be fearful that its nuclear preparations might trigger off India’s preemptive strike(s). For India, the advantage in Pakistani hesitation to reach for its tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) is in enabling India to employ its superior conventional forces to wrap up the Pakistani military, pinch back territory in J&K and make territorial gains elsewhere.
Currently, India is stumped by Pakistani brandishing of its TNW. India is hesitant to use its conventional advantage honed at considerable cost. This has forced India to be boxed-in. The situation in J&K has turned a full circle back by a couple of decades when conventional forces were locked in trading blows across the Line of Control. India would instead like to make its conventional preparations on the doctrinal, organizational and equipment fronts, count. The latest controversy over India’s NFU is an instance of India attempting a doctrinal breakout from the cul-de-sac of Pakistani TNWs.
Analysts have pointed out that an Indian nuclear posture that is readier-to-go could prove counter-productive. It would induce Pakistan to go first instead, fearing it would lose its nuclear capability if were to wait for India’s nuclear first use. Presently, the major threat India faces is from TNW being used against its forces in case of incursions that flirt with Pakistani nuclear thresholds. It is not a bolt-from-the-blue attack or a first strike attempting to degrade India’s nuclear strike back capability. However, in case India was to rescind NFU, the latter would emerge as a grave threat.
Therefore, if India wishes to jettison NFU then it would have to reassure Pakistan that should India resort to nuclear first use, it would not be in the form of higher order nuclear strikes. This may be counter-intuitive, but it is well known in strategic theory that nuclear deterrence and reassurance go together.
Currently, India’s deterrence is predicated on a ‘massive’ counter strike. India professes to believe nuclear weapons are political weapons meant for nuclear deterrence and not war-fighting. This means its nuclear forces are configured for higher order nuclear retaliation – counter city and counter force and not counter military targeting. Since higher order strikes are liable to being countered equally vehemently by Pakistan, higher order nuclear first use by either side would amount to all-out nuclear war.
This helps with deterrence at the upper end of the spectrum; that of higher order strikes. However, the promise of higher order strikes is taken as incredible against TNW use. This is the conundrum India is in. If India rescinds its NFU without a corresponding change in its philosophical approach to nuclear weapons - that is, if it continues to believe these are not for war-fighting - then espying Pakistan reaching for its TNWs, it will likely go in for higher order - preemptive - first use of its own.
India promises being ‘punitive’ as to inflict ‘unacceptable damage’. This might not be possible any longer in light Pakistan also maintain strategic weapons, available for higher order strike back. To ensure that fewer of these get to India, India’s nuclear first use would require being of first strike levels of attack – first strike defined as an attempt to tamp down on Pakistani retaliatory capability.
Pakistan is reportedly a step ahead of India in nuclear numbers and in the variegation of its missiles. It thus has a second strike capability, enough to deter India’s first strike levels of nuclear first use. South Asia is in its era of ‘mutual assured destruction’ (MAD). Therefore, if Delhi is to give up NFU, a pillar of its nuclear doctrine, it would also require giving up the other pillar of its doctrine – higher order nuclear use. In a state of MAD, nuclear weapons no longer deter nuclear weapons but deter only higher order nuclear use.
This means that in case of nuclear first use preparation by Pakistan, India could get its nukes in first, but at levels duly cognizant of escalation dynamics. The ability for lower order strikes does not preclude possession and use of strategic weapons for higher order nuclear use. Thus, deterrence at the upper end of the nuclear use spectrum is assured, even as escalation control is enabled by lower order nuclear use. It would be easier to stop a nuclear conflict before cities have started being consumed.
As for ambiguity, it is intrinsic to the nuclear domain. Tom Schelling’s deterrence concept of ‘leaving something to chance’ implies that since no war has witnessed a nuclear exchange, it is a domain of which much has been written about, but only vicariously. Going in for overkill in terms of ambiguity can lead to self-delusion that deterrence will work.
Ambiguity increases the threat of nuclear first strike under the logic of what Tom Schelling termed, the ‘reciprocal fear of nuclear attack’, defining it inimitably as, ‘he thinks, we think he'll attack; so he thinks, we shall; so he will; so we must.’ Consequently, reassuring one’s own population and the adversary’s nuclear decision maker is also important. Jettisoning default higher order nuclear use is one such measure.
India’s current government has questioned many verities of India’s nationhood – such as secularism - and is known for taking what its supporters regard as ‘bold’ decisions. The Modi government can and should overturn India’s declaratory nuclear doctrine. The makeover is in a sense is to move towards nuclear war-fighting. The advantage of this is in enabling an end to nuclear war at its lowest threshold. South Asia can only then hope to get away at affordable – even if avoidable - levels of nuclear war.
