“Don’t hit at all if it is honourably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft”.
– Theodore Roosevelt
Burden of Strategic Thinking
India’s strategic community has always been cold shouldered, if not ignored altogether, by those who occupy seats of strategic decision-making.
These ‘advanced’ nations have endeared Pakistan while that ‘state of hatred’ has gone about flouting all norms of civilised international behaviour, and then nonchalantly lying about its repeated sponsorship of death and destruction till exposed by her own agents of destabilisation.
Admittedly, this is not a phenomenon confined to India; no dispenser of authority likes to be instructed by those who no longer matter to the furtherance of their intimate interests. It is so that the American top brass find rather irritable their Training and Doctrine Command fellows, bunch of condescending juniors who put their command decisions to scrutiny. Similar is the case with the Britain’s ‘Development, Doctrine and Concept Centre’ and China’s ‘Research Centre for National Security Studies’ vis-a-vis their own military brass. In India, the autonomous as well as service-specific strategic think tanks, even the Training Command, all manned by peer groups of similar experiences and expertise, are yet subject to unconcealed aversion by the majority among the in-service ‘commander’ types. Thus when it comes to taking note of analyses or advise on matters of high operational decision-making that come from such institutions, the trend is to treat these, coming as there were from ‘bookish’ fellows, with some disdain.
It was therefore a rather invigorating opportunity for India’s barely tolerated strategic community to find relevance when some fellow from a different culture propped up to pronounce that “the Indians have no strategic culture!”, or words to that effect. Soon, the observation gained tsunami-high waves, with many members of India’s strategic think-tanks joining in the chorus for that cliché. It was good that the sentiment spread; it shamed the defence decision-makers, much to their chagrin, to turn more receptive to innovative strategic discourses – if only tentatively.
But then there are certain problems in acting ‘strategic’ in the Indian dispensation. Let us see as to what these might be.
Firstly, George Tanham had to view the Indian culture through a filter of his own cultural affiliations. Therefore his observation had been conditioned by concerns, interests, power and intents of the strategic culture that he subscribed to. That strategic culture, even if arguably viewed as Machiavellian and practical, must nevertheless be foreign to the Indian strategic culture. Notably therefore, that observation may not be accorded the status of a holy ordination – unless it musters enough logic to support that status.
A glaring example of strategic culture of these nations manifests in the form of political-military vandalism that they have inflicted upon the West Asian landscape; ‘fire’ raging from that act continues to singe the global order and its hapless victims of terrorism.
Secondly, mustering enough logic for that observation to claim the status of holy ordination is fraught with pitfalls. Indeed, looking at the nations who are considered to be in possession of strategic culture is a frightening experience. These are the nations who lend support to dictatorships all around the world even while eulogising their own democratic system. These cultures prop up grossly extremist regimes and condone crass human rights violations perpetrated by those regimes just to preserve their global stranglehold. At the other end, they topple culturally different regimes under dubious pretexts and then callously leave the debris for organised terrorism to take over. These nations allow sanctuary to terrorists as long as they do not ply their trade within the host territory, and then have their citizens pay for the folly.
Resultantly, alongside the rest of the hapless world who do not seem to matter in their calculations, the ‘strategically cultured’ nations have destroyed the joy of living in their own societies, besides making the world a dangerous place to live in. It must be inconceivable that self-infliction of such anarchy could be the handiwork of ‘strategically cultured’ nations.
Strategic Culture or Vandalism?
A perspective view of India’s liberal, peace seeking and democratic culture being subject to unilateral antagonism from the ‘strategically cultured’ nations offers a representative example of what they actually do many times over to the rest of the world.
These ‘advanced’ nations have endeared Pakistan while that ‘state of hatred’ has gone about flouting all norms of civilised international behaviour, and then nonchalantly lying about its repeated sponsorship of death and destruction till exposed by her own agents of destabilisation. Pakistan unleashed military led and supported barbarians upon the Kashmir Valley in 1948 with active support from the UK; repeated it with regular troops in 1965 while using US supplied weapons to attack India in utter defiance of the contractual ban; perpetrated genocide in Bangladesh in 1971 while ‘civilised’ nations led by the US tried to prevent India from defeating the barbarians; instigated terrorism in Punjab in the 1980’s while UK, Canada etc. offered sanctuary to ‘Khalistan’ terrorists; ‘stole’ nuclear weapons technology and ‘sold’ these to rogue states under Chinese, European and American patronage; and continues to export proxy war into the Kashmir Valley and terrorism elsewhere while thumbing her nose to an aghast world. Pakistan did all these, and continues to do so, without being reigned-in by her ‘strategically cultured’ benefactors.
