Monday, 30 May 2016

Nuclear Retaliation Options

Debates on Nuclear Doctrine
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(unedited version)

The last thrust for revision of India’s nuclear doctrine was in the run up to the national elections of 2014 when the BJP manifesto stated that the party intended to, ‘Study in detail India's nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times (BJP 2014:  39).’ The latest impulse towards review of nuclear doctrine was in April at a seminar of the Indian Pugwash Society, incongruously organized at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi (Indian Pugwash Society 2016).
In discussions on nuclear doctrine, there is a consensus on the need for periodic review. While on that count most agree that a review of the current doctrine adopted in January 2003 (Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) 2003) is long overdue, disagreement is over two issues. Firstly is whether the No First Use (NFU) posture should be retained, and secondly, if NFU stays, what is the best manner of retaliation, not only to deter but also to follow through in case deterrence fails to work. While agreeing on the need for review and for continuing with ‘retaliation only’ (National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) 1999) doctrine, this commentary questions the nuclear retaliation options under discussion.
Higher order retaliation
Nuclear retaliation options can be classified according to the levels of retaliation envisaged: higher order and lower order retaliatory options. Higher order options in turn are pitched at two levels: ‘massive’ and ‘unacceptable damage’. The phrase ‘massive’ figures in the 2003 doctrine (CCS 2003). Its progeny, the 1999 Draft Nuclear Doctrine favoured ‘punitive retaliation’, presumably with lesser warhead weight and numbers, to inflict ‘damage unacceptable’ to the enemy (NSAB 1999).
Higher order nuclear retaliation votaries rely on arguments from the early nuclear era in South Asia. Then, India had only a few bombs in the basement and a rudimentary delivery capability. Deterrence was understandably based on dropping these on cities. India was constrained to go in for counter value targeting, colloquially called ‘unacceptable damage’. This phrase has since become a mantra (gospel), though much water has flown down both the Ganga and Indus.
Today, India has moved from a defensive conventional military doctrine based on counter offensives by strike corps to an offensive doctrine envisaging proactive offensive operations by both, border guarding - pivot - corps and offensive - strike - corps. India’s conventional war doctrine - that is not explicitly one for limited war (Ahmed 2014: 71) - has potential to nudge Pakistan’s nuclear redlines. In effect, India is to kick off the conventional war in double quick time, even as Pakistan promises to reach early for the nuclear button.
Under the current nuclear doctrine, this would to trigger ‘massive’ retaliation. Its expansive interpretation involves both counter value and counter force targeting, while a more moderate interpretation restricts itself to only counter value targeting (Nagal 2015). Pakistan’s nuclear warheads, now numbering in the lower three digits, confer on it a second strike capability or ability to strike back even in case of higher order attack on it. With both states having second strike capability in terms of numbers of warheads that would survive a higher order strike, India and Pakistan are now in a stage of ‘mutual assured destruction’ (MAD) (Lavoy 2015: 4). Taken together, the tonnage involved in the retaliatory exchanges would result in an environmental disaster on a global scale. Clearly, ‘massive’ is unthinkable and a review to excise it from the nuclear doctrine is indeed overdue.
The favoured option to replace the guiding formulation - ‘massive’ - is ‘unacceptable damage’ or retaliation with ‘sufficient nuclear weapons to inflict destruction and punishment that the aggressor will find unacceptable’ (NSAB 1999). While the phrase already figures in the doctrine (CCS 2003), its votaries wish it to have pride of place through a review. To votaries of ‘unacceptable damage’, when less is enough, going ‘massive’ can only make rubble bounce.
However, Pakistan has put the cat among the pigeons by acquiring tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) as part of its ‘full spectrum deterrence’ (Dalton and Krepon 2015: 3). India’s conventional offensive could trigger Pakistani nuclear first use in the form of TNW (Lavoy 2015: 8-9). Indian retaliation to inflict unacceptable damage would not only be disproportionate, but would open India to receiving unacceptable damage in return. This impacts the credibility of ‘unacceptable damage’ to deter. Believing its nuclear numbers have checkmated higher order retaliation, Pakistan may up-the-ante in face of Indian conventional attack at a lower order level with TNW. Therefore, ‘unacceptable damage’ is no advance. 
There are two other disadvantages. Firstly, both higher order options – massive and unacceptable damage - pressure a first strike attempt on Pakistan’s part. First strike is an attempt to disarm an enemy’s nuclear retaliatory capability. Pakistan apprehending higher order retaliation from India could well go first - not with TNW - but with higher order nuclear first use, intended to set back India’s retaliatory capability. Secondly, NFU is further threatened with abandonment. Higher order options are predicated on a belief that India can survive nuclear war, while Pakistan cannot. This induces a belief that it might be prudent to get a grievous nuclear blow in first. Doing so would set back Pakistani counter strike that would be further degraded by India’s missile shield, enabling India to survive. Such thinking contributes to the arguments against NFU and to technological thrusts that making this possible – ballistic missile defences, surveillance, accuracy, multiple warheads.
The assumption that India can survive, needs debunking. Along with the environmental and economic consequences, the likely socio-political effects have to also be factored in. To illustrate with a scenario, a nuclear war could see its largest minority, its Muslims, further beleaguered. The magnitude of the Gujarat pogrom of February 2002 was aggravated by the context of the then-ongoing crisis in wake of the 13 December terror attack on parliament. A decade and half down the road India’s minority is in more dire straits. Under the circumstance, should Pakistan use nuclear weapons, the minority would end up a readily available scapegoat. In effect, the fallout of nuclear war would be in a reinforcing of the right wing in policy, of authoritarianism in governance and of militarization of society. Manifestly, even if Pakistan is ‘finished’, India as we know it would be too. Hence, higher order options are just as suicidal as are genocidal.
Lower order retaliation
This brings to fore the lower order retaliation options. Higher order nuclear first use is ruled out by onset of MAD. For Pakistan, its graduated deterrence posture serves to extend nuclear deterrence cover to the conventional level by signaling crossing of thresholds by India’s conventional operations. The most likely nuclear first use scenario is of Pakistani TNW against India’s conventional forces. This can be at two levels: one targeting Indian offensive forces and the second as nuclear messaging. The first requires many warheads and would cause considerable collateral damage. The second may be for catalyzing international intervention by signaling onset of nuclear war. The latter is the more likely manner of nuclear first use by Pakistan.
Lower order nuclear first use in this manner can best be answered by lower order retaliation. This option abjures higher order retaliation and is escalation control friendly since it incentivizes restraint by Pakistan. In-conflict deterrence does not suffer since higher exchanges remain a threat-in-being. Critics however could argue that it risks inducing a belief that Pakistan could get away lightly for the temerity of violating the seven decade long nuclear taboo. However, the converse is equally true: since it provides a credible answer to Pakistan’s TNW, it strengthens deterrence.
