Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Internal security duties in their impact on the army

Aakrosh - Jan 2017

India’s internal security commitment in the north east is well over the half century long mark. In Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), it has gone beyond a quarter century. In both cases it can reasonably be argued that there have been periods of quietude in which peace process could have been progressed to see a viable termination of respective insurgencies. In neither case has this apparently been possible. A consequence of political inattention to conflict resolution has been in a continuing deployment of the army under an unpopular law, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). It can be inferred that the belief underlying the status quo is that the army can indefinitely sustain such a deployment and its effects.
Successive army chiefs have, usually while demitting office, pointed out that this is an unsustainable belief. Internal security duties have a long term and deleterious effect on the army and therefore they have urged political engagement in restoring normalcy. However, the situation has remained largely unchanged. There is even a danger of the army itself buying into the belief that its deployment is indispensible to national integrity. An argument could go that though there was a respite from 2004 onwards in Kashmir, its disruption in 2008-10 and more recently this year, suggests that army deployment is inescapable. Not all effects of such deployment are harmful and those that are can be mitigated by requisite leadership and training. The army has sufficient depth in terms of numbers and moral resilience to be able to sustain such deployment indefinitely; or so an argument can go.
This article argues that the assumption of the army’s ability to sustain army deployment in a counter insurgency role in numerous states indefinitely is fallacious. The army has to push back on the internal argument that this is possible and to push on with persuading the political leadership that democratic solutions politically arrived at, are answer to disaffection of people. Lack of energy in a narrative along these lines is a pointer that winning the argument for this internally will probably as difficult as selling it to the political class. The danger is in the counter argument – of the army’s indispensability militarily propping up national integrity – making the army acquire a stake in the disrupted security situation. It should not be that institutional interests keep the army from a strong case arguing for its return to barracks where such a distancing from an internal security situation warrants it. 
The Pakistan factor
Doctrinally, the distinguishing feature between internal security situations that call for army deployment appear to be the prevalence of or potential for an ‘external’ hand. For instance, where this is stark - such as in J&K – for the army to have a role is perhaps understandable. On the other hand the army’s reluctance to get into anti-Maoist operations in Central India had the absence of the external factor marking it. Interrogation this rather easy distinction yields up some startling revelations.
A popular portrayal of Pakistan is that it is out to repay India for India’s success in East Pakistan. Pakistan wishes to go further by administering India a thousand cuts. Its army being in charge of that state ensures adversarial relations in order that it gains a giant cut of the state pie. In nutshell, there are cultural and organizational theory relevant arguments explaining Pakistani hostility. The realist argument is somewhat muted, since it shows up Pakistan’s security dilemma that might be prompting Pakistani action. The realist argument needs unpacking further since it provides a rational basis for Pakistani actions; something Indian analysts are largely in denial over. Their view is that India is a non-threatening power and a counterview that it is threatening to its neighbor is an unsustainable aspersion. To the extent that the power imbalance is taken into account, it is to arrive at a conclusion that Pakistan should instead choose to bandwagon with India rather than try and balance it.
The argument here is that Pakistan, led by its army, is a rational actor in the realist mode. It espies a power imbalance with India that it then proceeds to respond to with external and internal balancing. The external balancing is in the form of action as a rentier state, renting out is strategic location for use by great powers, both US and China. Internal balancing is in creation of ideational resources, such as a jihadi sentiment and proxy forces, as force multipliers. The external imprint of the latter is in the proxy war. The latter is less on account of rationalizations such as Kashmir being a ‘jugular vein’ but for tying down India’s surplus military power in troops intensive counter insurgency operations.
India emerged as a preeminent power in South Asia in wake of cutting Pakistan down to size in 1971. It continued on its power trajectory with one doctrinal and organizational move following another. India’s going nuclear and mechanization date to the seventies. Continuing of mechanization, regional power aspirations and covert nuclearisation were in evidence in the eighties. A third strike corps, expansion through raising of the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) and over nuclearisation were hallmarks of the nineties. The 2000s saw doctrinal evolution to ensure the continuing utility of conventional forces into the nuclear age. The current decade has seen an arming so as to make doctrinal aspirations a reality. The security dilemma India posed Pakistan through its periodic military upgrades and power aspirations, led to a Pakistani counter.
Analysts selling the notion that India is a reactive and defensive power purvey the narrative that it is Pakistan’s covert nuclearisation that spurred India down the nuclear path. It is Pakistan’s proxy war in Punjab that furthered mechanization, so as to enable India to conventionally deter this and to administer a punch if needed. Its raising of the RR was to refresh its conventional deterrence against proxy war that shifted from Punjab to Kashmir. Its doctrinal movement was once again to refurbish conventional deterrence since Pakistan upped the ante in Kargil and through mega terror attacks. India’s spending on arms is only kept pace with its economic trajectory and is designed to keep Pakistan from yet again stepping up proxy war in Kashmir. Pakistan’s irrational attempted matching of India has led to its own security dilemma in India’s counter action.
This essay cannot settle this debate. Suffice it to point out that Pakistan’s India strategy is rational in the realist vein. Armies universally are known to be realist and conservative institutions. Pakistan’s army has trained in US military institutions since the fifties. Realism has been the dominant perspective in the US all through its super power years. Realism provided Pakistan the best perspective to cope with its tragic halving in 1971. It enabled the Pakistan army to ignore its own actions in East Pakistan and see India’s actions and power as accounting for this debacle. It has therefore deepened the realist hue with which Pakistan views India. It sees India’s power unmistakably, something Indian analysts are unable to see themselves. Further, there are aspects of India’s power and its instruments that escape scrutiny in India but are not lost on Pakistan. Amb. Rasgotra in his memoirs describes an encounter with Musharraf in which Musharraf cryptically refers to Indian actions that Pakistan is best positioned to register that account for what Pakistan does back to India. This requires factoring in to understand Pakistan’s view of India.
Further, Pakistan has largely proved a rational actor. It did not provoke a war in 1971 War till the very last minute when it was obviously into its third week. Emerging history of the war indicates that India had ventured across the IB sometime 20 November onwards. Musharraf’s memoirs tell of his frustration at missing out the war when Yahya Khan refrained from opening up the southern Punjab and Rajasthan front.
Another example of Pakistani rationality is in its Kargil intrusions. Whereas this example might not readily be taken on board, it can be seen as a limited incursion with limited aims as part of conflict expansion along the LC. What India did along the Neelam valley and earlier in taking Siachen, Pakistan attempted to replicate in Kargil. Pakistan rationally kept to its limited aims even while being evicted by not upping the ante and stepping down when it knew its game was up, even at the cost of loss of face. Attributing expansive aims to Musharraf prevents grasping the limitations. The relatively insignificant locale enabled India to keep its counter limited and Pakistan to retrace its steps. The bonus Pakistan got, and perhaps the gains it was really seeking, was in enabling an extension of the proxy war in Kashmir by another half decade. The spurt was such that India was unable to regain the status quo ante without upping the military ante in Operation Parakram. The resulting pressures led up to the tacit ceasefire and the Vajpayee-Musharraf deal that brought about a hiatus in Kashmir in 2004. 
This recounting is necessary to establish Pakistan’s army is rational. It is seized of the power asymmetry with India and imbued with realist rationality, seeks to address it. A counter-factual helps prove the point. A liberal perspective might have helped it to bandwagon. We know that the confidence building route via civil society and commercial interest convergence in thinking on peace has had its limitations. The holdup has been from the side of the security establishment, seized as it is with the power differential. This worries them that in case of a peace embrace, it would still throttle Pakistan in terms of identity and imbalance in power, economic and cultural.
The cultural argument that Pakistan is out to wreck ‘Hindu’ India is to resort to mirror imaging. It is an argument trotted out in majoritarian nationalist circuits to serve the prescription that this is what India ought to be doing to Pakistan in first place. The institutionalist argument that Pakistan army needs an Indian bogey to keep its bread buttered is an after-the-fact argument. It focuses on the institutional bonus for the Pakistan army, rather than on what prompted Pakistan’s view of India as a bogey in first place.
This appears charitable to Pakistan by letting it off the hook as the sole South Asian villain. However, it is a sobering view of India in that it establishes that India’s growing power and India’s adeptness in its use will prompt certain actions by actors subscribing to realism. Pakistan’s sandwich of India’s conventional prowess with action at the other two levels – subconventional and nuclear – is better explained thus. This explains proxy war. Understanding this is necessary to examining its impact on the Indian army.
Impact of interminable operations
