Vol. 51, Issue No. 48, 26 Nov, 2016
Saturday, 26 November 2016
Vol. 51, Issue No. 48, 26 Nov, 2016
Vol. 51, Issue No. 48, 26 Nov, 2016
That India has not articulated its strategic doctrine in the form of a national defence white paper makes its strategic doctrine – a state’s approach to the use of force - difficult to pin down. However, the recent Uri terror attack episode and its counter by India in surgical strikes suggests there is a tendency from strategic restraint - reticence in the use of force - towards strategic proactivism - a propensity for the use of force. The government, mindful of the internal constituency in the run up to elections in UP and Punjab, has sought to give the military operations along the Line of Control (LC) the veneer of a decisive shift. Perceptive observers, such as former national security adviser Shivshankar Menon, reckon that the difference is in the government’s making political capital from military operations, whereas the earlier practice was that these were kept covert. However, from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s national general secretary’s statement calling for such a shift, it appears India is not quite there yet. India is constrained by deficiencies in capability, particularly in military equipment. This prompted for the first time since Operation Parakram in 2002-3, a fast-tracking of a major off-the-shelf purchase of anti-tank, artillery and air ammunition to the tune of Rs. 5000 crores, followed speedily by another allocation of Rs 80000 crores for acquisitions. It appears India is getting the elements of the shift in place.
This article examines the shift in light of whether the shift brings about stability and security, as a viable strategic doctrine ought to. Its looks at military doctrines of India and Pakistan reveals that in their interplay, they form a volatile mix. The shift to strategic proactivism makes this interplay combustible. Sensing that the shift does not yield up security, the article concludes that strategic rationality may not be the guiding hand of the shift towards proactivism. Instead, rhetoric in wake of the surgical strikes must instead be taken seriously to gauge the inspiration for the shift. This makes for a worrying conclusion that strategic proactivism is the influence of cultural nationalism on strategic thinking in India.
Strategic doctrine and military doctrine linkage
National security doctrine is the overarching thinking of a state giving out what it deems as security. Strategic doctrines is an outflow of this on how it wishes to employ force in the provision of security for itself and its people. Broadly, a strategic doctrine rests along a band on a continuum with the choices being between accommodation, defense, deterrence, offense and compellence. A strategic doctrine is a necessary first step for the articulation of lesser doctrines such as military, nuclear, intelligence and information doctrines and force related elements of foreign and internal security policies. Strategic doctrines helps orchestrate the lesser doctrines for action and response in the strategic environment. It serves notice externally and in its internal messaging hopefully reassures the public that national security is in safe hands.
As late General Sundarji imagined it, India’s strategic doctrine serves as the proverbial elephant being inspected by the ‘blindmen of Hindoostan’. It enables limitless flexibility, going beyond confounding the adversary to meaning nothing to instruments of state looking to it for guidance on writing up respective doctrines. To illustrate, the army came up with the so-called ‘Cold Start’ doctrine in wake of the nearly year-long mobilisation, Operation Parakram. However, even though organisational and equipping moves duly followed, the doctrine reportedly failed to receive governmental imprimatur. Successive army chiefs at times suggested that there is nothing called ‘cold start’ and at others, that the army has the capability of reaching an operational readiness within 48-72 hours under its Proactive Strategy.
Over the last quarter century of being sorely tried by Pakistan, India’s strategic doctrine has been located at various times along the continuum in the segment of deterrence, oscillating between defensive and offensive deterrence, with an admixture of accommodationist vibes thrown in as incentive for Pakistani good behaviour. However, this confusing mix of postures and actions has provided Pakistan’s national security establishment - run by its ‘deep state’ - an alibi to keep up its hostility. The Pakistani military can but be expected to solely see the business end of India’s stick and not any carrots on offer. This accounts for the periodic crises in India-Pakistan relations. The interplay of military doctrines of the two states imparts these crises with an escalatory overhang. Even though India’s national security adviser advocates a doctrine of ‘defensive offense’, this is likely a misnomer, serving to obfuscate since India is not quite in the defensive segment of the strategic doctrinal continuum, but transiting form the offensive deterrence segment towards compellence.
Military doctrines: From volatile to combustible
Military doctrines can be studied in relation to the spectrum of conflict that can be imagined as the subconventional, conventional and nuclear levels arranged vertically atop each other so as to convey best escalatory ramifications. The regularity of crises in South Asia has made the interplay of Indian and Pakistani military doctrines rather well known. In nutshell, Pakistani aggressiveness at the subconventional level through its proxy war is responded to by India muscling its advantages at the conventional level through its doctrine of proactive operations. Pakistan, wishing to stymie any gains by conventional forces, brandishes tactical nuclear weapons (TNW). At the nuclear level, India desultorily discusses ridding itself of its No First Use (NFU) pledge, with the defence minister’s voicing of a personal opinion on this being the latest instance. Its official nuclear doctrine continuing to incredibly promise ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation, the circuit is complete between jihadis operating at the lower end and city busting at the upper end of the spectrum of conflict.
