writings of ali ahmed ...with due acknowledgement and thanks to publications where these have appeared. Views expressed are personal and may not be associated with any organisation. Follow on twitter: @aliahd66
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India has embarked on an ambitious programme on the
conventional and nuclear fronts that taken together spell out its strategic
doctrine. The strategic problem has been how India ‘causes’ security for
itself. While the previous government’s strategic doctrine is often described
as a “strategy of restraint”, the current government seems to have based its
strategic doctrine on the realist philosophy of offensive realism. Since
military doctrines – conventional and nuclear – derive from strategic doctrine,
these must be considered in relation to the strategic doctrine. The doctrinal
dissonance of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) period that practised
restraint while building potential for an offensive shift, stands superseded,
with the new government explicitly moving towards offensive realism in its
strategic philosophy and towards, in the words of the National Security Adviser
(NSA), “defensive offence” in its military doctrines. While the doctrinal
dissonance of the UPA period has been resolved, whether strategic clarity makes
India any more secure awaits the test of crisis.
The Doctrinal Inter-Linkage
Strategic and Military Strategic doctrine and military
doctrine are inter-linked. Strategic doctrine orients the state strategically.
According to Kissinger, strategic doctrine translates “power into policy”. To
him, “strategic doctrine must define what objectives are worth contending for
and determine the degree of force appropriate for achieving them (1969: 4)”.
Strategic doctrine orients the state to its security compulsions in the
external and internal security environments. Strategic doctrine is itself
informed by the state’s comfort levels in its security environment: whether its
security policy is based on “defensive structural realism” or “offensive
structural realism”. Strategic doctrine is, therefore, not evolved in a vacuum.
The security philosophy of the state, or more narrowly, its government, informs
strategic doctrine. To illustrate, if there is a change in government, such as
took place in India in mid-2014, there will be speculation that the strategic
doctrine of the new Hindu nationalist government would be more assertive than
that of its predecessor.
States do not always endeavour to increase their power
without limits or singlemindedly. Self-imposition of restraint in pursuit of
power, ‘defensive structural realism’, is also in evidence in state practice.
In this understanding, states seek security. Threats are viewed in relation to
relative power, proximity, intentions, and the defence-offence balance. As
increments in capabilities can be easily countered, ‘defensive structural
realism’ suggests that a state’s attempts to make itself more secure by
increasing its power are ultimately futile in the face of the responses these
generate among neighbouring states. Therefore, states seek an ‘appropriate’
amount of power.
‘Offensive structural realism’, on the other hand, argues
that since states face an uncertain environment, capabilities are of utmost
importance and security requires enhancing these to the extent feasible
(Mearsheimer 2001: 37). States respond to the external security environment by
adopting the appropriate strategic doctrine, placing them along the
offence-defence-deterrence continuum (Posen 1984: 40). Heterogeneity along the dimensions
of offence-defence-deterrence depends on the political objective of a state’s
grand strategy and the geographical, technological, and political constraints
and opportunities it faces (Posen 1984: 40).
This suggests that strategic
doctrines could be defensive, offensive, deterrent or compellent, depending on
the aims, opportunities and constraints. In Posen’s words (Posen 1984: 14):
“Offensive doctrines aim to disarm an adversary – to destroy his armed forces.
Defensive doctrines aim to deny an adversary the objective he seeks. Deterrent
doctrines aim to punish an aggressor – to raise his costs without reference to
reducing ones own.” In the words of Henry Kissinger, strategic doctrine
identifies whether “the goals of a state are offensive or defensive, whether it
seeks to achieve or to prevent a transformation” (1969: 7).
Accordingly, strategic doctrine “must define what objectives
are worth contending for and determine the degree of force appropriate for
achieving them” (1969: 4). Thus, a status quoist power usually has a deterrent
or defensive strategic doctrine, while an expansionist or revisionist power is
likely to have an offensive one. The former seeks to preserve, the latter to
change. A state with a security policy informed by defensive structural realism
would have its strategic doctrine inclining towards the defensive and
deterrence segments of the continuum, whereas a state with a security policy
informed by offensive structural realism would favour offensive or compellent
Military power, though one among the other power
instruments, such as technological, political, cultural, etc., is a
consequential component on account of the military instrument being the
‘ultimate’ arbiter. The effectiveness of the military instrument is not only a
function of military budgets, leadership, etc., but also of appropriate
doctrine. Scott Sagan defines military doctrine as, “Military doctrine refers
to the underlying principles and specific guidance provided to military
officers who produce the operational plans for the use of military forces”
(Sagan 2009: 222).