The injury that these nations have inflicted upon the middle and poorer worlds in the process is even more dastardly. What kind of ‘strategic culture” then these nations have?
Not content with that kind of crooked bias, these nations proffer the outlandish suggestion of clubbing a pigmy Pakistan with India just to pamper that failing state in the hope that they would be spared from her venom. But what causes ultimate amazement is that the ‘strategically cultured’ nations have to suffer the indignity of bankrolling, while cursing under their breath, the sponsor-regimes of world wide terrorist mayhem – Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – even when the latter duo’s pet fanatics roam, nay, thrive, under state protection to strike at the roots of their societal stability! A glaring example of strategic culture of these nations manifests in the form of political-military vandalism that they have inflicted upon the West Asian landscape; ‘fire’ raging from that act continues to singe the global order and its hapless victims of terrorism.
It is not to be judgemental about what might be right or wrong. May be the strategically cultured nations found themselves helpless in devising more sublime strategies to deal with the situations – and that their strategic culture is actually quite poor and harmful. The point here is that the strategic culture of the purported ‘strategically cultured’ nations in fostering the purpose of peace and happiness has failed utterly – even in their own societies. The injury that these nations have inflicted upon the middle and poorer worlds in the process is even more dastardly. What kind of ‘strategic culture” then these nations have?
Now let us look at India’s strategic culture.
Whither National Security Strategy?
Some opine that India lacks the wisdom to factor military power in her policies and that she lacks a ‘strategic culture’, so much so that she does not even have a national security strategy. That opinion is superfluous because public dissemination of a national security strategy is by no means a sign of mature strategic culture, particularly when much of such pronouncements usually turn out to be either vague or vain. In any case, it is impractical for India, not being in full control of the imperatives of her defence, to promulgate a meaningful national security strategy when the intended authors of that strategy themselves remain strategically nonplussed. The reasons for strategic ambivalence in the Indian system, internally-triggered as well as externally imposed, are not difficult to list.
…unable to catch up through indigenous efforts, India’s key military hardware remain import dependent and therefore conditional to political, time and fiscal conditionality’s.
One, unlike Pakistan, India chose not to be a lackey to various alliances sponsored by the world’s power brokers, and so has been affected by a punishing regime of political and technological sanctions. Neither has India, unlike China, resorted to underhand practices to obtain military technology.
These noble deeds however do not help when her own defence, scientific and industrial policy-makers, with some help from near-sighted military hierarchy, have consistently diverted under partisan pretences, most measures which have been proposed to strengthen the defence policy-making system and to modernise the field forces. Thus unable to catch up through indigenous efforts, India’s key military hardware remain import dependent and therefore conditional to political, time and fiscal conditionality’s. That the permeation of democratic chaos into India’s defence sector is by her own choice is another matter; but the result is that a sensible national security can not flow out of such a logjam.
Two, even if there is rising demand from India’s strategic community for the defence planners to adopt modernisation and restructuring of the military forces, with the perpetration of inter-service, intra-service and inter-arm contentions, there has emerged no consensus as to its intended course and complexion – not yet. That seems to suit the nation’s fiscal managers who happily turn the exchequer towards other vote-catching measures. Meanwhile, the need for devising an efficient defence decision-making system has become captive to the institution of the Chief of Defence Staff, which in turn stays indeterminate due to many related genuine issues that remain unanswered for the fear of the answers turning unsavoury. Thus when modernisation and restructuring of forces is constrained by the compulsions of political and fiscal expediency – and import dependence – what kind of military structure could that national security strategy articulate?
…till India marshals her mind and muscle, articulation of a rhetorical national security strategy might not be a noble idea.