This tight coupling of the military doctrines of the two states explains the speedy telephonic interaction between the two national security advisers of India and the US in relation to India’s surgical strikes. It also explains the great care with which Indian Director General of Military Operations highlighted the limited intent of the surgical strikes along the LC in his statement to the press. This recognition of the dangers is a good thing in itself, but dangers persist. Indeed, the dangers are leveraged by the two sides. Whereas Pakistan includes terror attacks in India and elsewhere such as Indian interests in Afghanistan in its inventory, India has possibly expanded its counter to include – as alleged by Pakistan - intelligence operations as far afield as Afghanistan and Balochistan. Strategic proactivism is a further step in this direction. Though perhaps intended to make Pakistan blink first, it might just provoke the opposite reaction in Pakistan.
The first salvos were fired by Prime Minister Modi from the ramparts of the Red Fort this year when, in the context of the fresh round of summer disturbance in Kashmir, he reminded Pakistan of its strategic underside in making a mention Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan. The Uri incident if seen as Pakistan’s reply was not long in coming. In response, India’s surgical strikes have led to an entirely predictable collapse of the understanding on ceasefire on the Line of Control dating to 2003.
Imagining strategic proactivism
The three levels of the spectrum of conflict – subconventional, conventional and nuclear – can each be subdivided into two sublevels: lower and upper. At the subconventional level, Pakistan is offensive at both the sublevels, fuelling as it does the Kashmiri militancy at the lower level and hurling jihadists in terror attacks at the upper level. India, for its part, has been suppressive at the lower sublevel, stopping just short of the three figure mark of deaths in J&K. At the upper sublevel, it appears to have been responding in kind to Pakistani terror attacks through covert operations along the LC. The reference to Balochistan figuring in the Manmohan-Zardari Sharm el Sheikh joint statement as far back as in 2006 indicates that India has not quite been as inactive on the intelligence front as it makes out either. The increased likelihood of future surgical strikes indicates a fraying of the subconventional-conventional divide, since these will likely have greater punch against a more alert adversary.
Likewise, at the conventional level, India is primed to unleash limited offensives by the pivot – ostensibly defensive – corps at the lower sublevel. At the upper sublevel, the military exercises it undertakes each year indicate that it has not abjured from strike corps operations. Even though it claims to be cognisant of Pakistani nuclear thresholds, ordinarily strike corps have the weight and punch triggering Pakistani nuclear redlines. In response, Pakistan has unveiled its TNW, pushing the war into the nuclear level. Thus, while India is forthrightly offensive at both the sublevels, at the upper sublevel, Pakistan obliterates of the firebreak at the conventional-nuclear level. Alongside, in war there would be intelligence and information war operations, only serving to sandwich the two levels - subconventional and conventional - into a hybrid war unsparing of populations.
The nuclear level can also be similarly subdivided into two sublevels. Pakistan has advertised its vertical proliferation, messaging thereby that it has a second strike capability – the ability to strike back even if its nuclear capability is targeted in a degrading attack – anchored in its higher numbers. In effect, South Asia is in its era of mutually assured destruction (MAD). The upper sublevel comprises mutual nuclear suicide. The lower sublevel can be imagined as nuclear exchanges short of this involving lower order nuclear exchange(s). Since a MAD situation does not permit India the luxury of following through with its official nuclear doctrine predicated on extensive nuclear targeting, India may well be having a confidential operational nuclear doctrine envisaging nuclear warfighting. This is not altogether for the worse, since it enables nuclear war termination at lower thresholds than after counter city exchanges. Nevertheless, it shows a mirroring offensiveness on both sides.
Essentially, what has occurred is that the increase in the offensive content and intent in strategic doctrines of the two states, as reflected in respective military doctrines over this century has led to greater instability and insecurity. While India shifted to proactive offensive at the conventional level, Pakistan went offensive at the conventional-nuclear divide with its TNW. India’s current-day shift obliterates the divide between the subconventional and conventional levels. In the main, strategic restraint was in India keeping a check on itself at the conventional level. Deeming from the terror attacks in Gurdaspur, Pathankot and Uri, that this has not paid dividend, it intends to be proactive at the upper end of the subconventional level. Thus, the two divides between the three levels that could have served as firebreaks now stand erased.
Is South Asia more secure?
There are two parts to India’s new Pakistan strategy: the first is to project irrationality a’la Nixon, and, the second, goes by the term escalation dominance strategy. The shift to proactivism implies mounting the tiger with little leeway for getting off unscathed. India is projecting that it has stepped on accelerator, thrown away the keys and the steering wheel. This is intended to ensure Pakistan steers away. It is to frighten Pakistan that by abandoning strategic rationality that informed its strategic restraint, India has taken its gloves off. In so far as this is a well-thought through strategy to deter the other side, this is not outside the realm of strategic rationality. It goes by the term strategy of irrationality. The second is to acquire such military muscle at all levels that India can choose to punish Pakistan at the level of its choice, leaving Pakistan no leeway to escape punishment by upping the ante. Since it would suffer like punishment at the next higher level too, Pakistan is expected to throw in the towel.
