Friday, 1 June 2012

Building India’s Strategic Culture: A Roadmap
Ali Ahmed
Research Fellow, IDSA
As befits a rising power, the strategic community in India is slowly coming of age. Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, who has earned a Padma Bhushan for a lifetime contribution to strategic affairs, opines that perhaps 30 think tanks are needed in Delhi alone to cope with the range and diversity of subjects subsumed under the discipline of national security these days. Services affiliated think tanks have been a path-breaking feature of this decade. Many new publications on the security sector, risk assessment groups, companies with interest in the defence budget and increasing media and think tank interest has made strategy a ‘happening’ field. Increasing scope for greater interface between think tanks, the academia and the military would enhance the trend. While strategic culture, of course, would be furthered most by the impending establishment of the National Defence University, this article dwells on further ideas that could enhance this aspect.
Firstly, there is scope for increasing the interaction between the academic and the strategic community to mutual benefit. They have the advantage over military men in their engagement with strategic and international relations theory and in keeping up with international discourse through a better access to quality journals. Their lack of experience can be made up by association with military men and thinking in the military, mediated by think tanks. A long term investment is in think tanks employing research assistants, fresh from universities. Libraries of think tanks are open to students from relevant faculties. Enabling greater participation of faculty from universities in think tank deliberations would require working round work schedules. Having at least one academic as discussants and peer reviewer would be a useful way to increasing their contribution. Attendance and interaction at various commemorative lectures and seminars has increased testifying to the strides made already.
Secondly, there is a system of guest lectures in place at all military training institutions in which seasoned speakers are invited. This exposes those undergoing courses to the wider discourse. There is a case to improve on this by having scholars in residence, particularly at War Colleges and the Staff College. These could be for semester length durations at a minimum. There could also be chairs created for attracting mid-career academics for a year-length sabbatical at the institution. This would enable ease of access to resource persons by students on courses. Their interaction with the military faculty would instill an academic approach to military pedagogy. They would not only be on hand for lectures in their speciality, such as area studies, international law, defence economics and nuclear strategy among others, but also for interaction on student dissertations. The scholar would benefit from a first hand look into service ethos and concerns and form life-long affiliations with the service fraternity. The knock-on effect on strategic culture is easy to imagine. Military institutions in the US are a step ahead and have a permanent faculty of civilian experts and veterans with civilian doctoral degrees in addition.
Thirdly, increasing transparency is enabling educated discourse on matters military. Knowledgeable military watchers comment on military affairs for the media, even if some times critically. This deepens the democratic credentials of the state and strategic culture. The services think tanks are at the fore front of shaping the discourse through their publications. Directed by veterans of the strategic circuit, their input is useful in moulding public opinion. The impact on policy makers is not directly discernible. Enhancing this would require openness by the services and perhaps less intimate control over respective think tanks. This is not to say that this is not the case presently, but it is an ideal that requires constant reminding and working towards. An example of greater openness would be in directly mailing select service publications - such as publicly released services and joint doctrines – to all think tanks, instead of waiting to be approached. This would be a proactive intervention in the discourse; tacitly encouraging commentary over succeeding weeks to be focussed on an agenda set by the service. The services would in turn require being tolerant of dissent, to the extent of transgressions. It is only axiomatic that the strategic discourse would reflect the kind of society and democracy India is. There would be voices in favour of reservations, greater civil control, demilitarisation, human rights assertion, increasing openings for women etc. The level of challenge to the mainstream is indicative of the good health of strategic culture, and indeed may be index of the good health of democracy itself.
Fourthly, cross-fertilisation would help build the knowledge base of academics and commentators in particular. In the post-war period, the effervescence in strategic studies in the US and UK owed to civilian academics who had participated in the war bringing their talent to bear on strategy, in particular nuclear strategy. The lack of first hand experience can be made up by enabling a structured engagement of the academic developing expertise in military affairs with the military. This could be as guest faculty at the various institutions, with the junior ones going to arms specific institutions, the middle piece ones affiliating with institutions training middle piece officers as Staff College and the Junior and Senior Command Wings of War College, and the senior once being engaged at War Colleges. Their attending the initial phase of discussions in war games, focused on the opening narrative, would enhance the credibility of the exercise and quality of the debate. Think tank members and academics could be taken on media tours organised by the Public Information Directorate. Those outside Delhi need to be consciously networked by education corps staff at Command HQs level to enable an even and non-Delhi centric expansion of strategic culture.
Developing a strategic culture requires imaginative interventions. Several initiatives are underway, some in gestation, and many not yet thought of. Cross fertilisation in keeping with India’s power credentials would enable future Indian comfort levels with power and its usage.
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views either of the Editorial Committee or the Centre for Land Warfare Studies).