Sunday, 27 July 2014

Book Review - COIN in Sri Lanka

Conflict Resolution As Janus-faced?

Ali Ahmed 

By Ahmed S. Hashim 
Foundation Books, Delhi, 2013, pp. 267, Rs. 850.00


The author has impressive credentials. With a doctorate from MIT, he has taught at the US Naval War College and lectured at Harvard’s Kennedy School. He is currently Associate Professor at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. The catch is that an American of Turkish-Egyptian origin, he served three terms advising the US command in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. His earlier book Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq carried his impression of that conflict. His service in Iraq perhaps explains the term ‘defeat’ in the title. To him, Sri Lanka’s ‘defeat’ of the LTTE is without a doubt ‘the first counter insurgency victory of the twenty-first century’ (p.2). This fixation with ‘victory’ and ‘defeat’ is a conceptual error that Americans have been guilty of across many conflict theatres. It can be be attributed to their strategic thinkers, such as the author; but then, the author’s interest itself can be attributed to socialization in the American school of war fighting.
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In all fairness to the author, it must be acknowledged that he has taken care to caveat his title and effusive introductory lines covering the death of Prabhakaran by highlighting that military victory is but a step towards conflict resolution. His concluding chapter does justice to the miles that remain for the Sri Lankan state to traverse out of the post-conflict environment it is in. He brings out the important point that victory can be lost in case the politics does not keep pace. That this is not happening in Sri Lanka is apparent with its latest stricture in the UN Human Rights Council which decided with a vote of 23 to 12 and 12 abstentions to investigate Sri Lanka’s record during the final stages of the conflict. It is clear that Prabhakaran may yet have the last laugh with the three Rajapakses—the President, the Defence Minister and his advisor—possibly being arraigned in front of the International Criminal Court at curtains to the conflict. That would indeed be a befitting end, not least from poetic justice point of view but as instruction to governments that watched, and prefer to continue to do so, with hands firmly behind their backs, not excluding the Indian Government. As the regional power, it is curious that Ahmed barely notes India’s role. India was in the midst of its last elections in 2009. This was the critical ingredient in Rajapakse’s timing of his offensive. An Indian Government distracted by national elections, fearful of the implications for the Tamil vote and encumbered by the Gandhi family’s grip on the ruling party, was unable—and perhaps unwilling—to force moderation on the Sri Lankans.
The latter is more likely given India’s extensive commitment to training of the Sri Lankan army for almost two decades, largely, incidentally in conventional operations. Knowing Tamil sensitivities, voiced now and then by their competing politicians, Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha, India was averse to large scale counter insurgency training. It therefore concentrated on training the Sri Lankan Army extensively on conventional operations. This turned out to be very useful as the LTTE itself transformed into a ‘hybrid’ force with capabilities across the insurgency spectrum from terror through guerrilla tactics to conventional operations, brought out very well by the author. However, his coverage of the Sri Lankan Army’s transformation neglects the Indian hand in it. (Incidentally, this reviewer was in the very first training team for Sri Lankans involved in training of junior leaders by the Indian Army as early as immediately following the exit of the IPKF from Sri Lanka.)
The book misses also a look at the LTTE perspective. Acknowledging a lack of access to the Tamil camp, the book is unable to tackle crucial questions as to why the LTTE chose to take a stand, that in the event turned out its ‘last stand’. The author restricts himself to apprehending a profound misreading of the international opinion by the LTTE. The LTTE assumed international pressure for yet another pause in fighting after it yet again fought the Sri Lankan Army to a standstill. In the immediate aftermath of the Bush era, this was a misreading of international opinion on terrorism. Also, interventions for peace such as from Nordic countries were fatigued by the mid-decade failure of the Norwegian mission. As mentioned, India too kept a distance and the Tamil parties, divided in the run up to the elections, could not force India’s foreign policy in an interventionist direction.
While true, India’s sitting on fence then, as now, owes also, not so much to its view of national sovereignty, as much as the possibility of resorting to such measures in case of any future politico-military challenge it may itself face. Its enabling of the Sri Lankans and keeping a reticent position thereafter is supposedly for geopolitical reasons that include a need to balance Chinese interest in the Indian Ocean and Sri Lanka. However, the danger is in its learning the wrong lessons and believing that the Sri Lankan model holds any water in democratic societies. India has left itself open for an option of similar action in case any challenge acquires the magnitude of that faced by Sri Lanka.
This brings one to the core issue of the place of violence in counter-insurgency. In Clausewitzian terms, the dialectic between two opposing forces, representing the wills of the two sides in conflict, is such as to tend towards ‘absolute war’. In internal conflict, this implies an annihilatory tendency; only to feed the contest making for a closed loop as obtained in Sri Lanka. Allowing the military logic to take its course is what ensures that the politics of the conflict are locked out, even after the opponent is overthrown, as is the case obtaining in Sri Lanka. This means that a glib reversion to politics at the end of the military tryst in internal conflict, such as usually attends international conflict, is seldom possible. Therefore, to advance theory, the expectation of reverting to politics once the military prong has done its bit is fallacy. Consequently, the search for ‘victory’, as has been the American lodestar over the past decade and half, is chimera. In trying to use the Sri Lankan case, the author is attempting to reinforce an American-led global strategic culture.
In any case, if the problem can only be fixed by a political solution—as is invariably the case in internal conflict—then there is no need for a military dominant interregnum. It needs fixing straight off, without the contest of wills and the inevitable ‘collateral damage’ suffered by the human terrain of internal conflict. In fact, it is the temptation to go for the military option that creates the conditions for its employment. This needs being the take away from the book and not what the author has it: a political turn once the military has done its bit. His take has not succeeded in Iraq, where he spent time; in Afghanistan now; and—what he stops short of predicting—will not succeed in Sri Lanka. One hopes India—sitting on the fence—is listening.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