The problem with the first is that irrationality is a better strategy for a weaker side. A stronger side normally should be able to point to its strengths to help deter. For India to reinforce the strategy of irrationality by ‘surgical strikes’ in domains other than security, such as the currently unfolding demonetisation episode, suggests an inapt adaptation of the strategy of irrationality. On the other hand, Pakistan, as the weaker power, has resorted to a projection of irrationality. Its initiation of the Kargil intrusion is a case to point. Though it did take care to intrude in an insignificant area, enabling India to limit its counter, to rely on Pakistani strategic rationality to sensibly veer off on espying the Indian juggernaut is to put one’s eggs into a Pakistani basket. Earlier, India’s sobriety reflected in its strategic restraint was a good foil for Pakistan, but now with both two states mirroring irrationality, South Asia can be likened to a nuclear tinderbox.
As regards escalation dominance, firstly, it is questionable whether India has the strategic wherewithal to think through such a strategy. Its national security instruments are far too disjointed to put together such a complex strategy. Secondly, even if strategic rationality in the conservative-realist perspective is conceded to India’s strategic minders, the baleful influence of their ideological masters cannot be discounted. The latter may not be seeking security and stability, but are liable to be engaging in their imagination in a millennial struggle. Therefore, it is not the weaker side that might consider upping the ante, as the escalation dominance strategy foretells, but an India out to impose its own version of ‘shock and awe’.
The answer to the question on whether regional and national security is by now self-evident. Strategists on the Indian payroll have apparently not worked this out. Clearly, other influences are at play. Doctrine making is never left to professional strategists, but is an intensely political exercise. Paying attention to the defence minister’s remarks on the cultural nationalist inspiration of proactivism provides a hint. By this yardstick, strategic proactivism is only chimerically about external security in relation to Pakistan and its internal security blowback in Kashmir. Instead, it is the cultural nationalist imprint on national security.
Suhasini Haidar, ‘Earlier cross-LoC strikes had different goals: former NSA’, The Hindu, 12 October 2016, available at http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/former-national-security-adviser-shiv-shankar-menon-on-crossloc-strikes/article9208838.ece; accessed on 15 October 2016.
KR Rajeev, ‘Time for strategic restraint over, says Ram Madhav’, The Times of India, 18 September 2016, available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Time-for-strategic-restraint-over-says-Ram-Madhav/articleshow/54393643.cms; accessed on 20 October 2016.
 Sundeep Unnithan, ‘Preparing for the worst’, India Today, 27 October 2016; Available at http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/ministry-of-defence-ammunition-procurement-indian-army-cag/1/796684.html; accessed on 30 October 2016.
 Ajit Kumar Dubey, ‘Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar clears defence deals worth Rs 80,000 crore’, Mail Today, 8 November 2016; Available at http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/parrikar-clears-defence-deals-worth-rs-80000-crore/1/805088.html; accessed on 15 November 2016.
 Shailaja Neelakantan, ‘When NSA Ajit Doval outlined India's new Pak strategy- defensive offense – perfectly’, The Times of India, 4 October 2016; Available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/When-NSA-Ajit-Doval-outlined-Indias-new-Pakistan-strategy-defensive-offense-perfectly/articleshow/54670600.cms; accessed on 15 November 2016.
 Sushant Singh, ‘Manohar Parrikar questions India’s no-first-use nuclear policy, adds ‘my thinking’’, Indian Express, 11 November 2016; Available at http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/manohar-parrikar-questions-no-first-use-nuclear-policy-adds-my-thinking-4369062/; accessed on 15 November 2016.
 PTI, ‘'RSS teaching' may have been at core of surgical strike decision: Manohar Parrikar’, The Times of India, 17 October 2016; Available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/RSS-teaching-may-have-been-at-core-of-PoK-raid-decision-Manohar-Parrikar/articleshow/54900927.cms; accessed on 15 November 2016.
Thursday, 17 November 2016
India's NFU: The Political Advantages of Sticking with it
The defence minister has given voice to at least two constituencies that are not comfortable with India’s ‘No first use’ (NFU) pledge. The first is a segment of the strategic community, some of whom believe - to quote a stalwart - the pledge is ‘not worth the paper it is written on’. The second is a segment of military opinion which is averse to the threat of fighting under what is perceived as an adverse situation developing in case of Pakistani first use against conventional forces. This article deals with the latter concerns.
Analysts have been at pains to point out that the Pakistani brandishing of the Nasr tactical nuclear weapon system is chimerical. It cannot stop an Indian conventional attack in its tracks since far too many would require to be used. Neither does Pakistan have such numbers, nor can it spare the many required for a tactical level strike with uncertain results. Further, it has no doubt intimately watched Indian strike corps exercises with their accent on fighting through nuclear conditions and is advisedly unlikely to tie down its limited fissile material in overkill with TNW. It is also aware that India’s economic liberalization enabled platform acquisitions have the capability of conventional degradation of TNW platforms and sites.
