ON LINE EDITION
Sunday, March 28, 2010, Chandigarh, India
A Tribune Special
Beyond narrow boundaries
We must change our mindset to meet new security challenges, says Gen V.P. Malik (retd)
ONE of the cornerstones of a democracy is a healthy civil military relationship. India stands out as the greatest success story in civil military relations amongst developing nations of the world. The nation and its military are rightfully proud of it.
However, should the discourse on civil military relations remain confined to the facts that in our country there have never been open criticism of the government’s policies on military affairs, never any combat refusal, or anything like a threat of military takeover? Unfortunately, most of our experts and the media are content to focus on the presence or absence of civilian control, politicisation, military discontent and discipline as the only considerations worthy of attention. Little attention is paid to the dynamics of politico-military strategies and civil military discourse on military capabilities and doctrines for any future conflicts.
In his seminal book, The Soldier and the State, Samuel Huntington states that “the objective of military security policy of a nation is to develop a system of civil military relations which will maximise military security at the least sacrifice of other social values.” Is India getting maximum value from its civil military relations and discourse?
Indeed, India’s defense and security report card for the past six decades plus has been more positive than negative. Despite a weak strategic culture, reactive strategic policies, ad hoc defense planning, intelligence failures and strategic surprises, the armed forces have maintained India’s security and territorial integrity better than any other democratic, developing nation in the world.
However, the credit for these successes goes less to any strategic foresight or higher direction of war and more to personnel involved in operational planning and fighting on the ground. In most conflicts, India has failed to convert hard-won operational achievements into long-term strategic successes.
The 21st century has ushered in a new era in security and the nature of conflict and warfare. While conventional war as an instrument of foreign policy has become increasingly unviable due to high costs, casualties and international pressures, limited, asymmetric and sub-conventional conflicts have become more likely. And when they occur, it is not possible to take them to the logical conclusion of military victories as was the case in the past. They have to be conducted with the objective of achieving political successes rather than military victories.
The USA and its allies could not achieve victory in Iraq, Kosovo or Afghanistan. In Kargil war, too, the political aim and terms of reference prevented the Indian military from crossing the Line of Control and escalating the conflict.
With such a paradigm shift in the nature of conflicts, the military has to be prepared for an elongated spectrum, ranging from aid to civil authority, counter-terrorism, different levels of conventional war, to a war involving weapons of mass destruction. In this environment, the separation between tactical, operational and strategic levels of warfare stands blurred.
Greater mobility, long reach in targeting and more effective communications and control have obscured tactical and strategic boundaries. A small military action along the Line of Control or a terrorists’ act in the hinterland become issues for consideration and decision making at the highest political level.
In such a war or war-like situation, selection of political and military objectives and time available to execute missions becomes crucial for planning and conduct of operations. There has to be complete understanding between the political and military leadership on these issues.
Careful and calibrated orchestration of military operations, diplomacy and domestic political environment become essential for the successful outcome. Continuous control of the “escalatory ladder” requires close political oversight and politico- civil- military interaction. Some important challenges likely to be encountered in a future conflict would be:
· Political definition of the goals and its translation into military objectives. This is always difficult, sometimes uncertain and indirect. Yet its success is critical for the attainment of the political goals.
· Ability to react rapidly to a developing or a surprise crisis. The military would be expected to react quickly: enhance deterrence, arrest deterioration of the situation, diminish adversary’s incentives for escalation, and/or to carry out a riposte.
· Mobilising and sustaining domestic and internationally political support for such military operations would depend upon the ability of the military to operate in a manner that conforms to political legitimacy, i.e. avoid civilian casualties and minimise collateral damage.
· Militarily, the greatest challenge would be the political reluctance to commit a pro-active engagement and its insistence to retain the authority for approving not just key military moves but also many operational decisions.
· Political requirements and military targeting would need a heavy reliance on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for target selection. Airpower, precision guided weapons, standoff armaments, and artillery would be first weapons of choice.
· Employment of ground forces across the borders may be discouraged or delayed.
· Owing to growing transparency of the battlefield, information strategy and its implementation would be important. Political requirements of the military operations to achieve and retain the moral high ground and deny that to the adversary would need a comprehensive and sophisticated media, public affairs and information campaign.
This then leads this writer to ask, is India getting the required advice from our military? Do we have the right national security system and processes for this purpose?
Every nation requires strategically sound — not just militarily effective — advice to political authorities who are representative of and answerable to Parliament and a vibrant civil society.
The general impression in India and abroad is that our military leaders are not in a position to provide such advice to the political leadership. Such an impression appears valid when we ask ourselves:
· Does our military demonstrate critical and creative understanding of the strategic purposes, contributions and consequences of military operational employment and institutional conduct? Does it demonstrate a willingness to speak up, and when necessary speak out, especially in opposition to strategically flawed policies and initiatives? The military brass has a duty not only to the political masters but also to the Constitution and the men that they command.
· Do our civilian authorities demonstrate critical understanding of larger strategic issues, constraints, effects and implications of military operational employment and its institutional conduct? Are they fully conversant with military purposes, capabilities, constraints and effects?
· Are the civilian authorities who oversee the military adequately competent strategically? Do we have the correct political supremacy and oversight of the military or is it very substantially through a bureaucratic proxy? Encouraging a timid military may be good for the civilian ego. But equally, that makes for poor strategic sense.
War, Clausewitz noted, is continuation of politics by other means. Recent wars have involved much greater level of integration of politics, diplomacy and military planning and execution than in the past. Even when a decision to employ the military is made, the political leadership seldom allows autonomous conduct of the war to the military. In practice, there is continuing erosion of the dividing lines between war and politics.
India’s national security framework and its antiquated civil–military relationship have not grown in step with the needs of new security challenges. It is essential that we change our mindsets and attitudes and look beyond narrow boundaries defined by turf and parochialism. For that, we need urgent changes in our security structure and procedures to make it more efficient, resilient, and speedily responsive.
The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff