Friday, 20 March 2015

review of my book

From Denial To Coercion

Yogesh Joshi 

By Ali Ahmed
Routledge, New Delhi, 2014, pp. xix 240, Rs. 695.00

Six years after India conducted a series of nuclear tests in 1998, strategy the Indian Army issued its conventional war fighting doctrine called the Indian Army Doctrine 2004. The doctrine, which later came to be known as ‘Cold Start’, drew a lot of attention in the strategic circles. Moving away from its decades old defensive posturing along the international border with Pakistan, the Army now adopted a more offensive approach. The shift was palpable: from deterrence via denial to coercion via offence. The shift is also puzzling because it occurred in a nuclear backdrop. If nuclear weapons bolster deterrence, then offensive conventional military doctrines, prima facie, appear anachronistic.
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Ali Ahmed’s The Doctrine Puzzle: Limited Wars in South Asia attempts to explain the above-mentioned puzzle and does that exquisitely. For the author, causation behind the shift exists at three different levels of analysis. The first was India’s strategic environment in the aftermath of the nuclear tests. Under the shadow of nuclear weapons, Pakistan intensified sub-conventional warfare against India, evident first in the 1999 Kargil war and the attack on the Indian Parliament, a couple of years later. Even when conventionally superior to its western neighbour, the presence of nuclear weapons ensured that India’s response remains limited. India faced a serious dilemma: the presence of nuclear weapons had actually decreased its deterrence potential vis-a-vis sub-conventional threats from Pakistan. To break out of this stranglehold, the need was to create space for limited conventional probes while avoiding a nuclear response. If the strategy of massive retaliation increased the threshold of nuclear use, a limited conventional war could, in theory, allow New Delhi to inflict punishment on Islamabad for its many subversions. The Indian Army Doctrine 2004, therefore, was a response to this strategic conundrum.
However, the two operative conditions—nuclearization of South Asia and Pakistan’s support for sub-conventional warfare—were present since late 1980’s. By 1988, Pakistan’s nuclear capability was an open secret. Since then, it was also actively supporting terrorism in Kashmir. Structural reasons pertaining to strategic environment therefore cannot explain the delay in formulation of a limited war doctrine. As the author rightly contends, it is important to open the black box of the state and find reasons within. Here, domestic politics or the second of level analysis comes handy. Availing the analytical apparatus offered by theory of ‘strategic cultures’, Ahmed contends that the coming of the BJP marked a shift in India’s strategic culture and therefore, the shift from defensive conventional deterrent to an offensive mindset.
Strategic environment and domestic politics notwithstanding, institutional interests are equally important. Militaries, like other organs of the state, are also driven by narrow bureaucratic interests as well as organizational processes. Even when the strategic environment and domestic politics favour shift in doctrinal ethos, ultimately the motivation has to come from within the organization. First, doctrinal change should be accompanied with various incentives for the service. A limited war doctrine is premised on the revolution in military affairs (RMA) and adoption of an offensive doctrine would have ensured speedy modernization of the force. Second, in the conflict within services, such doctrinal changes increased the relevance of the Army. Lastly, if the primary mandate of standing armies is to fight conventional wars, nuclear weapons have rendered their entire rationale redundant. Military professionalism is poised towards breaking out of this dilemma. An offensive conventional doctrine, therefore, helps to promote military’s long held ethos.
Only expert diagnosis and explanation of the problem can lead to perceptive prescriptions and Ahmed’s study is no different. His policy recommendations however are counter-intuitive. On one hand, he finds an offensive conventional doctrine as highly destabilizing and on the other, he argues that India’s nuclear doctrine should be modified on the principles of ‘flexible response’. His argument is contentious but given the problem of credibility in India’s declared nuclear doctrine of ‘massive retaliation’, he may well be right.
The biggest import of this study is for students of strategy; a field still struggling in Indian academic discourse. Though scholars like Srinath Raghavan have left a deep imprint, their inquiries are largely historical and focus upon grand strategy, rather than specifically focusing on military doctrines. It is important to understand this distinction because of many difficulties associated with such a sensitive yet contemporary field of study. First, information is always at a premium when it comes to issues of national security and especially, military doctrines. Second and the more difficult problem to overcome is the fact that the Army itself has been in denial over the existence of the ‘Cold Start’. In other words, the concept suffers from definitional clarity. Therefore, undertaking such an enterprise demands being theoretically sound, conceptually clear and methodologically inventive. Theoretically, the author exhibits a robust understanding of strategic studies literature: the chapter on the concept of ‘limited war’ can be easily recommended as a text book reading for students of strategic studies. Also, in the strategic discourse, terms such as ‘doctrine’, ‘strategy’, ‘deterrence’, ‘compellence’ and ‘coercion’ are commonly used but often remain undefined. The author does well to explain these terminologies in the very first chapter, bringing much needed conceptual clarity.
Lastly, the methodological novelty, both in the application of the ‘levels of analysis’ framework and evidence gathering is astute. Its simplicity notwithstanding, ‘levels of analyses’ is a difficult framework to operationalize especially in multivariable research. The author does well to find the third level of analysis not in the ‘individual’ but within the military organizations, hence avoiding serious pitfalls. In the bibliography: almost all official avenues of military publications, including the dissertations at the National Defence College, have been perused for evidence.
However, there is an over-emphasis on domestic politics and organizational cultures at the expense of structural factors. The argument that the BJP ushered in a change in India’s strategic culture is a little far-fetched. First, this change was not reflected in other avenues of national security decision-making such as nuclear force structures. Even after conducting the tests, the BJP settled for a minimalistic nuclear posture which had been decided under the Rajiv Gandhi Government in 1985. Second, ‘culture’, in general, is a resilient structure; to argue that ‘strategic culture’ could undergo a substantial shift in such a short period of time runs against the dominant academic literature on the subject. Lastly, if the shift was instigated by the BJP, no policy reversal occurred with the coming of Congress-led government in 2004. In fact, for the entire first term of the UPA, as Walter Ludwig’s piece amply demonstrates, the Indian Army was busy perfecting its new doctrinal mandate.
Also, discussion on RMA and its influence is limited. Ahmed largely views it as an organizational incentive. By doing so, he discounts the changing nature of global warfare and its impact on military thinking. Prospect theory suggests that decision-makers are much more influenced by high probability of success compared to high probability of defeat. Did the RMA help instill a belief in the Indian Army that complexities of a limited war could be easily overcome? RMA therefore has to be viewed through a structural lense; not as a mere incentive.
Yogesh Joshi is a PhD candidate in School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Monday, 16 March 2015