The second criticism is of the potential arms race impacting ‘minimum’ in India’s doctrine of ‘credible minimum nuclear deterrence’ (NSAB 1999) and knock-on nightmares for operationalisation and civil-military relations. As seen, Pakistan’s use of TNW would most likely be for nuclear messaging, rather than in a massed mode to stop India’s conventional forces. Since three of five of India’s nuclear tests eighteen years back at Pokhran II were of sub-kiloton variety, India likely has the nuclear ordnance. Therefore, a lower order response does not imply acquiring TNW in large numbers, but employing existing capability in selective, non-escalatory targeting. This could induce a possible reversion to strategic sanity and at the least possible cost in terms of nuclear damage sustained and inflicted.
However, lower order options assume escalation control. The charged atmosphere of a war gone nuclear can be expected to put paid to political rationality and strategic thinking. Escalation control therefore requires prior arrangements with doctrinal exchanges between the two sides as a first step. Escalation control mechanisms can even be tacit and reliant on foreign powers trusted by both sides. However, in a circumstance as currently obtains with the two not even talking to each other, creating such mechanisms can be ruled out. The paradox is that where trust levels enable such mechanisms, then such mechanisms would not be required in first place.
Caveated proportionate retaliation
In case India has to persist with its nuclear doctrine of higher order retaliation, it has to wind down the offensive content of its conventional doctrine. With no reflexive Indian conventional offensives, there would be no crossing of redlines. There would be no need for punitive retaliation that can only draw like punishment on India in turn. However, India wishes to keep its conventional advantage honed, to tamp down on Pakistan’s propensity for proxy war. India cannot have its cake and eat it too. It requires tempering its nuclear doctrine. Proportionate retaliation fits the bill. It deters higher order nuclear first use and to lower order first use, enables lower retaliation.
However, proportionate retaliation needs a caveat. As seen lower order nuclear first use by Pakistan would be less to halt India’s armoured thrusts, than for nuclear messaging to warn off India and bringing international conflict termination pressures. Proportionate retaliation in a lower order mode to this most likely scenario may not be the best response. It would imply shooting back, with attendant escalation risks. The more appropriate response to this most likely manner of Pakistani nuclear first use is nuclear non-retaliation. This is the caveat to proportionate retaliation.
Nuclear non-retaliation appears to be an oxymoron when deterrence is taken as obtaining from credibility, predicated on capability and intent. However, nuclear non-retaliation is compatible with the concept of existential deterrence, which posits that the very possession of nuclear weapons deters. There is no compelling need for displaying a resolve and will and building a variegated nuclear arsenal. It is in line with the two pillars of the nuclear doctrine that command a consensus, NFU and minimum deterrence. Absence of nuclear retaliation from India in such a case would be de-escalatory, reducing the premium on escalation control.
By abjuring nuclear weapons, India can capture the political and moral high ground. It would put Pakistan’s leadership in the dock. It can continue applying its conventional military advantage, since international pressures would be on Pakistan. The military exercises this year, Exercises Shatrujeet and Chakravayu II, testify that India’s military is well practiced, even though the separate press releases on the exercises carefully omit mention of any nuclear backdrop (Press Information Bureau 2016 (a), (b)).
The effect of the caveat – nuclear non-retaliation - is that the bets are off in case Pakistan persists or escalates. Deterrence is not absent since any nuclear action enhances the probability of escalation. Pakistan cannot persist with strikes since the caveat only covers nuclear first use and not subsequent strikes, deterred by proportionate retaliation.
The best option of all
The aim in a war gone nuclear should be to heed General Sundarji who had it that nuclear exchanges must be terminated at the lowest threshold of nuclear use (Sundarji 2003: 146-153). He further went on to say that this must be done for the conflict itself, if necessary by unilateral politically feasible concessions. Instead of his sage arguments voiced in the discussion, the debate is confined to realists arguing over which of the two higher order options is better: ‘massive’ and ‘unacceptable damage’. In a MAD situation, both being insane, proportional retaliation enabling lower order retaliation is a contribution from the liberal perspective. This enables Sundarji’s stricture that a nuclear war be brought to end straight at its very outset. The caveat of initial non-retaliation is one such measure.
Voices other than of realists need to be heard in the debates on nuclear doctrine. The realists underemphasize the equalizing effect of nuclear weapons. Strategists of the liberal perspective are wishful in believing escalation control is possible. The anti-nuclear community is missing in action in the debate. Here non-retaliation is taken as a caveat. An abolitionist’s contribution to the debate could well be that non-retaliation is the best option across the board; indeed, to even higher order nuclear first use. This is strategically sustainable, even if deterrence heresy. It can yet carry the day since nuclear employment strategy – to be used when the balloon goes up - is distinct from nuclear deterrence doctrine – to keep the balloon tethered in peacetime. Nuclear abolitionists’ avoiding the nuclear deterrence debate is well founded in the fear that deterrence discussion legitimizes nuclear weapons and deterrence is a false god. However, such avoidance is not without a price. Thinking about the least damaging way nuclear weapons can be employed may prevent worse outcomes inevitable when their use is hijacked by nuclear hawks.  
BJP (2014): Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat: BJP Election Manifesto 2014: New Delhi, 26 March 2014, accessed on 1 May 2016,
Indian Pugwash Society (2016): Panel Discussion Report On “Future of India’s Nuclear Doctrine”: New Delhi, 25 April, accessed on 5 May 2016
Cabinet Committee on Security (2003): Press Release of the Cabinet Committee on Security on Operationalisation of India’s Nuclear Doctrine 04.01.03: New Delhi, Press Information Bureau, 4 January 2003, accessed on 23 April 2016
National Security Advisory Board (1999): Draft Report of National Security Advisory Board on Indian Nuclear Doctrine: New Delhi: Ministry of External Affairs, 17 August 1999, accessed on 3 May 2016,
Ahmed, Ali (2014): India’s Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia, New Delhi: Routledge.
Nagal, Balraj (2015): “India’s Nuclear Strategy to Deter: Massive Retaliation to Cause Unacceptable Damage”, Center for Land Warfare Studies Journal, Winter 2015, pp. 1-20, accessed on 20 April 2016,
Lavoy, Peter (2015): A Conversation with Gen. Khalid Kidwai, Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference 2015, 23 March, accessed on 15 April 2016,
Dalton, Toby and Michael Krepon (2015): A Normal Nuclear Pakistan, Washington D.C.: Stimson Center and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, accessed on 4 May 2016,
Press Information Bureau (2016 (a)), “Chief of Army Staff Reviews Exercise Shatrujeet”, New Delhi: Ministry of Defence, 22 April 2016, accessed on 5 May 2016,
Press Information Bureau (2016 (b)), “Exercise Chakravyuh-II”, New Delhi: Ministry of Defence, 6 May 2016, accessed on 7 May 2016,