Seeing Pakistan’s hand in Kashmir is easy. Assuming that it is to wrest Kashmir is to overstate Pakistani aims. As seen, Pakistan fears India’s power. It deems it necessary to tie this down. It got an opening it exploited fully in Punjab when India was moving towards mechanization. It gained another opening in Kashmir even as India was able to best the situation in Punjab. The Kashmir pot has been kept boiling so as to keep India’s shoulder to the wheel. This has in some estimates kept up to a quarter to a third of India’s army tied down in Kashmir. This includes the 740 km length of the Line of Control, in Siachen and in counter insurgency operations – protective, defensive and offensive. Since the expectation is that insurgency will spike in case of conventional operations, India raised the RR so as to recreate its offensive capacity. The Kargil War experience suggests that loosening the grip in conventional conflict might rebound over the long term. The disturbances this summer indicate that the RR might not be readily available for relieving the infantry from defensive tasks on the LC. It would have its hands full in its primary task. The Mountain Strike Corps has reportedly been aborted temporarily as being too manpower heavy. Thus, India might not have the offensive capability necessary to expand the scope of offensive operations in the mountain sector.
This leaves the plains and deserts for a conventional punch, deemed necessary for refurbishing conventional deterrence to begin with. In the deserts, Pakistan has taken care to brandish its tactical nuclear weapons that can only be used where there is little collateral damage. This leaves the developed terrain for offensive operations. Analysts have pointed out that this is the place to apply military power since it neutralizes Pakistani tactical nuclear weapons. However, this suggestion was first made when the power of irregular – jihad inspired - forces to stump conventional forces in urban terrain was not quite so evident. In wake of Iraq and from the experience in Syria, it is clear that venturing into urban space would be to step into a meat grinder. Even if this is so for both sides, it is not a sane strategic choice to make at the outset when one has the initiative.
This brings one to the salient point in this essay: Pakistan appears to have succeeded beyond its expectations. It has tied down surplus Indian military power. This is what it wished to do but it has manipulated India into believing in a narrative that enables keeping India tied down. Indian army sees its indispensability to conflict management in Kashmir. This prompted the army to stay on though the insurgency indices did not warrant this through the mid to late 2000s. The summer disturbances through three consecutive years did not alert the army to the possibility that its continuing presence might be part of the problem. Instead, the resumption of disturbances this year have only served to impress the army that it needs  to stay on, and obfuscate the possibility that doing so  sets up a self-reinforcing loop – its staying on provides the rationale for it to stay. It’s staying on keeps the AFSPA intact and popular disaffection alive.
The army would be loath to accept this view widely held in liberal circles. It can be expected to the more responsive however if spelt out in the realist lens. As seen, the army’s conventional deterrent is under siege. Equipment injections are one manner of resuscitation. But there are other – perhaps less clear – areas that need equal attention. Most of these fall in the organisationnal realm. Take for instance the current day fracas between the arms and between the arms and services. The infantry and artillery officer corps have largely cornered the top echelons through the idea of pro-rata representation being extended into the general cadre. Their numbers elbow out other officer cadres from upper echelons. This has to some analysts contributed to a mandalisation of the army, with the elevation of mediocrity resulting in a deficit in operational art. The rise of the infantry and artillery in the ranks makes the brass from these corps secure what got them there in first place. Thus, counter insurgency and LC fire assaults are set to enter into the third decade. The second underside is that the army as a sop to the mechanized lobby has not been able to reconfigure the strike corps that are veritable steel dinosaurs in the nuclear age. Thus, we see the baleful effects of the counter insurgency era taking its toll.
Equally less remarked on – and in retrospect this might be deliberately so – is the continuous expansion of the army. The army realizing that its forte is manpower is ready with manpower accretions as solution to each operational challenge, be it RR in face of insurgency in Kashmir or a mountain strike corps to face up to the Chinese. There is the two-front rationale thrown in for good measure. This is at the cost of quality at intake which an assembly line system of training cannot remedy. The officer corps is an example. The army intake of officers is of the order of over a thousand per year, and a third more than the civil services. While the officers are to regulate a million strong and disciplined army, the civil services help run a billion-strong country that is dysfunctional in some respects. This implies that there is no premium being placed on leadership or strategic sense since manpower is solution to every challenge. 
This has a drawback best viewed through military sociology. The composition of the army gets impacted in case of increase since this increase can only be serviced by regions that have recruitable manpower and without employment opportunities in other sectors. The figures routinely put out by the academies in relation to the recruitment base of graduates on their commissioning suggest a steady narrowing to a certain north Indian belt. In a voluntary army, this is taken as unremarkable, but needs to be seen in relation to their subsequent employment in counter insurgency in Indian regions with little resemblance to where they come from. There are also political tides in the north Indian belt that cannot but permeate the consciousness of the citizens from such areas and impact their attitudes. This implies there is a potential political bias in officers from such areas which might colour their professional showing.
Finally, the military leadership that has risen on the counter insurgency tide of the nineties has to reckon with the ethical shortfalls some of its members took while in such operations. It is widely held that the agitating generation of today in Kashmir was witness to much gratuitous violence, some of which spurred leaders under whose watch this took place up the military hierarchy. Their sphere of impact has risen with their rise in rank. How this has affected the overall ethos of the army is a moot question. Since these issues are seldom discussed, this is liable to be mistaken as impressionistic. The point is that just as while viewing the Pakistani army’s institutional wellsprings for its military actions, the focus on similar thrusts from within the Indian army must not elide analyses.  
Countering insurgency politically?
An institutional argument for exiting counter insurgency commitment is not the best line to take. Because counter insurgency is having a negative effect on the army is not the quite the reason to advocate other-than-military-operations counter to insurgency. The realist argument is perhaps the more saleable one. The institutional argument is not one the military can easily admit to and the realist argument is one that it can acknowledge and sell to the political class better. The argument made here is that the army has fallen into a trap set by Pakistan and it has done so with open eyes. This is a criticism seldom heard, especially in a day and age when speaking bluntly is mistaken for sedition. But then retaining institutional good health and regaining an uncluttered realist(ic) picture implies stating and hearing some home truths.
While the army has tried to bring home to the political class that it needs to get its act together and address national problems politically, this has been somewhat low key. It leaves the political class the impression that the lid can continue on the army with army deployment. The bureaucratic class that interposes can be expected to reinforce this impression in the political class since it keeps the army from being professionally state-of-the-art and embroiled in internal squabbles. The resulting national security scene in one in which the army’s actions suggest it cannot rely on the diplomats to keep the external sphere tranquil and on home ministry bureaucrats to keep the internal sphere so. It sees itself as the answer, failing to see that the host populace in counter insurgency areas might think otherwise.
Realistic appraising of its presence as part of the problem bothering the people can help it reappraise solutions. For instance, the graduated removal of AFSPA from either of the counter insurgency prone regions can do more for easing the insurgency than the respective army-based paramilitary in the two regions can do. In its environment scan the army needs factoring in its presence and its affects not only on the insurgency but vice versa too, of the counter insurgency on itself.
The army’s disengagement should not imply a corresponding militarization of the central armed police forces or the provincial police service. The lesson from counter insurgency in Central India is that it is better to have the army undertake such operations than to have army clones incompetently led by men in khakhi to undertake the same. Asking for political solutions politically arrived at is a tall order. The Naga talks for instance are closing on to their third decade. A government that promised to deliver on these has lost its way midway into its tenure. Therefore, it might be a tad too pat to advocate a politically driven counter insurgency strategy. It is a liberal delusion. Since this finding leaves the army with the baby, it is best that army look deeper and for longer into the mirror held out for it here. 
It is clear from the nomination of the chief designate that the requirement of having operational experience is being taken too far. Operational experience is largely in the context of counter insurgency, the last war – Kargil War – having seen about a division worth of troops in actual combat. Counter insurgency experience is no guarantee of strategic insight necessary at higher military leadership levels. Without prejudice to the capabilities of the candidates involved, the selection was apparently on the basis of counter insurgency experience. This proves the point being made here that such deployment is now part of the service DNA. It is no longer taken as a secondary role, albeit one ably discharged. It has now a defining function for the army. As pointed out here this is not entirely welcome. There needs to be a break out from the counter insurgency cul de sac. The realist perspective needs to be adopted afresh to view the insurgency as a Pakistani ploy to tie down the army. The current doctrinal answer that this then entails continuing army deployment has to be debunked in first place. The comfort levels with this argument are such that even where Pakistani hand does not exist or exists only potentially and marginally, such as in the north east, the army continues its deployment. This indicates that there are institutional blinkers on, which can only be jettisoned once a realist lens is put back on to see such deployment in all its negative finery. 