Saturday, 26 November 2016
Vol. 51, Issue No. 48, 26 Nov, 2016
Vol. 51, Issue No. 48, 26 Nov, 2016
That India has not articulated its strategic doctrine in the form of a national defence white paper makes its strategic doctrine – a state’s approach to the use of force - difficult to pin down. However, the recent Uri terror attack episode and its counter by India in surgical strikes suggests there is a tendency from strategic restraint - reticence in the use of force - towards strategic proactivism - a propensity for the use of force. The government, mindful of the internal constituency in the run up to elections in UP and Punjab, has sought to give the military operations along the Line of Control (LC) the veneer of a decisive shift. Perceptive observers, such as former national security adviser Shivshankar Menon, reckon that the difference is in the government’s making political capital from military operations, whereas the earlier practice was that these were kept covert. However, from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s national general secretary’s statement calling for such a shift, it appears India is not quite there yet. India is constrained by deficiencies in capability, particularly in military equipment. This prompted for the first time since Operation Parakram in 2002-3, a fast-tracking of a major off-the-shelf purchase of anti-tank, artillery and air ammunition to the tune of Rs. 5000 crores, followed speedily by another allocation of Rs 80000 crores for acquisitions. It appears India is getting the elements of the shift in place.
This article examines the shift in light of whether the shift brings about stability and security, as a viable strategic doctrine ought to. Its looks at military doctrines of India and Pakistan reveals that in their interplay, they form a volatile mix. The shift to strategic proactivism makes this interplay combustible. Sensing that the shift does not yield up security, the article concludes that strategic rationality may not be the guiding hand of the shift towards proactivism. Instead, rhetoric in wake of the surgical strikes must instead be taken seriously to gauge the inspiration for the shift. This makes for a worrying conclusion that strategic proactivism is the influence of cultural nationalism on strategic thinking in India.
Strategic doctrine and military doctrine linkage
National security doctrine is the overarching thinking of a state giving out what it deems as security. Strategic doctrines is an outflow of this on how it wishes to employ force in the provision of security for itself and its people. Broadly, a strategic doctrine rests along a band on a continuum with the choices being between accommodation, defense, deterrence, offense and compellence. A strategic doctrine is a necessary first step for the articulation of lesser doctrines such as military, nuclear, intelligence and information doctrines and force related elements of foreign and internal security policies. Strategic doctrines helps orchestrate the lesser doctrines for action and response in the strategic environment. It serves notice externally and in its internal messaging hopefully reassures the public that national security is in safe hands.
As late General Sundarji imagined it, India’s strategic doctrine serves as the proverbial elephant being inspected by the ‘blindmen of Hindoostan’. It enables limitless flexibility, going beyond confounding the adversary to meaning nothing to instruments of state looking to it for guidance on writing up respective doctrines. To illustrate, the army came up with the so-called ‘Cold Start’ doctrine in wake of the nearly year-long mobilisation, Operation Parakram. However, even though organisational and equipping moves duly followed, the doctrine reportedly failed to receive governmental imprimatur. Successive army chiefs at times suggested that there is nothing called ‘cold start’ and at others, that the army has the capability of reaching an operational readiness within 48-72 hours under its Proactive Strategy.
Over the last quarter century of being sorely tried by Pakistan, India’s strategic doctrine has been located at various times along the continuum in the segment of deterrence, oscillating between defensive and offensive deterrence, with an admixture of accommodationist vibes thrown in as incentive for Pakistani good behaviour. However, this confusing mix of postures and actions has provided Pakistan’s national security establishment - run by its ‘deep state’ - an alibi to keep up its hostility. The Pakistani military can but be expected to solely see the business end of India’s stick and not any carrots on offer. This accounts for the periodic crises in India-Pakistan relations. The interplay of military doctrines of the two states imparts these crises with an escalatory overhang. Even though India’s national security adviser advocates a doctrine of ‘defensive offense’, this is likely a misnomer, serving to obfuscate since India is not quite in the defensive segment of the strategic doctrinal continuum, but transiting form the offensive deterrence segment towards compellence.
