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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

#3441, 23 August 2011
Interrogating Security Expansionism in India

The head of a think-tank writing in The Tribune ( lists military capabilities that India requires up to fifteen years. In strategic circles, ever since remarks of the former army chief were possibly deliberately leaked, the ‘threat’ has been magnified to becoming a ‘twinned’ threat from Pakistan and China combined.

The capabilities deemed desirable are to include a mountain strike corps both in the Northeast and in J&K. It is possible that with time that would mean two for J&K; one for each front. Offensive capabilities for defensive formations are to be created in imitation of those done in the plains prompted by ‘Cold Start’. The three strike corps in the plains are to continue for conventional deterrence purposes. Firepower resources, in particular precision guided munitions, are to be augmented for stand-off degradation, since territory may not be as relevant as an objective. Two rapid reaction-cum-air assault divisions (with an amphibious brigade each) are suggested.

It may be recalled that elsewhere the former Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee had required a wide-ranging intercontinental ballistic missile capability. The DRDO is keen on working on technology for a BMD system, despite its known shortcomings to deliver on more mundane equipment. Further, the Army has requested for placing of the ITBP under its command on the China border. The budget for internal security, handled by the MHA, has gone up three times over the past decade.

This article makes two observations on the foregoing threat-mongering. One is that this indicates expansionism in the security sector, with the consequences that amount to militarization. The second is on possible social consequences, generally neglected in strategic discussions.

The NSA in his Prem Bhatia Memorial Lecture asked for moderation in the criticisms mounted by think-tanks, stating, "This also requires that some of our media and commentators, whose unquestioned brilliance is regularly on display lambasting other countries for their politics and policies, learn the virtues of moderation." His take was, "why create self-fulfilling prophesies of conflict with powerful neighbours like China?"

Our goal must be defence, not offense, unless offense is necessary for deterrence or to protect India's ability to continue its own transformation. The think-tank recommendations, in their own words, go well beyond this: “Genuine deterrence can come only from the ability to take the fight deep into the adversary’s territory through the launching of major offensive operations.”

Clearly, there is a case for debate within the national security system on this divergence, with the NSA persuading the army that their recipe - ‘the defence of porous borders requires us to learn new rules for the use and combination of force, persuasion and deterrence, alongside other more benign means’ - holds water.

The second neglected dimension of the social impact of militarization requires acknowledging firstly that recruiting patterns in the security forces have a built in bias towards the ‘Hindi heartland’. In theory this is based on the recruitable male population of a state. Those traditionally contributing to military numbers stand to gain.

There are two implications. One is in the channelling of revenue expenditure of the government in terms of VI pay commission enhanced salaries and perks into certain areas. It is symptomatic of hidden affirmative action. The second is in the diversity of the country not finding reflection in the composition of security forces. A narrower concept of nationalism, emanating from the Hindi heartland, finds sway. This may be at odds with ethnically and culturally diverse host communities, where the deployment takes place. In areas of insurgency, it accentuates the cultural gap.

A result of increased deployment, particularly in thinly populated borderlands, is on the social landscape. For instance, Gautam Naulakha records that the move to provide the Rashtriya Rifles with cantonment accommodation in Kashmir has elicited a negative response from the people and the state administration since it involves land allocation. Likewise, the increase by two divisions in the Northeast and the recommendation of a strike corps there, implies that there would be a larger visibility and imprint on the consciousness of the people of a different ethnic stock. This remains an understudied dimension.

Also, an over-developed security sector draws discourse, policy direction and resources away from a development to a defence template. Higher returns in the defence sector will draw human resources into it. This has qualitative implications for the competing sectors. A fallout is advantaged groups developing a stake in India’s identity as a ‘garrison state’, at the expense of groups on the territorial and economic margins.

While economic growth has released the monies, this has alternative uses overlooked in threat induced expansion. Sole reliance on strategic considerations amounts to strategic determinism. This could prove particularly hurtful if the strategic calculus is misinformed and, worse, possibly motivated by parochial concerns.

The NSA is right in his warning on the dangers of India as a ‘premature superpower’ (Martin Wolf): “Their rise, as that of Wilhelmine Germany or militarist Japan, was cut short prematurely.”

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Whose command? Whose control?