Saturday, 28 January 2017

So Who Are the ‘Men in Shadows’ Guiding Top Army Appointments?

Muttering ‘All’s well that ends well’ with a sigh is all that is left for military watchers in the wake of the supersession episode. In the traditional media conference on the eve of Army Day, army chief General Bipin Rawat let on that he and the man he had pipped to the post, Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi, who was his former boss in Kolkata when he served as corps commander in Dimapur, had assured each other of mutual support. This brings out the quality of character of the men involved and retrieves somewhat the image of professionalism of the higher ranks in the Indian army.
Unfortunately, this is not uniformly the case. Prior dust-ups over the army chief post have dented the idea of professionalism, leaving behind a poor image of the contenders for the job. The starring role goes to General V.K. Singh and his fracas with General Bikram Singh and General Dalbir Singh Suhag.
Both cases witnessed unsavoury manoeuvres.
In Bikram’s instance, the case of a death in cross=firing during an encounter in which he was wounded as a brigadier in the Valley was made to resurface by a newly minted NGO, which disappeared from the public eye as quickly as it had appeared. V.K.’s brainchild, the Technical Services Division – reportedly an intelligence outfit that has since been disbanded – was implicated in this. To spike Suhag’s chances, the mishandling of an intelligence outfit under his command when he was the commanding general in Dimapur was trotted out.
A conspiracy?
In a new year’s eve address to officers at his headquarters in Fort William, Kolkata, Bakshi, who lost out in the recent race for army chief, is reported to have said that a ‘deep rooted conspiracy’ by ‘men in shadows’ accounted for his missing out on the promotion – an apparent reference to ‘intelligence games’ (or political ones) in the process of selection.
Bakshi reportedly said that he had expended Rs 85 crore of his special financial powers over the past 18 months as head of Eastern Command, in comparison to his two predecessors – both of whom went on to become army chief – who had spent a mere Rs 3-4 crore each. Among other things, this difference suggests two things: the self-confidence of Bakshi, befitting a prospective army chief, and, conversely, the play-safe attitude of his two predecessors.
Bakshi indicated that rumours were spread by certain parties over the accountability of such unusual – if legitimate – spending. With the rumours reaching the defence ministry, the spending was inquired into by the defence accounts and no wrongdoing emerged. To his mind, these rumours nevertheless influenced the government in overlooking his strong case, based not only on the traditional principle of seniority but also his sterling professional record. (Retrospectively, it may unfortunately be surmised that his two predecessors were wiser in adopting a ‘do nothing’ posture when at the penultimate step in the ladder to the top.)
For his part, defence minister Manohar Parrikar has clarified that the selection process was pristine. As a process, there is little to quibble over. He is also right in saying that if seniority was the only criterion then a computer could well substitute for the cabinet process. But, the question is that if the expenses withstood scrutiny, to what extent was the rumour-mongering effective?
Going forward
Seemingly explaining his decision to stay on rather than hang up his spurs, as is the precedent in cases of supersession at his level, Bakshi has indicated that he is staying to clear his name by – or so the media alleges – exposing those behind the conspiracy, including those in the media and in the army veteran community.
While the exposure of such a nexus is necessary for the continued good health of the army, it should not be the preserve of Bakshi, the aggrieved party. He may scar himself in the process, going down in history as a sore loser. Instead, it is a cross the supposed – albeit unaware – beneficiary, Rawat, must bear.
Rawat’s move to become the 26th chief of the Indian army has been rather well choreographed. Media speculation has it that he caught national security advisor Ajit Doval’s eye when Doval had dropped out of the prime ministerial visit to Bangladesh in order to supervise the ‘surgical strike’ along the Myanmar border against Naga militants who had killed 18 soldiers in an ambush in Manipur in June 2015.
From Dimapur, Rawat moved to Mumbai as a stepping stone before taking over as southern army commander in Pune. This enabling of an operational command was presumably at the expense of Lieutenant General P.M. Hariz, who was then presiding over the training command in Shimla. Hariz replaced Rawat when Rawat was elevated as vice chief in the run up to his trotting across South Block to the army chief’s room.
Hariz could well have taken over the southern command prior to Rawat, with Rawat having to cool his heels in Shimla awaiting his turn. While there is no case for training command to be part of the musical chairs, unfortunately this is the reality, with 19 changeovers in the quarter century since its founding. Hariz’s staying put in Shimla was not as much a move to rule him out of the race as it was one to position Rawat better.
Since this happened way back at the beginning of last year, the writing has been on the wall since then. When these moves were afoot, conspirators – if Bakshi is to be believed – were at work pulling the rug from under him.
Bakshi appears to point the finger at a nexus between the ‘men in shadows’ and sections of the media and veterans. With military intelligence operatives having figured in the previous two schemes to influence the nominations of the army chief, the ‘men in shadows’ may well be members of the intelligence community. It bears pause as to the link between the three sections – intelligence, media and veterans.
Irrespective of the cabinet process Parrikar refers to, given Doval’s charge in the national security sphere, it can be inferred that the intelligence czar, Doval, took the call.
A comprehensive debunking of the arguments made to back the government’s decision to supersede two able officers – ranging from operational experience to adeptness at surgical strikes and being savvy on the Line of Control – says much about the cabinet process touted by Parrikar.
The rumour campaign that Parrikar took cognisance of – enough to have an inquiry ordered – only reinforces his by now well-earned reputation of lacking good judgment. The campaign itself was an insurance to help the government sell its narrative on the unprecedented supersession of two generals. By that yardstick, it is simply not the work of over-enthusiastic subordinates but is better attributed to the congenital habits of men in shadows.
What about the sections of the media and veterans alleged to have played a role? The media’s role is not very clear and, in light of the manner sections of it purvey the cultural nationalist trope, should not in any case detain us overly. However, the spotlight should not escape army veterans with links to Doval, especially those belonging to his stable at the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF).
On Christmas Day, two retired VIF-affiliated generals shared the dais with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh luminaries in Pune. They potentially serve as a means of cultural transmission between Hindutva formations and the military. It is not improbable that, in turn, they informally input national security minders on military matters, not excluding, as it turns out, on vital military appointments.
The intelligence community is long known to have been compromised by such linkages. Is it now the military’s turn? The first observation of Army Veterans’ Day, preceding the Army Day this year, suggests yet another avenue has been forged for present-day politics to penetrate into the military. That V.K. is a government minister today is a warning of sorts on the veteran-political linkage.
As the dust settles, Bakshi would be well advised to serve the rest of his tenure with dignity, placing the onus on Rawat to clean up the stables. Rawat has gone on record to indicate that action will be taken should Bakshi voice his grievance formally. While procedurally sustainable, Rawat should know that more needs to be done.
Rawat needs to surprise his anonymous benefactors and disabuse them of any notion that the army is now in their corner. Comparatively, clamping down on whistleblowers on the army’s social practices is rather tame. Rawat should broadcast through precept and action that the army is off limits to ideological penetration. In this, tackling former comrades would be the easy part. What will test his moral mettle over his three-year tenure is getting his current political masters to acknowledge this