Military doctrines: From volatile to combustible
Military doctrines can be studied in relation to the spectrum of conflict that can be imagined as the subconventional, conventional and nuclear levels arranged vertically atop each other so as to convey best escalatory ramifications. The regularity of crises in South Asia has made the interplay of Indian and Pakistani military doctrines rather well known. In nutshell, Pakistani aggressiveness at the subconventional level through its proxy war is responded to by India muscling its advantages at the conventional level through its doctrine of proactive operations. Pakistan, wishing to stymie any gains by conventional forces, brandishes tactical nuclear weapons (TNW). At the nuclear level, India desultorily discusses ridding itself of its No First Use (NFU) pledge, with the defence minister’s voicing of a personal opinion on this being the latest instance. Its official nuclear doctrine continuing to incredibly promise ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation, the circuit is complete between jihadis operating at the lower end and city busting at the upper end of the spectrum of conflict.
This tight coupling of the military doctrines of the two states explains the speedy telephonic interaction between the two national security advisers of India and the US in relation to India’s surgical strikes. It also explains the great care with which Indian Director General of Military Operations highlighted the limited intent of the surgical strikes along the LC in his statement to the press. This recognition of the dangers is a good thing in itself, but dangers persist. Indeed, the dangers are leveraged by the two sides. Whereas Pakistan includes terror attacks in India and elsewhere such as Indian interests in Afghanistan in its inventory, India has possibly expanded its counter to include – as alleged by Pakistan - intelligence operations as far afield as Afghanistan and Balochistan. Strategic proactivism is a further step in this direction. Though perhaps intended to make Pakistan blink first, it might just provoke the opposite reaction in Pakistan.
The first salvos were fired by Prime Minister Modi from the ramparts of the Red Fort this year when, in the context of the fresh round of summer disturbance in Kashmir, he reminded Pakistan of its strategic underside in making a mention Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan. The Uri incident if seen as Pakistan’s reply was not long in coming. In response, India’s surgical strikes have led to an entirely predictable collapse of the understanding on ceasefire on the Line of Control dating to 2003.
Imagining strategic proactivism
The three levels of the spectrum of conflict – subconventional, conventional and nuclear – can each be subdivided into two sublevels: lower and upper. At the subconventional level, Pakistan is offensive at both the sublevels, fuelling as it does the Kashmiri militancy at the lower level and hurling jihadists in terror attacks at the upper level. India, for its part, has been suppressive at the lower sublevel, stopping just short of the three figure mark of deaths in J&K. At the upper sublevel, it appears to have been responding in kind to Pakistani terror attacks through covert operations along the LC. The reference to Balochistan figuring in the Manmohan-Zardari Sharm el Sheikh joint statement as far back as in 2006 indicates that India has not quite been as inactive on the intelligence front as it makes out either. The increased likelihood of future surgical strikes indicates a fraying of the subconventional-conventional divide, since these will likely have greater punch against a more alert adversary.
Likewise, at the conventional level, India is primed to unleash limited offensives by the pivot – ostensibly defensive – corps at the lower sublevel. At the upper sublevel, the military exercises it undertakes each year indicate that it has not abjured from strike corps operations. Even though it claims to be cognisant of Pakistani nuclear thresholds, ordinarily strike corps have the weight and punch triggering Pakistani nuclear redlines. In response, Pakistan has unveiled its TNW, pushing the war into the nuclear level. Thus, while India is forthrightly offensive at both the sublevels, at the upper sublevel, Pakistan obliterates of the firebreak at the conventional-nuclear level. Alongside, in war there would be intelligence and information war operations, only serving to sandwich the two levels - subconventional and conventional - into a hybrid war unsparing of populations.
The nuclear level can also be similarly subdivided into two sublevels. Pakistan has advertised its vertical proliferation, messaging thereby that it has a second strike capability – the ability to strike back even if its nuclear capability is targeted in a degrading attack – anchored in its higher numbers. In effect, South Asia is in its era of mutually assured destruction (MAD). The upper sublevel comprises mutual nuclear suicide. The lower sublevel can be imagined as nuclear exchanges short of this involving lower order nuclear exchange(s). Since a MAD situation does not permit India the luxury of following through with its official nuclear doctrine predicated on extensive nuclear targeting, India may well be having a confidential operational nuclear doctrine envisaging nuclear warfighting. This is not altogether for the worse, since it enables nuclear war termination at lower thresholds than after counter city exchanges. Nevertheless, it shows a mirroring offensiveness on both sides.
Essentially, what has occurred is that the increase in the offensive content and intent in strategic doctrines of the two states, as reflected in respective military doctrines over this century has led to greater instability and insecurity. While India shifted to proactive offensive at the conventional level, Pakistan went offensive at the conventional-nuclear divide with its TNW. India’s current-day shift obliterates the divide between the subconventional and conventional levels. In the main, strategic restraint was in India keeping a check on itself at the conventional level. Deeming from the terror attacks in Gurdaspur, Pathankot and Uri, that this has not paid dividend, it intends to be proactive at the upper end of the subconventional level. Thus, the two divides between the three levels that could have served as firebreaks now stand erased.
