Monday, 17 December 2012


India’s Limited War Doctrine: The Structural Factor

IDSA Monograph Series No. 10
The aim of the monograph is to examine the structural factor behind the development of India's Limited War Doctrine. At the structural level, the regional security situation has impacted India's strategic posture - primarily the threat posed by Pakistan, India's revisionist neighbour. Given its revisionist aims and relative lack of power, Pakistan covertly went nuclear. This has accounted for its prosecuting a proxy war against India. India was consequently forced to respond albeit with restraint, exemplified by its response during the Kargil War, Operation Parakram and in the wake of 26/11. Emulating Pakistan's proactive posture at the subconventional level, India reworked its conventional war doctrine to exploit the space between the subconventional level and the nuclear threshold for conventional operations. This has been in accordance with the tenets of the Limited War concept. In discussing India's conventional war doctrine in its interface with the nuclear doctrine, the policy-relevant finding of this monograph is that limitation needs to govern both the conventional and nuclear realms of military application. This would be in compliance with the requirements of the nuclear age.

About the Author

Dr. Ali Ahmed is currently political affairs officer in the UNMISS.
The monograph was completed during his fellowship at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi in 2010-12.

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Late Maj Gen S. C. Sinha, PVSM

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS .......................... 7
1. INTRODUCTION .................................... 9
2. DOCTRINAL CHANGE ............................. 16
3. THE STRUCTURAL FACTOR .................. 42
4. CONCLUSION ....................................... 68
REFERENCES ......................................... 79


This monograph is the outcome of my fellowship at IDSA in 2010-
12. I am thankful to the Cluster Coordinator, Brig (Retd.) Rumel
Dahiya, and members of the Military Cluster for their support. I
am deeply grateful to former Director-General, Mr Narendra
Sisodia for his encouragement. The monograph was made possible
by the IDSA providing me an intellectually stimulating working
environment, world class infrastructure, competent support staff
and an inspiring set of colleagues. The monograph draws on the
research for my doctoral dissertation in International Politics at
Jawarharlal Nehru University, which the IDSA was kind enough
to grant me permission to pursue alongside my fellowship. I stand
greatly indebted to my Supervisor, the very capable and always
kind Professor Rajesh Rajagopalan. I thank the three anonymous
referees for their comments that have helped improve the
manuscript and the copyeditor for making the monograph readable.
However, despite the advantages I have had in preparing the
monograph, there are the inevitable lacunae for which I am solely
Ali Ahmed


India developed its Limited War doctrine in the wake of the Kargil
War. Officially, the land warfare doctrine dates to publication of
Indian Army Doctrine in 2004. It was for a period of time, in the
century’s first decade, colloquially referred to as ‘Cold Start’. The
doctrine per se is for conventional war, but embedded in it are the
tenets of Limited War. The understanding is that whether a war is
‘Limited’ or ‘Total’ would depend on political aims of the conflict
and their strategic and operational translation. Since political aims,
can reasonably, only be limited in the nuclear age, the doctrine
can be taken as being a Limited War doctrine.
The doctrine has evolved from the military developments of the
past four decades. While India’s earlier doctrine - post the 1971
War period - had been a defensive one, organisational and doctrinal
innovations in the eighties served to enhance the offensive content
of military doctrine. Initially, changes were prompted by the
necessity of conducting conventional operations under conditions
of perceived nuclear asymmetry. This took the form of
mechanisation, deemed as more suited to a nuclear battlefield. The
doctrine was one of conventional deterrence comprising a dissuasive
capability (deterrence by denial) along with a counter offensive
capability (deterrence by punishment). In the light of Pakistan’s
acquisition of nuclear capability by the late eighties, the counteroffensive-capability, embodied by strike corps operations, became
problematic. This was capitalised on by Pakistan to enhance its
sub-conventional provocations taking advantage of the ‘stability/
instability paradox’. Consequently, India was forced, among other
reasons, to adapt its offensive capability to bring its conventional
edge back into the reckoning. The idea was to reinforce
conventional deterrence and in case that was found wanting, then
to be in a position to execute coercion or compellence as required.

Doctrinal development has been driven by the military experience
since the mid-eighties. The period witnessed the crises of 1987 and
1990 and the peace enforcement operation in Sri Lanka. Internal
conflict in Kashmir reached a climax with the Kargil War of 1999.
Pakistan’s proxy war culminated in the parliament attack that
prompted Indian coercive diplomacy, and Operation Parakram,
in 2001-02. Conflicts in the Gulf in 1991 and 2004 and Operation
Enduring Freedom which showcased the changes in the character
of conventional war influenced thinking. Organisational changes
and equipment acquisitions prompted by the revolution in military
affairs accelerated during this period. Cumulatively, these have
led to considerable doctrinal evolution. However, it was overt
nuclearisation that had the most profound effect and made conflict
limitation an overriding imperative.
An offensive and proactive capability that under-grids the war
doctrine speaks of a readiness to go to war, and, further, to take
the war to the enemy. The conventional doctrine and the nuclear
doctrine combined go beyond deterrence, to potentially enable
coercion through offensive deterrence. The nuclear doctrine posits
‘massive’ punitive retaliation in its 2003 formulation by the Cabinet
Committee on Security (CCS). This expansive formulation, it
would appear, is designed for enhancing the deterrent effect and
push up the Pakistani nuclear thresholds. Doing so enables the
leveraging of India’s conventional advantages in case Pakistani 
subconventional provocations are emboldened by nuclearisation.
Pakistan’s offensive posture at the sub-conventional level and the
consequent Indian offensive orientation at the conventional level,
leads to heightened  nuclear possibilities. The nuclear backdrop
serves as reminder that escalation could occur, either by accident
or design. The problem therefore has been as to how India should
cope with sub-conventional provocations. It has responded by
leveraging its conventional advantage. This needs to be tempered
by an inbuilt limitation at the conventional level in order that the
nuclear threshold is not breached. This challenge has proven
difficult, with Pakistan attempting to posture a low nuclear
threshold. India for its part has attempted to raise  this threshold
by promising higher order nuclear retaliation. This intersection
of the Indian and Pakistani doctrinal postures at the conventional

and nuclear planes has an escalatory potential that could do with
some mitigation.
The monograph makes the suggestion that limitation must attend
both conventional operations (as is indeed the direction of
thinking), and also equally importantly, nuclear operations. Its
chief recommendation is that India’s strategic doctrine should  be
informed by defensive realism. The compatible strategic doctrine
is therefore one of defensive deterrence. India’s military doctrine
therefore needs to be tweaked away from the proactive offensive
stance to one more mindful of the nuclear overhang. Merely
acknowledging its presence as the nuclear backdrop is not enough
in light of escalatory possibilities. The deterrence logic has its
limitations. Given this, not only must conventional doctrine be
cognisant of this, but indeed also nuclear doctrine.