by Col R Hariharan (Retd)
India’s National Security Advisor Mr Shivshankar Menon, while delivering the Cariappa Memorial Lecture last October summarised the changing Indian security environment as: “If Asia is our theatre, South Asia is our home.”
Asian theatre is vast – after all it is the world’s largest and most populous continent covering 30 percent of the world’s land space and hosting 60 percent of global population. India’s growth into an important economic power in this vast region must encompass a vision which stretches territorially in extent from the Bosphorous to Western Pacific. In keeping with this, India’s strategic vision has to expand from local to regional to Asian theatre keeping pace with its complexities.
Since the Second World War, the concept of security itself has expanded to accommodate a whole range of non-military aspects to the traditional concept of power assertion through physical domination. The expanded dimensions include human resource development, energy, marine, space and cyberspace. It has to reckon with two potential destabilisers that spill over national boundaries: transnational terrorism, and real time media influencing people’s perceptions. In short, strategic security has ceased to be the exclusive domain of defence establishment, but become an inclusive part of national vision.
Traditional tools of strategic power assertion like diplomacy and military superiority are inadequate to manage this complex strategic scene. Strategic management has to be holistic and involve all limbs of government as also the country’s population. This is no easy task; even yesteryear’s super power like the U.S. and an aspirant global power like China have to grapple hard to manage the complexities of their strategic needs. Apparently, countries ruled by a single party rather than multi-party democracies can probably achieve results faster. We have contrasting examples of this in China and India, which started off almost at par in early sixties in strategic preparedness.
In China, the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) does the thinking for the people; this enabled it to develop a national vision for 50 years. Despite the inherent weakness of this process, China has been able to manage its time and space to achieve timely strategic goals. Despite occasional upheavals generated by lack of democracy, and periodic hiccups and aberrations of dogmatism and iron-clad bureaucracy, China has managed to translate its vision to a large extent. While this may not be considered an ideal method by democracies, it has been result oriented.
India’s quest on this score has been rather tardy. The vision expounded by Nehru was hijacked by political sloganeering in the seventies. Populism and partisan politics have perpetuated this as the Holy Grail without updating its relevance to emerging global paradigms. As result, instead of a collective national vision, we have a hazy recipe for action concocted by political expediency. After Nehru, only President Abdul Kalam broke the trend and presented a technology-oriented national vision. This laudable effort lacked resonance within the political establishment. It is probably buried now in the parliament library in the midst of other unread tomes.
Planning and execution have become an exercise in economic and fiscal management, tempered by populism. This has resulted in three conspicuous weaknesses in strategic management: compromises in planning and execution, inadequate strategic coordination and lack of accountability for time and cost overruns. The results are neither timely nor responsive to the dynamics of environment. Inevitably it has taken its toll on national security preparedness.
The glaring contrast in the results achieved in China and India in this respect is astounding if not alarming. China across our Northern borders in Tibet now has the ability to build up to 34 divisions of troops as it has developed 58,000 km of road network and nine new airfields. PLA modernisation has kept pace with the requirements of modern battlefield. This is what has given new confidence to China to assertively project its power in South and East China seas recently.
On the other hand, India has been struggling to build 600 km of roads in strategically sensitive borders, a quarter of which are to be completed only in 2017! Indian army has not been able to modernise in a decade the basic weapon systems of the infantryman and the gunner. According to General VK Singh, former Chief of Army Staff, army inventories are short of arms, ammunition, and equipment worth Rs 60,000 crores. Added to this, army’s operational readiness has been affected by a staggering 20 percent shortage of officers. Continuous exposure to counter-terrorism and counter insurgency operations for over five decades has skewed operational priorities. These long standing weaknesses are likely to adversely reflect on military capabilities; army can probably get only two of its three strike corps into action on their own strength, without milking other field formations. The other two services are probably better placed than the army. Yet the navy is saddled with smallest number of submarines than before and the air force is destined to have the smallest squadron strength in its history for a few years more.
We need to take some drastic action to halt our slide into sloth and inefficiency. In simple terms, what India needs is a grand strategy. I cannot but recommend the prescription for grand strategy given seven decades ago by Major Liddel Hart, the World War II military historian and strategist. He wrote:
“The role of grand strategy – higher strategy – is to co-ordinate and direct all the resources of a nation, or band of nations, towards the attainment of the political object of the war – the goal defined by fundamental policy. Grand strategy should both calculate and develop the economic resources and man-power of nations in order to sustain the fighting services. Also the moral resources – for to foster the people’s willing spirit is often as important as to possess the more concrete forms of power. Grand strategy, too, should regulate the distribution of power between the several services, and between the services and industry. Moreover, fighting power is but one of the instruments of grand strategy – which should take account of and apply the power of financial pressure, and, not least of ethical pressure, to weaken the opponent’s will.
“While the horizon of strategy is bounded by the war, grand strategy looks beyond the war to the subsequent peace. It should not only combine the various instruments, but so regulate their use as to avoid damage to the future state of peace – for its security and prosperity.”
There is no other way than to do it. Courtesy: Centre for Land Warfare Studies