The blog takes a stand for peace. It comprises my epublications on strategic affairs and peace studies issues in South Asia. Views expressed are personal. My three books Think South Asia; Subcontinental Musings and South Asia: In it Togehter, with my published commentaries can be downloaded free from the links provided. Hard copies can be ordered at no profit basis from http://cinnamonteal.in/authors/firdaus-ahmed/. @firdyahmed
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Tuesday, March 18, 2014
What Did Manmohan Singh Mean By ‘Disastrous’?
By Firdaus Ahmed
17 March, 2014 Countercurrents.org
http://www.countercurrents.org/ahmed170314.htm www.milligazette.com 16-28 Feb 2014 http://www.milligazette.com/print/issue/16-28-february-2014
Cyber space is filled with jokes on the prime minister and his silence. Therefore, when he does speak, he needs being taken seriously. In his press conference, itself a first time in his second term, he made the point that if his successor were to be Modi, it would be disastrous for India. The reasoning he gave also needs considering. He said that presiding over organised killings in the streets was no way to display strength.
What kind of disaster did the prime minister have in mind? The mention of ‘strength’ in the same breath is instructive. Modi will be out to prove his is ‘strong’. He is well aware that killings – not to mention the rapes - in Gujarat in 2002 have not served to establish that, as pointedly mentioned by the prime minister. The ‘need’ to display and project strength is peculiar to right wing extremists. To them, Hindus have been emasculated by a millennium under ‘invaders’. Their psychological need is to recover and demonstrate their ‘manhood’. This perverse ‘need’ prompted the rapes and killings in first place.
Modi’s playing Nero for the duration presented him, in their mind’s eye, as a strongman, creating the space for them to fulfil their ‘need’ and thereafter preserving his flock from prosecution. Modi’s quest to install the ‘tallest’ statue, of the original ‘strongman’ himself, Sardar Patel, is a psychological pointer. It is a separate matter that AG Noorani has demonstrated in his latest work on the ‘police action’ in Hyderabad that the Luah Purush was himself a Hindu nationalist, and through his unnecessary military recourse in Hyderabad, is not necessarily the only or best role model to follow.
India’s strategic culture has been evolving under the influence of change in its political culture. The latter has jerked towards the right ever since the Congress started flirting with religion since the early eighties. Its endeavour to take over the agenda of the right wing, by symbolic gestures all through the eighties such as visits to Vaishnodevi by Indira Gandhi and the opening of the Babri Masjid locks by her son, boomeranged. Unwilling to be outflanked by the Congress the BJP took up religious issues to attempt make out an unbeatable vote bank from the majority community, even as it accused the Congress of playing vote bank politics. A political culture trending towards Hindutva started impacting India’s strategic culture by the nineties.
This was evident in the strategic shift taking place over the post cold war period with India veering towards foreign and strategic policies changes, such as opening up to the US and to Israel. Strategic community veterans took the opportunity to make their pitch for a more assertive, if not a more aggressive India. This is best exemplified in their tutoring of an American visitor, George K. Tanham. He was from the think tank, Rand Corporation, and in India to make out where India was headed. They conditioned his report with their views that India lacked a strategic culture, owing to its supposedly Hindu cultural ethos that included a non-linear concept of time and non-violence that made it less receptive to having a strategic culture. The argument was that since it did not have a strategic culture, it needed to get one, particularly since it was surrounded by enemies in league with each other, Pakistan and China.
The principal theme thereafter has been that India is a reactive, defensive state. Its political leadership is known for its pusillanimity, with its current defence minister derided as ‘Saint Antony’ for tying down military modernisation with bureaucratic knots in order that another Bofors scandal does not erupt to set back Congress chances. The corollary in this strategic perspective that has acquired prominence over the 2000s is that India needs a dynamic, ‘strong’, leader. By this yardstick, the performance of the Congress princeling in his interview with the television strongman, Arnab Goswami, is taken as showing him as timid, with another set of internet jokes doing the rounds for to the effect of political advantage of the BJP. In contrast, the image of the contender, NaMo, is built up as a ‘strong’ leader, the messiah who will deliver India to the P5 table; deliver its comeuppance to Pakistan; and get China to back off.