Friday, 6 January 2017
Nuclear doctrinal revision in its effects on the India-China dyad 

In the latest brouhaha over nuclear doctrine revision, Manoj Joshi offered the sage advice that Pakistan should not be the only referent in considering evolution of India’s nuclear doctrine. The discussion in the strategic circles sparked off by the defence minister recently voicing his personal opinion on nuclear doctrine, was rather Pakistan centric. Joshi rightly required that any changes in India’s nuclear doctrine would require reckoning with the effects in respect of China.
This article attempts to discern possible effects on the India-China nuclear dyad of the thrust areas of change in India’s nuclear doctrine. Since some of the impulse towards change is from a consideration of India-Pakistan nuclear dyad, if such change has no negative implications for the India-China dyad, then the proposed thrust line of change acquires greater credibility, if not plausibility.
Currently, India’s nuclear doctrine is fairly well adapted for the India-China nuclear dyad. By all accounts, China is the primary referent of India’s nuclear doctrine and the continuing suitability of the nuclear doctrine for the China front makes for little incentive for change. Both India and China subscribe to No First Use (NFU). Though to some, Chinese NFU is territorially caveated, India’s also is with a caveat that it would not hold in case of use of the other two types of weapons of mass destruction.
Whereas in terms of numbers, the Indian deterrent’s credibility is maintained at a ‘minimum’, though flexible, level, for China the numbers are relatively higher – characterised as ‘limited’ - owing to it having to contend with the US nuclear arsenal. Both are geared towards nuclear deterrence rather than nuclear warfighting. While India claims not to believe in non-strategic use of nuclear weapons and not to have tactical nuclear weapons (TNW), it cannot be plausibly said that China does not have a more variegated arsenal, since it has contingencies on the Pacific front, including Taiwan, to think about.
The doctrinal similarity - particularly on NFU - has led to a diminished focus on China in discussions of nuclear employment. Doctrinally, since neither side will initiate nuclear use in conflict, there was little to be gained by wargaming nuclear use other than for academic interest. Militarily, both sides maintain strong conventional forces and therefore do not need to rely on nuclear weapons to either supplement conventional operations or to bail either out of a tight conventional spot. Politically, the stakes in any envisaged conflict are not of an order as to compel either side to jeopardise respective economic and power trajectories by bringing nuclear weapons into a conflict. At worst, a border was is apprehended and, while this might have horizontal escalatory possibilities, no plausible vertical escalation scenario has found mention in discussions so far.
Nuclear related developments in India point towards a comfort level with the doctrinal status quo. NFU serves India well on the China front since it is in an asymmetric situation as of the moment, when it is still catching up with China. The invulnerable leg of India’s triad is still under development and its recent Agni V test is only the fourth one so far. To deterrence purists, this might point to a deterrence deficit that makes India’s deterrence vis-a-vis China a work-in-progress. They would also bemoan lack of a tested thermonuclear capability, irrespective of scientific claims dating to the Pokhran II tests to the contrary. Nevertheless, there is consensus that even if there is distance to traverse, India’s nuclear posture comprising cumulative progress in terms of numbers, delivery systems, reach, a ballistic missile defence capability in-the-works, command and control and survivability cannot be discounted by China. This implies an Indian self-confidence in its nuclear deterrence, which in turn disincentivises doctrinal change. Thus, it would appear that the impetus towards change that arises largely from a consideration of the India-Pakistan dyad is unlikely to make a dent on India-China doctrinal dyad. Such complacency merits scrutiny.
There are three thrust lines of impetus to change. The first is NFU, which was extensively dwelt on in the recent storm in the doctrinal teacup. The second is more significant in that it dwells on the doctrinal challenge posed by Pakistani TNW. The third is in interpreting the punitive quotient of counter strikes: when unacceptable damage in counter strike is sufficient, is going ‘massive’ necessary? The three need to be examined in their effects on the India-China dyad.
There is no strident call currently to jettison NFU in regard to China. India has a finite deterrence capability – even if it does not satisfy maximalists. There is however a situation of asymmetry currently brought about by Chinese missiles in Tibet and its vicinity that have a reach into India’s north Indian heartland, which India cannot match in reverse any time soon. This implies NFU serves India, for the moment. In case push comes to shove in conflict, there is the additional buffer the NFU pledge enables between a contingency and the nuclear button: rescinding the NFU pledge in the national security interest when warranted. This would warn off China from breaching possible Indian thresholds, such as a territorial one imagined variously astride the Se La or Bum La or Bomdi La ridgelines.
The second impetus stems from the TNW conundrum. How can escalation control kick in on breakdown of deterrence? This is possible through proportionate retaliation, which means operationalising the deterrent accordingly. For the China front, the implication needs factoring in a lapse in NFU. In case the need arises for redressing a fast developing adverse conventional situation that has politically unacceptable manifestations – such as another evacuation of Tezpur - nuclear weapons provide a fall-back option. Such use obviously would not be strategic but proportionate to rolling back the adverse situation, such as tamping down incoming Chinese hordes through disruption of the line of communication. This would presumably keep the nuclear dimension of the conflict from spilling onto the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin. This makes for a case not so much for TNW capability, but for ability for nuclear use in an operational-level, theatre-specific setting.
The third impetus is regards a reversion to the formulation of the Draft Nuclear Doctrine: that of punitive retaliation to inflict unacceptable damage. Clearly, the ‘massive’ formulation of the 2003 official adaptation makes no sense for the China front. For escalation control through in-conflict deterrence, there is a set of targets held in reserve, such as along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in Indian claimed territory. Holding these hostage might be useful in case of the feared ‘two front’ scenario.

