Questioned ‘why do we need military officers to engage in diplomacy, Nitin Pai, founder and fellow for geopolitics at the Takshila Institute, had replied, “Not only does the nature of contemporary international politics call for it, but other important nations practice it. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US and the four-star generals that head its Theatre Commands are important players in operationalizing Washington’s foreign policy around the world. The Pentagon’s foreign policy resources are comparable to the State Department’s. Look around the neighbourhood. The armed forces are key players in politics and security policies of all our neighbours, from China to Indonesia, from Pakistan to Myanmar.”
China’s military diplomacy is based on security and geopolitical interests and calculation, which are driving the modernization of the PLA in an effort to improve China’s stature in the international security environment.
Military diplomacy can be defined as using the resources of the armed forces of a nation to promote its national security interests. This implies peaceful application of resources from across the spectrum of defence, to achieve positive outcomes in the development of a country’s bilateral and multilateral relationships. Viewing military diplomacy only in terms of defence attachés, personnel exchanges, ship/ aircraft visits, meetings / forums, training / exercises would not address the issue holistically. Military diplomacy is developed and implemented conjointly by the foreign and defence ministries and is often associated with conflict prevention and application of the military. It is distinct from the concept of ‘coercive diplomacy’ which is generally motivated by desire to intimidate potential adversaries. While application of national power should be through domains of diplomacy, information operations, military and economic, military diplomacy can contribute in all the four. When John F Kennedy said “Diplomacy and Defence are not substitutes for one another, either alone would fail”, this covered the necessity to synergize national security and military diplomacy as well.
US military diplomacy is visible through very senior officers accompanying the President, Defence Secretary, National Security Advisor etc on foreign visits. The military-diplomat construct is ensured by posting Ambassador level officers at Theatre Commands. All Commands are required to pursue roles and responsibilities of a traditional geographic combatant command including facilitating / leading military operations, to include broader ‘soft power’ issues like health, infrastructure rehabilitation, environment, economic development, security issues, conflict attention and other human security aspects. Africa Command (AFRICOM) based in Germany is typical example of military diplomacy aimed at strengthening US-Africa security cooperation. Creation of ‘Enabling Command’ is another example of military diplomacy.
Total synergy between PLA and Chinese political authority (particularly with three military Generals part of the all powerful Politburo) facilitates systemic application of military diplomacy. China defines military diplomacy as “all diplomatic activity relating to national security and military diplomatic activities”, differentiating it from routine ‘political diplomacy’ conducted by military officials like military exchanges. China’s military diplomacy is based on security and geopolitical interests and calculation, which are driving the modernization of the PLA in an effort to improve China’s stature in the international security environment.
Primary objectives of Chinese military diplomacy include : one, strengthening own military and relationships and infusing new technologies; two, converging China’s position on security of foreign countries (Taiwan, Asia Pacific, India, IOR, North Korea) through manipulative discussion; and three, gain comprehensive information on foreign militaries for subsequent exploitation to China’s advantage. China has military attaches in 109 countries operating directly under Ministry of National Defence. Large numbers of observers attend major exercises abroad. China’s 19 military colleges and universities have student exchanges with 30 countries. On annual average, 1000 military students study abroad. Think Tanks functioning directly under Liaison Department of General Political Department mould perceptions in China’s favour, nurture pro-China individuals / factions and asphyxiate anti-China thoughts. Chinese military development projects world over have serving and veteran PLA personnel in garb of workers and technicians that contribute to strategic intelligence and perception management.
India must make military diplomacy part of its foreign policy and create the capacities, structures and processes necessary to put it into action.