The problem will be when NaMo gets to the chair and takes the opportunity to enact the leader that this strategic subculture wishes for India. Leveraging Modi’s rise, the denizens of this strategic subculture will take over the strategic policy space. Their input will be music to his ears. In his case it would be a commitment trap, since he will have to demonstrate to himself and his supporters his will-to-power, given the image built up for him by the likes of Vanzara, now in Sabarmati jail, over the graves of innocents such as Ishrat Jahan. Whereas his ideological predecessor in the chair, Vajpayee, blasted India into the nuclear club, he, having been foreign minister as early as the late seventies, was aware enough of strategic nuances to keep India out of a full scale war in Kargil and in the post parliament attack phase. A self-awareness of his limitations and knowledge of the deceit that goes into image building will push Modi over the edge into mistaking the political utility of image of a strongman to being a strongman.
With India’s growing power at his call and several ongoing arguments with its neighbours, ranging from a post US Afghanistan to who controls the South China Sea, Modi will create occasion to exercise the power. This is where potential disaster awaits India. Egged on by the strategic subculture that wishes India to exercise its military muscle in order to dispel the mistaken self-belief of an 'effete' Hindu culture, Modi may end up fancy himself as a regional warlord. In a region that has plenty of nuclear tinder, this can prove disastrous.
The prime minister did not have this in mind when he predicted a Modi tenure being disastrous. He was likely instead thinking about internal security and stability involving a strained relations developing between its majority and minority. That is also a likely outcome, since it is internal political capital that Modi would be chasing. He will try and conflate the external and internal ‘Other’ and presenting himself as the difference between Indian weakness and strength, he could well bring nuclear contaminated disaster on to India. It is for this reason that while it can be assessed that Manmohan Singh is largely right in his prognostication, here’s hoping for the sake of India, that he is proven wrong.
In his Subbu Forum Society lecture a year ago, Shyam Saran, Chair of India’s National Security Advisory Board, referred to the National Command Authority while talking of India’s nuclear command and control mechanisms in place. This would have been confusing for those who knew that India’s apex decision making authority in nuclear matters is the Nuclear Command Authority.
National Command Authority is incidentally the term Pakistan has for its nuclear decision making body. This can be explained away as a typographical error in Saran’s speech. However, if such errors creep into India’s nuclear texts once too often, there is a problem. This article makes the case that there is indeed a problem that brings into question India’s control of its nuclear weapons complex.
The most glaring instance is India’s use of the term ‘massive’ in its nuclear retaliatory doctrine. The term ‘massive’ owes to ‘massive retaliation’ that figured in early Cold War history. The idea was that the US would reply with massive force, both conventional and nuclear, in case of Soviet military adventurism anywhere. The doctrine was over time appropriately modified to ‘flexible response’ in light of Soviet acquisition of nuclear retaliatory means to target the US national homeland.
FOR FULL ARTICLE SEE http://indiatogether.org/gaffes-in-india-s-nuclear-doctrine-op-ed
One criticism of the term has it that the official doctrine was adopted in the wake of India’s ‘redeployment’ of troops from their Operation Parakram positions on the border back to barracks. The stepping back by the nationalist BJP-led government was sought to be compensated by a stepping up of the nuclear rhetoric. That rhetoric should sear official doctrine is itself an indictment of the process of doctrine making, if not of the doctrine itself.
Massive nuclear retaliation was promised by India in case of enemy ‘first strike’. First Strike in the nuclear lexicon is distinct from ‘first use’. Nuclear first use is the introduction of nuclear weapons into a conflict. One manner of ‘first use’ is in the form of ‘first strike’, defined as the attempt to degrade the enemy’s nuclear retaliatory capability to levels in which it is unable to mount a counter strike. An adversary need not resort to nuclear first use in a first strike mode always. Nuclear use in the first instance could also be lower order nuclear strike, such as tactical nuclear use.
