Tuesday, 25 February 2020


The genesis of this book was atop a canal obstacle in Punjab in 2006. I was then commanding a battalion that was deployed as exercise enemy, or the Nark force, in Exercise Sanghe Shakti. 1 Armoured Division of 2 Corps chose the canal site for the break in battle. It was fore ordained that they were to break out by first light. In effect, my unit was to be cut to pieces in a heavy breakthrough within three hours. I did not have much to do thereafter, and was able to witness the proceedings of the exercise as a bystander. Over the next four days the exercise timings were truncated to depict ten days or so. The strike corps ended up in its projection areas across the third obstacle, encompassing an airfield captured by a drop of a paratrooper force for subsistence and surge. I wondered as to what a nuclear armed enemy would make of all this. This experience prompted the question: Why has India gone in for an offensive conventional doctrine despite nuclearisation?
Ideally, the investment in nuclearisation should have made India secure. It was even advertised that now that both states, India and Pakistan, have the bomb, they could sit down and talk their differences through. Neither state has taken cue from this understanding. Instead, Pakistan launched Operation Badr in Kargil.Later,it went way past the Indian threshold of tolerance with the terror attack on the Parliament. India, for its part, has moved to a Limited War doctrine, dubbed colloquially as Cold Start. A counter-factual can be hazarded that in case 9/11 had not drawn the United States into the region, 26/11 would have taken place earlier and would not have witnessed a strategy of restraint by India. Given this offensive orientation by both states despite the nuclear backdrop, there is a case for believing that security is imperilled. There is, therefore, a need to investigate what impels offensive doctrines. Are these in response to threat perceptions? Do these originate in the body politic of the state? Or are these due to organisational compulsions?
But, first I needed to demonstrate that there has indeed been a change in India’s military doctrine. In the first chapter, I do an interpretive history since the 1971 War to show that there has been a movement in India’s strategic posture and in its military doctrine. The strategic posture has moved from defensive to offensive deterrence bordering on compellence, while the military doctrine has moved from defensive to offensive. This agenda-setting chapter also carries a description of the Limited War doctrine, which is proactive and offensive, and discusses the conventional nuclear interface.
Thereafter in an attempt to answer the three questions that I posed above, the book in the succeeding chapters tries to locate the drivers behind India’s conventional doctrine. The search has been located at the three levels of analysis: structural, unit (state) and organisational. The last level - individual level – though consequential for doctrine generation, has been left for future doctoral study when the memoirs and records of individuals are available. Since the records are scarce due to the stringent information policy, the study is largely based on information available in military journals and research done by the strategic community.
What was I looking for?
A lot of theoretical work connected with doctrines has been produced over the last two decades. This research material has helped to make my case study a theoretically-informed one. The well-known ‘realist theory’ provided the theoretical backdrop to examine the
hypothesis at the structural level. According to this theory, the anarchical international system prompts self-help on part of states. The states attempt to create and leverage power against threats in the environment through internal and external balancing. Since military capability is a significant element of national power, it is harnessed by formulating a doctrine. Therefore, doctrine formulation is a form of internal balancing done by the states. A doctrine lends coherence to military power.
However, realism looks at the system and not at the unit (state), while the doctrine process occurs within the state. Therefore, there is a need to look at the unit (state) too. The unit level may be examined with the help of the cultural theoretical lens. According to the Cultural Theory, imbalance of power may exist in a system. The interpretation of this imbalance by the state, whether it is seen as an opportunity or a threat, is important. In other words, domestic politics matters. How states make sense of the world, how the other state’s actions are interpreted and what states wish to do with the military instrument depends on the political culture arising in the domestic sphere. There are three variants of culture: political culture, strategic culture and organisational culture. Cultural theory maintains that strategic or political-military culture impacts the state’s doctrine. However, its influence is mediated by organisational culture of the military in question.
A look at organisational culture necessitates ‘looking into the box’ or at the organisational level. The three famous models of Graham Allison provide a conceptual handle at this level. The rational actor model involving reasoned responses to external stimuli in the form of threats is equivalent to the realist response studied at the structural level. Therefore, the organisational process models and the bureaucratic politics models remain at this level. The organisational process model posits that doctrine, being a mandate of the military, is something that the military would generate as part of discharging its social obligation. In the process, organisations cater for institutional interests such as budgets, role salience, prestige, autonomy etc. Militaries prefer offensive doctrines for these reasons. According to the bureaucratic politics model organisations compete with each other. Since the military is not a monolith, the doctrinal sphere becomes a battle space for bureaucratic fights. Doctrine, therefore, becomes a weapon and doctrine-making a strategy in this contest.