nuclear doctrine review

India’s Nuclear Doctrine Review: Don’t Leave It to the Hawks!

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That the BJP government will carry out a nuclear doctrine review as it stated in its manifesto is certain. This is not least because credibility, taken as central to nuclear deterrence, can be bolstered by demonstration of the government’s resolve to follow through on promises. Since nuclear doctrine is about the promise of nuclear retribution, the ‘will’ to do so needs to be in evidence. Doctrinal revisions are opportunities to show this.
Therefore the nature of retribution assumes importance. Currently, the doctrine has it that India will go ‘massive’ in retaliation to Pakistani nuclear first use. Since Pakistan now has an arsenal numbering in the lower three digits, it will have enough left over for a counter strike of equal proportions. This means that the age of MAD, mutual assured destruction, is here. Any new doctrine must take this into account.
Whereas the doctrine in the nineties promised ‘unacceptable damage’, in 2003 this was upped to ‘massive’, implying perhaps intent to set back Pakistan’s retaliatory capability alongside. With Pakistan’s numbers going up, this can no longer be guaranteed. Some, believing that India can withstand such punishment while Pakistan cannot, may plug for retaining the promise.
They argue that India’s missile shield will prevent loss of Delhi and Mumbai and India can sustain nuclear punishment elsewhere. Firstly, as with Reagan’s Star Wars program, the missile shield may be more hype than reality. And secondly, even if India is not ‘wiped off the map’ as Pakistan, it would be set back enough to give up any dreams of catching up with China, other than in population numbers of course. In any case, India as we know it would disappear as it has several times through the millennia. This wishful assumption cannot be allowed to inform the new doctrine.
Since India cannot any longer punish Pakistan for the temerity for nuclear first use the way it might like to, it may have to settle for less. To be sure, this may not deter well enough, but then, Pakistan’s resort to the Nasr missile, that is suggestive of a lowering of the nuclearthreshold, implies that our threat of going ‘massive’ does not either. Since even a bunch of jihadis can spark off the regional tinderbox, India has to move beyond the Cold War logic of deterrence, a position it has paid only lip service to so far.
Currently, the debate is only between defenders of ‘massive’ and challengers in favour of ‘flexible’. The latter want a step back from ‘massive’ but are willing to settle for ‘unacceptable damage’. The former believe that a limited nuclear war is an oxymoron; the latter while allowing for limited nuclear operations do not dwell on escalation control and exchange termination. Votaries of ‘massive’ therefore win out since the ‘flexible’ camp does not have an argument to counter the ‘inexorable’ inevitability of escalation in nuclear exchanges.
That nuclear outbreak is not impossible is clear. Mr. Modi has built an image of being strong on defence and of decisiveness. When and if challenged by terrorist provocation, he may give the military a go-ahead to teach Pakistan a lesson. This may not involve a release of India’s armoured might and air power in line with the ‘Cold Start’ doctrine of proactive offensive. It will likely be more nuanced than that since Pakistan has unveiled the Nasr, a battlefield nuclear missile system.
Pakistan, suitably deterred and reasonably mature, is also unlikely to go nuclear straight off. Nevertheless, nuclear dangers persist, particularly those stemming from misperception and autonomous action by commanders in the heat and fog of war.
The new nuclear doctrine must therefore also have answers for this albeit remote, but most likely circumstance of nuclear outbreak. There is one formulation, best articulated by General Sundarji, catering for this. He had wanted any nuclear exchange terminated at the lowest threshold by political and diplomatic engagement for conflict termination earliest.
This is counter-intuitive and therefore has not received the attention it deserves. His argument is that even though at war, both states will have enough reason to cooperate to ensure respective survival. Nuclear war will also focus minds in a manner no other circumstance can, enabling the mutual concessions for ending the war and on the original disagreement that  led up to it. The international community, alarmed by possible environmental consequences of a regional nuclear war, will surely help ease any such engagement.
Saner models need to figure in the discussion in the run up to doctrine review. Leaving it to the ‘experts’ will only give us ‘more of the same’. One such expert is arguing for numbers in the middle three digits! In combating the hawks, the hands-off posture of nuclear activists to the nuclear doctrine review is hardly helpful.
While they are right that the best way is to get rid of nuclear weapons, it is, to put it mildly, highly unlikely that the review will recommend that the government abandon nuclear weapons. Obama acknowledged the degree of difficulty best in accepting that he cannot envisage nuclear weapons free world in his lifetime. The fastest the world will get rid of nuclear weapons is when these have been used and found counter-productive, if not downright useless. That may be too late for India and the region.
Ideas on ensuring that such use will be least damaging for India, only possible in case it inflicts least damage on its nuclear adversary, need airing now. In circumstance in which the No First Use dictum is itself under threat, it will be uphill but a battle worth it.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