Military doctrine deals with “what” military means are to be
employed and “how” (Posen 1984: 13). A military doctrine enables execution of
grand strategy by aligning the military instrument to strategic doctrine. Formulation and implementation of military strategy is
informed by military doctrine. Military strategy is formulated in the context
of what eminent military sociologist, Morris Janowitz, termed as its
“operational code” or “logic” of professional behaviour (Janowitz 1960: 257),
or military doctrine. Military doctrine manifests the dictates of strategic
doctrine: offensive or defensive.
India’s Conventional and Nuclear Doctrines: A Limited War
In the nuclear era, limited war is the only kind of ‘war of
choice’ that India can possibly embark on. However, the preceding discussion
indicates that there has to be political direction to the military on this
score. The military can then reflect on doctrine accordingly. This first step
not having been taken, the military has proceeded doctrinally without
explicitly engaging with the requirement of limited war. While the confidential
Raksha Mantri’s Directive exists, that it has left the doctrinal space to the
military is self-evident. It is also not known if the doctrine the Services
formulate receives political imprimatur since the ministry’s annual reports do
not carry a mention of doctrine.
The Indian Army Doctrine (2004) has no discussion of limited
war. What the new 2010 edition of the doctrine states in this respect is not
known since, unlike its 2004 predecessor document, it is confidential. While
air power permits flexibility, not having the limited war concept inform
doctrine would result in greater scope for expansive targeting in the tradition
of application of air power set by the USled West. The Navy doctrine is also
ambiguous. It takes general or total war as “involving nearly all resources of
the nation, with few, if any, restrictions on the use of force, short of
nuclear strike/retaliation” (Indian Maritime Doctrine 2009: 19). This
formulation appears to suggest that total war aiming for “annihilation or total
subjugation of the opponent” can yet occur below the nuclear threshold. The
overall impression is that the military is undecided to weigh in on the side of
limited war unambiguously.
This is surprising given that it needs to clearly
communicate an intention to wage limited war in order to raise the nuclear
threshold for conventional force application. If it does not reassure the enemy
of a limited war, then the enemy may be stampeded into nuclear use. This makes
lack of reflection on limited war counter-productive in the light of Pakistan’s
lowering of the nuclear threshold in response to India’s conventional doctrinal
Militaries conceptualise a ‘spectrum
of conflict’, defined as “a continuum defined primarily by the magnitude of the
declared objectives”, and plan to be capable of victory across the spectrum.
Consequently, escalation dominance or superiority at the highest level of force
in use along a particular scale in the spectrum of conflict assumes importance.
Capabilities and plans aim for generating asymmetry and, in the case of
financial or technological constraints, at a minimum, symmetry. Enemy
capabilities become the defining yardstick rather than intentions or, indeed,
even the aims of the government in cases of deficiencies in political control.
The Army’s so-called ‘Cold Start’ or officially, “proactive
operations”, doctrine that was first mentioned in the open domain in April
2004, permits only a limited time window for crisis management and war
avoidance efforts. This reveals that it was not entirely aligned to the
national interest as explicated in the “strategy of restraint”, protective of
the national economic trajectory. The strategy of restraint prefers a period of
crisis management in order to explore if war, and its effects on the economy,
can be avoided. The government may be inclined to manipulate the risk of war
for prising concessions from Pakistan through coercive diplomacy. T
this poses to the military is that it gains Pakistan the time to mobilise and
consolidate its defences, thereby increasing the challenge to any Indian
military offensive later. This explains the Army’s preparedness for proactive
operations at short notice. Whereas Cohen and Dasgupta (2010: 61) in their book
Arming Without Aiming argue that “a
strategy of compellence seems so high risk that the political leadership is
unlikely to embrace it” and “there is little reason to expect the Indian
government to abandon strategic restraint for a more assertive policy”, “the
army’s plans continue regardless.”