Consequently, Pakistan will more likely milk TNW for their deterrence benefits, one of which in Pakistani nuclear thinking is to extend the nuclear cover to also cover the conventional level. It also has political use of TNW for in peace time projecting South Asia as a ‘nuclear flashpoint’ and in conflict to catalyse external conflict termination intervention. In conflict, in light of limited numbers of both warheads and short range missiles, it could employ TNW as a tripwire, to project that its threshold has been breached so as to affect the trajectory of India’s conventional operations. In other words, though employed at the operational level of war, TNW use would be with a strategic purpose of nuclear signaling, indicating imminence of escalation, and thereby the necessity of war termination.
An opening nuclear salvo by Pakistan of a strategic attack to include counter military, counter force and counter city targeting is unlikely in light of India’s credible second strike capability. Pakistan would not delude itself that it would be able to decapitate India in such a strike or that India lacks the gumption for sound retaliation. To hit Indian strategic targets would be akin – to borrow Thomas Schelling’s words – lobbing their bombs at their very own targets, for it would be only a matter of time before India’s retaliation would take these out.
Also, the case for lower order nuclear first use by Pakistan is enhanced by the discussion on the lack of credibility of India’s declaratory nuclear doctrine promising higher order (massive) nuclear retaliation. Pakistani nuclear numbers are sufficient for putative second strike capability. Even a broken-back response by the balance of its nuclear forces after an Indian ‘massive’ nuclear retaliatory strike as promised, will set India back inordinately. While the assumption that India will survive even as Pakistan will not is a fair one, the kind of India that would survive is a consequential political consideration in staying India’s retaliatory hand in the manner promised by its official nuclear doctrine. Therefore, if higher order Indian nuclear retaliation acquires a question mark over it in case of lower order Pakistani first use, Pakistan might just chance reaching for TNW.
The greater likelihood of TNW as the form of Pakistani first use places India’s conventional forces under added nuclear threat. As seen, the TNW would unlikely impede the conventional forces inordinately, even if they may help Pakistan stymie an adverse situation developing by deft employment in conjunction with counter maneuvers by Pakistani ground forces. They can at best help wrest the initiative in a combat zone or two from India’s forces pursuing operations under the Proactive Operations doctrine. The depth in quantum and quality to India’s strategic reserves – and its partially on-road Mountain Strike Corps – lends confidence that such reverses would not unduly deflect the army from its objectives and India from its war aims. In other words, the TNW threat must be met by leadership and planning capability, i.e. operational art. The equipment profile of offensive formations must continue to measure up to attendant demands.
Enhancing the conventional forces’ capability to cope with nuclear conditions would ease the premium on nuclear level retaliation considerations. Since these are currently predicated on strategic nuclear attack, and - as seen above - this might be inadvisable from an escalatory point of view, reducing pressures for recourse to such retaliation is sensible. Doing so enables in-lieu resort to conventional degradation options against the TNW threat. These include conventional tipped short range ballistic missiles, high accuracy cruise missiles, long range artillery, area saturation rocket artillery, Special Forces’ operations, allied proxy forces and air power. The ability for continued conventional operations in a nuclearised environment has multifaceted benefit. A host of political and diplomatic tools can be employed to take advantage of Pakistani breach of the nuclear taboo for gaining the political and moral high ground. Consequently, there is no compulsion to bottom-up demand that India rescind its NFU.
Further – as an aside here - while India’s nuclear retaliation to TNW may be useful for reinforcing deterrence by announcing India’s resolve and willingness for nuclear retaliation, there is also a counter-intuitive case for nuclear non-retaliation in case of lower order nuclear first use by Pakistan. The political benefits would be worth it. Whereas initial de-escalatory pressure would be on India to refrain from or moderate its nuclear retaliation, Indian nuclear non-retaliation will shift the focus on to Pakistan. This might help restrict further nuclear resort by it, enabling Indian conventional forces to wrap up what they might have set out to do, including conventional retaliation to TNW strikes. Post-conflict advantages would be in continued international engagement to roll back Pakistani nuclear capability. Internal to Pakistan, such reticence could provoke an accounting on the advisability on its military leadership’s decision that placed Pakistan untenably in harm’s way. This could serve to bring down the military to levels the Hamoodur Rahman commission report was unable to four decades back.
Rescinding the NFU for creating options against Pakistani TNW use is not worth it. NFU can be abandoned in the unlikely case if India is forced to preempt Pakistani first strike levels of attack designed to set back India’s retaliatory capability. Since in international law no state can be held to its international obligations in case national survival is at stake, India cannot be held to a unilateral pledge. India has no reason to ‘go first’ with nuclear weapons. This was written into the Draft Nuclear Doctrine of 1999 thus: ‘Highly effective conventional military capabilities shall be maintained to raise the threshold of outbreak both of conventional military conflict as well as that of threat or use of nuclear weapons.’