Is South Asia more secure?
There are two parts to India’s new Pakistan strategy: the first is to project irrationality a’la Nixon, and, the second, goes by the term escalation dominance strategy. The shift to proactivism implies mounting the tiger with little leeway for getting off unscathed. India is projecting that it has stepped on accelerator, thrown away the keys and the steering wheel. This is intended to ensure Pakistan steers away. It is to frighten Pakistan that by abandoning strategic rationality that informed its strategic restraint, India has taken its gloves off. In so far as this is a well-thought through strategy to deter the other side, this is not outside the realm of strategic rationality. It goes by the term strategy of irrationality. The second is to acquire such military muscle at all levels that India can choose to punish Pakistan at the level of its choice, leaving Pakistan no leeway to escape punishment by upping the ante. Since it would suffer like punishment at the next higher level too, Pakistan is expected to throw in the towel.
The problem with the first is that irrationality is a better strategy for a weaker side. A stronger side normally should be able to point to its strengths to help deter. For India to reinforce the strategy of irrationality by ‘surgical strikes’ in domains other than security, such as the currently unfolding demonetisation episode, suggests an inapt adaptation of the strategy of irrationality. On the other hand, Pakistan, as the weaker power, has resorted to a projection of irrationality. Its initiation of the Kargil intrusion is a case to point. Though it did take care to intrude in an insignificant area, enabling India to limit its counter, to rely on Pakistani strategic rationality to sensibly veer off on espying the Indian juggernaut is to put one’s eggs into a Pakistani basket. Earlier, India’s sobriety reflected in its strategic restraint was a good foil for Pakistan, but now with both two states mirroring irrationality, South Asia can be likened to a nuclear tinderbox.
As regards escalation dominance, firstly, it is questionable whether India has the strategic wherewithal to think through such a strategy. Its national security instruments are far too disjointed to put together such a complex strategy. Secondly, even if strategic rationality in the conservative-realist perspective is conceded to India’s strategic minders, the baleful influence of their ideological masters cannot be discounted. The latter may not be seeking security and stability, but are liable to be engaging in their imagination in a millennial struggle. Therefore, it is not the weaker side that might consider upping the ante, as the escalation dominance strategy foretells, but an India out to impose its own version of ‘shock and awe’.
The answer to the question on whether regional and national security is by now self-evident. Strategists on the Indian payroll have apparently not worked this out. Clearly, other influences are at play. Doctrine making is never left to professional strategists, but is an intensely political exercise. Paying attention to the defence minister’s remarks on the cultural nationalist inspiration of proactivism provides a hint. By this yardstick, strategic proactivism is only chimerically about external security in relation to Pakistan and its internal security blowback in Kashmir. Instead, it is the cultural nationalist imprint on national security.
Suhasini Haidar, ‘Earlier cross-LoC strikes had different goals: former NSA’, The Hindu, 12 October 2016, available at http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/former-national-security-adviser-shiv-shankar-menon-on-crossloc-strikes/article9208838.ece; accessed on 15 October 2016.
KR Rajeev, ‘Time for strategic restraint over, says Ram Madhav’, The Times of India, 18 September 2016, available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Time-for-strategic-restraint-over-says-Ram-Madhav/articleshow/54393643.cms; accessed on 20 October 2016.
 Sundeep Unnithan, ‘Preparing for the worst’, India Today, 27 October 2016; Available at http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/ministry-of-defence-ammunition-procurement-indian-army-cag/1/796684.html; accessed on 30 October 2016.
 Ajit Kumar Dubey, ‘Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar clears defence deals worth Rs 80,000 crore’, Mail Today, 8 November 2016; Available at http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/parrikar-clears-defence-deals-worth-rs-80000-crore/1/805088.html; accessed on 15 November 2016.
 Shailaja Neelakantan, ‘When NSA Ajit Doval outlined India's new Pak strategy- defensive offense – perfectly’, The Times of India, 4 October 2016; Available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/When-NSA-Ajit-Doval-outlined-Indias-new-Pakistan-strategy-defensive-offense-perfectly/articleshow/54670600.cms; accessed on 15 November 2016.
 Sushant Singh, ‘Manohar Parrikar questions India’s no-first-use nuclear policy, adds ‘my thinking’’, Indian Express, 11 November 2016; Available at http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/manohar-parrikar-questions-no-first-use-nuclear-policy-adds-my-thinking-4369062/; accessed on 15 November 2016.