However, what was true in 2010 may not be so in 2015, with a
changed complexion of government subscribing to a more robust strategic
doctrine and disavowing from a ‘defensive’ strategic culture. In effect, the
earlier ambiguity in strategic doctrine stands dispelled, even if the strategic
doctrine remains unarticulated in the public domain. The earlier lack of
clarity was under the assumption that the doctrinal domain is the military’s
preserve. In the nuclear age, this is no longer tenable. Governmental ownership
of the doctrinal sphere is evident as far as the nuclear doctrine goes, and the
conventional doctrines cannot any longer be seen in isolation.
The Nuclear Doctrine
India’s declaratory nuclear doctrine is that in case of a
nuclear first use by an adversary in any manner against India and its forces
anywhere, India will retaliate with a “massive” counter to inflict
“unacceptable damage”. When nuclear first use by the enemy is of such an order
as to result in unacceptable damage to oneself, then it makes eminent sense to
consider retaliation of levels that inflict unacceptable damage right back.
But, in case the damage caused by the nuclear first use is not of an
unacceptable order, such as in the popular scenario when it is a single warhead
of low kilo-tonnage on a tactical level target, then inflicting unacceptable
damage in return would be unnecessarily escalatory. The criterion that emerges
then is a ‘tit for tat’ nuclear response. It is conceivable, therefore, that in
India’s case, a declaratory doctrine is distinct from an operational doctrine
and based on a ‘tit for tat’ response, at least in the initial stages and for
lower order levels of nuclear first use. Beyond a point, there may be a need to
limit damage to oneself by indeed going ‘massive’ to take out the enemy’s
ability to continue exchanges.
The Conventional-Nuclear Interface
The deterrence logic currently subscribed to is that the
likelihood, if not inevitability, of the spiral of nuclear exchanges on
introduction of nuclear weapons into a conflict, would see Pakistan worse off
at the end of it all. This would ensure that it does not resort to first use in
the first place. In the light of Pakistani self-deterrence, India can then
proceed to administer conventional punishment for sub-conventional provocation.
Since this would be a limited war, not intended to invade or occupy territory,
first use thresholds will be steered clear of. This is plausible, but
neglectful of nuclear risks and environmental consequences of nuclear use that
additionally must inform decision-making in India’s Political Council of the
Nuclear Command Authority. That the political domain of nuclear decision-making
is distinct from the strategic is clear in the separation of the Political
Council from the Executive Council. Since the Political Council has to be
attuned in to the nature of post conflict peace, it needs to override the
Executive Council advice if based on the current declaratory nuclear doctrine.
The earlier emphasis on ‘unacceptable damage’ was due to a
buffer existing then at the conventional-nuclear interface. India’s
conventional doctrine was a defensive one of counter-offensive in the wake of
Pakistan’s taking to the offensive first, in keeping with its (Pakistan’s)
military doctrine of offensive defence. This situation has changed in the light
of a changed conventional doctrine in India. This means that proactive
operations can make Pakistan reach for the nuclear button as its Foreign
Secretary officially intimated this September. Consequently, being more
offensive at the conventional level, India needs to be more restrained at the
nuclear level. Therefore, India’s distancing from its declaratory nuclear
doctrine needs to be publicly acknowledged in favour of an operational nuclear
doctrine informed by ‘graduated’ or ‘flexible’ nuclear retaliation.
The Future Direction
From the direction of India’s deterrent, it is clear that
India is going in for ‘something of everything’. India is going in for a
nuclear triad and ballistic missile defence shield. Together, these two could
position India to even consider abandoning no first use at will. First strike
considerations in the light of surveillance capability and missile accuracy
developments will be the pull factors. This possibility will enhance the ‘will
he, won’t he?’ apprehension on both sides, building in a tendency to preemption
in a ‘bolt from the blue’ attack in both sides. An emergent Indian first strike
capability would then only await a preventive or preemptive war rationale. This
can be provided by the vicissitudes of future strategic equations, the security
situation and the internal political configurations.