Cumulatively, these arguments spell that if at all the nuclear doctrine needs to be tweaked, it is not NFU, but the term ‘massive’ used in relation to India’s retaliatory intent that needs excising
Tuesday, 15 November 2016
The nuclear doctrinal implications of 'surgical strikes'
The nuclear doctrinal implications of 'surgical strikes'
Ali Ahmed By
'Surgical strikes' have now entered the vocabulary of the common man. However, in his cautionary observations on the 'surgical strikes' by the army in reprisal for the Uri terror attack, the former national security adviser, Shivshankar Menon, pointed out that strategic strikes are a misnomer. To him, the term is instead from the nuclear domain, such as the taking out of Iraq's nascent nuclear capability by the Israelis in a surgical strike. Even though the term has acquired a wider application and is used for military operations with little or no collateral damage, Menon's mistaken linkage of the term with nuclear operations is a useful start point to this article discussing the implications for India's nuclear doctrine of India's shift to 'strategic proactivism', heralded by the surgical strikes.
The lazy man's linkage between the two levels - subconventional at which surgical strikes took place and the nuclear level at which nuclear ordnance is exchanged - is in the seemingly easier slide into conflict, if strategic proactivism is taken at face value. A Kashmir-centric terror attack would warrant a surgical strike in retaliation; precedence having been set and an action-reaction cycle, presumably already underway in the (re) activation of the Line of Control. This is unlikely to stay 'surgical' next time round since both the Pakistani army and the terrorists would be better prepared. India consequently might require upping the ante, perhaps with greater force levels or additional vectors such as by use of air power. The result might be more messy than in the precedent, prompting the slide from crisis into conflict that has been staple for strategists over the past decade.
However, that this is not necessarily how the future might play out is clear from the very careful wording of the military operation's chief's press statement on the surgical strikes. In effect, India might not have as yet transited to strategic proactivism, even if tuning in to the brouhaha in the political spectrum over the strikes suggests that the transition is not only underway but complete.
Clearly, India is a screwdriver's turn away from strategic proactivism. The transition from its long standing strategic doctrine dubbed 'strategic restraint' to strategic proactivism is well underway and has been so for almost half a decade. The shift is from the offensive-deterrence segment of the continuum of strategic doctrines that ranges from accommodation at one end, through deterrence of the defensive and offensive variants, to compellence at the other. India has in its period of strategic restraint moved from defensive deterrence to offensive deterrence.
The usage of the term strategic restraint does not reveal fully the offensive content of India's strategic doctrine over the past decade and half. Instead, its continued usage appears to indicate intent to hide the offensive content and tendency in the strategic doctrine. This may be to genuflect to India's self-image as a responsible and mature power that has historically been reticence in the use of power and force. However, the fit of this with the working of its strategic doctrine in respect of Pakistan is questionable. In respect of Pakistan, India's movement from defensive deterrence to offensive deterrence began with the shift in its military doctrine from a counter offensive posture to an offensive on a short fuse, the so-called Cold Start. Cold start has since been dubbed 'proactive war strategy' or some such variant of the term.
India's effort has since been to create the wherewithal to operationalise the doctrine. It has presumably finally succeeded in doing so, after a tripling of the defence budget over this century. This accounts for the confidence that induced the 'surgical strikes'. This government has gone on to allocate Rs 5000 crore for fast track ammunition purchases and a further Rs 80000 crores for arms purchases since September. This indicates a further shift along the strategic doctrinal continuum from offensive-deterrence to compellence. The remainder of this article examines the implications for nuclear doctrine.
At the subconventional level the shift in strategic doctrine has prompted the surgical strikes. The government's going public with the ownership of the surgical strikes that were in the period of strategic restraint left covert, with the military picking up the tab for decision making. Higher up the spectrum of conflict, at the conventional level, the defence purchases for enabling conventional reprisal capability are evidence. At the nuclear level, the first salvo has been fired by the defence minister in voicing his 'personal' opinion on India's No First Use (NFU) pledge, which the defence ministry spokesperson clarified were his personal opinion not amounting to a change in nuclear doctrine .
Even though the defence minister has long lost personal credibility owing to his foot-in-the-mouth habit, as member of the National Security Council and of the Nuclear Command Authority, his opinion is worth a pause. He opined that the NFU need not bind India when all India needed to do was assure all that its nuclear use - whether in a first use or retaliatory mode - would be in a responsible manner. Leaving aside the nuclear abolitionist's critique that responsible nuclear use is an oxymoron and the retort that adhering to the NFU is how India has traditionally exhibited that it is a responsible nuclear power, it needs establishing 'going second' makes sense even in the age of strategic proactivism.