 PTI, ‘'RSS teaching' may have been at core of surgical strike decision: Manohar Parrikar’, The Times of India, 17 October 2016; Available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/RSS-teaching-may-have-been-at-core-of-PoK-raid-decision-Manohar-Parrikar/articleshow/54900927.cms; accessed on 15 November 2016.
Thursday, 17 November 2016
India's NFU: The Political Advantages of Sticking with it
The defence minister has given voice to at least two constituencies that are not comfortable with India’s ‘No first use’ (NFU) pledge. The first is a segment of the strategic community, some of whom believe - to quote a stalwart - the pledge is ‘not worth the paper it is written on’. The second is a segment of military opinion which is averse to the threat of fighting under what is perceived as an adverse situation developing in case of Pakistani first use against conventional forces. This article deals with the latter concerns.
Analysts have been at pains to point out that the Pakistani brandishing of the Nasr tactical nuclear weapon system is chimerical. It cannot stop an Indian conventional attack in its tracks since far too many would require to be used. Neither does Pakistan have such numbers, nor can it spare the many required for a tactical level strike with uncertain results. Further, it has no doubt intimately watched Indian strike corps exercises with their accent on fighting through nuclear conditions and is advisedly unlikely to tie down its limited fissile material in overkill with TNW. It is also aware that India’s economic liberalization enabled platform acquisitions have the capability of conventional degradation of TNW platforms and sites.
Consequently, Pakistan will more likely milk TNW for their deterrence benefits, one of which in Pakistani nuclear thinking is to extend the nuclear cover to also cover the conventional level. It also has political use of TNW for in peace time projecting South Asia as a ‘nuclear flashpoint’ and in conflict to catalyse external conflict termination intervention. In conflict, in light of limited numbers of both warheads and short range missiles, it could employ TNW as a tripwire, to project that its threshold has been breached so as to affect the trajectory of India’s conventional operations. In other words, though employed at the operational level of war, TNW use would be with a strategic purpose of nuclear signaling, indicating imminence of escalation, and thereby the necessity of war termination.
An opening nuclear salvo by Pakistan of a strategic attack to include counter military, counter force and counter city targeting is unlikely in light of India’s credible second strike capability. Pakistan would not delude itself that it would be able to decapitate India in such a strike or that India lacks the gumption for sound retaliation. To hit Indian strategic targets would be akin – to borrow Thomas Schelling’s words – lobbing their bombs at their very own targets, for it would be only a matter of time before India’s retaliation would take these out.
Also, the case for lower order nuclear first use by Pakistan is enhanced by the discussion on the lack of credibility of India’s declaratory nuclear doctrine promising higher order (massive) nuclear retaliation. Pakistani nuclear numbers are sufficient for putative second strike capability. Even a broken-back response by the balance of its nuclear forces after an Indian ‘massive’ nuclear retaliatory strike as promised, will set India back inordinately. While the assumption that India will survive even as Pakistan will not is a fair one, the kind of India that would survive is a consequential political consideration in staying India’s retaliatory hand in the manner promised by its official nuclear doctrine. Therefore, if higher order Indian nuclear retaliation acquires a question mark over it in case of lower order Pakistani first use, Pakistan might just chance reaching for TNW.
The greater likelihood of TNW as the form of Pakistani first use places India’s conventional forces under added nuclear threat. As seen, the TNW would unlikely impede the conventional forces inordinately, even if they may help Pakistan stymie an adverse situation developing by deft employment in conjunction with counter maneuvers by Pakistani ground forces. They can at best help wrest the initiative in a combat zone or two from India’s forces pursuing operations under the Proactive Operations doctrine. The depth in quantum and quality to India’s strategic reserves – and its partially on-road Mountain Strike Corps – lends confidence that such reverses would not unduly deflect the army from its objectives and India from its war aims. In other words, the TNW threat must be met by leadership and planning capability, i.e. operational art. The equipment profile of offensive formations must continue to measure up to attendant demands.
Enhancing the conventional forces’ capability to cope with nuclear conditions would ease the premium on nuclear level retaliation considerations. Since these are currently predicated on strategic nuclear attack, and - as seen above - this might be inadvisable from an escalatory point of view, reducing pressures for recourse to such retaliation is sensible. Doing so enables in-lieu resort to conventional degradation options against the TNW threat. These include conventional tipped short range ballistic missiles, high accuracy cruise missiles, long range artillery, area saturation rocket artillery, Special Forces’ operations, allied proxy forces and air power. The ability for continued conventional operations in a nuclearised environment has multifaceted benefit. A host of political and diplomatic tools can be employed to take advantage of Pakistani breach of the nuclear taboo for gaining the political and moral high ground. Consequently, there is no compulsion to bottom-up demand that India rescind its NFU.