india's doctrine puzzle: limiting war in south asia

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List of Abbreviations ix
Foreword by Lt Gen (retd) V. r. raghavan xiii
Preface xv
Acknowledgements xix
1. introduction 1
2. The Limited war Concept 22
3. doctrinal Change 36
4. The Structural Factor 74
5. The Political Factor 115
6. The organisational Factor 151
7. Conclusion 189
References 211
About the Author 00

Index 00

Extract of Foreword by Lt Gen VR Raghavan

Nuclear weapons generate a voluminous output of books, research 
papers and estimates of their impact on national, regional and 
international security. The nuclearisation of india and Pakistan 
have had a similar impact with strategic analysts the world over 
trying to assess the future use, misuse or abuse of these strategic 
assets by the two countries. 
India published its nuclear doctrine not long after acquiring 
nuclear weapons. while the doctrine was not specifically directed 
against Pakistan, it also left no one in doubt about the immediacy 
of indian planners’ strategic concerns of a future with nuclear 
weapons. Since China had committed itself to a no First Use policy, 
india’s nuclear doctrine was a clear enough statement on how it 
would respond to a nuclear weapons exchange on the indian Sub 
Continent. while nuclear weapons are unambiguously viewed 
by india as strategic assets, their operational use as war fighting 
instruments have been ruled out. Their use is predicated on another 
country using nuclear weapons against india.
The longstanding india — Pakistan confrontation turned into 
military conflicts after Pakistan linked terrorist attacks in india. 
The intrusion into kargil and the attack on indian Parliament 
created the possibility of a conventional large scale military conflict, 
which ran the serious risk of turning into a nuclear standoff. indian 
military planners adapted to this experience to evolved responses in 
the operational domain, to offset conditions created by the presence 
of nuclear weapons, albeit as strategic assets.
india and Pakistan have been in a state of confrontation since 
1947. on occasions when the confrontation turned into a military 
conflict, the purpose of operations was more to force a change of 
outlook amongst Pakistan’s leadership than the destruction of that 
state. Military operations were thus limited both in the objectives 
to be attained and the scope and intensity of force to be applied. 
nuclear weapons changed the old premise into one of placing 
further limits on operational thresholds which can and cannot be 
crossed. ...

Extract from the Preface

The genesis of this book was atop a canal obstacle somewhere 
in the western sector in 2006. i was then commanding an infantry 
battalion that was deployed as exercise enemy, or the nark force, in 
a corps exercise meant to put to a strike corps through its paces. The 
exercise ‘enemy’, Swarg’s strike corps, chose that stretch of the canal 
as site of its break- in battle. it was fore-ordained that they were 
to break out by first light, for if they were still in their bridgeheads 
then they would be ideal targets for an enemy air attack or worse, 
a nuclear strike. According to the exercise umpire’s timetable, my 
unit was to be cut to pieces in a heavy breakthrough within three 
hours. i did not have much to do thereafter since i was presumed 
exercise dead or prisoner. i was able to witness the proceedings over 
the remainder of the exercise as a bystander. The exercise timings 
were truncated to depict the first week to ten days of the mock war. 
The strike corps ended up in its ‘projection areas’ across multiple 
obstacles true to plan. The final touch was capture of an airfield 
deep in enemy territory by paratroops. Presumably, the strike corps 
would be provisioned via an air bridge for subsequent operations 
further in enemy interiors. i wondered as to what a nuclear armed 
enemy would make of all this. This prompted a question in my 
mind: Why has India gone in for an offensive conventional doctrine 
despite nuclearisation?
ideally, the investment in nuclearisation should have made 
india ‘feel’ secure, if not ‘secure’ itself. The Bomb had been much 
advertised by its votaries as a ‘weapon of peace’. Their argument 
was that it would enable india to sit down and talk with its 
adversaries. instead, Pakistan launched operation Badr in kargil 
within a year of both states, india and Pakistan, going nuclear. Soon 
thereafter was the kandahar hijack. Later, the proverbial indian 
‘threshold of tolerance’ was sorely tested with a dastardly terror 
attack on the Srinagar legislative assembly and soon thereafter on 
Parliament in 2001. The popular narrative has it that a defensive 
and reactive india was caught flat footed. Consequently, in the 
wake of operation Parakram it was forced to move towards a 

military doctrine reportedly more ‘proactive’, colloquially dubbed Cold Start......