14 August 2011 - The significance of the strategic nuclear complex was brought out in the controversy over remarks of the retiring Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee that India's response to nuclear attack would be 'very heavy'. The remarks reportedly did not amuse his boss, the defence minister, as they were made when the India-Pakistan foreign ministers talks were ongoing.

To what extent is the Chairman COSC the custodian of the nuclear baton? The current juncture provides an opportunity to reflect on the wider issue of command and control of the nuclear complex, both in peace-time and during wars.

The Saxena task force will reportedly work on a national security doctrine. The idea is that once the national security survey is done, then the structures necessary to keep the country secure would be thought through. The task force's composition and parameters have not been officially released yet; the time is yet ripe to influence its terms of reference to include the nuclear complex.

Command and control of the nuclear complex takes place at different levels. The upper - political - level is of democratic control by the political leadership, which is in turn accountable to the parliament. The second, grand strategic level, is through the national security council system integrating national security experts, the military and technologists. The third one, the strategic level, is the operational one of the Strategic Forces Command.


There are problems at the all three levels. Relatively lesser known are those existing at the strategic level, since the work of the SFC is necessarily shrouded in secrecy. At this level, integrating the technologist into the chain of command is possibly a challenge since the military holds the delivery systems, the atomic energy technologist is entrusted with the weapons core and the DRDO representative is in charge of the weapons assembly.

At the second level, it is well known that the COSC is 'double hatted'. He is not only the chief of his service but 'first among equals' among the three chiefs. He is by the latter responsibility also to oversee the SFC. The relationship between the military man in charge of the SFC, the COSC and the NSA is also somewhat nebulous. This results in inadequate attention to the working of the SFC by either the NSA, who presumably would expect the COSC to do the supervisory role, or the COSC, who cannot possibly have the time.

The creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff would presumably resolve this considerably. But the relationship with the NSA would require working out. The SFC cannot be left to serve to two bosses. Unity of command is a universally hallowed command principle in the services. It must be the CDS who is unambiguously in charge. The NSA heads the Executive Council of which the COSC is currently is part. But with the CDS available, the Political Council needs a military adviser to complement the advice of the NSA.

The belief that such advice will be overly militaristic may not be warranted. After all, civilian militarism is also not unknown. The advantage of having clear lines of command and responsibilities is that it would enable accountability. Keeping the nuclear decision making mechanism and process diffuse may make the weapons appear more usable. Pinpointing responsibility will help with self-deterrence, since post bellum accountability will be easier to exact.

Since the nuclear complex, including the Atomic Energy Commission is partially outside of the defence ministry, the defence reforms would be complete if they included the nuclear complex also. This is the opportunity to domesticate it. Presently, it is overseen by the prime minister, but is notably scientist-bureaucrat driven. As a result, institutional interests have a wider play in the way the complex works than is warranted. The place of nuclear weapons in national security needs spelling out and the reforms could emplace the system that will provision it.

As suggested by a noted nuclear watcher, WPS Sidhu, this can be done by having either a new parliamentary committee serve as check or increase the powers of the standing committee on defence to do the same, 'in camera' if necessary. India's nuclear trajectory is now at a juncture that this can be done with maturity and relative openness, as any democratic state should.

Why are these steps necessary?

A discussion on the upward delegation of nuclear-related decision making is needed now, even if some of it were to take place secretly. India's idea that nuclear weapons are political weapons is right, and India has rightly forsworn being the first to introduce them into conflict. Still, the country's proactive conventional doctrine is out of step with its nuclear doctrine, as is evident from India continuing to think of 'heavy' response. With Pakistan's unveiling its tactical nuclear weapon, Nasr, as noted by Manoj Joshi in his columns, the nuclear factor is far more in the foreground than is being acknowledged.

The defence sector cannot be reformed in isolation of its place in national security - that could cause an imbalance in governance. The 'defence versus development' debate is not yet a settled one, either; this is all the more reason to have Parliament more involved in the oversight of the nuclear complex. Ultimately, the elected representatives are the ones who have responsibility for ensuring the security of the nation, and also for delivering economic and social development. The legislature's role as check on the executive can be fulfilled as well, with parliamentary oversight.

The right step to take now is to broaden the Saxena task force's terms of reference. While it is likely to take a deep look at the CDS issue, this is insufficient. The task force must look beyond the defence ministry into the relationship between the legislature and the executive. The legislature should, on its own, bring this on to its agenda, since the executive is unlikely to think of widening the remit of the task force on its own