One nuclear first use option for India is for degrading the most likely manner Pakistan is likely to 'go first' with nuclear weapons. The option is of preemption of Pakistan's tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) force. Even Pakistan, which does not have an NFU, understands the conventional-nuclear level distinction even as it gets its TNW into play. Indian strategists are liable to mistake the TNW as aiming at addressing the conventional asymmetry. Consequently, they err in dismissing these as operationally ineffectual. They are right in terms of the effect on the battlefield of TNW, but the purpose of Pakistan is not so much to stop a strike corps in its tracks as to use TNW for strategic signaling, for indicating its threshold unmistakably and catalyzing external conflict termination pressures . Therefore, Pakistan's action is not so much a fraying of the conventional-nuclear level boundary, but a first - distinct and decisive - step from the conventional level to the nuclear level.
India by creating the option of preempting Pakistan's TNW use ignores the conventional-nuclear divide. India's nuclear first use in this manner would be to extend cover to its conventional operations by degradation of enemy fire power means that stand to disrupt these operations. Such degradation can well be done by conventional means including long range artillery, area saturation rockets, missiles and air power.
Nuclear weapons to Using undertake what India can do with its existing and-In-the-pipeline acquisitions is to collapse the conventional and nuclear levels. There is no compulsion to replicate the offensive shift of strategic proactivism at the nuclear level, since the nuclear level traditionally has a distinct - sacrosanct - place atop the spectrum of conflict. Ignoring this is to misread the uniqueness of nuclear ordnance as separate from conventional weaponry. It is only in case the conventional weaponry so deployed fails to deliver on keeping the conflict from going nuclear that India could consider resort to nuclear tipped Prahaar missiles. Though this has the underside of taking the conflict into nuclear warfighting domain, this is a lower order nuclear use cognizant of the nuclear level's two sublevels: non-strategic and strategic. The bright side is that such exchange ( s) are amenable to a conflict exit point while it is still in the 'No cities' (Tom Shelling) stage.
The second option of nuclear first use by India is in a wider counter force attack, including Pakistani nuclear ordnance outside of its TNW. Even if not of first strike levels or so degrading of Pakistani retaliatory capability that it is hard put to retaliate, it has every chance of escalating since collateral damage and a 'use them-lose them' logic will prompt like retaliation. This would unlikely leave India unscathed since Pakistan, through vertical proliferation, has the second strike capability, even if one not anchored on an invulnerable subsurface deterrent that is traditionally, though mistakenly taken as furnishing a second strike capability. The environmental and thereby political fallout of such a manner of nuclear first use will be such that India-as-we-know-it can not survive the consequences.
The defence minister in his frivolity has done the nation a favour. It enables a time window to educate him on nuclear nuances. Since strategic proactivism is sure to send the proverbial balloon up over the subcontinent sooner than later and the government having gotten used to 'surgical strikes' of various kinds, including demonetisation, it might just think that the nuclear level lends itself to such strikes. It is therefore only timely to disabuse a member of the Nuclear Command Authority of any such notion.
Saturday, 12 November 2016
India’s NFU: Does the Defence Minister’s personal opinion matter?
Published under title - Personal is political
Published under title - Personal is political
Speaking at a book launch in New Delhi, the defence minister is reported as having voiced his ‘thinking’ on one of the pillars of India’s nuclear doctrine, India’s No First Use (NFU) pledge. Though he reaffirmed there was no change in the nuclear doctrine dating to 2003, Mr. Parrikar reportedly said, ‘I am also an individual. And as an individual, I get a feeling sometime why do I say that I am not going to use it first.’ A defence ministry spokesperson clarified that alongside the defence minister confirmed that this was his personal opinion.
The defence minister’s questioning the NFU pledge appears to place him in the camp within the strategic community which advocates rescinding of India’s NFU pledge. The last time their argument came to fore was in the run up to last national elections when the BJP manifesto said that it would ‘revise and update’ India’s nuclear doctrine if it came to power. In the event, then prime ministerial candidate Mr. Modi put a lid on the matter saying that, ‘No first use is a reflection of our cultural inheritance.’
The argument in favour of junking NFU is that this would strengthen deterrence by dampening Pakistan’s nuclear ardour. Pakistan has advertised its tactical nuclear weapons (TNW), conveying its intention to ‘go first’ with nuclear weapons. Pakistan hopes this would deter India’s conventional forces from making rapid and significant gains and in case deterrence fails, may help redress the conventional imbalance it views as favouring India.
In the argument against NFU, an India without NFU shackles could preempt Pakistani nuclear use, thereby preserving its forces and gains they may have made in conventional operations from Pakistani nuclear attack. An intention and capability for this would deter Pakistan from initiating steps towards nuclear first use. With Pakistan deterred, India would not need to ‘go first’ since it has the conventional wherewithal to gain its war aims. This would keep the war from going nuclear and expand the window below Pakistani nuclear threshold for conventional operations.
Those arguing for continuing the NFU opine that India’s readiness to ‘go first’ might have the reverse effect on Pakistan. Rather than deterring its TNW use, it might provoke Pakistan under ‘use them or lose them’ pressures. Its monitoring of India’s nuclear preparations might stampede Pakistan into nuclear first use.