FOR FULL ARTICLE SEE - http://indiatogether.org/
However, for lower order nuclear first use or strikes with low ‘opprobrium quotient’, going counter value is avoidably escalatory, since the adversary would not spare India’s cities in counter retaliation. This strategic aspect apart, that should in itself lend pause to India’s nuclear retaliatory choice consideration, it is clear that India confused the term ‘first strike’ with ‘first use’.
There is little reason to do so since the term No First Use is a familiar one. Since ‘No First Strike’ is not used in such cases, there was little reason for India to adapt the term for its own purposes. That the phrasing of its doctrine was not cognizant of this distinction suggests a deficiency that needs alerting against.
There are other egregious errors that need recounting. Take what is regarded as the ‘central pillar’ in India’s nuclear doctrine: No First Use (NFU). While India wishes others to believe that its NFU pledge is without a caveat, this is not what the written word suggests. In the Draft Nuclear Doctrine, NFU was qualified by, and confused with, the negative security guarantee. NFU was not taken as applicable for states aligned to the state that resorted to nuclear first use.
There are no readily conceivable circumstances that required this qualification of the NFU and the negative security guarantee. It was akin to threatening Myanmar or Bangladesh with nuclear retaliation in the event that either was aligned with China in a conflict in which China used nuclear weapons against India. A second distant possibility is in case Afghanistan was to serve the purpose of enhancing its ‘strategic depth’ for Pakistan in a conflict in which Pakistan resorts to nuclear first use.
To its credit India excluded this phrasing from its 2003 doctrine. Nevertheless, its confusion between NFU and negative security guarantees continued. To its NFU policy, it added: ‘Non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.’ This is quite unnecessary since non-nuclear states cannot be expected to resort to first use in the first place.
Further, it ended up introducing another caveat to its NFU pledge: that NFU would be redundant in case of ‘major’ attack by chemical or biological weapons. This invited criticism that the circumstance was yet again difficult to comprehend, since all South Asian states and China were signatories to the comprehensive treaties banning both categories of weapons. If terrorists were in mind when India thought up this caveat, it was equally difficult to comprehend as to how it could retaliate against a state for the atrocity.
Criticism on this count by a foreign observer of India’s nuclear scene, Scott Sagan, was apt. He said that this was an instance of India aping the US that had at the time used the nuclear threat to dampen any thought in Saddam’s mind of going nuclear in case of US invasion. This yet again shows India looking outwards for its nuclear inspiration and messing up in the process. The uncertainty surrounding the nuclear doctrine is only compounded when its National Security Advisor, who heads the Executive Council and is secretary to the Political Council of the Nuclear Command Authority, makes similar mistakes. In his speech at the golden jubilee of the National Defence College in 2010, he restated India’s NFU as: ‘no first use against non-nuclear weapon states’.
As pointed out by Vipin Narang, a close observer of India’s nuclear scene, this was mistaken, since the NFU is a guarantee to states with nuclear capability and the ability to resort to nuclear first use, should they so choose. It is not NFU but negative security guarantees that are applicable to non-nuclear states. Though the speech writer can take the rap in this case, the fact is that nuclear doctrinal statements that are vehicles for deterrence related messaging cannot be taken lightly.
While all this does sound like nit-picking, the fact is that such mistakes – repeated and unnecessary – point to a worrying amateurishness in India’s nuclear domain. This is less liable to detection than the more visible problems with India’s submarine arm, evident from the three submarine-related accidents over the past year. The latter bring into question India’s ability to deploy and sustain a nuclear submarine-based ‘triad’, while the doctrinal gaffes revealed here detract from India’s presenting itself as a responsible nuclear power.
Clearly, India’s nuclear establishment could do with continuing scrutiny so that it does not add to the threat India is otherwise subject to due to its very location in a tough nuclear neighbourhood.
17 March 2014
- See more at: http://indiatogether.org/gaffes-in-india-s-nuclear-doctrine-op-ed#sthash.EVTJn4Ir.dpuf