Strategic doctrine remains little articulated. It is
essentially a civilian responsibility. The new government can remedy this by
removing from the apex defence structure the firewall between the civilian and
military (Prakash 2015). The ministry does not have either the ‘hardware’ or
‘software’ to think through linkages between the strategic and military
doctrines. Further, the ministry is also not the site for nuclear doctrinal
thinking. That is the preserve of the National Security Council (NSC) system
comprising the National Security Council and its Secretariat (NSCS). There is
no equivalent staff in the HQ Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS) that can serve
as the secretariat for the Chairman Chiefs of Staff (CoSC) guidance of the
Strategic Forces Command and input for the NSC. The Strategy Programmes Staff
cannot serve both the NSA and COSC.
Cognisant of the potential for disconnect, an organisational
innovation has been the creation of the Strategy Programmes (Strategic
Programme) Staff within the NSCS. This multi-disciplinary entity perhaps
replicates some functions of the Strategic Plans Directorate (SPD) of
Pakistan’s National Command Authority (NCA). According to Shyam Saran (2013),
then Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), this unit is
charged with looking at the reliability and quality of our weapons and delivery
systems, collating intelligence on other nuclear weapon states, particularly
those in the category of potential adversaries, and working on a perspective
plan for India’s nuclear deterrent in accordance with a ten-year cycle. This
agenda makes it resemble the Development Control Committee of the Pakistani
NCA. Missing is mention of the operational nuclear strategy staff to mirror the
SPD. Since this cannot be located in the Strategic Forces Command that is
concerned only with execution of nuclear decisions reached, the input to these
decisions to both the councils of India’s Nuclear Command Authority requires a
nuclear trained staff. Nevertheless, that it has uniformed and civilian
components, suggests that there is a linkage, amounting to interpenetration
between the nuclear and conventional levels; and on that count, is an advance.
In a speech for the Subbu Forum Society for Policy Studies
at the India International Centre in April 2013, Ambassador Shyam Saran,
reiterated India’s nuclear doctrine, stating: “…India will not be the first to
use nuclear weapons, but if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage
in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict
unacceptable damage on the adversary.” His view finds reiteration, such as most
recently by Ambassodor Parthasarathy (2015), “Pakistan will be very foolish to
test out Indian resolve to respond massively to its use of tactical nuclear
weapons.” Parthasarathy recommends taking out Pakistani Punjab. What this will
do for India’s abutting provinces is not pursued by him. Such blind spots
increase the urgency to revisit the nuclear doctrine since it is cognisant of
deterrence, but less so of the potential for deterrence breakdown.
Consequently, the government needs to ‘do more’.
The logic of ‘mutual assured destruction’ in the light of
vertical proliferation in the subcontinent implies that India needs to ensure a
limitation not only in the conventional doctrine – that it is already
apparently pursuing – but also in attempting to limit a nuclear war. It has to,
in this case, abandon the understanding that nuclear use inevitably triggers a
nuclear exchange. It needs to ensure that the nuclear war is brought to a
speedy close at the lowest levels of nuclear use by either side. Since this
cannot be done unilaterally, it must engage with Pakistan on this score
directly and with mutual strategic partners for working out the modalities of
ARTRAC, Indian Army Doctrine (Shimla: HQ ARTRAC, 2004).
S .Cohen, and S. Dasgupta, Arming without Aiming: India’s
Military Modernisation (New Delhi: Penguin Viking, 2010).
IHQ of MoD (Navy), Freedom to Use the Seas: India’s Maritime
Military Strategy (New Delhi: IHQ of MoD–Navy, 2007).
Morris Janowitz, The Professional Soldier: A Social and
Political Portrait (New York: The Free Press, 1960).
Henry Kissinger, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (New
York: WW Norton and Co, 1969).
John Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New
York: WW Norton, 2001).
G. Parthasarthy, “Pakistan’s Islamic Bomb”, The Tribune,
November 19, 2015.
Barry Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine: France,
Britain and Germany Between the World Wars (London: Cornell University Press,
A. Prakash, “Politicians Uninterested in National Security”,
The Hindu, November 19, 2015.
Scott Sagan, “The Evolution of Pakistani and Indian Nuclear
Doctrines” in Scott Sagan, ed, Inside Nuclear South Asia (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 2009), pp. 219-63.
Shyam Saran, “Is India’s Nuclear Deterrent Credible?”. Paper
presented at the India Habitat Centre, April 23, 2013.
Accessed on October 24, 2014.
Jasjit Singh, “Dynamics of Limited War”, Strategic Analysis
XXIV (7), 2000, pp. 1205-1220