Nuclear first use might in such a case not be with TNW against invading Indian conventional forces alone, but might be in a counter force mode, targeting nuclear forces that India might be readying for its own nuclear first use. This would in turn amount to pressure on India for a wider opening salvo, taking out Pakistani nuclear forces mounting the preemptive strike. It appears that while the current threat is of Pakistani TNW use against India’s conventional forces, removal of its NFU by India prompts a wider nuclear threat.
Between the two arguments, while rescinding NFU helps with deterrence, maintaining NFU prevents an escalatory spiral. Even if India maintains its NFU in peace time, the Political Council of India’s Nuclear Command Authority would be presented with such a choice early in an India-Pakistan conflict.
With India’s conventional forces making headway and with Pakistan preparing to blunt them with TNW, the NCA would require deliberating whether to abandon NFU and preempt Pakistan. It might not be possible to in the fog of war to discern whether Pakistan restricting itself to only to TNW or preparing for a wider first salvo. This may push the decision in favour of preemption and that too in a wider strike taking out Pakistan’s nuclear capability. It is for this reason that some analysts dismiss No First Use pledges in general and Pakistan purports to find India’s NFU pledge less than plausible.
While this might stall the immediate and present danger of first use by Pakistan, it would open up India to a similarly violent strike. Whereas India may have done counter force targeting in its nuclear first use, Pakistan retaliating with a diminished nuclear force may include counter city strikes to inflict greater pain. The end of such exchanges would of course find Pakistan worse off, but the moot question is whether the knowledge would provide India any satisfaction in light of the blows it might itself have suffered.
This brief scenario building exercise suggests that while deterrence is useful, warding off tendencies towards escalation is better. Since maintaining NFU lowers escalatory likelihood, it is better than rescinding NFU even if the latter helps with deterrence somewhat. What this suggests is that not only must NFU be maintained in peace and all indicators towards that end projected for enhancing its plausibility, it must continue to hold even in face of the inevitable spike in Pakistani first use threat in conflict.
It is for this reason that the defence minister’s personal opinion counts. He is part of the Political Council of the NCA and in that capacity would require providing his considered input. Mr. Parrikar might like to revise his opinion prior to the contingency arising.
Friday, 11 November 2016
The Book Review
Volume XL No. 10 - OCTOBER 2016, pp. 54-55
NEW SOUTH ASIAN SECURITY: SIX CORE RELATIONS UNDERPINNING REGIONAL SECURITY Edited by Chris Ogden Orient BlackSwan, New Delhi, 2016, pp. 196, R750.00
INDIA’S SECURITY ENVIRONMENT: PROCEEDINGS OF SELECT SEMINARS HELD BY ASIA CENTER, BANGALORE, 2007–12 Asia Center Bangalore & Konark Publishers, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 362, R895.00
Sunday, 16 October 2016
The future of ‘full spectrum deterrence’
If strategic commentary in India in wake of the surgical strikes in retaliation for the Uri terror attack is to be believed, it is not going to be business as usual either for Pakistani security handlers in Rawalpindi or for their foot-soldiers of both hues - regulars and irregulars - on the frontline. While those at the frontlines would likely be up at night hereon, like their Indian counterparts over the past quarter century, the brass in Rawalpindi would likely be in a huddle as to what the implications of the surgical strikes are for their concept of ‘full spectrum deterrence’. This article is intended to assist them in their confabulations on the future of full spectrum deterrence.
First, what is full spectrum deterrence? Full spectrum deterrence is Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine adopted to rationalize its acquisition of tactical nuclear weapons. Their first nuclear doctrine mirrored India’s: minimum credible deterrence. However, with India’s shift in its conventional capability towards proactive operations – colloquially dubbed Cold Start - being demonstrated over series of exercises over the 2000s, Pakistan felt that it needed to deploy nuclear cover to paper over the growing conventional gap.
Unlike India, Pakistan has always subscribed to the NATO ‘first use’ philosophy of nuclear deterrence in that nuclear weapons are to deter war, including at the conventional level. In the early nuclear period, the nineties, mindful that India had three strike corps, Pakistan was liable to use nuclear weapons in the case of threat of being overrun in a conventional offensive by India. The lessons of 1971 for it were writ large on this doctrine. The possibility of nuclear use in extremis and was held out to deter India at the conventional level. Since India’s was a No First Use doctrine and India had the conventional capability preclude nuclear use, the premium on deterring India’s nuclear weapons was much lower. Quite like India’s doctrine, it was reckoned as one of city busting in light of few numbers of warheads and delivery systems.
