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Net Security Provider: India’s Out of Area Contingency Operations

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  • December 03, 2012
    Book Release

    The Indian military as a net security provider in the global system has had vast experience of conducting operations beyond borders – be it anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia or in overseas humanitarian and disaster relief operations. As India’s broader security interests are gradually spreading outwards in line with the expansion of its strategic frontiers, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) commissioned a task force consisting of scholars from its Military Affairs Centre that analyzed previous deployments of the Indian military outside its borders, including in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO), evacuation of Indian citizens from conflict zones and in active operations like Sri Lanka from 1987–90 and the Maldives in 1988. It also examined the current capacity and trends for executing such operations. The task force makes recommendations not only for the Armed Forces but for other relevant agencies as well, such as the Ministries of Defence and External Affairs, the National Security Council, National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) and the Cabinet Secretariat. The report of the Task Force was released by Lt. Gen. N.C. Marwah, PVSM, AVSM, Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (CISC) on 03 December 2012.

    Col. Vivek Chadha, Research Fellow, began the proceedings with a brief presentation of the Task Force Report. He stated that the rationale behind the exercise was to analyze an important subject matter that is rarely dealt with even by the Services. The report is more of a primer than an exhaustive study. The objective behind the exercise was to examine and evaluate the capabilities required for a range of Out of Area Contingencies including humanitarian relief, UN Peacekeeping Operations, and evacuation operations.

    One of the key findings of the report was that in the absence of declassification of official documents, an objective assessment of past UN and military operations becomes difficult if not impossible. This has had a negative impact in terms of the ability to learn the right lessons and formulate Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Secondly, despite years of experience in out of area operations, there is a lack of regional and area specialization in the Indian Armed Forces. Thirdly, there is a need for greater clarity on the role of the armed forces vis-à-vis the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) during preparation for disaster relief. Fourthly, robust contingency plans need to be created to be able to rapidly cope with changing political dynamics. Finally, in terms of military capability, the following are needed: deployment and lift capacities; better strategic communication, adequate training and preparation for contingencies, and improved logistics.

    The two key organizational changes suggested by the task force are: to set up an Out Of Area Contingencies (OOAC) Directorate at the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) under a two star officer; and to set up an emergency division with a mix of civilian and military officers within the Ministry of External Affairs.

    Session 1: Key Note Address by Lt. Gen. N.C. Marwah PVSM, AVSM, CISC

    General Marwah began his key note address by emphasizing the fact that India would be playing a vital role in maintaining the 21st century Asian order alongside China. At this crucial time, it is required of India’s strategic community to shed its continental mindset and look outwards. He highlighted the Prime Minister’s statement at the Combined Commanders’ Conference that India’s strategic horizon extends from the Strait of Hormuz to the Strait of Malacca. This frame of reference means that India needs to be well prepared for a range of military operations including peacekeeping, humanitarian relief and intervention operations at the invitation of host governments.

    General Marwah emphasized the importance of intra- and inter-governmental coordination as 22 government departments become involved during crises and emergencies overseas. Complimenting the task force for the report, he agreed with the recommendation that there is a need to improve standard operating procedures especially for evacuation operations. He also suggested that the crisis management group at Integrated Defence Staff could be involved at the earliest. As the armed forces will remain the first responder during crises, he underlined the need for clarity on the role of NDRF vis-à-vis the armed forces. On the oft ignored issue of strategic communication and perception management, he proposed embedding the media during out of area operations.

    In the discussion that followed, issues such as importance of intelligence, better capacities and the need for a pragmatic approach in formulating operating procedures were raised. General Marwah reiterated the need for an inter-ministerial group to prepare non-combat responses in a synergized manner. He also stressed that emergencies such as Libya require strengthening of concerned Indian missions for a short term. On capacity enhancement, he informed the audience that airlift capabilities have been improved and that the Government had better structures in place than before. He ended by emphasising some key recurrent lessons from India’s experience, namely the need for a clear political direction, better intelligence, strong command and control and improved logistics. The Director General of IDSA concluded the session by highlighting the fact that Out Of Area contingencies are broad spectrum and varied. Hence they require sustained discussion including at the political level.

    Session 2: Panel Discussion:

    Chair: Vice Admiral PS Das

    Discussants: Air Marshal M. Matheswaran, Ambassador (Retd.) Neelam D. Sabharwal, Professor C. Raja Mohan, Brigadier (Retd.) Rumel Dahiya

    Air Marshal Matheswaran opined that to understand what out of area operations entail, the country must have clearly articulated national interests and strategic boundaries. The latter gets re-defined from time to time depending on the ability to define interests on a global scale. He lamented that for years, India has been boxed into what he called the South Asian syndrome. Now, with India’s economic interests expanding, strategic boundaries would have to be redefined.

    There are various types of Out Of Area Operations: Intervention, humanitarian relief, UN Peace Keeping, etc. In his opinion, India being a rising power cannot keep itself away from international military intervention. It is obvious that Out of Area Operations require jointness, which highlights the need for a decision making mechanism at the IDS and not with individual Services. On capabilities in terms of resources, it is only natural that the operations would be airpower intensive. The country will have significant airlift capacities once the C-17s are inducted beginning 2013. Besides capacities, he underscored the importance of the speed of deployment for successful operations. As time is of the essence, the decision making process has to be streamlined.

    Air Marshal Matheswaran stressed the need for capacity building in existing institutions including the IDS. He expressed dismay about the fact that the International Affairs Division at IDS is yet to be made functional. Finally, he pointed out the need for clarity at the political level. Alluding to the shortcomings during IPKF operations in Sri Lanka, he warned against repetition of such operations as they would have a long-lasting detrimental effect on India’s overall strategic capabilities.

    The Deputy Director General of IDSA, Brigadier Dahiya, began his presentation by stating that the purpose of undertaking the study was to initiate discussion on a topic that will become more and more important in the coming years. He reminded the audience that six million Indian citizens live in what could be considered the most unpredictable region in the world. In a pan-regional crisis situation, it is very likely that most of them would be trapped. In addition, many citizens from India’s neighbouring nations would also need to be evacuated. The onus will inevitably be on India to undertake evacuation operations.
    Reflecting on Operation Pawan, Brigadier Dahiya said that most agencies at that time were working at cross purposes. There were serious issues with command and control. Even the Prime Minister was being advised by different agencies. Overall, Operation Pawan was a classic case of how not to conduct Out Of Area operations. He ended by asserting that there is need for a centralized mechanism to allocate resources during OOACs.

    Ambassador Neelam Sabharwal began her remarks by stating that India’s out of area operations cover a wide range, and that they are in line with India’s profile as a proactive actor in the international system as well as in consonance with its national interests. Ambassador Sabharwal highlighted two challenges for India’s out of area operations. One set of challenges relate to hardware, i.e., capability and infrastructure.

    The other challenge is institutional software – mechanisms for decision making and coordination. On the latter, she expressed her skepticism about the ability of IDS to coordinate between different ministries and departments at New Delhi as well as with different State Governments. In her opinion, there is no other way but the establishment of a mechanism at the apex level headed by the Cabinet Secretary. She seconded the task force recommendation for a non-territorial emergency division at the Ministry of External Affairs. She concluded by driving home the need for an evaluation of both national and international best practices so that there is no reinvention of the wheel during crises.
    Professor C. Raja Mohan opined that a large number of issues related to the use of force are coming to the fore ranging from institutional mechanisms to capacity building. Drawing on Indian mythology, Professor Raja Mohan said that India continues to suffer from the ‘Hanuman Syndrome’. Just as the mighty Hanuman did not know about his inherent strengths, India continues to remain unaware of its own strengths. It is not Indians but Americans and others who have come to recognize the military capabilities of an emerging power in the changing international geo-political landscape. India has always had surplus military force. After the British left, India had border conflicts with two big states, but it still had surplus military capacity to send troops to UN mandated missions. So far, close to 160,000 troops have participated in UN missions.

    Dwelling on the changed economic profile of India, Professor Raja Mohan pointed out the fact that whereas annual trade was US $22 billion in 1980, the monthly trade deficit in 2012 comes close to this figure. The indisputable fact is that India’s sustained economic growth and even survivability is dependent on importing natural resources from abroad. At a conceptual level, this reality of existential interdependence poses serious questions about the relevance of strategic autonomy. On terminology, he said that Out Of Area Operations is a NATO term. There is another classical term in the military lexicon for such contingencies – expeditionary operations. There are reasons for which people inside the establishment are averse to using the phrase; but there is no reason why scholars outside the system have to be shy or be deterred in this regard.

    Professor Raja Mohan, while agreeing on the need for de-classification of official documents, questioned whether the information that is already available is being adequately processed. There appears to be a self-imposed bar on debating India’s pre-1947 military history, thereby refusing to acknowledge India’s seminal contribution towards furthering international security. While India continues to ignore its own contribution during World War I – a war that even the nationalist movement threw its weight behind, people in the West are studying the Indian Army’s operations in Afghanistan during the 19th Century. Even India’s post-1947 foreign policy, according to Professor Raja Mohan, has been misread and mislabeled. One of the significant decisions taken by Pandit Nehru was to sign three treaties with the objective of providing security to India’s smaller neighbours, viz. Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim.

    On UN Peace Keeping Operations, Professor Raja Mohan criticized the excessive focus on the subject without either attempting to understand the rationale or comprehend the change in scale and scope over the years. The fundamental question is whether peacekeeping is an end in itself or whether it is instrumental in securing broader interests and not necessarily a permanent seat at the Horse Shoe table. In other words, he would like the strategic community to break the intellectual straight jacket that UNPKO has imposed. A much larger question is about sending Indian troops without a mandate from the United Nations. In other words, will India wait for China’s assent at the UNSC to secure its own interests? Policy debates have not evolved on this critical issue. As its strategic space will inevitably expand, India might well have to participate in multi-national coalition operations in the future. Complimenting the task force for a very useful report, Professor Raja Mohan suggested complementing the report with a separate task force study carried out at the IDSA on issues related to military diplomacy (this report is in the process of publication).
    During the discussion that followed these presentations, there was unanimous agreement that capacity building across organizations is the need of the hour. It is critical to evaluate existing structures on an objective basis and remove deadwood wherever required. It is equally important to educate the political class and permanent bureaucracy about the emergence of new challenges for India, which require refinement in strategic thinking. The Director General of IDSA pointed out that compartmentalization of national security has remained a problem in the country, and this needs to be overcome. He also underlined the importance of aligning capacity building with security doctrine so as not to create confusion. Furthermore, a benign projection becomes necessary in the current context. The chairperson, Vice Admiral P.S. Das, concluded the discussion by stating that political mandates and contingencies keep changing. In a democracy, the political authority will be involved right from the beginning. Structures and mechanisms will have to cope with political involvement.

    Report prepared by Dr. Sundar M.S., Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).