Sundarji, K (2003): Vision 2100: A Strategy for the Twenty First Century; New Delhi: Konark Publishers. 

Saturday, 14 May 2016

India: Strategic doctrine-military doctrine linkage


India has embarked on an ambitious programme on the conventional and nuclear fronts that taken together spell out its strategic doctrine. The strategic problem has been how India ‘causes’ security for itself. While the previous government’s strategic doctrine is often described as a “strategy of restraint”, the current government seems to have based its strategic doctrine on the realist philosophy of offensive realism. Since military doctrines – conventional and nuclear – derive from strategic doctrine, these must be considered in relation to the strategic doctrine. The doctrinal dissonance of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) period that practised restraint while building potential for an offensive shift, stands superseded, with the new government explicitly moving towards offensive realism in its strategic philosophy and towards, in the words of the National Security Adviser (NSA), “defensive offence” in its military doctrines. While the doctrinal dissonance of the UPA period has been resolved, whether strategic clarity makes India any more secure awaits the test of crisis.

The Doctrinal Inter-Linkage

Strategic and Military Strategic doctrine and military doctrine are inter-linked. Strategic doctrine orients the state strategically. According to Kissinger, strategic doctrine translates “power into policy”. To him, “strategic doctrine must define what objectives are worth contending for and determine the degree of force appropriate for achieving them (1969: 4)”. Strategic doctrine orients the state to its security compulsions in the external and internal security environments. Strategic doctrine is itself informed by the state’s comfort levels in its security environment: whether its security policy is based on “defensive structural realism” or “offensive structural realism”. Strategic doctrine is, therefore, not evolved in a vacuum. The security philosophy of the state, or more narrowly, its government, informs strategic doctrine. To illustrate, if there is a change in government, such as took place in India in mid-2014, there will be speculation that the strategic doctrine of the new Hindu nationalist government would be more assertive than that of its predecessor.

States do not always endeavour to increase their power without limits or singlemindedly. Self-imposition of restraint in pursuit of power, ‘defensive structural realism’, is also in evidence in state practice. In this understanding, states seek security. Threats are viewed in relation to relative power, proximity, intentions, and the defence-offence balance. As increments in capabilities can be easily countered, ‘defensive structural realism’ suggests that a state’s attempts to make itself more secure by increasing its power are ultimately futile in the face of the responses these generate among neighbouring states. Therefore, states seek an ‘appropriate’ amount of power.