The Chinese PLA in addition to UN missions, joint exercises and Track II exchanges also employs military diplomacy through military operations other than war (MOOTW) and arms exports and technology exchange / acquisition (overt and covert) directed by General Logistics Department of the government, COSTIND (Commission for Science & Technology and Industry National Defence) under General Staff HQ overseeing expert technological group exchanges, plus undercover operations enabling leapfrogging of technology. The PLA spearheads China’s cyber warfare capacity development, oversees defence and masterminds R&D espionage. In recent years, a ‘charm offensive’ has been launched as part of Chinese military diplomacy to convince contesting powers that China’s rise continues to be peaceful. Geopolitical aspect of Chinese military diplomacy includes strategic partnerships, boosting relations with strategically located countries (North Korea, Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Cambodia), engaging advanced countries and employing Special Forces at strategic levels for shaping the environment to Chinese advantage. With strategic footprints in Pakistan, POK and Nepal, Chinese military diplomacy is focusing on a China led coalition in IOR with a view to woo prospective partners – Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, North Korea, Tanzania, Seychelles and even Bangladesh, providing them technical, economic, military aid along with generous infrastructural development.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, Senior Fellow Observer Research Foundation says, “Military diplomacy is generally seen as one of the tools in the conduct of a country’s diplomacy. It should however be noted India has not made much use of it. It is not clear whether this was deliberate or simply a result of bureaucratic and political inertia. Nonetheless, the time has come for India.” It has been abundantly clear all along that it is Nehru-Krishna Menon legacy of disdain of the armed forces that has been blindly carried forward, which has prevented us optimize military diplomacy as a force multiplier to national security. While penchant to ape the West and the British legacy was apparent over the years, we failed to learn from the British in this important sphere.
UK identifies military diplomacy as one of the military’s eight defence missions. British military diplomacy aims at dispelling hostility, building and maintaining trust and assisting in the development of democratically accountable armed forces to make a significant contribution to conflict prevention and resolution. A typical example of British military diplomacy is in aftermath of the Anglo-French-Israeli assault on Egypt in 1956 when the British were booted out of Middle East. Some years later the British offered the services of the SAS as “advisers” and experts to help Middle-East regimes quell their insurgencies. This led to the British regaining their influence in the region and re-emerge as a major foreign player in the energy-sensitive region. Similar initiatives have been undertaken by the US and Israeli Special Forces. We have not even outgrown the pre 1947 British legacy of military not permitted contact with foreigners though British discarded this policy decades back. Even contact with classmates and friends established post foreign postings / courses is not permitted, which amounts to simply distrusting discretion of military personnel. This is just one manifestation of India’s overall denial of a place for the military in foreign policy. We should have permitted military officers to keep in touch with foreign friends with system of feedback in place.
In our context, the civilian bureaucracy and political leadership in our MoD until now has dealt with military diplomacy perfunctorily, putting undue constrains on military’s engagement with the world even as China employs military diplomacy at global level proactively in order to secure every possible advantage. The basic problem has been the lack of strategic culture. Not without reason former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal had said, “That we produced Chanakya almost 2400 years ago is not sufficient ground to claim that today’s India possesses a strategic culture.” Strategic sense apart, our problem also is ignorance of nuances of military diplomacy and generalist bureaucrats of MoD not seeking military advice on the issue – something which can perhaps only change when serving military officers get posted to Secretary level posts in MoD.
There is urgent need to also energize our military industrial complex, which can play a major role in military diplomacy and which should be fully dovetailed into our military diplomacy framework.
India must make military diplomacy part of its foreign policy and create the capacities, structures and processes necessary to put it into action. Diplomacy must enter the syllabuses of our military academies. Military Chiefs of China, Pakistan, Myanmar and their colleagues contribute in a major way to shape their nations’ policy towards India. India hardly engages them and if it is done, then it is more on civilian diplomatic terms that make it perfunctory. The primary US interlocutors with Pakistan Army are the US Defence Secretary and CENTCOM Theatre Commander. They engage with Pakistan and Pakistani Military in particular at diplomatic and military levels with India as focus. Should India not be engaging them periodically? Pakistan is also employing its veteran military officers and diplomats in Think Tanks abroad for sustained perception management. In our case, participation in joint exercises and military-to-military cooperation arrangements too only cover professional military matters. Actually, India hardly engages in military diplomacy in concrete and meaningful form, not even with close friends like Japan, Vietnam and other ASEAN nations.
The urgency to have a clear cut policy for military diplomacy was never more. More importantly, such policy must be fully synchronized with our security and geopolitical interests, covering all aspects discussed above. The implementation would require a coherent roadmap with timelines based on our strategic calculations. There is urgent need to also energize our military industrial complex, which can play a major role in military diplomacy and which should be fully dovetailed into our military diplomacy framework. Application of military diplomacy must be done in holistic fashion simultaneously engaging most of the countries, particularly those in areas of our strategic interest. With the new government in place, the task to bridge the void in military diplomacy needs to be taken up on priority.