From the preceding discussion it appears that the thrust lines of change visible in the India-Pakistan dyad are not irrelevant for the India-China dyad. Manoj Joshi rightly suggests caution in doctrinal revision, but that should not be interpreted as favouring the status quo. It is clear that the necessity for limiting nuclear use in either first use or retaliatory modes holds even regards conflict with China. Consequently, the minimal recommendation here is not to shy away from the discussion. However, if we are to heed China’s response to India’s Agni V test weighing-in in favour of strategic stability, treading softly might be prudent. Open doctrinal discussion might be a preferred substitute for doctrinal revision. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Strategic proactivism appraised through a Cluasewitzian-Trinitarian lens

Agni, December 2016

Midway through its term the government has indicated a shift towards strategic proactivism. By launching ‘surgical strikes’ in reprisal for the Uri terror attack and taking public credit for these it has upped-the-ante. Whereas surgical strikes were not absent earlier from India’s repertoire of anti-terror responses, this time round India has acknowledged these and the strikes were across a larger frontage. The political leadership has taken credit for ordering the strikes, attributing it variously to leadership boldness and ideological affiliations of members of the ruling party. This political brouhaha in wake of the strikes was possibly prompted by the opposition criticizing the seeming inaction in immediate wake of the Uri terror attack. The UN General Assembly session behind it and the prime minister’s speech in Goa in which he said the war in South Asia should be against poverty, the government timed the attack in a manner as to catch terror launch pads and the Pakistani army with a lowered guard. The retaliation was well received by the people. This interest and involvement of the military, the government and the people in the surgical strike episode brings to fore a Trinitarian analytical framework for viewing the shift to strategic proactivism.
Clausewitz’s perspective on war is that it is a social phenomenon explicable in a framework involving chance, subordination to political imperatives and passion. The three characteristics of war have been associated in Clausewitzian literature with the military, the political class and people respectively. For the military, war is an uncertain enterprise, covered by a fog of war and subject to friction. It requires the military leader to impose order on it and, in doing so, shape it to deliver military objectives. The political leadership is to ensure the control through its subordinate, the military, over war as a means to political ends. The people are associated with elemental hatred and enmity generated in war, utilized by the government and the military as an enabling resource to prosecute the war.
The Uri episode and surgical strikes provide a moment, though not of war per se, but of a visible interaction between the three elements of Clausewitzian Trinity in operations other than war. This article attempts such an analysis using the Trinitarian lens and in doing so appraises the immanent shift from strategic restraint to strategic proactivism surgical strikes herald.
The military
The military has been contending with the proxy war for a quarter century. This has been largely defensive, resulting in responsive and reactive operations including those with an offensive bias such as the earlier surgical strikes. This has owed to a strategic doctrine of strategic restraint by this and earlier governments, that relied on strategic reticence in order to ensure, firstly, the husbanding of power over time, and, secondly, to ensure that military digressions do not impact adversely on India’s economic trajectory. In the nineties, the military doctrine reflected this strategic doctrine of restraint in its location at the defensive deterrence segment of the continuum of doctrines. However, tested by the Kargil War and the Operation Parakram challenges, the military doctrine registered a shift within the deterrence segment from defensive to offensive, making for a shift to offensive deterrence in the 2000s. This can be seen in its shift to the so-called Cold Start doctrine and its operationalisation in organization changes and through successive large scale military exercises through the decade. The monies spent of defence have also been considerable, all designed to bolster the offensive content of offensive deterrence. At the tactical level, it has ensured a psychological ascendancy is maintained along the Line of Control (LC) with reprisal attacks following close on heels of terror episodes or Border Action Team challenges on the LC. This also served to restore deterrence at the tactical level, at least temporarily, till the tit-for-tat game on LC between the two militaries set up the next opportunity for offensive tactical action. 
Within the military there has been constant discussion on the desirability and possible efficacy of offensive action in response to Pakistani proxy war. The discussion acknowledges the escalatory matrix that inevitably frames military action. It focuses on escalation dominance in order to deter movement up the escalatory ladder. The idea is to be strong at all levels of the spectrum of conflict in a manner as to leave the adversary a choice between persisting with receiving punishment at the current level of military engagement in the spectrum of conflict or escalating to the next higher level, wherein it is similarly disadvantaged by an adverse power ratio.
To illustrate, if Pakistan is unable to compel Indian political action through proxy war due to an apt Indian military counter, Pakistan would be compelled to resort to terror attacks predicated on greater violence. To such mega terror attacks, India has a doctrinal answer at both the subconventional and conventional levels. At the subconventional level, it can deliver a reprisal at the LC through activating it physically and by fire. At the conventional level, it has built in a two step capability, with the first step reliant on the offensive content held with pivot corps and the second held with strike corps. Thus far, it has not resorted to the conventional level, even after the dastardly 26/11 attack, presumably because the capability was then under construction. The government in signaling the shift to strategic proactivism has gone in for fast track purchase of Rs 5000 crore worth of ammunition for air defence, artillery and Su 30s. It has also cleared a Rs 80000 crore equipment purchase.
The shift now to strategic proactivism implies it has a military answer ready and the likelihood of authorization to proceed would be more readily available, certainly at the subconventional level. The likelihood rests on the logic that the surgical strikes were not a one-off episode, but are the new normal at the LC. That would distinguish them from earlier surgical strikes. The emulation on the Kashmir front of the surgical strikes that were last year initiated at the Myanmar border against north eastern terror groups implies there is no stepping back to strategic restraint. Escalation dominance refurbishes offensive deterrence in its entailing of a consistency in reprisal action, especially since Pakistan appears to have upped the terror ante in its series of terror strikes from Dinanagar through Pathankot to Uri. 
Escalation dominance at the next level of the conflict spectrum – nuclear – has so far eluded the military. The military is constrained by the declaratory nuclear doctrine and has to per force to genuflect towards it in its discussions on nuclear retaliation. However, it is clear that environmental consequence of ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation is unsustainable. The pollution levels in Delhi in early November resulting from farmers in Punjab burning their fields testify that north India cannot sustain the effect of burning Pakistani cities. Coming up with an answer to Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) is therefore necessary. Not only is ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation not credible, it is also not ‘wise’ (to paraphrase Tom Shelling) in that it opens up India’s cities to like retaliation. The answer stares India in the face – proportional retaliation.
India has the capability resting on its range of short range missiles – Prahaar – and on sub-kiloton weapons. For the military, this implies an expectation of nuclearisation of the battlefield. This means it must be able to fight through nuclear conditions and its Strategic Forces Command must be able to employ TNW in conjunction with the conventional battle. The aim of proportional retaliation would be to ensure that Pakistan does not steal a conventional march over India’s offensives, even while signaling both resolve to retaliate in kind and a willingness not to escalate. With assured destruction capability resting on longer range missiles, strategic weapons and a triad, predominance at the next higher nuclear sublevel exists. This will ensure escalation dominance at the nuclear sublevel of TNW exchange, insuring against escalation by Pakistan. Shadowing its nuclear use through proportional response would leave Pakistan with but one option: discontinue nuclear strikes. 