Further – as an aside here - while India’s nuclear retaliation to TNW may be useful for reinforcing deterrence by announcing India’s resolve and willingness for nuclear retaliation, there is also a counter-intuitive case for nuclear non-retaliation in case of lower order nuclear first use by Pakistan. The political benefits would be worth it. Whereas initial de-escalatory pressure would be on India to refrain from or moderate its nuclear retaliation, Indian nuclear non-retaliation will shift the focus on to Pakistan. This might help restrict further nuclear resort by it, enabling Indian conventional forces to wrap up what they might have set out to do, including conventional retaliation to TNW strikes. Post-conflict advantages would be in continued international engagement to roll back Pakistani nuclear capability. Internal to Pakistan, such reticence could provoke an accounting on the advisability on its military leadership’s decision that placed Pakistan untenably in harm’s way. This could serve to bring down the military to levels the Hamoodur Rahman commission report was unable to four decades back.
Rescinding the NFU for creating options against Pakistani TNW use is not worth it. NFU can be abandoned in the unlikely case if India is forced to preempt Pakistani first strike levels of attack designed to set back India’s retaliatory capability. Since in international law no state can be held to its international obligations in case national survival is at stake, India cannot be held to a unilateral pledge. India has no reason to ‘go first’ with nuclear weapons. This was written into the Draft Nuclear Doctrine of 1999 thus: ‘Highly effective conventional military capabilities shall be maintained to raise the threshold of outbreak both of conventional military conflict as well as that of threat or use of nuclear weapons.’
Cumulatively, these arguments spell that if at all the nuclear doctrine needs to be tweaked, it is not NFU, but the term ‘massive’ used in relation to India’s retaliatory intent that needs excising
Tuesday, 15 November 2016
The nuclear doctrinal implications of 'surgical strikes'
The nuclear doctrinal implications of 'surgical strikes'
Ali Ahmed By
'Surgical strikes' have now entered the vocabulary of the common man. However, in his cautionary observations on the 'surgical strikes' by the army in reprisal for the Uri terror attack, the former national security adviser, Shivshankar Menon, pointed out that strategic strikes are a misnomer. To him, the term is instead from the nuclear domain, such as the taking out of Iraq's nascent nuclear capability by the Israelis in a surgical strike. Even though the term has acquired a wider application and is used for military operations with little or no collateral damage, Menon's mistaken linkage of the term with nuclear operations is a useful start point to this article discussing the implications for India's nuclear doctrine of India's shift to 'strategic proactivism', heralded by the surgical strikes.
The lazy man's linkage between the two levels - subconventional at which surgical strikes took place and the nuclear level at which nuclear ordnance is exchanged - is in the seemingly easier slide into conflict, if strategic proactivism is taken at face value. A Kashmir-centric terror attack would warrant a surgical strike in retaliation; precedence having been set and an action-reaction cycle, presumably already underway in the (re) activation of the Line of Control. This is unlikely to stay 'surgical' next time round since both the Pakistani army and the terrorists would be better prepared. India consequently might require upping the ante, perhaps with greater force levels or additional vectors such as by use of air power. The result might be more messy than in the precedent, prompting the slide from crisis into conflict that has been staple for strategists over the past decade.
However, that this is not necessarily how the future might play out is clear from the very careful wording of the military operation's chief's press statement on the surgical strikes. In effect, India might not have as yet transited to strategic proactivism, even if tuning in to the brouhaha in the political spectrum over the strikes suggests that the transition is not only underway but complete.
Clearly, India is a screwdriver's turn away from strategic proactivism. The transition from its long standing strategic doctrine dubbed 'strategic restraint' to strategic proactivism is well underway and has been so for almost half a decade. The shift is from the offensive-deterrence segment of the continuum of strategic doctrines that ranges from accommodation at one end, through deterrence of the defensive and offensive variants, to compellence at the other. India has in its period of strategic restraint moved from defensive deterrence to offensive deterrence.
The usage of the term strategic restraint does not reveal fully the offensive content of India's strategic doctrine over the past decade and half. Instead, its continued usage appears to indicate intent to hide the offensive content and tendency in the strategic doctrine. This may be to genuflect to India's self-image as a responsible and mature power that has historically been reticence in the use of power and force. However, the fit of this with the working of its strategic doctrine in respect of Pakistan is questionable. In respect of Pakistan, India's movement from defensive deterrence to offensive deterrence began with the shift in its military doctrine from a counter offensive posture to an offensive on a short fuse, the so-called Cold Start. Cold start has since been dubbed 'proactive war strategy' or some such variant of the term.
