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Abhishek Manchanda asked: What is the difference between ‘disengagement’ and ‘de-escalation’?

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  • Deepak Kumar replies: In military parlance, the term ‘disengagement’ can be defined as withdrawal from a stated military policy, military involvement, or at the tactical level, a military position. There are three important tenets of disengagement according to a RAND study by Hans Speier: (a) disengagement from enemy requires bilateral action, (b) disengagement can be forced if enemy lacks a credible threat, and (c) disengagement decisions can be based on present and future intentions. At the strategic level, disengagement can be a phase of the conflict that lies between victory in war and war termination (here we must distinguish between victory in war and success in military operations). At the operational and tactical levels, military disengagement denotes ‘breaking off’ from a military action with the enemy and withdrawal of forces from that battle or action. Military disengagements can be a means to allow for other elements of national power to operate, while at the same time freeing the military for future needs. 

    The term military ‘de-escalation’ relates to the spectrum of conflict. A conflict can range from the lowest pre-crisis stage and diplomatic actions to military posturing to non-conventional war to limited war and further to a full blown out conventional war, and at the farthest end of the spectrum, the nuclear war. Military de-escalation refers to moving from a higher spectrum to a lower spectrum of conflict.    

    Posted on January 12, 2021

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.