Once it had the opportunity to go overtly nuclear, as a consequence of Pokharn II and presumably having more warheads and missiles in its armoury a decade and half since going nuclear covertly, its doctrine graduated to being one of using nuclear weapons in the eventuality of suffering ‘large’ losses in territory, forces, war economy and in case of externally generated internal instability. In one version of a graduated response, the shift was from counter city to also include counter military targeting. These were spelt out to reinforce deterrence at a time when India’s military was in a mobilized state in Operation Parakram. The noteworthy point was that the threshold was pitched somewhat high – to three of the four parameters ‘large’ had been tagged. Realizing that this gave a largish window to India’s forces below the nuclear threshold if pitched relatively high, Pakistan prevaricated soon after the famous interview by its then Strategic Plans Division chief, Khalid Kidwai. From counter-city
On retiring, Kidwai went on to put out a revised doctrine. The doctrine takes Cold Start more seriously than some Indian strategists. Pointing to the lack of military response to the mass casualty 26/11 attacks, these skeptical Indian strategists believe that India has not yet reached the capability levels called for by proactive operations since they posit a quick, telling, preferably jointly-delivered, blow, but not one that would make Pakistan reach for the nuclear trigger. Believing the cottage industry that built round Cold Start – that included this writer – Pakistan believed – perhaps self-interestedly – that India espied a window for conventional operations below the nuclear threshold. Pakistan then sought to draw the nuclear cloak more tightly round itself. The much-vaunted Nasr was trotted out - with a neutron bomb as warhead if its information warfare is to be taken at face value - to seal the so-called window shut. Now it is mostly counter military targeting in its first blows, with counter city to serve as checkmate to India’s official formulation: ‘massive retaliation’. Last October, with a statement from its foreign office spokesperson and follow-on clarifications from its foreign secretary, Pakistan went public with this doctrine.
That India’s retaliation to the Uri attack was as precise as limited, might suggest to Pakistan that its doctrine is working. Lack of a heavier punch in the surgical attacks, might make it believe that it has managed to credibly extend nuclear deterrence to the conventional level. It needs timely reminding that such attacks are taken as below the conventional threshold, as defined in India’s subconventional operations doctrine. Though the doctrine characterizes these as subconventional, it does not discuss them any further owing to confidentiality.
From the internal political fallout of the attacks, these attacks are reportedly not quite a departure from earlier operations along the Line of Control. What appears different this time round is public acknowledgement of these. All that the pre-emptive attacks – retaliatory to some – imply is that while there is little change from earlier, implicit in the information operations attending them that there is messaging intrinsic to them.
The message is that these constitute a step up. In some analyses, these constitute a ‘crossing’ of some sorts; perhaps an internal psychological hurdle for Indian planners and decision makers. So while they may not by themselves herald the end of strategic restraint or beginning of strategic proactivism – as goes the debate – they suggest that more shall follow. Their success, its advertisement and political fracas that they have set off, incentivizes higher force packaging in successive iterations. This should ring alarm bells in Pakistan on the forthcoming blurring of the transition between the subconventional and conventional threshold. So, even if to Pakistan, deterrence works at the middle order and upper ends of the conventional threshold, its lower end stands frayed.
In Pakistan’s mind’s eye, full spectrum deterrence might have covered the subconventional level. Yet, the surgical strikes make clear that the nuclear deterrence cannot be stretched so as to cover that level. That such strikes have occurred earlier indicates that Pakistan is well aware of this already. By this yardstick, its term ‘full spectrum deterrence’ is somewhat of a misnomer. Pakistan’s own remonstrations with India on supposed Indian intelligence operations involving proxy Pukhtun and Baluch forces also surely prove to it that nuclear deterrence does not quite work at that subconventional level.
This is a trivial point to make since it is rather well known that nuclear bombs are unlikely to deter terrorism – as India so well knows. But then, ‘full spectrum’ is Pakistan’s claim, and hopefully, it is not self-delusive. Whereas so far India’s nuclear armoury has been unable to deter Pakistan at this level, the shoe is now apparently on the other foot, with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons unable – taking its allegations at face value - to keep India from putting its money where its mouth is: in Baluchistan for one.
To sum up, the change the surgical strikes have brought about is in removing the buffer between subconventional and conventional levels. In its review, Pakistan would do well, firstly, to revise its terminology – ‘full’ spectrum deterrence - since it is at best over a partial, even if a substantial, part of the spectrum. Secondly, given that heavier quantum attacks by India might succeed future terrorist outrages, Pakistan would be hard put not to retaliate conventionally. While not doing so would make its military lose face, the gainers would be jihadists claiming that they are the ones without bangles on. Consequently, conventional riposte – even if limited - by Pakistan, might force India to escalate conventionally, since Pakistan’s military does not have the luxury of hitting soft targets on this side. In other words, Pakistan would have itself dismantled its deterrent hedge at the conventional level. Lastly, India’s escalating in retaliation suggests that tactical nuclear weapons might not be able to prevent war after all. In case of their use in war, they cannot be expected to prevent nuclear retaliation either, even if the quantum of such nuclear retaliation invites debate in India.
From all this surely, it cannot escape Pakistan that full spectrum deterrence stands largely tattered by the surgical strikes. Should it now not be accorded a semi-decent military burial?