Three, if it comes down to authoring a national security strategy, what could the policy articulations in respect of the neighbourhood – the main audience – be? Will India promulgate her intent to regain the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and the Aksai Chin, or would she let bygone be, or indeed might leave the issue out altogether. Will she challenge the usurpation of the Indian Ocean, or declare her stake by joining domineering alliances, or just reconcile to playing second fiddle on that arena. How could her strategic articulations with respect to the topsy-turvy situations in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bangladesh remain relevant for at least some years. What response would India offer in the matter of ‘hot pursuit’ or precision targeting of terror outfits and then honour the credibility of that policy.
The answers to these queries seem to suggest that till India marshals her mind and muscle, articulation of a rhetorical national security strategy might not be a noble idea.
But withholding the promulgation of a national security strategy does in no manner implies that there is absence of strategic culture in India. It could well be the other way round!
The Indian Strategic Culture
Casting intellectual cynicism aside for a while, we may find that even without a formal demonstration of strategic culture, India has not done badly.
…in spite of big power pressure and constant aggression from Pakistan, India has retained what territory in the J&K she had decided to secure in 1948…
One, in spite of big power pressure and constant aggression from Pakistan, she has retained what territory in the J&K she had decided to secure in 1948 – and then gained some more in Siachen.
Two, her ‘forward policy’ did secure for her – if at the cost of a forgettable debacle and an yet contested chunk in Aksai Chin – huge tracts of non-delineated borderlands from China’s impending grab, something which none of China’s 20 neighbours have been able to accomplish.
Three, by attacking Pakistan across the international border in 1965, she has set the ‘off-limits’ in the Kashmir issue, not only for Pakistan but also to the Pakistan friendly Western Powers to take cognisance of.
Four, in securing a flank, she has helped Bangladesh liberate itself.
Five, over the decades since independence, she has defeated a dozen odd extremely vicious, foreign incited and aided secessionist insurgencies to preserve her national integrity – some achievement that even her best well wishers had been uncertain of at the time of independence. Recently, she has not been deterred by nuclear cacophony from exercising her military power to evict Pakistani intruders from Kargil.
Even when surrounded by one of the most hostile environs in the world, India has sailed through by spending as little as possible on her defence – to commit maximum funds on national uplift.
Finally, with her demonstrated economic and military capabilities, and even more saliently, her universally accepted – though not always honoured in the turmoil of international politicking – societal dependability, political credibility and military restraint, India has found many powerful courtiers. Conversely, both of her committed detractors have grown reputations that might not let them eulogise their mirror reflections.
This is a paradigm stratagem that could one day pave the way for India to formally reflect her strategic culture, promulgate her national security strategy and implement that strategy with élan.
Even when surrounded by one of the most hostile environs in the world, India has sailed through by spending as little as possible on her defence – to commit maximum funds on national uplift. That she could have done even better, or that developments internal and external would churn out a host of new problems, or that her ambivalence over political articulation of military power can not work in the contemporary world, are no doubt relevant to the contemplation of India’s strategic community. But what can not be missed out is that all these issues have been handled without the existence of a formally articulated national security strategy. May be, that deliberate reticence itself could be termed as India’s latent ‘strategic culture’ – wise or foolish is not the issue here.
National security strategies are promulgated when a state is in full control of its security challenges as well as full wherewithal’s to tackle those. As discussed, that is not a situation that prevails in India. Indeed, being flanked by revisionist and militarist states who brazenly declare their intent of decimating her nationhood, the trigger of confrontation is not under India’s control. After all, while it may take two to fight, but one is enough to start a conflict – any conflict, societal, economic, energy or military. Therefore, it may be wise for India to continue to recess her latent strategic culture, and keep her national security strategy indeterminate and open ended; that is, till India assumes full and comprehensive control of her needed resources for defence. Else promulgation of a national security strategy could turn out to be a bland rhetorical exercise.
Hopefully, India’s strategic culture recognises the fact that her past methods to deter and dissuade aggression with the least of investments on national defence – cerebral as well as fiscal – would not work any more in the contemporary world.
The strategic community may therefore keep the dynamics of security analyses and prognosis alive while the managers of Indian defence rise up to reorganise, modernise and deter inimical forces from going aggressive. Meanwhile, let India’s adversaries – and friends – remain unsure and apprehensive as to what strategic options might India contemplate, and so wisely refrain from provoking, in frivolity, a giant of India’s potentials, beyond a point.