‘Offensive structural realism’, on the other hand, argues that since states face an uncertain environment, capabilities are of utmost importance and security requires enhancing these to the extent feasible (Mearsheimer 2001: 37). States respond to the external security environment by adopting the appropriate strategic doctrine, placing them along the offence-defence-deterrence continuum (Posen 1984: 40). Heterogeneity along the dimensions of offence-defence-deterrence depends on the political objective of a state’s grand strategy and the geographical, technological, and political constraints and opportunities it faces (Posen 1984: 40). 

This suggests that strategic doctrines could be defensive, offensive, deterrent or compellent, depending on the aims, opportunities and constraints. In Posen’s words (Posen 1984: 14): “Offensive doctrines aim to disarm an adversary – to destroy his armed forces. Defensive doctrines aim to deny an adversary the objective he seeks. Deterrent doctrines aim to punish an aggressor – to raise his costs without reference to reducing ones own.” In the words of Henry Kissinger, strategic doctrine identifies whether “the goals of a state are offensive or defensive, whether it seeks to achieve or to prevent a transformation” (1969: 7).

Accordingly, strategic doctrine “must define what objectives are worth contending for and determine the degree of force appropriate for achieving them” (1969: 4). Thus, a status quoist power usually has a deterrent or defensive strategic doctrine, while an expansionist or revisionist power is likely to have an offensive one. The former seeks to preserve, the latter to change. A state with a security policy informed by defensive structural realism would have its strategic doctrine inclining towards the defensive and deterrence segments of the continuum, whereas a state with a security policy informed by offensive structural realism would favour offensive or compellent strategic doctrines.

Military power, though one among the other power instruments, such as technological, political, cultural, etc., is a consequential component on account of the military instrument being the ‘ultimate’ arbiter. The effectiveness of the military instrument is not only a function of military budgets, leadership, etc., but also of appropriate doctrine. Scott Sagan defines military doctrine as, “Military doctrine refers to the underlying principles and specific guidance provided to military officers who produce the operational plans for the use of military forces” (Sagan 2009: 222). 

Military doctrine deals with “what” military means are to be employed and “how” (Posen 1984: 13). A military doctrine enables execution of grand strategy by aligning the military instrument to strategic doctrine. Formulation and implementation of military strategy is informed by military doctrine. Military strategy is formulated in the context of what eminent military sociologist, Morris Janowitz, termed as its “operational code” or “logic” of professional behaviour (Janowitz 1960: 257), or military doctrine. Military doctrine manifests the dictates of strategic doctrine: offensive or defensive.

India’s Conventional and Nuclear Doctrines: A Limited War Doctrine?

In the nuclear era, limited war is the only kind of ‘war of choice’ that India can possibly embark on. However, the preceding discussion indicates that there has to be political direction to the military on this score. The military can then reflect on doctrine accordingly. This first step not having been taken, the military has proceeded doctrinally without explicitly engaging with the requirement of limited war. While the confidential Raksha Mantri’s Directive exists, that it has left the doctrinal space to the military is self-evident. It is also not known if the doctrine the Services formulate receives political imprimatur since the ministry’s annual reports do not carry a mention of doctrine.

The Indian Army Doctrine (2004) has no discussion of limited war. What the new 2010 edition of the doctrine states in this respect is not known since, unlike its 2004 predecessor document, it is confidential. While air power permits flexibility, not having the limited war concept inform doctrine would result in greater scope for expansive targeting in the tradition of application of air power set by the USled West. The Navy doctrine is also ambiguous. It takes general or total war as “involving nearly all resources of the nation, with few, if any, restrictions on the use of force, short of nuclear strike/retaliation” (Indian Maritime Doctrine 2009: 19). This formulation appears to suggest that total war aiming for “annihilation or total subjugation of the opponent” can yet occur below the nuclear threshold. The overall impression is that the military is undecided to weigh in on the side of limited war unambiguously.

This is surprising given that it needs to clearly communicate an intention to wage limited war in order to raise the nuclear threshold for conventional force application. If it does not reassure the enemy of a limited war, then the enemy may be stampeded into nuclear use. This makes lack of reflection on limited war counter-productive in the light of Pakistan’s lowering of the nuclear threshold in response to India’s conventional doctrinal movement.

Conventional Doctrines 

Militaries conceptualise a ‘spectrum of conflict’, defined as “a continuum defined primarily by the magnitude of the declared objectives”, and plan to be capable of victory across the spectrum. Consequently, escalation dominance or superiority at the highest level of force in use along a particular scale in the spectrum of conflict assumes importance. Capabilities and plans aim for generating asymmetry and, in the case of financial or technological constraints, at a minimum, symmetry. Enemy capabilities become the defining yardstick rather than intentions or, indeed, even the aims of the government in cases of deficiencies in political control.

The Army’s so-called ‘Cold Start’ or officially, “proactive operations”, doctrine that was first mentioned in the open domain in April 2004, permits only a limited time window for crisis management and war avoidance efforts. This reveals that it was not entirely aligned to the national interest as explicated in the “strategy of restraint”, protective of the national economic trajectory. The strategy of restraint prefers a period of crisis management in order to explore if war, and its effects on the economy, can be avoided. The government may be inclined to manipulate the risk of war for prising concessions from Pakistan through coercive diplomacy. T

he problem this poses to the military is that it gains Pakistan the time to mobilise and consolidate its defences, thereby increasing the challenge to any Indian military offensive later. This explains the Army’s preparedness for proactive operations at short notice. Whereas Cohen and Dasgupta (2010: 61) in their book Arming Without Aiming argue that “a strategy of compellence seems so high risk that the political leadership is unlikely to embrace it” and “there is little reason to expect the Indian government to abandon strategic restraint for a more assertive policy”, “the army’s plans continue regardless.”

