In remarks reported last week, Indian army chief Gen Deepak Kapoor reaffirmed that India was evolving a new military doctrine, and he outlined some of its key elements. The changes in the strategic environment held out by this pronouncement have significant implications for Pakistan and should give the country’s security managers much pause for thought.
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In November India’s army chief spoke of the likelihood of a limited war “under a nuclear overhang” in the subcontinent. His latest remarks go further to indicate that:
- The Indian army is revising its five-year-old doctrine to meet the challenge of war with China and Pakistan.
- The development of the “cold start” strategy is progressing “successfully.”
- Five “thrust areas” will determine the new doctrine:
i) Dealing with the eventuality of a “two-front” war.
ii) Countering “both military and non-military facets of asymmetric and sub-conventional threats.”
iii) Enhancing “strategic reach and out-of-area capabilities” to protect India’s interests from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Strait.
iv) Attaining “operational synergy” between the three services.
v) Achieving a technological edge over adversaries.
The emerging doctrine appears to be both aspirational and emulative. Aspirational because its breadth and sweep reflects a mindset that seeks to create “big power” dynamics by projecting India as a rival to China and aiming to develop a capacity to act in two combat theatres simultaneously. How and whether this can actually be attained is another matter.
The doctrine also emulates the US Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defence Review undertaken every four years and borrows superpower language to assert the need to build “out of area” capabilities and acquire “strategic reach.” This is the most presumptuous tenet of the doctrine which employs the idiom of big powers without, however, the capability to back it.
It raises other questions. What exactly are the interests that these capabilities are intended to defend? Protecting the littoral states of the Indian Ocean against whom? Will the pursuit of “strategic reach” not run up against the strategic interests of other powers in the Persian Gulf?
For Pakistan several aspects of the doctrine have serious implications that need to be assessed. The “cold start” doctrine seeks to counter the Pakistani argument that, however “limited,” a war is not possible between two nuclear-weapon states – an argument that was validated by the 2001-02 military standoff between the two neighbours.
First announced in 2004, after the failure of India’s coercive diplomacy and military mobilisation (Operation Parakram) of 2001-02, the doctrine tries to build the case that India does have a war-fighting option – “cold start” under a WMD overhang.
This seeks to convey to Pakistan and the world that the capability being developed to wage “limited war” will enable India to operationalise its forces within 96 hours to strike offensively against Pakistan without crossing the nuclear threshold.
The concept of limited war in the “cold start” strategy is dangerous strategic thinking. As Pakistan’s army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has emphatically pointed out, proponents of the use of conventional force in “a nuclear overhang” are charting a course of dangerous adventurism whose consequences can be both unintended and uncontrollable.
The notion of limited war will push the subcontinent onto a slippery slope and heighten the danger of escalation. India’s strategy aims to achieve surprise and speed in a conventional strike against Pakistan. It overlooks the fact that in a crisis the nuclear threshold will be indeterminate. The threshold cannot be wished away by speed in mobilisation.
In fact, the shorter the duration needed for a mobilisation the greater the risk of escalation and the likely lowering of Pakistan’s nuclear red lines. Squeezing the timeframe will only make the situation more dangerous and unstable. The long fuse in a crisis provided by the time required for assembly and deployment of forces has so far helped to avoid a catastrophic war.
If operationalised, the “cold start” doctrine will force Pakistan to re-evaluate its policy of keeping its nuclear arsenal in “separated” form and move towards placing its strategic capability in a higher state of readiness, including deploying a “mated” capability — i.e., mating warheads to delivery systems. The action-reaction cycle will move the subcontinent to a perilous state of hair-trigger alert.
Similarly destabilising would be the espoused goal to secure a “technological edge” by India’s effort to acquire a missile-defence shield and build its PAD (Prithvi Air Defence) capabilities. India may feel that the acquisition of anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems (possessed by only the US, Russia and Israel) will give it the capability to neutralise Pakistan’s missile capabilities. This would be a dangerous presumption.
The deployment of ballistic missile defence (BMD) capabilities is likely to enhance fears that an offensive pre-emptive strike, conventional or nuclear, could be undertaken behind the BMD shield. Such a capability in the context of the “cold start” doctrine would increase the possibility of a military adventure by providing an illusion of “comfort.”
This would enhance the incentive for Pakistan to multiply the numbers of missiles and increase operational readiness to avoid the destruction of these assets in a pre-emptive strike. Pakistan will likely be obliged to take a series of other counter-measures to break through the BMD system.
This is a recipe for a costly and unnecessary arms race. A much better option is to pursue the strategic stability regime offered by Islamabad to Delhi that would stabilise nuclear deterrence by, among other steps, the mutual commitment not to develop or induct BMD systems into the region. But this does not seem to fit into India’s ambitions.
As for the “threat from China,” the Cold War-like language of the Indian doctrine seems out of sync with the times. It indicates Delhi’s continuing desire to play the role of a balancer or strategic counterweight to China and employ its burgeoning relationship with Washington to counteract Beijing’s rising influence.
But the international environment is at present not favourable to the fulfilment of this strategy. Unlike its predecessor, the Obama administration seems not to buy into fanciful schemes to contain China by promoting countervailing power centres. Instead, it is more interested in deepening the engagement with Beijing in an era being referred to as the G2 partnership, an alliance of overlapping US and Chinese interests. The symbiotic relationship between the two countries is today the pivot of the global economy.
The emerging Indian doctrine seems to over reach in seeking a capability to deal with a two-front war. This becomes even more apparent when seen from the perspective of the experience of the world’s most powerful military. The US has struggled to simultaneously prosecute, much less successfully conclude, two protracted wars (in Iraq and Afghanistan) despite the central and long-standing premise of its strategic doctrine of being prepared to fight “two wars” at a time.
It is therefore rather rich for India to claim that it can acquire the capability to deal simultaneously with two fronts, and that too against two nuclear powers. This is reckless translation of rhetoric into doctrine.
Given how unrealistic it is to think that such a capability can be built, is the purpose of the doctrine, then, to use the China “threat” to acquire the latest military technology from the West? This raises another question: is that capability intended to be eventually deployed against Pakistan?
Once the full dimensions of India’s military doctrine have been evaluated Islamabad will need to review its own options and reassess its operational plans and assumptions. Its strategic calculations should entail a careful reading of Indian capabilities and intentions while also making a distinction between ambition and reality.
Gen Kapoor’s enunciation of a provocative doctrine is one more reason why Pakistan cannot ignore the more enduring challenge to its security, even as it confronts the urgent internal threat posed by terrorism and militancy.
India’s provocative military doctrine, Tuesday, January 05, 2010, Dr Maleeha Lodhi. The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.
India knows that it can never win a conventional warfare because of the Nuclear Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). However it still harbors notions of winning a sort of a mini war. India may think it has a Cold Start Strategy, but it may end as a hot nuclear war. Indian Defense planners cannot guarantee that a limited strike will not escalte into a full fledged war. A full fledged war witha nuclear armed labor may destroy both countries. Responding to the “Surgical Strikes”: Neutralizing Delhi’s Cold Start strategy:
The essence of the Cold Start doctrine is reorganising the army’s offensive power that resides in the three strike corps into eight smaller division-sized integrated battle groups (IBGs) consisting of armour and mechanised infantry and artillery, closely supported by helicopter gunships, air force and airborne troops (parachute and heliborne).