To sum up this section, strategic proactivism implies a greater propensity for tactical action on the LC with surgical strikes as precedent. These could be supplemented - in case of mega terror attacks - with conventional level ‘cold start lite attacks. A ‘short, sharp war’ can be ruled-in under strategic proactivism, since a shift from strategic restraint essentially entails unlocking India’s military advantage at the conventional level. Obviously, the conventional might so unlocked would require limitation as overriding criteria in employment. Therefore, ‘cold start’ requires hedging in the form of ‘cold start lite’. At the nuclear level, it implies moving to a nuclear warfighting capability and intent based on proportionate response, with No First Use remaining sacrosanct.
The political class
Politicisation of a security issue has not been absent in India. While the government took credit, according to some political analysts with an eye towards UP elections, the opposition too is active in chipping away at the edges using security related issues for its sniping, such as ‘one rank, one pension’ and seventh pay commission award. The assumption that national security requires a non-partisan consensus is turned on its head. An example is the manner the ruling party tried to take credit for ordering the surgical strikes. This provoked the opposition to revealing that such strikes took place on its watch too and, further, to question the efficacy of the strikes to pull the ruling party down a peg or two.
Strategic restraint has been associated with the earlier stints in power of both the National Democratic Alliance and the United Progressive Alliance. The pre-Uri attack phase of the current government witnessed continuity on this score. However, strategic restraint has never been altogether as advertised. Whereas militarily India has been reticent, this may have owed to deficit in capability, making it a restraint born in necessity rather than choice. Also, Pakistan was also relatively less provocative in the UPA period that had taken up the Vajpayee initiative begun in the NDA I period. Four rounds of talks took place, with the fifth half way through when 26/11 happened. However, UPA’s go-slow on the initiative – supposedly due to absence of a viable interlocutor in Pakistan when Musharraf went under – and subsequent abandonment after 26/11, has led to Pakistani return to proxy war, one also emboldened by the disaffection in Kashmir played out between 2008 and 2010 and, after a hiatus, over this year. Between 2010 and 2013, UPA II had desultorily resumed talks with two rounds taking place. They were abandoned when UPA II lost its way at the fag-end of its tenure and due to the beheading episode on the LC in early 2013. Strategic restraint thus was an apt doctrine for the period of relatively greater engagement with Pakistan.
However, it was never fully one of restraint, since the intelligence game with Pakistan continued in a proxy war between the two states in Afghanistan, one that also enveloped Balochistan. Since plausible deniability attend intelligence operations this is difficult to prove, but to be in denial over the incidence of intelligence operations is to deprive the domain of strategic analysis of autonomy from contamination of sentiments emanating from nationalism. Militarily, the conventional forces acquired a new offensive doctrine and created the warewithal. At the nuclear level, the official nuclear doctrine was challenged for sticking with NFU and criticized for its ostrich like behavior in maintaining ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation as viable in face of the global environmental ramifications of such nuclear use. Politically, there was a consistent refusal to engage meaningfully with Pakistan or shift from military reliant conflict management to politically purposive conflict resolution in Kashmir. Consequently, strategic restraint can be seen more accurately as ‘strategic restraint plus’ or ‘strategic practivism minus’. On the continuum of strategic doctrine it was someplace ahead of offensive deterrence, while being short of compellence. The current day shift to strategic proactivism therefore completes the final step to compellence. 
Setting strategic doctrine is essentially a politically driven exercise. The strategic coordinates provide a strategic rationale, but also serve to obscure the essentially political nature of strategic doctrine. The politics of strategic doctrine are not only informed by the external political sphere - international politics and geopolitics – but also by internal politics. For instance, a conservative regime in power would ordinarily have a strategic doctrine coloured by conservative realism. This is what distinguishes, for instance, the Obama presidency from the preceding presidency of Bush and the likely hue of the impending presidency of Trump. Likewise and understandably, the BJP – a conservative political party – cannot but have a conservative realist inclination to its strategic doctrine. This is best evidenced by its choice of national security adviser.
Here it is hazarded that the impetus to strategic proactivism does not lie in the strategic coordinates of India’s strategic circumstance alone. Conservative realism would normally be reconciled to a strategic doctrine of ‘strategic restraint plus’. In fact, it is possible that the location at strategic restraint plus of strategic doctrine in the UPA years owed to the fear of the UPA of being called ‘soft’ on security by its right wing challenger, the BJP. Therefore, with the BJP coming to power, a shift was not readily discernible; on the contrary there seemed to be continuity. However, that there is now a shift has been attributed by the defence minister to ideological mentoring under cultural nationalism. This nascent shift to compellence thus has political pedigree, one that needs acknowledging upfront.
This is necessary to do since compellence is widely regarded as more difficult to achieve than deterrence. Since it is widely accepted that India has not entirely succeeded in deterrence, it cannot be said that it would be more adept at compellence. Consequently, the strategic sense behind the shift is questionable. But the answer lying in the political plane, and not the strategic plane, implies that this is a moot question.
The people
The concerns of Indian people are largely existential. There is a visible focus on economic development and its trickle down uplifting all boats. However, there are multiple transformations ongoing in society, which includes social churning and its political fallout. The latter has given rise to cultural nationalism as a means to creation of stability around a central narrative on the nation based supposedly on a common and shared culture. This comprises the majoritarian project in which insecurity is partially welcomed so as to inject a sense of unity and generation of a herd instinct for adherence to the proffered common national narrative. Information war strategies are the primary manner this is furthered, with social media being a significant battleground.
A nuanced retelling of the Uri terror attack is necessary to reprise how people reacted to the Uri attack and the surgical strikes. The Uri terror attack was by four Pakistani terrorists in which 19 soldiers were killed. However it bears mention that 14 of them died in a fire, as indirect victims. This means that the four fully armed terrorists with surprise behind them managed to kill only four soldiers; one succumbed to wounds later. In other words, had the fire not occurred, there would have been fewer casualties. This tempers the manner Uri terror attack and places the surgical strikes in context. The latter thus appear an overreaction to the Uri terror attack. The national, media-induced hype therefore appears unwarranted. That it has nevertheless been fanned and used to legitimize a strategic shift in India suggests the manner the state has used national sentiment, whipped up by it not only over the episode in question but also over time, for its purpose of pursuing a hard-line against Pakistan.
As seen from the Uri episode, the terrorist has to be lucky but once and security forces always. The subsequent activation of the LC indicates continuing terror attacks and higher threshold reprisals. The popular sentiment appears to be in favour of retaliation in kind. This popular endorsement will serve to legitimise strategic proactivism. The government, having demonstrated a penchant for sudden action ranging from cancellation of talks with Pakistan to clinching the Rs 35000 crore Rafale arms deal and most recently in demonetizing higher denomination currency, would use the popular saleability of the hard-line on security to continue down the strategic proactivism route. In effect, an in-part manufactured public approbation would be buoying a strategic doctrine of unproven efficacy.

