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Tracking Policy Research on Military Psychology

P. K. Gautam was a Consultant at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • March 17, 2011

    Policy related research should be evaluated for its impact factor and whether it has succeeded in initiating a debate in policy circles. This commentary revisits some issues that were put forward for review in the 2008 book Composition and Regimental System of the Indian Army: Continuity and Change.

    In a recently concluded international conference organised by the Defence Institute of Psychological Research on “Advances in Military Psychology: Soldiers Preparedness,” India-specific case studies and examples were cited by the distinguished speakers. In the policy recommendations of 2008, I had wrongly assumed that there was a dearth of studies on this aspect. I have since found that many papers on the subject have been written by military sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists. There is now sufficient data on troop behaviour, stress and leadership during counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. Modernisation notwithstanding, it is also well established and eloquently argued by Dr. Reuven Gal that the forces which drive men in battle continue to be self preservation, unit cohesion, leadership and commitment. Yet, as he cautioned during his lecture, the old modes of battlefield training at the levels of sub-unit and small unit, such as fire and move, battle craft and drill still had an important role to play. It is no use learning or re-learning these lessons as the Israeli defence force painfully realised in Lebanon in 2006.

    What is, however, not acceptable is that the text book on human psychology prescribed for army officers for competitive examinations, like the staff college, continues to be the Psychology for the Armed Forces edited by E.G Boring, which was written soon after the Second World War. This, in spite of suggestions for change!

    Why has this book not been changed? Who is the policy maker in this case? According to a distinguished civilian psychologist, the academic community will be very glad to help if approached by the services. Bruce L.R. Smith, in his book The Rand Corporation: Case Study of Non Profit Advisory Corporation (1966), argued that the communication of results is almost as important as the research. This commentary is one attempt to communicate. IDSA researchers have been told that busy policy makers have no time to read books or even articles. Newspaper op-eds, however, have an instant impact, and the best are executive summaries and brief comments.

    There is now an Army Training Command besides the Directorate General of Military Training. Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff is also now actively attempting ‘jointness’ in issues that impact force readiness, training and education. The Indian National Defence University is also in its embryonic stage. What needs to be pointed out is that changing a text book is in no way a decision that requires approval and vetting by the highest authority. It has no great financial implications. It is also in no way controversial like the other vexed issues of civil-military relations or arms procurement.

    To be fair, there were possibly competing demands on the time of the decision makers and the line staff in this particular case and so it could not be addressed earlier. This phenomenon is akin to what has been highlighted by Indian academics in the matter of the study of international relations (IR) in India. It has been observed that the syllabus is not updated by universities in India within an acceptable time frame. The result is that, even as late as 1994, the IR theory course for the Masters level at Jawaharlal Nehru University still featured Han’s Morgenthau’s Politics Among Nations.

    It is thus vital for the Indian army to get pamphlets, text books and other books that are contemporary and promote awareness of modern research and thought. Modernisation has to be not only of weapons and organisations but also of the mind. The training establishments and directorates should review the prescribed syllabus and training schedule and approach the DRDO to suggest new text books for competitive examinations. The pamphlets on leadership and military command can likewise be updated by the general staff as per prescribed procedures. This process can be undertaken once every decade.

    Finally, the absence of large scale inter-state wars since 1971 does not mean that training routines to harden troops to withstand the psychological shock of the battlefield can be done away with. Rather, routines such as battle inoculation with live ammunition and other similar activities assume greater importance. Today, a large percentage of troops have no idea of the psychological impact of fire power. The figure could be as high as 99 per cent. The first few days in a shooting war will remain crucial and decisive. Thus, old practices of training troops for inter-state wars must also be revitalised to sustain troop cohesion and build resilience. Battle inoculation is the first priority.