The hypotheses drawn from the theories – realism, cultural theory and organisation theory – were respectively salient at the structural, unit (state) and organisational levels. The dependent variable at each level was the doctrine. At the structural level, the threat perception was taken as the independent variable. The hypothesis at this level therefore was: The change in India’s military doctrine has been due to continuing external security threats. The independent variable at the unit level was strategic culture. Since the military as an organisation reacts to its environment through the prism of organisational culture, the organisational culture serves as an intervening variable. The hypothesis at the unit level,which studied the political factor, was: The change in India’s military doctrine owes to evolution of India’s strategic culture. Lastly, at the organisational level the independent variable was the institutional interest. The hypothesis was: The change in India’s military doctrine has been to preserve the military’s institutional interest.
What did I find?
The chronology places the Cold Start doctrine as emerging after Operation Parakram. As we know, India was unable to leverage its military might in real time.As a result, it had to settle for coercive diplomacy instead of compellence in the face of Pakistan’s proxy war in
Kashmir and its spread elsewhere. The doctrine was apparently cognizant of Pakistan’s nuclear thresholds and therefore, appeared as a suitable answer to India’s strategic predicament. Yet, when the time came to exercise the military option furnished by the doctrine, after 26/11, India did not do so. This was due to several reasons. Firstly, the Limited War doctrine lacked credibility on the question of nuclear thresholds. Secondly, the political complexion of the regime had changed in the interim from an NDA one, in which the doctrine was formulated, to the UPA one, which was expected to give the imprimatur to the doctrine but carefully refrained from doing so in both its avatars. This suggests that the structural explanation while true is only partially so. There are other issues that need to be looked at for an explanation. This has implications for realism in that its paradigm dominance is perhaps unwarranted.
Looking at the political factor at the unit level, the major aspect was the change in strategic culture over the last four decades. The ‘Indira doctrine’, with its emphasis on power, had displaced the Nehruvian world view. India through the 1990s had been challenged by the perspective, raised by Tanham, for instance, that it lacked a will to exert power. The rise of India’s economy and its middle class led to a greater push for strategic assertion as India left the difficult nineties behind. The NDA regime, inspired by cultural nationalism, had a self-image of being strong on defence, best demonstrated by Pokhran II. The influence on strategic culture had been towards greater assertion. Viewing these changes at the national level through the prism of its organisational culture, the military opportunistically moved towards an offensive doctrine. The organisational culture of the military has been informed by the warrior ethic and a strong conventional war fighting tendency.
Taking the unit and the organisation a dyad – i.e. state/organisation – the next chapter examines the influence of institutional interest or organisational compulsions. Since the army was considerably embarrassed by the Kargil intrusion and by its inability to get into a position to exert timely military power, it sought to compensate by formulating an offensive doctrine. This enables it autonomy from its civilian masters, provides it with an offensive option through which it can shape the battle field and legitimize the budgets for operationalisation of the doctrine, if necessary. The bureaucratic politics framework was very useful in understanding the Indian situation since the military is not only pitched against the civilian bureaucracy but is also split within. The doctrinal issue is not so much a turf war but, I believe, a genuine and valid disagreement on how war is to be approached by the Army and the Air Force. The doctrinal sphere is consequently very fertile.
My conclusions?
Firstly, doctrine generation is multidimensional and has its origin in multiple causes. This is useful in terms of expanding the focus, usually fixated on threat perception, to other factors at the other two understudied levels, such as domestic politics and institutional interest. Secondly, doctrinal innovation occurs when there is an impetus at the three levels simultaneously– structural, political and organisational. The three independent variables need to be active in case there is to be a movement in the doctrine. In other words, a threat needs to be dealt with doctrinal movement as well as an enabling environment at the domestic level in terms of an amenable political factor. At the organisational level, the element of institutional interest must also be active. This was the case in the turn to an offensive, proactive doctrine, dubbed ‘Cold Start’ since the turn of the century, the Pakistani threat had heightened, the strategic culture was assertive under the National Democratic Alliance regime, and, military self-interest laid emphasis on the continued relevance of conventional forces into the nuclear age.
So what?
