India is a unique country, with all the favourable geographical attributes of an offensive orientation. It is separated from the rest of the Asian landmass by the formidable chain of mountains in the north extending to the northwest and the northeast. Despite the technological revolution, these favour the defender.Similarly, like an unsinkable aircraft carrier, the peninsular portion juts out into the sea. Dividing the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, it dominates the Indian Ocean. Relative security prevailed in the earlier days due to the absence of major navies in the vicinity. Islands, a few as far away as 1,400 kilometres from the mainland, improve the means of domination of the ocean.
With a negative population growth in the West, Indian skills and capability to merge will be sought after more and more.
The implications of India’s geography lead us to a startling conclusion. These natural ramparts allow India to protect itself with minimum force levels. Thereby, India could release large forces for offensive action with ease where necessary. Under British compulsions, India’s contribution of 2.5 million men during the World War II, the largest volunteer army ever raised is a clear example of its offensive capability.
Further, this unique location allows India (in fact compels India) to be both a continental as well as a maritime power of significance.
Cultural Orientation. However, the fact of this offensive capability is at odds with our historical experience. The reason is that the geographical factors which dictate an offensive orientation, also made India self-sufficient. And maybe lazy too!
With a large population and abundant natural resources it became a world unto itself. Insular India’s biggest asset is its liberal philosophy. Inward-looking and insular, India over centuries thus evolved its own unique cultural code of conduct, which regulated the diverse influences within. Over centuries, self-occupied and self-reliant India’s cultural norms developed into an abhorrence of war.
Moral restraints on the use of force demilitarized foreign policy.
the geographical factors which dictate an offensive orientation, also made India self-sufficient.
The foreign policy kept searching for alternative means of security, overlooking the use of the military component. History is replete with examples of invasion, the domination of India by foreigners. But so deeply etched was the philosophy of non-violence in the Indian subconscious that even after independence (and flushed with victory through non-violence over the British) India refused to change. Result: Post-Independence, four wars were imposed on India, which it did not seek.
The natural offensive orientation, by virtue of its geographical features, dictates India to be a continental and a maritime power. This, however, has been at odds with India’s cultural and philosophical mode which abhors use of force. Despite this inherent contradiction, whenever the political unity of the landmass occurred, it developed an offensive orientation. This is true of the Mauryas, the Moghuls (early heydays) and the British period.
… weapons and forces by themselves do not constitute the source of security or threat, the ideas and attitude governing their use and usability do.
Imperial India to the Republic of India. Under the British rule India for the third time was once again unified politically and militarily. The British extended the political borders to natural features to optimize India’s defence potential. The geographical unity of the Indian landmass was obvious. Under the British compulsions, the attributes of India’s offensive orientation were maximized. India contributed gigantic armies for World Wars I and II in other world theatres. While Imperial India kept Russian and Chinese power at bay, which ensured subservient buffers in Afghanistan and Tibet, independent India permitted gobbling up of Tibet without protest!
On Independence, the Republic of India inherited this imperial mantle of offensive orientation. But it also inherited a political leadership which was brought up on traditional Indian idealistic beliefs where the use of force was abhorred. Since weapons and forces by themselves do not constitute the source of security or threat, the ideas and attitude governing their use and usability do, the political leadership’s defensive-defence attitudes resulted in India facing more wars than probably was necessary.
The Changing Dimensions. Whenever political and military unity of the land mass occurs, it develops an offensive orientation. Once again insular and inward-looking India is under transformation. Graduation in applying the age-old sound principle of war took nearly 23 years — from fighting the war in 1948 in own territory to rapidly transferring the war on hostile land in 1971. And it took almost a similar time-frame for India to go nuclear! However, quickening the pace of change of an insular and isolationist India to that of an outward-looking India is almost revolutionary. These trends are based on three factors.
India has an excellent role model of quick intervention, restoration of a favourable situation and a quick withdrawal.
The Indian Footprints. Amongst the third world countries, India’s print and audio-visual media are homespun and most independent. It is a strategic tool in internal social transformation. It audits and maintains checks and balances on the performance of the government. Its strategic reach through the Internet and satellite disallows disinformation, particularly in our neighborhood. In the regional environment, it is a catalyst to further the principles of secular outlook and free market. Above all, the Indian media improve the notion of the world as a global village which in turn acts as a major unifying factor within. It disallows extreme tendencies to erupt in a diverse society and yet promotes uniformity at the top to deal with one voice in the international arena.