However, what was true in 2010 may not be so in 2015, with a changed complexion of government subscribing to a more robust strategic doctrine and disavowing from a ‘defensive’ strategic culture. In effect, the earlier ambiguity in strategic doctrine stands dispelled, even if the strategic doctrine remains unarticulated in the public domain. The earlier lack of clarity was under the assumption that the doctrinal domain is the military’s preserve. In the nuclear age, this is no longer tenable. Governmental ownership of the doctrinal sphere is evident as far as the nuclear doctrine goes, and the conventional doctrines cannot any longer be seen in isolation.

The Nuclear Doctrine

India’s declaratory nuclear doctrine is that in case of a nuclear first use by an adversary in any manner against India and its forces anywhere, India will retaliate with a “massive” counter to inflict “unacceptable damage”. When nuclear first use by the enemy is of such an order as to result in unacceptable damage to oneself, then it makes eminent sense to consider retaliation of levels that inflict unacceptable damage right back. But, in case the damage caused by the nuclear first use is not of an unacceptable order, such as in the popular scenario when it is a single warhead of low kilo-tonnage on a tactical level target, then inflicting unacceptable damage in return would be unnecessarily escalatory. The criterion that emerges then is a ‘tit for tat’ nuclear response. It is conceivable, therefore, that in India’s case, a declaratory doctrine is distinct from an operational doctrine and based on a ‘tit for tat’ response, at least in the initial stages and for lower order levels of nuclear first use. Beyond a point, there may be a need to limit damage to oneself by indeed going ‘massive’ to take out the enemy’s ability to continue exchanges.

The Conventional-Nuclear Interface

The deterrence logic currently subscribed to is that the likelihood, if not inevitability, of the spiral of nuclear exchanges on introduction of nuclear weapons into a conflict, would see Pakistan worse off at the end of it all. This would ensure that it does not resort to first use in the first place. In the light of Pakistani self-deterrence, India can then proceed to administer conventional punishment for sub-conventional provocation. Since this would be a limited war, not intended to invade or occupy territory, first use thresholds will be steered clear of. This is plausible, but neglectful of nuclear risks and environmental consequences of nuclear use that additionally must inform decision-making in India’s Political Council of the Nuclear Command Authority. That the political domain of nuclear decision-making is distinct from the strategic is clear in the separation of the Political Council from the Executive Council. Since the Political Council has to be attuned in to the nature of post conflict peace, it needs to override the Executive Council advice if based on the current declaratory nuclear doctrine.

The earlier emphasis on ‘unacceptable damage’ was due to a buffer existing then at the conventional-nuclear interface. India’s conventional doctrine was a defensive one of counter-offensive in the wake of Pakistan’s taking to the offensive first, in keeping with its (Pakistan’s) military doctrine of offensive defence. This situation has changed in the light of a changed conventional doctrine in India. This means that proactive operations can make Pakistan reach for the nuclear button as its Foreign Secretary officially intimated this September. Consequently, being more offensive at the conventional level, India needs to be more restrained at the nuclear level. Therefore, India’s distancing from its declaratory nuclear doctrine needs to be publicly acknowledged in favour of an operational nuclear doctrine informed by ‘graduated’ or ‘flexible’ nuclear retaliation.

The Future Direction

From the direction of India’s deterrent, it is clear that India is going in for ‘something of everything’. India is going in for a nuclear triad and ballistic missile defence shield. Together, these two could position India to even consider abandoning no first use at will. First strike considerations in the light of surveillance capability and missile accuracy developments will be the pull factors. This possibility will enhance the ‘will he, won’t he?’ apprehension on both sides, building in a tendency to preemption in a ‘bolt from the blue’ attack in both sides. An emergent Indian first strike capability would then only await a preventive or preemptive war rationale. This can be provided by the vicissitudes of future strategic equations, the security situation and the internal political configurations.

Strategic doctrine remains little articulated. It is essentially a civilian responsibility. The new government can remedy this by removing from the apex defence structure the firewall between the civilian and military (Prakash 2015). The ministry does not have either the ‘hardware’ or ‘software’ to think through linkages between the strategic and military doctrines. Further, the ministry is also not the site for nuclear doctrinal thinking. That is the preserve of the National Security Council (NSC) system comprising the National Security Council and its Secretariat (NSCS). There is no equivalent staff in the HQ Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS) that can serve as the secretariat for the Chairman Chiefs of Staff (CoSC) guidance of the Strategic Forces Command and input for the NSC. The Strategy Programmes Staff cannot serve both the NSA and COSC.