The nuclear foredrop to the conventional backdrop

Visualising Impact of Nuclear Operations at the Conventional Level

For visualising future conventional war, the first step here on will necessarily be visualizing the nuclear overhang.  While traditional nuclear thinking concentrates understandably on deterrence and its operation in conflict, additionally, conventional operations need to reckon with how to proceed in case of its breakdown. This web-article discusses the latter scenario in its implications for conventional land operations, without prejudice to the viability of India’s deterrence. Also, here only the western front is looked at for simplicity of analysis.
There are two ways nuclear operations can be envisaged. The first is in anticipating the manner Pakistan may resort to first use: higher order or lower order strike.[i] A higher order strike would be at the upper end of the ‘opprobrium quotient’ such as a ‘bolt from the blue’ first strike, decapitating strike, counter value attack etc. Since India has second strike capability, that with the operationalisation of the Arihant shall be unassailable soon, Pakistan first use is unlikely be in the form of a ‘first strike’. It is aware that its advantage in numbers is rather slim, a mere 10-20 warheads.[ii] These cannot ensure that India will not strike back, particularly once its under-sea leg of the triad is operational. It is also aware that not very many Indian warheads need to survive to do grievous damage to Pakistan. Setting Pakistan back comprehensively, does not require more than 20-30 warheads. Such numbers can easily be expected to survive a first strike attempt by Pakistan. Even if it ever doubted it, Pakistan can no longer reckon on Indian nuclear decision making not rising to the occasion. Therefore, Pakistan may be self-deterred from higher order first use.
If in case Pakistan is not deterred from a higher order nuclear first use, it is axiomatic that India’s counter will be as per its 2003 declaratory doctrine. India will visit unacceptable nuclear punishment.  How will this higher order nuclear exchange from both sides impact the conventional level? There would be three choices for land operations. First, is to retrieve to the start line, since the nuclear devastation will require military resources in ‘aid to civil authority’ in a variety of tasks. Second, is to pause conventional operations on a defensible line in order that military resources can redeploy for helping regulate life back home. The endeavour will likely be to check the nuclear consequences, both physical and socio-political, at this line. There is also little reason to continue into the enemy hinterland devastated by nuclear strikes. The third may be to press home the advantage and occupy the prostrate enemy. Thereafter, stabilization operations in nuclear-stricken Pakistan can proceed for decisive conflict termination.
Of the three, the first may appear appealing since the change in the conflict’s character would have led to a revision of war aims altogether. Also proceeding with occupation may result in India  having to take up the burden of putting Pakistan back on its feet, something it would be hard put to in case it is itself recipient of Pakistani higher order nuclear first use. Alongside, a jihadist-nationalist surge in truncated Pakistan cannot be ruled out that would such Indian troops into a nuclear contaminated sub conventional fight.
However, higher order nuclear exchanges are the least likely scenario, if most dangerous scenario. More likely therefore are lower order nuclear exchanges, assuming a conflict does go nuclear. Since conventional operations can reasonably be expected to continue, their manner is worth doctrinal attention. This must of necessity begin with positing the scenario of Pakistani lower order first use, for which it has two options.
The first is as a ‘shot across the bow’ in the form of a ‘green field’ option with no Indian military targets, for strategic signaling. The purpose of such asymmetric escalation would be catalytic.[iii] Pakistani intent would be to energise foreign - read US and Chinese - conflict termination efforts.
This could also be in the form of counter military targeting with a single or a few warheads, attempting operational level gains of stopping an Indian thrust, alongside serving strategic purpose. The second option could be more widespread in case India’s proactive offensives threaten to overwhelm the Azm-e-Nau-honed preparedness of Pakistani forces.  It’s much-advertised, Nasr, and other nuclear weapons, may be employed for redressing operational level disadvantage. These may be to attempt degrade an offensive formation by hitting its spear heads, the shaft or support base including fire support, logistics and supporting airfields.
How do these two options impact the battlefield?