The New Generation. The generational change in society is the other vital factor enhancing the offensive orientation. On one hand, the new generation is anchored firmly in our secular beliefs and on the other, it assimilates the societal norms of others and reverse-engineers it to meet its own requirements. Deep down, there has always been an urge to achieve an overall synthesis of the diverse influences. An urban Indian neatly balances the East and the West. Therefore, national security concerns which had become a mere footnote are now at the helm of the nation’s agenda. So is the concern to eliminate poverty and illiteracy.
The Demographic Reach. In Amsterdam, the gemstone business is decisively being taken over by people of Indian origin. It is reported that 150,000 Indians are working to solve the Y2K computer problem for America. Indian-Americans’ income on an average is rated at $44,000 annually compared to an American’s average of $33,000. In 19 working days, India’s Resurgent Bonds mopped up $4 billion-plus from the non-resident Indians worldwide. Silicon Valley has almost 66 per cent Indian population and is more or less referred to as the Indian Valley! If Indian doctors walk out of Britain’s Medicare system, it will collapse.
The strategic reach through demographic dispersal is a unique phenomenon.
The strategic reach through demographic dispersal is a unique phenomenon. The Indian skills in a variety of ways contribute to the economic prosperity of these communities as much as their own well-being. Bred in a secular and liberal philosophy with acknowledged acumen in business skills and mathematical genius, Indians tend to merge with ease in the alien environment they work in. This is in contrast to many others who seek to expand their fundamentalist religious agenda in a foreign society. With a negative population growth in the West, Indian skills and capability to merge will be sought after more and more.
This factor will enable India to increase its global presence and influence in the years ahead.
With the current international economic meltdown and our economic reform programme gathering momentum, I see the emergence of India as a major power in Asia.
Emerging Defence Doctrine. Today all the coefficients of power-economic, technical, military, civilizational and social-accrue in India’s favour. With the current international economic meltdown and our economic reform programme gathering momentum, I see the emergence of India as a major power in Asia. And towards that end, the defence doctrine will strive to achieve the following:
- Capability to manage its economic development and political integration independently.
- To disallow outside penetration.
- To maintain adequate influence over regional competitors.
- Develop influence to deter outside states from lending support to regional competitors. India will skillfully integrate geoeconomics in future as integral to its foreign policy. The military component is already moving in tandem with the foreign policy.
- A fair amount of self-reliance in critical weapon systems and arrangements to procure them in a crisis.
The Shift. Offensive orientation will hasten the shift towards modernization and restructuring of the military to achieve the objectives of the emerging defence doctrine.
While Indian leadership in future will deter with vehemence outside forces from intervention, it is not likely to get self-deterred as in the recent past.
- First, the military doctrine will shift from defence of territory to defence of national interests-territory-plus- philosophy. An eminently sane policy!
- Second, defence doctrine will ensure the creation of a Strategic Command with nuclear deterrence capable of inflicting unacceptable level of damage.
- Third, the movement towards integrated forces and jointmanship, to enhance offensive-defence posture and stamina to sustain such postures will be hastened in the Army, Navy and the Air Force.
- Fourth, in case of conflict, it will endeavour to rapidly transfer it to the hostile land by all means at the disposal of the State.
- And last but not the least, it will invest substantially in Special Forces to fight low-intensity-conflict/proxy wars.
India has an excellent role model of quick intervention, restoration of a favourable situation and a quick withdrawal. This was true of and paid dividends in Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka. This Indian role model will continue and is devoid of expansionist desires.
Decisive India. Will a decisive India with offensive orientation be a threat to neighbors? The answer is a firm ‘No’. While Indian leadership in future will deter with vehemence outside forces from intervention, it is not likely to get self-deterred as in the recent past. Our military roots go back to the Mauryan civilization. Emperor Ashoka retained the large military component, gave up war and instead exported Buddhism to the rest of Asia. This makes eminent sense even today. Of course, the good Emperor, had he not retained the large military, instead of exports he would have landed himself with net imports of threat scenarios!
Will a decisive India with offensive orientation be a threat to neighbors?
In the current international scenario, I visualize India providing the plank of stability in the new world order. While it will strive for pre-eminence, its role in the peacekeeping and peace enforcement through the UN mechanisms will be extremely large in the next century. Therefore in my view India by virtue of its civilizational beliefs, will not be a domineering or hegemonic power but will develop adequate global influence by helping to enforce stability and bringing relief to the zones of conflict.
Incredible excuses were offered in the past to deny a credible defence posture. For example, elders found islands in the Indian Ocean more of a problem rather than an asset. The refrain of the fading generation is how to protect each one of these islands from terrorists! To the new generation of policy-makers, these islands provide a platform to dominate the region and exercise influence over the neighborhood. Thus a gradual shift from a mere tactical outlook to a strategic vision is finally shaping up.