Cognisant of the potential for disconnect, an organisational innovation has been the creation of the Strategy Programmes (Strategic Programme) Staff within the NSCS. This multi-disciplinary entity perhaps replicates some functions of the Strategic Plans Directorate (SPD) of Pakistan’s National Command Authority (NCA). According to Shyam Saran (2013), then Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), this unit is charged with looking at the reliability and quality of our weapons and delivery systems, collating intelligence on other nuclear weapon states, particularly those in the category of potential adversaries, and working on a perspective plan for India’s nuclear deterrent in accordance with a ten-year cycle. This agenda makes it resemble the Development Control Committee of the Pakistani NCA. Missing is mention of the operational nuclear strategy staff to mirror the SPD. Since this cannot be located in the Strategic Forces Command that is concerned only with execution of nuclear decisions reached, the input to these decisions to both the councils of India’s Nuclear Command Authority requires a nuclear trained staff. Nevertheless, that it has uniformed and civilian components, suggests that there is a linkage, amounting to interpenetration between the nuclear and conventional levels; and on that count, is an advance.


In a speech for the Subbu Forum Society for Policy Studies at the India International Centre in April 2013, Ambassador Shyam Saran, reiterated India’s nuclear doctrine, stating: “…India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on the adversary.” His view finds reiteration, such as most recently by Ambassodor Parthasarathy (2015), “Pakistan will be very foolish to test out Indian resolve to respond massively to its use of tactical nuclear weapons.” Parthasarathy recommends taking out Pakistani Punjab. What this will do for India’s abutting provinces is not pursued by him. Such blind spots increase the urgency to revisit the nuclear doctrine since it is cognisant of deterrence, but less so of the potential for deterrence breakdown. Consequently, the government needs to ‘do more’.

The logic of ‘mutual assured destruction’ in the light of vertical proliferation in the subcontinent implies that India needs to ensure a limitation not only in the conventional doctrine – that it is already apparently pursuing – but also in attempting to limit a nuclear war. It has to, in this case, abandon the understanding that nuclear use inevitably triggers a nuclear exchange. It needs to ensure that the nuclear war is brought to a speedy close at the lowest levels of nuclear use by either side. Since this cannot be done unilaterally, it must engage with Pakistan on this score directly and with mutual strategic partners for working out the modalities of facilitative intervention.

ARTRAC, Indian Army Doctrine (Shimla: HQ ARTRAC, 2004).
S .Cohen, and S. Dasgupta, Arming without Aiming: India’s Military Modernisation (New Delhi: Penguin Viking, 2010).
IHQ of MoD (Navy), Freedom to Use the Seas: India’s Maritime Military Strategy (New Delhi: IHQ of MoD–Navy, 2007).
Morris Janowitz, The Professional Soldier: A Social and Political Portrait (New York: The Free Press, 1960).
Henry Kissinger, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (New York: WW Norton and Co, 1969).
John Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: WW Norton, 2001).
G. Parthasarthy, “Pakistan’s Islamic Bomb”, The Tribune, November 19, 2015.
Barry Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain and Germany Between the World Wars (London: Cornell University Press, 1984).
A. Prakash, “Politicians Uninterested in National Security”, The Hindu, November 19, 2015.
Scott Sagan, “The Evolution of Pakistani and Indian Nuclear Doctrines” in Scott Sagan, ed, Inside Nuclear South Asia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), pp. 219-63.
Shyam Saran, “Is India’s Nuclear Deterrent Credible?”. Paper presented at the India Habitat Centre, April 23, 2013. Accessed on October 24, 2014.

Jasjit Singh, “Dynamics of Limited War”, Strategic Analysis XXIV (7), 2000, pp. 1205-1220

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The Perils of a Grand Strategy that is Intelligence-led