The shift to strategic proactivism appears to have a basis in the Clausewitzian trinity: the military, the government and the people. The military had termed its offensive doctrinal shift in the 2000s as ‘proactive operations’ strategy, presaging the term strategic proactivism. It has preferred an inclination towards the offensive and being proactive, since that enables it to take the initiative and maintain it. This is enabled by a shift in the strategic doctrine away from strategic restraint, that the military felt held it back, even if for good economy-centric reasons. For its part, the government’s inclination for strategic proactivism owes to its belief that it has finally the military capability in place for military reprisal. It also sees political gain in the hard-line, in part to deny the opposition any claim of continuity in security policies. While the economic domain has largely seen such continuity, the ruling party has maintained that its difference is in its commitment to national security. The public endorsement for the surgical strikes is liable to be stretched as approval of the shift in strategic doctrine. Since strategic affairs is not a plebiscitary field, cautionary advice not to take the public sentiment as a driver of strategy is warranted at this incipient stage of the shift.  The look here at the Uri episode in the Clausewitzian-trinitarian framework has been instructive. It suggests that there are strategic impulses at play that owe little to strategic rationality and may have origin in the polity itself. This is the potential Achilles heel of the shift to strategic proactivism.

Saluting Bipin Rawat but with a caveat

The recent announcement at long last of the name of the new army chief provides merely an entry point for discussing the fallacy of operational experience as a pointer to either tactical sense or strategic judgment. The army chief designate has a formidable military reputation and matching record. There is no begrudging his elevation to the august appointment. There may however be issues over the supersession of two equally competent generals.
That the BJP government slept over making the appointment for almost a month and half is suggestive of the politics that inevitably attend the discussions. The BJP would like to be sure it has a candidate that would either be complicit or silent, the latter being preferred since it would be in keeping with the apolitical ethos of the army. The former attitude in a chief would be rather obvious and would compromise him and the service, whereas the latter can be rationalized as a sign of professionalism.
Silence of course does not imply pliable, but an attitude that is wary of politicization of the service and therefore one that keeps the military to the straight and narrow. The ruling party, that is the political face of a larger national reorientation project, needs to be sure that a future chief would be of this kind. By that yardstick, all three candidates would have met the bill. Neither has Bipin Rawat done or said anything that endears him to the ruling party, nor have the other two – Praveen Bakshi and Hariz - disqualified themselves by doing or saying anything that the ruling dispensation could take amiss.
Therefore it bears speculation as to why the supersession. It is easy to neglect Hariz’s claims to the post since he was the second in line of seniority. There was nothing in him that could make him pip Bakshi at the post. So the face-off is between Bakshi and Rawat. The possibility that Bakshi’s claims to a top job have not been altogether neglected is evident from rumours that he might make it to being India’s first permanent chairman chiefs of staff committee.
Currently, it is an appointment that goes to the senior-most serving chief, a thoroughly inadequate arrangement given the increased need for a single-point military adviser to the government, jointness and to oversee the nuclear deterrent. Should Bakshi get the slot it would only be befitting and the twin appointments would amount to a successful ‘surgical strike’ by the government.
In the fitness of things, if the rumours are proved right, the surgical strike would have been better executed in case news of the two appointments had been released together. This indicates current potential for yet another hit-wicket for the government in case it forces Bakshi to turn in his papers, quite like Lt Gen SK Sinha did three decades back. It appears yet another self-goal by this government is in the offing.   
Be that as it may, one aspect needs interrogation. If Bakshi was ruled out for the army top job if only for being lined up for an equally significant one soon as India’s chief of defence staff equivalent, then Hariz resurfaces as a candidate. Over looking his claim for the top job requires explanation. The easy explanation is to see it in his name. As the first muslim in quarter century to make it to army commander level, he has already accomplished much. Elevating him, alongside Bakshi, would have been least controversial. Thus, the possibility of the government being unable to swallow the fact of the religion he was born into  cannot be easily wished away, in light of the prime minister’s well known ad often ventilated levels of regard for India’s  largest minority. The ruling party did not even think it fit to have a muslim name, if only for its propaganda value for it to debunk allegations that it views muslims somewhat warily. The BJP election victory had one emphatic lesson for it and democratic India: that it can afford to ignore the minority owing to its successful consolidation of the majority through majoritarian and cultural nationalist gimmicks. That said, it would be tad too easy to ascribe Hariz being overlooked to his religion, though the case itself cannot in light of Hariz’s supersession ever be ruled out.
Media speculation has it that Rawat had operational experience behind him to a degree that the other two did not. This owed in large part to Rawat being an infanteer and the other two from the mechanized forces, Bakshi being a cavalier and Hariz a mechnised infantryman. The start of their military journeys naturally made them gravitate to areas of deployment and expertise of their parent arm. Eventually, as they neared the last goal post, the goal posts were shifted for the two from the mechanized forces. This is not a new issue in the army. It has been controversial for at least a decade and a half now. This time round the situation has been shown up too glaringly on the radar to sweep under the carpet as the army has continued to do over the duration.
It is no secret by now that the infantry and artillery have under successive chiefs from these two arms appropriated the upper ranks of the army for those belonging to these arms. This has been under the pro-rata system, called by its critics as mandalisation of the army. The two arms having a large proportion of the army have a correspondingly large cadre of officers. They have so arranged the promotion system that the proportion of higher rank officers is proportional to the numbers signing into the arm at entry. This makes for an uneven playfield for the other arms such as the mechanized forces. It also has impacted the services, reducing their vacancies in higher ranks disproportionately. This has led to considerable heartburn in other arms and services and several court cases. The overlooking of the claim of at least one form the mechanized lobby for the highest rank is just one more nail being driven in. In this case, an unwary government could well be carrying the can for the army’s inappropriate career progression policies.
The assumption is that the infantry and artillery officers are exposed to an operational environment on account of their postings in hardship and operational locations either on the line of control, high altitude or counter insurgency situations. It is not explained how this experience conditions them better into being better higher commanders. If hardship is a criterion, then they should certainly be compensated perhaps by higher allowances.
But to reserve higher slots for them rules out more credible candidates from arms that cannot serve in such environments on account of their expertise being restricted to mechanized warfare that can only be undertaken in the deserts and plains. They cannot be penalized for their success in deterring conventional war to the extent that Pakistan is restricted to keeping the pot boiling in Kashmir. They should not be made to pay for their success which inadvertently only serves the infantry and gunner lobby. The infantry and artillery cannot be allowed to ticket punch their way through India’s troubled lands under cover of AFSPA. It would amount to having these arms, and the army, gain a stake in the troubled conditions, with the ‘disturbed areas’ serving as training grounds for officers to gain operational experience.
This scrutiny would be entirely incomplete without drawing blood. It needs being said out and loud that far too many officers have gained their next rank using ‘operational’ experience as their card. Not a few of them can reasonably be charged with war crimes for egregious rounds of violence that have been visited on the people in their areas of operational responsibility.
The troubled period of the nineties in Kashmir is a case to point. There was a bean count syndrome for a proportion of the time. There was not only inadequate operational level attention but such officers might have even detected a permissive atmosphere to further careers on the back of broken lives. This has not gone away yet.  The killing of Burhan Wani’s brother in unknown circumstances for his reportedly being an over ground worker is a case to point. Bluntly put, multiple tenures in counter insurgency mean nothing. How officers conduct themselves ethically and professionally while in it is everything.
And even then, great achievement at tactical level in counter insurgency – any command division and below is at that level – is no guarantee of strategic good sense, required in military brass at the apex level. The case of the current chief is a live example. His exemplary tenure as company commander in Operation Pavan did little to prepare him as chief. Pin a medal on their chest for such showing, but do not allow such showing to get them into war rooms where we rue their over promotion. Else the likes of the national security adviser and his ilk will run rings round the service, such as through letting loose the NIA on military bases subject to terror attack.
The broader observation has nothing to do with Bipin Rawat. He has gained what he rightly deserved in the right way. It is about the media speculation on why he made it past two of his compatriots. Even if he was the more illustrious - and this can easily be proven - do his advantages justify supersession? Is the army over-relying on false indicators of strategic good sense? To take up his place in history, Bipin Rawat needs to roll back the policies that militate against competence and privilege mediocrity in the general cadre. 