The policy relevance of these findings is that the conundrum posed by the nuclear age has not been answered adequately. While the Cold Start doctrine provides a blueprint for limited war, there is currently no explicit doctrine for limited war. Secondly, since introduction of nuclear weapons into a conflict is a decision for the adversary to make, a nuclear war can yet occur. Therefore, there is a need to stretch the limited war definition and concept to include Limited Nuclear War. The nuclear doctrine currently advocates ‘massive’ punitive retaliation to create unacceptable damage. In the unmistakable equation of mutual assured destruction that the vertical proliferation resorted to by Pakistan has brought the situation to, this is not only genocidal but also suicidal. In effect, India needs to move towards limitation in both its conventional and nuclear doctrines.
What else?
The case study, by its very nature cannot be generalised. It was not designed to test the theories in terms of deriving hypothesis and testing these for validity in a comparative case study. The aim was not theoretically ambitious but limited to seeking an explanation to the puzzle. The finding is that theories can only partially claim to answer the complex phenomena observed in strategic studies. War is a social activity with multiple dimensions that cannot be explicated by a single theory. The case study, however, suggests that the cultural explanation has value. While a view has it that cultural realpolitik behaviour owes to socialization of states by the structural imperative, the reverse is possibly a truer depiction in that realpolitik behavior gives rise to the security dilemma that then forms the structural level environment for the state. This then leads to self-perpetuation and legitimises realism inspired behaviour. The finding suggests that states can choose to change the structural imperatives and this favours constructivist approaches.
Any last words?
My final and perhaps the most significant point is a policy feedback. If there is to be peace, then there has to be a mutually agreed stowing away of respective sticks by India and Pakistan. The book ends by suggesting a strategic dialogue towards this end. While a tenuous peace process is in place, the dialogue can bring about a convergence in strategic thinking. This can spread an appreciation of the sub-continent really being a single strategic space, crying out for a shared security approach. Deterrence being a false god, this is the only way to preserve us from its inevitable breakdown.
This is the message I pass on from a military exercise atop a canal obstacle somewhere in the western sector.

The book is based on my doctoral dissertation. I take this opportunity to thank the Jawaharlal Nehru University, the School of International Relations and the Center for International Politics, Disarmament and Organisation for permission to publish it as a book. I must thank the examiners for their comments that have enhanced my work. I regret I have not been able to accommodate some of their many meaningful insights, no doubt at the cost of the book.
Foremost among my many obligations is to acknowledge my debt to my supervisor, Professor Rajesh Rajagopalan. Without his encouragement, neither the dissertation nor the book would have seen the light of day. The strengths of the book owe to him.
The book has drawn on the work of several eminent scholars and military practitioners. It is based on many conversations I had with my colleagues, both in the military and in academic life. I thank all those who shared their ideas, in particular, generals VR Raghavan, Shamsher Mehta, Arjun Ray, Vijay Oberoi and Prakash Menon. Many of my dear friends cannot be mentioned by name but to them must go the credit for any sense in the book. I must also acknowledge that the works of the stalwarts in the field, evident from the references to this volume, have informed my thinking. I hasten to add that he responsibility for the inevitable shortcomings in the book is entirely mine!
I also would like to pay tribute foremost to late Maj Gen SC Sinha and Maj Gen D Bannerji for their abiding interest in and unstinting support for my academic pursuits. I pay my respects to my teacher at the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, late Mr. P.R. Patra, whose painstaking efforts made even cadets sleepy in class like me acquire an interest in the subject! I thank Dr. Kanti Bajpai for his guidance over the years; and late Mr. K Subrahmanyam and Lt Gen Satish Nambiar for their indulgence along the route. Mr. N.S. Sisodia, former Director General, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi, generously permitted me to work on my dissertation while employed at the Institute. I thank the staff of the libraries at the IDSA, United Services Institution of India and the National Defence College for their ready assistance.
My gratitude also goes to my colleagues, students and staff at the Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution at Jamia Millia Islamia for their looking the other way while I moonlighted in getting this to print. Thanks to Radha Joshi for making the text readable!
My family has not only tolerated my inattention but sustained me over the years. The retirement abode of my parents has provided a ready refuge. The book would not have been completed but for Farah’s prodding, no doubt also so that we could get on with the rest of our lives! I thank Faiz for sparing the computer!
Finally, I pay homage to former Rashtrapati, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, in whose service as Aide-de-Camp, I started out on this intellectual journey two decades back