Arguably, the first – lower order strike such as a demonstrative strike – will have greater consequence for the nuclear level, since it would breach the nuclear threshold, rather than any immediate effect on conventional operations. Increased caution in terms of nuclear preparedness of troops in the combat and communication zone would require to be incorporated in operations; thereby, at best slowing down operations. However, at the breaking of the nuclear taboo, the diplomatic prong of war strategy would temporarily eclipse the military prong of strategy since, alongside responsive nuclear strikes, de-escalation may be advisable. Conventional military moves would therefore be conditioned by the need to support the diplomacy-predominant lines of action at the strategic level.[iv] The military aim would be how to gain aims, suitably modified for a conflict gone nuclear, in a non-escalatory way.
In case of the second lower order manner of first use – limited counter military targeting - then conventional operations will be directly impacted. India in accordance with its nuclear doctrine would contemplate nuclear retaliation. Conventional operations will defer to the nature of India’s nuclear retaliation. The nature of India’s retaliation and likely counter by Pakistan, alongside the intensified politico-diplomatic activity, would determine the direction of conventional operations. Conventional operations may help set the stage for an Indian nuclear counter strike. This could be as per the declaratory nuclear doctrine or an operational nuclear strategy at variance with it envisaging proportional retaliation. Conventional operations may be required to profit from the consequence of the nuclear attack such as by occupying territory or mopping up enemy forces. In any case, further conventional operations will need to factor in the nature of nuclear counter strike(s).
Lastly, how conventional operations are unfolding needs to feed into India’s nuclear retaliation considerations. Proportionate retaliation by India is not unthinkable in light of nuclear strategy being distinct from nuclear doctrine, even if informed by it. In case of counter military lower order strike there may be a case for continuing conventional operations so as to take advantage of the nuclear retaliatory strike and posture favourably for conflict termination. How conventional operations can then unfold will have to be tagged into nuclear retaliatory operations. This means that nuclear operations in a lower order scenario are not to be considered or conducted in isolation of the conventional level. The questions at the conventional level would be: How can conventional operations be non-escalatory? How can conflict termination and exit points be shaped?
In case of nuclear outbreak, since in-conflict deterrence will be active, the politico-diplomatic prong of strategy will be predominant over the military-strategic prong of strategy. International moves at play need recognizing.  The possibility of the international community forcefully intervening for escalation control, to include with military muscle such as declaring enforceable no-fly-zones, cannot be ruled out. This has increased in likelihood with the publication of the report in late 2013 that even a regional nuclear war would have global environmental consequences.[v] This increases departures in operational nuclear strategy from declaratory nuclear doctrine. This means that conventional operations in the nuclear environment of lower order nuclear exchange(s) are more likely than not.
Consequently, the army needs to think these through in peace time in order that when it comes to a nuclear crunch, and this can happen in short order, the army has credible options it can present to the government considering its nuclear counter strike. This would facilitate more options for the Nuclear Command Authority than merely higher order retaliation. Doctrinal thinking incorporating the conventional-nuclear interface as visualized here is one direction to proceed.
Ali Ahmed is author of India’s Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia, Routledge, 2014. He blogs at Views expressed are personal.
[i] Ali Ahmed, Reconciling Doctrines: Prerequisite for Peace in South Asia, IDSA Monograph, 2010, pp. 44-45.
[ii] Pakistan reportedly has 100-120 weapons to India’s 90-110. See SIPRI Yearbook 2013, ‘World Nuclear Forces’, available at, accessed on 1 August 2014.
[iii] Narang, V., ‘Posturing for Peace? Pakistan's Nuclear Postures and South Asian Stability’, International Security, Vol. 34 No. 3, 2009/10, p. 38.
[iv] Ali Ahmed, ‘Diplomatic engagement in a post nuclear use environment’, Indian Defence Review,
[v] Helfand, I., ‘Nuclear famine: Two billion people at risk’, International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War, 2013, available at, accessed on 24 July 2014.
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