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Rethinking Strategic Doctrine in the Indo-Pak Context

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  • February 20, 2009
    Fellows' Seminar
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chair: Hari Prasad
    Discussants: Arun Sahgal and Manpreet Sethi

    Strategic doctrine is taken here to be implemented by a combine of war fighting land, air, naval and joint doctrines in conjunction with nuclear doctrine. While with respect to China, India has a doctrine of ‘dissuasive deterrence’, it is contended in this paper that with respect to Pakistan it has moved from a deterrent doctrine to a more proactive and offensive doctrine that potentially countenances compellence. This paper looks at India’s strategic doctrine with respect to Pakistan. The hypothesis of this paper is that there has been a movement in India’s war fighting doctrine from deterrence to also countenance compellence. The paper attempts to assess this by first establishing the nature of the change and then analyzing its implications with respect to Indian grand strategy, prospective political aims in conflict and likely effectiveness. The proposed direction of change forms its concluding recommendations.

    From a defensive and reactive mindset of the earlier years that gave rise to criticism that India lacks a strategic culture, change in a compressed time period has been witnessed of late. These changes in nuclear and conventional doctrines are contrary to the logical expectation of the Nuclear Age necessitating deterrent doctrines. India is the status quo and stronger power in the regional India-Pakistan dyad. This should have logically led to a deterrent doctrine with a defensive bias, since India, not seeking any territorial gains at the expense of others, could be expected to be more interested in preserving its interests and position. This has not been entirely borne out and instead India has apparently acquired a more offensive strategic doctrine in relation to its western front.

    At the structural level, the strategic cul de sac forced on India by Pakistan’s continuing proxy war is a reason for this change. Pakistan’s venturesome strategy has been attributed to the advent of the Nuclear Age dating to the covert acquisition of nuclear capability by Pakistan by the late eighties. In order to get Pakistan to forego its doctrine of sub conventional provocation, deterrence has its limitations. Instead, compellence, going beyond the coercive diplomacy of the Operation Parakram kind, may be necessary.

    India’s straitened defence budgets through the nineties - brought on by liberalization – lead to a drawdown of the conventional deterrent. The ‘stability-instability paradox’ made its appearance with Pakistan choosing to engage India at the sub-conventional level. Stability at the upper nuclear and conventional level, led to instability at the sub conventional level. This climaxed in Pakistani incursion across the Line of Control in Kargil in 1999. It has been posited that there is space for conventional operations between sub conventional and nuclear war. India has therefore moved towards an offensive doctrine that can be characterized as one of ‘compellence’, when the land, sea, air and joint doctrines are taken conjointly with nuclear doctrine.

    The prognosis of future Limited War is that it would be short duration, high intensity and from a ‘cold start’. It is expected that international pressures and need to limit costs would entail a short duration. To offset international pressures in the crisis management stage and for getting enemy defence under prepared, a ‘cold start’ has been deemed necessary. This would enable India to make military gains through surprise, by undercutting the mobilization differential that was earlier in favour of Pakistan.

    India’s land warfare doctrine is essentially to create the conditions of launch of the major offensive by the strike corps. A salient ‘fire break’ between the pivot corps offensives in the first phase and the following strike corps deep offensives in the next phase can be discerned, even though these offensive operations are likely to be in a seamless sequence, not lending itself to breakdown in ‘phases’. This ‘fire break’ constitutes the crucial decision point in which India’s strategic, political and diplomatic might needs to be combined with the impending application of military force to ensure Pakistan complies with Indian aims. The launch of the strike corps would be equivalent of a failure of grand strategy for it would bring the nuclear factor unmistakably into the reckoning. Since offensive operations would have to reckon with the nuclear reaction threshold of Pakistan, a nuclear doctrine of ‘massive’ punitive retaliation comes under question. There is a case for move of nuclear doctrine to ‘flexible’ punitive retaliation.

    There is need for maximizing synergy between the politico-diplomatic and military prongs of strategy to coincide with the ‘firebreak’ between launch of pivot and strike corps offensives. To keep these a seamless continuum is to unleash a ‘doomsday machine’. Launch of strike corps offensives, unless it is as a counter offensive to Pakistani corps offensives as part of their ‘offensive defence’ doctrine, would be to enter an uncertain strategic realm. Therefore, a public shift from ‘massive’ punitive retaliation to ‘flexible’ punitive retaliation is in order at the nuclear level. At the conventional level must be taken into cognizance the ‘firebreak’ between the offensives of the pivot and strike corps as the key exit point with war termination pressures being maximized by an orchestration of Indian war grand strategy to culminate at this juncture, if not prior to launch of cold start forces.

    The following points were raised during the discussion:

    • It is difficult to make a sharp distinction between compellence and deterrence as the former is subsumed in the latter.
    • India’s doctrine is not an offensive one, but is reactive and therefore lends itself to deterrence as against compellence.
    • Better integration and jointness among the services is required to achieve war aims in future wars.

    Prepared by by Dr. Amarjeet Singh, Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.