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What's India's grand strategy?

A nation has security, Walter Lippman notes, when it does not have to sacrifice its legitimate interests to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by war. It must be clear to any objective observer of the trajectory of developments in this country that India does not meet these criteria, and that its leadership has not even begun to imagine the task of building them into a national vision.

Indeed, for decades, India has even failed to neutralize the challenge arising out of the malevolence of a single hostile neighbour one-eight its size.

The disaster of the confrontation with China in 1962 has simply been pushed out of our strategic perspectives, and the political and military leadership in the country appears to have convinced itself that shared economic interests, China’s ‘good intentions’, and our ‘friendly relations’ with Western and other powers are sufficient guarantee against any future threat from that direction. And given China’s overwhelming size and rising power, in any event, what can India do?

But why doesn’t Pakistan think in this way of India?

The truth is, though there is much talk of India’s emerging ‘great power status’, the strategic vision and the awareness of both the collaborative and competitive imperatives that this would involve is still to develop within leaders and leadership institutions in this country. It is significant that, while we pit ourselves repeatedly, exclusively and with very limited success against a manifestly inferior adversary, preparing for an engagement with a superior enemy has been integral to Chinese military and national philosophy since the very creation of the ‘New China’ under Mao Zedong’s inspired, though ruthless, leadership. China clearly sees itself as being engaged in sustained and protracted competition with other major powers, while India sees itself substantially as little more than a hopeful supplicant before, and occasionally as an inferior partner with, these.

It is useful to recall that China has confronted and defeated the United States in two wars – directly in the Korean war and indirectly in the war in Vietnam – at a time when the new nation was only just beginning to stabilize after two decades of civil war and a seven year conflict with Japan. At that time the Chinese economy was shattered, there was mass distress among the people and the nation’s industries had virtually collapsed. On the other hand, the US was already well established as the number one power of the world. Indeed, the earlier victories of the People’s Liberation Army in both the civil war and the war against Japan were also secured against adversaries who were far better equipped and, at least at some point, far more numerous. In June 1950, when General Douglas MacArthur made a daring push towards the Yalu river – the boundary between China and North Korea – he was confident that China would not dare to intervene because of America’s air superiority and nuclear power status. But China pushed in more than 200,000 ‘volunteers’, who attacked and overran the US 8th Army 50 miles south of the Yalu River.

History – even recent history – is replete with instances where ‘inferior’ powers have prevailed in the battlefield over ‘superior’ powers, and, at least once, China has been the victim of this process. In 1979, China attacked Vietnam to ‘punish’ Hanoi for toppling the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, but had to withdraw in haste after it was given a bloody nose by fierce Vietnamese resistance.

In Iraq, today, rag tag bands of insurgents and terrorists are tying down the Armies of the world’s ‘sole superpower’ and it is far from clear who will emerge the eventual victor.

It is clear that established military doctrines in countries like India, Russia, even America, have failed to grasp the transformations in the fundamental nature of warfare that have occurred. America’s overwhelming firepower can devastate the infrastructure of any country in the world, but it cannot impose the necessary conditions of an unambiguous victory. There is, indeed, both among great powers and among ‘aspiring great powers’, a failure to evolve the necessary concepts of war and of ‘soft power projection’ that can help guarantee their interests in the new world order.

If India is to rank among the world’s first nations – indeed, given its particularly hostile neighbourhood, if India is to survive over the long term – its leadership will have to evolve a grand strategy that will guide the nation into the future. If the political, administrative and intellectual leadership of this country remains completely mired, as it presently is, in the chaotic exigencies of daily political survival and the pressures of the most immediate challenges at hand, the future of the country is in serious jeopardy.

Within this context, a military doctrine that seeks to prepare the country only for a ‘short, intense war’ – the only kind of war that we are, in fact, currently prepared to fight – is worse than absurd, it is a preparation for defeat. India does not appear to have any strategic minds – at least not in the nodes of power – and has manifestly lacked these for a very long time. The fact is, war has been systematically and substantially factored out of the Indian political world view in its unrealistic – often delusional – pursuit of peace. To desire and to work for peace is, of course, admirable. To fail to prepare for the wars of the future is suicidal.

The country’s leadership appears to have put its entire faith in the capacity of our limited economic successes (these are a fact of life only for a microscopic minority in a fraction of the country’s geographical area) to catapult India to great power status. The fact, unfortunately, is that this success is itself permanent hostage to the multiplicity of internal and external security challenges confronting us today.

It is now time to evolve and articulate India’s grand strategy, and to tailor specific policies in every area – the economy, governance, administration, defense, foreign policy, human security, development – to the realization of this strategy. Within this context, a radical restructuring is needed to create an integrated system of military and commercial production that would not only directly benefit both these sectors, but would create the sinews for the wider task of nation building.

Defense science has, historically, led national (commercial and industrial) science in the advanced nations. In India, defense science lags far behind the commercial sector, despite the billions of rupees that have been poured into the defense scientific establishment. The gap between our indigenous defense technology capabilities and the cutting edge technologies of the modern world is several generations wide. This is not the case in at least a selection of our best private and non-military technological enterprises. We have the scientific capabilities; we are simply failing to apply these where they are needed because our present security perspectives and doctrines are flawed. Our technological efforts and institutional structures need to be redefined by clear thinking on the projected demands of future operations and conflicts, and not just of current threats. The development of technologies in line with a comprehensive and realistic security doctrine could radically alter our entire strategic and tactical vision, not only on the conventional and sub-conventional battlefield, but in every aspect of the national enterprise.

(Published in The Pioneer, December 11, 2004)





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