India's effort has since been to create the wherewithal to operationalise the doctrine. It has presumably finally succeeded in doing so, after a tripling of the defence budget over this century. This accounts for the confidence that induced the 'surgical strikes'. This government has gone on to allocate Rs 5000 crore for fast track ammunition purchases and a further Rs 80000 crores for arms purchases since September. This indicates a further shift along the strategic doctrinal continuum from offensive-deterrence to compellence. The remainder of this article examines the implications for nuclear doctrine.
At the subconventional level the shift in strategic doctrine has prompted the surgical strikes. The government's going public with the ownership of the surgical strikes that were in the period of strategic restraint left covert, with the military picking up the tab for decision making. Higher up the spectrum of conflict, at the conventional level, the defence purchases for enabling conventional reprisal capability are evidence. At the nuclear level, the first salvo has been fired by the defence minister in voicing his 'personal' opinion on India's No First Use (NFU) pledge, which the defence ministry spokesperson clarified were his personal opinion not amounting to a change in nuclear doctrine .
Even though the defence minister has long lost personal credibility owing to his foot-in-the-mouth habit, as member of the National Security Council and of the Nuclear Command Authority, his opinion is worth a pause. He opined that the NFU need not bind India when all India needed to do was assure all that its nuclear use - whether in a first use or retaliatory mode - would be in a responsible manner. Leaving aside the nuclear abolitionist's critique that responsible nuclear use is an oxymoron and the retort that adhering to the NFU is how India has traditionally exhibited that it is a responsible nuclear power, it needs establishing 'going second' makes sense even in the age of strategic proactivism.
One nuclear first use option for India is for degrading the most likely manner Pakistan is likely to 'go first' with nuclear weapons. The option is of preemption of Pakistan's tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) force. Even Pakistan, which does not have an NFU, understands the conventional-nuclear level distinction even as it gets its TNW into play. Indian strategists are liable to mistake the TNW as aiming at addressing the conventional asymmetry. Consequently, they err in dismissing these as operationally ineffectual. They are right in terms of the effect on the battlefield of TNW, but the purpose of Pakistan is not so much to stop a strike corps in its tracks as to use TNW for strategic signaling, for indicating its threshold unmistakably and catalyzing external conflict termination pressures . Therefore, Pakistan's action is not so much a fraying of the conventional-nuclear level boundary, but a first - distinct and decisive - step from the conventional level to the nuclear level.
India by creating the option of preempting Pakistan's TNW use ignores the conventional-nuclear divide. India's nuclear first use in this manner would be to extend cover to its conventional operations by degradation of enemy fire power means that stand to disrupt these operations. Such degradation can well be done by conventional means including long range artillery, area saturation rockets, missiles and air power.
Nuclear weapons to Using undertake what India can do with its existing and-In-the-pipeline acquisitions is to collapse the conventional and nuclear levels. There is no compulsion to replicate the offensive shift of strategic proactivism at the nuclear level, since the nuclear level traditionally has a distinct - sacrosanct - place atop the spectrum of conflict. Ignoring this is to misread the uniqueness of nuclear ordnance as separate from conventional weaponry. It is only in case the conventional weaponry so deployed fails to deliver on keeping the conflict from going nuclear that India could consider resort to nuclear tipped Prahaar missiles. Though this has the underside of taking the conflict into nuclear warfighting domain, this is a lower order nuclear use cognizant of the nuclear level's two sublevels: non-strategic and strategic. The bright side is that such exchange ( s) are amenable to a conflict exit point while it is still in the 'No cities' (Tom Shelling) stage.
The second option of nuclear first use by India is in a wider counter force attack, including Pakistani nuclear ordnance outside of its TNW. Even if not of first strike levels or so degrading of Pakistani retaliatory capability that it is hard put to retaliate, it has every chance of escalating since collateral damage and a 'use them-lose them' logic will prompt like retaliation. This would unlikely leave India unscathed since Pakistan, through vertical proliferation, has the second strike capability, even if one not anchored on an invulnerable subsurface deterrent that is traditionally, though mistakenly taken as furnishing a second strike capability. The environmental and thereby political fallout of such a manner of nuclear first use will be such that India-as-we-know-it can not survive the consequences.
The defence minister in his frivolity has done the nation a favour. It enables a time window to educate him on nuclear nuances. Since strategic proactivism is sure to send the proverbial balloon up over the subcontinent sooner than later and the government having gotten used to 'surgical strikes' of various kinds, including demonetisation, it might just think that the nuclear level lends itself to such strikes. It is therefore only timely to disabuse a member of the Nuclear Command Authority of any such notion.
