Defence and Security

In search of credible deterrence

Jan 10, 2017
By Pravin Sawhney
 
Some of Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat's remarks soon after taking charge were misleading. The two-front war he spoke about, would be suicidal for India. It is a slogan more than a Government directive or an Army chief's operational order worthy of achieving results
 
The new Army chief, General Bipin Rawat, has announced his arrival in South Block through an interview blitzkrieg, which, perhaps, given his controversial appointment, was deemed necessary. What were unnecessary were his unrealisable offensive pronouncements. For example, instead of saying that the Army was capable of defending India’s territorial integrity, he declared that the Army was prepared to fight a two-front war. This was misleading and unprofessional; and adversaries are bound to exploit.
 
It was misleading because a two-front war is, to say the least, suicidal. It is a slogan more than a Government directive or an Army chief’s operational order worthy of achieving results. It was unprofessional because he spoke way beyond his authority. The next conventional war would be the outcome of synergy in six war domains, rather than the single land domain which is the Army chief’s responsibility; the other five being air, space, sea, electromagnetic and cyber.
 
Given the complexity of the war theatre, India has two choices: To continue with the defensive posture, which is self-defeating. For example, retired Army commander, Lt Gen AK Sahni, recently wrote that the Army has the capability to meet the twin objectives of counter-insurgency operations (CI ops) and limited conventional war (with Pakistan). In reality, the Army, by itself, will not be able to achieve either. Twenty six years of CI ops should have informed the Army leadership that unless the Pakistan Army is deterred by India’s credible conventional war capability, we will continue to lose soldiers to faceless terrorists sent by Rawalpindi. Moreover, no worthwhile military commander prepares for limited conventional war since war has its own escalatory dynamics. The other choice facing India is to adopt an offensive posture, which would result in credible conventional war deterrence. And, preparing for this is much more than modernisation and capability-building. It requires deep military reforms — something that China and Pakistan have done.
 
While these have been discussed in details in the book, Dragon On Our Doorstep, deep military reforms are about two issues: The ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of war. The first seeks to know the political objectives that can be achieved by military power, while the second is about joint-ness (for optimal results) at both the strategic (policymaking and administration) and operational levels (for combat) where conventional wars are won and lost.
 
China’s military reforms, under President Xi Jinping, were initiated to support its ambitious One Belt One Road project, meant to challenge the US’s global supremacy. Expected to unfold in two phases, the first stage is meant to create a new Asian security architecture to protect China’s assets and interests in Eurasia, on land and sea. The second phase, expected to unravel on the completion of the first, is meant to deal with a probable military confrontation between the US and China, since no power has been known to make way for another peacefully. Given this ‘why’, deep military reforms have been initiated at the highest Central Military Commission (CMC) level and at theatre levels for credible |conventional deterrence.
 
There are two interesting outcomes expected of China’s military reforms. One, the PLA would reduce its strength by three lakh over five years. And two, the new post of head of Joint Staff Department responsible for transition from conventional to nuclear war, would be the de facto Chief of Defence Staff as well as the single point military advisor to the Chinese President, who heads the CMC.
 
The Pakistan military, on the other hand, scores over India at the strategic level (policy and war decision-making and administration or strategic sustenance). This is because Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and national security policy are under its Army and not the civilian Government in Islamabad. While theoretically, Pakistan’s civilian Government headed by the Prime Minister is charged with deciding the transition from conventional to nuclear war, in reality, the powerful Army chief is the sole authority to do so. This gives Rawalpindi wider choices for initiating war and peace with India — which it views as an existential threat.
 
At the operational level, the Pakistan military has accomplished successful military reform through deep interoperability across all war domains with the Chinese military. Interoperability is the ability of two militaries to fight together for a common mission. Consequently, India’s two-front war assessment made by Gen Rawat has been rendered irrelevant. The invigorated Pakistan military, which will be supported by China in all war domains without Beijing showing its hand, is the new threat facing India.
 
There will be two outcomes of this interoperability. Unlike the Indian military, the Pakistan military will have the ability to fight long-duration war. And, it will have the ability to fight non-contact war by synergy in all war domains rather than indulge in tactical battles where Indian soldiers score better.
 
Given this, India too needs deep military reforms at both strategic and operational levels. At the strategic level, this necessitates that the political leadership take constitutional responsibility for the defence of India. At present, the Defence Secretary (a civilian bureaucrat) is charged with this duty. At the operational level, which is the ‘how’ of war, India has two challenges. The first is the need to have synergy across all war domains. This can be done by creating the post of the four-star permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, as proposed by the 2012 Naresh Chandra panel. Media reports, unfortunately, suggest that the Modi Government is working on a watered-down version of a four-star Chief of Defence Staff, who would be advisor to the Minister for Defence only ‘in matters of acquisition, procurement policy and resource rationalisation’. This will not help the needed domain-synergy.
 
The other challenge would be to identify the level which provides the linkage between conventional war plans and the nuclear weapons option. This, in India’s case, is the National Security Advisor (NSA) since the exact nuclear weapons capability remains a closely guarded secret with the scientists who interact directly with the Prime Minister and the NSA. While involved with the nuclear targeting list and the delivery systems, the defence services’ chiefs are not known to have full knowledge of India’s nuclear capabilities. Given this, the NSA becomes the de facto Chief of Defence Staff with the critical responsibility of providing transition from conventional war to the nuclear option. Since the NSAs are not known to understand the dynamics of conventional war, there would be uncertainty and ad-hocism regarding the use of military power. A case in point is Operation Parakram, launched in December 2001, against Pakistan, where the political leadership did not inform its own military leadership what was expected by the show of military power.
 
Unless the twin shortcomings — lack of synergy across all war domains, and smooth transition between conventional and nuclear war plans — are not overcome with structural reforms, India would lack credible conventional deterrence to meet the two formidable adversaries.
 
(The writer is co-author with Ghazala Wahab of the recent book, Dragon On Our Doorstep, published by Aleph Book Company)
 
The Pioneer, January 9, 2017

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