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Coming Out of the Closet

Indian defence minister’s penchant for verbal gaffes has acquired respectability. One strategic community stalwart has suggested that the defence minister’s voicing of his ‘personal opinion’ on India’s No First Use (NFU) pledge is designed to build in ambiguity in India’s nuclear posture. He suggests that for deterrence, it is necessary to keep the nuclear adversary guessing.
Releasing itself from the NFU pledge will enable India to build-in the option of nuclear first use in its nuclear preparedness and posture. A nuclear adversary (read Pakistan) would be fearful that its nuclear preparations might trigger off India’s preemptive strike(s). For India, the advantage in Pakistani hesitation to reach for its tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) is in enabling India to employ its superior conventional forces to wrap up the Pakistani military, pinch back territory in J&K and make territorial gains elsewhere.
Currently, India is stumped by Pakistani brandishing of its TNW. India is hesitant to use its conventional advantage honed at considerable cost. This has forced India to be boxed-in. The situation in J&K has turned a full circle back by a couple of decades when conventional forces were locked in trading blows across the Line of Control. India would instead like to make its conventional preparations on the doctrinal, organizational and equipment fronts, count. The latest controversy over India’s NFU is an instance of India attempting a doctrinal breakout from the cul-de-sac of Pakistani TNWs.
Analysts have pointed out that an Indian nuclear posture that is readier-to-go could prove counter-productive. It would induce Pakistan to go first instead, fearing it would lose its nuclear capability if were to wait for India’s nuclear first use. Presently, the major threat India faces is from TNW being used against its forces in case of incursions that flirt with Pakistani nuclear thresholds. It is not a bolt-from-the-blue attack or a first strike attempting to degrade India’s nuclear strike back capability. However, in case India was to rescind NFU, the latter would emerge as a grave threat.
Therefore, if India wishes to jettison NFU then it would have to reassure Pakistan that should India resort to nuclear first use, it would not be in the form of higher order nuclear strikes. This may be counter-intuitive, but it is well known in strategic theory that nuclear deterrence and reassurance go together.
Currently, India’s deterrence is predicated on a ‘massive’ counter strike. India professes to believe nuclear weapons are political weapons meant for nuclear deterrence and not war-fighting. This means its nuclear forces are configured for higher order nuclear retaliation – counter city and counter force and not counter military targeting. Since higher order strikes are liable to being countered equally vehemently by Pakistan, higher order nuclear first use by either side would amount to all-out nuclear war.
This helps with deterrence at the upper end of the spectrum; that of higher order strikes. However, the promise of higher order strikes is taken as incredible against TNW use. This is the conundrum India is in. If India rescinds its NFU without a corresponding change in its philosophical approach to nuclear weapons - that is, if it continues to believe these are not for war-fighting - then espying Pakistan reaching for its TNWs, it will likely go in for higher order - preemptive - first use of its own.
India promises being ‘punitive’ as to inflict ‘unacceptable damage’. This might not be possible any longer in light Pakistan also maintain strategic weapons, available for higher order strike back. To ensure that fewer of these get to India, India’s nuclear first use would require being of first strike levels of attack – first strike defined as an attempt to tamp down on Pakistani retaliatory capability.
Pakistan is reportedly a step ahead of India in nuclear numbers and in the variegation of its missiles. It thus has a second strike capability, enough to deter India’s first strike levels of nuclear first use. South Asia is in its era of ‘mutual assured destruction’ (MAD). Therefore, if Delhi is to give up NFU, a pillar of its nuclear doctrine, it would also require giving up the other pillar of its doctrine – higher order nuclear use. In a state of MAD, nuclear weapons no longer deter nuclear weapons but deter only higher order nuclear use.
This means that in case of nuclear first use preparation by Pakistan, India could get its nukes in first, but at levels duly cognizant of escalation dynamics. The ability for lower order strikes does not preclude possession and use of strategic weapons for higher order nuclear use. Thus, deterrence at the upper end of the nuclear use spectrum is assured, even as escalation control is enabled by lower order nuclear use. It would be easier to stop a nuclear conflict before cities have started being consumed.
As for ambiguity, it is intrinsic to the nuclear domain. Tom Schelling’s deterrence concept of ‘leaving something to chance’ implies that since no war has witnessed a nuclear exchange, it is a domain of which much has been written about, but only vicariously.  Going in for overkill in terms of ambiguity can lead to self-delusion that deterrence will work.
Ambiguity increases the threat of nuclear first strike under the logic of what Tom Schelling termed, the ‘reciprocal fear of nuclear attack’, defining it inimitably as, ‘he thinks, we think he'll attack; so he thinks, we shall; so he will; so we must.’ Consequently, reassuring one’s own population and the adversary’s nuclear decision maker is also important. Jettisoning default higher order nuclear use is one such measure.
India’s current government has questioned many verities of India’s nationhood – such as secularism - and is known for taking what its supporters regard as ‘bold’ decisions. The Modi government can and should overturn India’s declaratory nuclear doctrine. The makeover is in a sense is to move towards nuclear war-fighting. The advantage of this is in enabling an end to nuclear war at its lowest threshold. South Asia can only then hope to get away at affordable – even if avoidable - levels of nuclear war. 

Saturday, 26 November 2016

India's Strategic Shift

From Restraint to Proactivism

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,[1] 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.[2] 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,[3] followed speedily by another allocation of Rs 80000 crores for acquisitions.[4] 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’,[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.

[1]Suhasini Haidar, ‘Earlier cross-LoC strikes had different goals: former NSA’, The Hindu,  12 October 2016, available at; accessed on 15 October 2016.
[2]KR Rajeev, ‘Time for strategic restraint over, says Ram Madhav’, The Times of India,  18 September 2016, available at; accessed on 20 October 2016.
[3] Sundeep Unnithan, ‘Preparing for the worst’, India Today, 27 October 2016; Available at; accessed on 30 October 2016.
[4] Ajit Kumar Dubey, ‘Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar clears defence deals worth Rs 80,000 crore’, Mail Today, 8 November 2016; Available at; accessed on 15 November 2016.
[5] Shailaja Neelakantan, ‘When NSA Ajit Doval outlined India's new Pak strategy- defensive offense – perfectly’, The Times of India, 4 October 2016; Available at; accessed on 15 November 2016.
[6] Sushant Singh, ‘Manohar Parrikar questions India’s no-first-use nuclear policy, adds ‘my thinking’’, Indian Express, 11 November 2016; Available at; accessed on 15 November 2016.
[7] PTI, ‘'RSS teaching' may have been at core of surgical strike decision: Manohar Parrikar’, The Times of India, 17 October 2016; Available at; accessed on 15 November 2016.