Saturday, 12 November 2016
India’s NFU: Does the Defence Minister’s personal opinion matter?
Published under title - Personal is political
Published under title - Personal is political
Speaking at a book launch in New Delhi, the defence minister is reported as having voiced his ‘thinking’ on one of the pillars of India’s nuclear doctrine, India’s No First Use (NFU) pledge. Though he reaffirmed there was no change in the nuclear doctrine dating to 2003, Mr. Parrikar reportedly said, ‘I am also an individual. And as an individual, I get a feeling sometime why do I say that I am not going to use it first.’ A defence ministry spokesperson clarified that alongside the defence minister confirmed that this was his personal opinion.
The defence minister’s questioning the NFU pledge appears to place him in the camp within the strategic community which advocates rescinding of India’s NFU pledge. The last time their argument came to fore was in the run up to last national elections when the BJP manifesto said that it would ‘revise and update’ India’s nuclear doctrine if it came to power. In the event, then prime ministerial candidate Mr. Modi put a lid on the matter saying that, ‘No first use is a reflection of our cultural inheritance.’
The argument in favour of junking NFU is that this would strengthen deterrence by dampening Pakistan’s nuclear ardour. Pakistan has advertised its tactical nuclear weapons (TNW), conveying its intention to ‘go first’ with nuclear weapons. Pakistan hopes this would deter India’s conventional forces from making rapid and significant gains and in case deterrence fails, may help redress the conventional imbalance it views as favouring India.
In the argument against NFU, an India without NFU shackles could preempt Pakistani nuclear use, thereby preserving its forces and gains they may have made in conventional operations from Pakistani nuclear attack. An intention and capability for this would deter Pakistan from initiating steps towards nuclear first use. With Pakistan deterred, India would not need to ‘go first’ since it has the conventional wherewithal to gain its war aims. This would keep the war from going nuclear and expand the window below Pakistani nuclear threshold for conventional operations.
Those arguing for continuing the NFU opine that India’s readiness to ‘go first’ might have the reverse effect on Pakistan. Rather than deterring its TNW use, it might provoke Pakistan under ‘use them or lose them’ pressures. Its monitoring of India’s nuclear preparations might stampede Pakistan into nuclear first use.
Nuclear first use might in such a case not be with TNW against invading Indian conventional forces alone, but might be in a counter force mode, targeting nuclear forces that India might be readying for its own nuclear first use. This would in turn amount to pressure on India for a wider opening salvo, taking out Pakistani nuclear forces mounting the preemptive strike. It appears that while the current threat is of Pakistani TNW use against India’s conventional forces, removal of its NFU by India prompts a wider nuclear threat.
Between the two arguments, while rescinding NFU helps with deterrence, maintaining NFU prevents an escalatory spiral. Even if India maintains its NFU in peace time, the Political Council of India’s Nuclear Command Authority would be presented with such a choice early in an India-Pakistan conflict.
With India’s conventional forces making headway and with Pakistan preparing to blunt them with TNW, the NCA would require deliberating whether to abandon NFU and preempt Pakistan. It might not be possible to in the fog of war to discern whether Pakistan restricting itself to only to TNW or preparing for a wider first salvo. This may push the decision in favour of preemption and that too in a wider strike taking out Pakistan’s nuclear capability. It is for this reason that some analysts dismiss No First Use pledges in general and Pakistan purports to find India’s NFU pledge less than plausible.
While this might stall the immediate and present danger of first use by Pakistan, it would open up India to a similarly violent strike. Whereas India may have done counter force targeting in its nuclear first use, Pakistan retaliating with a diminished nuclear force may include counter city strikes to inflict greater pain. The end of such exchanges would of course find Pakistan worse off, but the moot question is whether the knowledge would provide India any satisfaction in light of the blows it might itself have suffered.
This brief scenario building exercise suggests that while deterrence is useful, warding off tendencies towards escalation is better. Since maintaining NFU lowers escalatory likelihood, it is better than rescinding NFU even if the latter helps with deterrence somewhat. What this suggests is that not only must NFU be maintained in peace and all indicators towards that end projected for enhancing its plausibility, it must continue to hold even in face of the inevitable spike in Pakistani first use threat in conflict.
It is for this reason that the defence minister’s personal opinion counts. He is part of the Political Council of the NCA and in that capacity would require providing his considered input. Mr. Parrikar might like to revise his opinion prior to the contingency arising.