Unedited version

With the National Security Adviser (NSA) being an old intelligence hand, it was only to be expected that the intelligence arm of strategy would gain prominence in India’s grand strategic repertoire. However, since national security runs a risk when strategy gets intelligence-led, it is only a corollary that the risk is compounded when the by-far-more-consequential grand strategy gets to be intelligence-led. India is no stranger to intelligence dictating strategy. Given that the consequences have been far from benign, with the intelligence community usurping grand strategy there can only be trouble ahead.
Even the great intelligence manufactured victory in the 1971 War has not been without its aftershocks. Pakistan first furthered disaffection in Punjab and then concentrated on Kashmir. An intelligence-led strategy in Kashmir, described languidly by an intelligence practitioner with leadership experience in both IB and R&AW recently, has not brought India any closer to closure. Instead, the situation in Kashmir continues to embarrass India.
At the other end, the failure of an intelligence led strategy in Sri Lanka was more obvious, even if the intelligence chiefs in their writings in retirement never tire to put the failure at the army’s door. India’s intelligence-led interference prolonged the internal conflict there by at least a decade. R&AW’s weapons largesse, as academics such as Muthiah Alagappa inform, at the fag-end of the expedition there led in favour of the Tamil National Army, led to prolonging of the war there for another decade since it was obvious that  these arms would fall to the LTTE once the IPKF set sail.
Today, a master of the ‘trade’ is NSA. In his pre-accession phase immediately prior to elections, he laid out his world view in Sastra University, now famous as the ‘Baluchistan ultimatum’ to Pakistan. He opined that since the nuclear threshold had made war rather costly, intelligence operations were the answer to India’s Pakistan problem. Since terrorists were merely mercenaries, India with a growing economy behind it could afford to out-bid Pakistan. If Pakistanis are to be believed the results are already apparent. 
Munir Akram, one time Pakistani diplomat in the UN, has in two successive articles in Dawn pointed to ‘reported support’ by India of some terrorists groups there. Even if we are to discount atrocities such as at the Peshawar school and Lahore’s park as having Indian provenance, as typical Pakistani obfuscation, terrorists targeting Pakistan’s maritime reconnaissance assets at Karachi airfield should lend us pause. The alleged surfacing of an alleged Indian spy, former navy officer Jadhav, in Baluchistan in ISI custody shows to Pakistani at any rate that India might have found a theater for its intelligence operations. With guns silent on the Line of Control and diplomacy in abeyance, it can plausibly be inferred that the intelligence arm is compensating in some measure.
A plausible aim of an intelligence-led strategy is easy to divine. It could be to bring Pakistan to realize that those who live in glass houses should not be throwing stones at others. With Pakistan’s military dominated national security establishment suitably conditioned by Indian intelligence operations to its underside, it would perhaps ease up on its policy of administering death to India by a thousand cuts. Seeing that its military and ISI has been bested by India at its own game, Pakistani political class and the business lobby can turn the tables in internal Pakistan politics to begin a pro-India regime there.
Since this is perhaps all to happen in the long term, the strategy can be expected to have some set-backs. Perhaps, this accounts for the current day hiccups - if not hold up - in the India-Pakistan dialogue, despite a promising leg up it received in Mr. Modi’s Lahore stop over.
Indeed, India’s diplomacy has seen not only its Pakistan domain hijacked by the intelligence lobby, but its multi-vector outreach has been reduced – counter-intuitively in cerebral Jaishankar Subrahmanyam’s tenure - to a single track: terrorism. At the nuclear security summit, India raised terrorism. On Mr. Modi’s return via Saudi Arabia from the nuclear security summit, it was terrorism yet again; this time with the Lashkar in the sights. Its China policy is in danger of being over-shadowed by terrorism since the Chinese refrained from enabling sanctioning of Jaish, a point that figured in the visits of the defence minister and the NSA to that country. With Modi visits to the US, Israel and Iran lined up, it can only be more of the same thing.
The external part of an intelligence-led strategy is only the tip of the iceberg. India’s Pakistan policy is reduced to a psy war. Grand strategy comprises an internal dimension too. On Kashmir, the age old policy of a military template continues, absent conflict resolution. The state government remains in place even as the police and intelligence keep it afloat, the latest intelligence foot work being release of the video of the Handwara girl presumably with the larger purpose of saving lives that would  have otherwise been lost in a high on energy but  low on purpose agitation.
More pertinent for internal security is the home front. A proportion of terrorism Indian hinterland has witnessed is of Hindutva origin. Yet, as closet Hindutva hands in the strategic community have been reminding since the UPA II years, such an acknowledgment weakens India’s hand versus Pakistan. India’s claim of a Pakistani link can best be sold in case Hindu fingerprints on terror bombs are obscured. This explains the volte face of the National Intelligence Agency on Malegaon; the triumphant return of Vanzara to Gujarat; the bail for Samjhauta bombing suspects; Major Purohit poised on being let off; the second assassination of a dead young Muslim woman Ishrat Jahan; the dropping of cases against BJP stalwart Amit Shah; the go-slow in the case being kept alive by Zakia Jafri and the over-hyping of India’s vulnerability in its huge Muslim population to ISIS overtures.
The contradiction in India’s position on terror in the non-recourse to hate speech laws against Hindutva proponents, even while asking for incarceration by Pakistan of their Pakistani counter parts, and letting of suspected Hindutva terrorists while calling for Pakistan to account in its softness on India’s wanted list, cannot be missed in chanceries on Shanti Path. The subtext appears to be that if Pakistan can be soft on its terrorists, so can India go slow on its own terrorists, thus putting paid to ‘zero tolerance’ for ‘enemies of humanity’.

What is up for discussion is whether the hijack of grand strategy by the intelligence community owes to the takeover by majoritarian forces in politics or reliance on the intelligence arm to furnish high politics and grand strategy. Is it top down or bottom up? One interpretation can be that the intelligence instrument is only doing its professional bidding since the policy has been put in majoritiarian forces. By the second yardstick it is playing hand maiden. The intelligence subculture, fathomed through strategic literature, anecdotal evidence and writings by practitioners, suggests there is reason to fear Hindutva contamination of its professionalism. With intelligence agencies so predisposed calling the shots at long last, there is a case for a general alert over the strategic underside; principally that while the external may fascinate, the internal sphere is where the action is. So the jury is out on this one. Either  way, India needs to retrieve balance in grand strategy by ensuring all institutions and agencies contribute to it rather  than have any one run away with it. 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Nurturing Radical Professionalism

With the conduct of the first Lt Gen Hanut Memorial Lecture, the Center for Joint Warfare Studies has taken on annual yeoman’s task. While the lecture topics will over coming years no doubt reflect the key themes of professional interest of the times, they would hopefully also serve to highlight the significance of radical professionalism, associated with the likes of Hanut Singh.
India’s martial history is replete with instances reflecting and personalities imbued with radical professionalism, ranging from epic heroes to medieval soldier-saints. The two – episodes and personalities - can hardly be separated. Indeed, only leaders and warriors with radical professionalism can pull of feats of radical professionalism.
Rather than defining the term, illustrations serve the purpose better. Episodes of display of radical professionalism are easy to spot: Saragarhi; Rezangla; capture of Haji Pir; the first step on the Saltoro ridgeline; the battle for Quaid post are some such. Others do not readily spring to mind, but are of no less a category: Dewan Ranjit Rai’s stand at Pattan; the occupation of Namka Chu; the miscued heliborne operation in Jaffna; and the unshod assault with a prayer on the lip into the holy precincts of Golden Temple.
Equally, figures embodying the phrase are easy to identify, more so in retrospect. For instance, the figure immortalized by the words ‘dil maange more’, Capt Batra, was distinct from the more modest but equally inspired and inspiring, Manoj Pandey. Charismatic leaders also fit the bill: Menekshaw, Bhagat, Hanut are among those reaching higher echelons. However, that is not a necessary condition for qualifying as a radical professional. While ‘NJ’ Nair’s Ashok Chakra and Kirti Chakra attest to his radical professionalism, those who knew him recount that they were aware of it even when he was not decorated.
Also, it does not require rendering conspicuous service to qualify. For instance, anyone in the National Defence Academy in the early eighties could spot the colossus Subedar Major Darbara Singh striding across the parade ground as personifying the traits. Only apparently prosaic, another example is of the redoubtable Gorkha soldier with his Khukri single handedly fighting off bandits on a train. All have acquaintances meriting inclusion in the category. All have been privy to mess conversations in awe of such feats, such as professional stands taken and personal sacrifices made. 
This recounting is necessary to highlight that radical professionalism remains ticking, testifying to its good health when challenges arise. However, complacency on that account is unwarranted. The bureaucratization of the service; the eclipse of amateurs; the impersonalisation of processes and procedures; the substitution of the man behind the machine with a dazzling array of acquisitions; the assembly line system in place for ingestion and turning out of soldiers and officers; the inexorable expansion; organization innovation suggestive of dilution in rank and status; displacement of the leadership ethic by management etc., all conspire to degrade radical professionalism.
In face of such onslaught, either at a minimum alertness is required and at a maximum concerted action protective of radical professionalism. Since alarmism is undesirable, this article merely serves to alert. Being article length, its discussion is confined to the officer cadre.
Moments in the life of the officer corps that did prompt introspection, such as the more visible one in the shadow of defeat of 1962 and the less obvious long interregnum after the end of 1971 War till the tests of Operations Blue Star and Pawan. The 1962 defeat did energise the army through the sixties, resulting in its good showing in the 19 65 War, brought home to contemporary attention during the observation of its fiftieth anniversary, and culminating in the 1971 victory. However, relative peace thereafter was jolted by onset of irregular conflict in the mid eighties. The jolt was best expressed in the famous Sundarji DO to all officers.
However, there has been no cataclysm such as the Vietnam War was for the US officer corps. That debacle inspired the junior who served there, enabling a makeover of the US army in its turning out leaders such as Colin Powell, Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf and later, David Petraeus. The latter’s doctoral dissertation was on the effect of Vietnam on the US military.
It is apparent that among other measures, in its recovery the US military nurtured and preserved radical professionals. The commander of the Hail Mary maneuver that truncated the Gulf War I to only 100 hours was an amputee from the Vietnam war, General Franks heading VII Corps. Take Petraeus himself. When shot accidentally in a battle inoculation, he arranged a premature discharge from the hospital for himself by knocking off fifty push-ups.
Learning from others implies recognizing and valuing radical professionalism. This is not unknown to the army. This author’s research into the battle histories surrounding the 1965 War at its anniversary enabled insight into such traits and testimony of their in-service value. Research turned up a citation, written largely by the Field Observation Officer that accompanied the company in action that reads:
Major A (to remain unnamed here) was van guard company commander. The enemy consisted of a coy plus of 7 BALUCH with detachments of 5 HORSE…. When the van guard was practically taken by surprise and came under heavy small arms fire, mor and artillery fire, Major A appreciated the situation and put in a lightening attack with his company… Major A led the attack personally and with the (regimental) war cry…. over ran the enemy defences. In the close dog fight... he was himself severely wounded in the left arm but continued the assault 600 yards deep till the objective was captured. Profusely bleeding and growing with pain (sic), he led his coy and ‘reorganized’ beyond the objective. He refused to be evacuated till  another coy was sent up…Throughout this fighting battle he was up and in the assault line encouraging and leading his coy…
The officer decorated for gallantry as company commander in the war went on to three star rank in command in an operational area. His ADC there recounts that once, the general officer under fire led his QRT in a house clearing drill and suffered a head injury when lobbing a grenade through a window. Berated by the then Chief for the potentially dangerous action, the general officer replied that so long as he was the senior on the ground, it would remain his privilege to be first to put his life on line. 
This remains the case. An officer who stood up for what is right while at MS Branch went on to be army commander. Another officer who reputedly did so too only to be packed off to Siachen, nevertheless today continues on the ladder. When the army was held up momentarily by LTTE in its assault on Jaffna, General Sundarji handpicked a few rough and tough officers and sped them off southwards to do their thing. An army commander known for moral courage reportedly warded off pressures for attack at the onset of Op Parakram, citing preparedness. The current day army chief, known for being no mean runner of 10k even today, forewent staff course selection in order to be alongside his Gorkhas in Sri Lanka.
Clearly, the army continues to be cognizant of the indispensability of radical professionals in its ranks. The conclusion here is that it must continue doing so irrespective of inevitable technology upgrades, managerial compulsions and profusion of equipment.