PM Modi at Leh, accompanied by CDS Bipin Rawat and Army Chief General MM Naravane | Twitter @bjp4india
File photo | PM Modi at Leh, accompanied by CDS Bipin Rawat and Army Chief General MM Naravane | Twitter @bjp4india
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The strategic community might have received more cud to chew on when an independent and multidisciplinary Indian group released a Discussion Document titled ‘India’s Path to Power – Strategy in a World Adrift’. on 2 October. In 2011, several members of this group were associated with Non-Alignment 2.0. It says: “The guiding premise of the present document is that India’s external and internal environments are now being shaped by tectonic shifts—incipient trends that require thinking afresh and calibrating India’s strategy on a broad front. A new world needs new ideas from time to time….This document is an effort to focus our attention on the need for concentrated strategic thought and encouraging a debate about the hard choices that confront India in the decade ahead.”

Adopting the perspective of a decade, the strategic compass of the document attempts to steer India’s path to power through the realisation of its potential in a world adrift in the waters of growing geopolitical tensions that could severely test India’s statecraft. Adopting a strategic approach is imperative and doing the right things paramount in contrast to just doing it right. The writings on India’s geopolitical wall are seemingly ominous, and what the country decides about the role of force may take centre stage. Without it, India’s development of military power and its application could cost us dearly.

A doctrine on the use of force, therefore, finds its place in the document. It is considered essential to shaping India’s coercive instruments and laying down guidelines for their application. Force is assumed to take many forms – kinetic, non-kinetic or a combination of both. However, its utility must be circumscribed by being cognisant of the presence of nuclear weapons. The role of force must be purposed to achieve political objectives through synergised application with other instruments of statecraft.


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How and when to use force

The strategic landscape in which force could play a role would consist of territorial integrity, sovereignty, and key nodes in our interdependence with the world. An illustrative list would include responses to territorial losses through any change of status quo; acts of terrorism; violations of agreements to not use force; the non-kinetic attack on critical infrastructure and strategic assets; securing of trade routes through maritime, land, and airspaces especially in the Indo-Pacific; securing of our assets abroad and in the global commons; challenges to internal security.

In applying force, strategic advantages in one domain could be used to offset the adversary’s actions in another domain. India should respond to calls for military assistance from friendly countries in the manner it deems fit. Coordinated use of force with strategic partners should be resorted to with prior agreement and understanding. In a multilateral context, India’s military forces could be placed under UN Command or operate with strategic partners under mutual agreements. The use of nuclear weapons will be governed by the Nuclear Doctrine.

The political leadership will decide when the use of force should be resorted to and for what political objective. But the decision must emerge from a continuum of politico-military dialogue that is anchored in an integrated institutional setting. The need is for convergence between desired political objectives and outcomes that can be militarily delivered. The availability of resources and the constraints on the use of force will be politically determined. Close monitoring of the preparation and application of force by regular political-military dialogue will enable adjustments both in the objectives pursued and in the constraints imposed. Currently, the mechanisms for civil-military dialogue have room for improvement, especially in long-term planning.

For long-term planning, the competing demands for various weapon platforms have been severely limited by lack of strategic guidance in the form of a national security doctrine/strategy. This is coupled with a weakness in research and development capacity; non-optimal realisation of existing defence industrial potential; insufficient defence budget and inefficient defence acquisition process. Efforts to rectify these deficiencies have been ongoing for decades. A plethora of committees have recommended changes and many of them have been politically approved but effectiveness of implementation has been the victim of turf protection by entrenched interest groups several times.

The laudable but much-delayed decision of corporatisation of the Ordnance Factory Board from 1 October is a step in the right direction. The space to watch will be the implementation process and its outcomes.


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Restructuring the DRDO

For several decades, India continues to be the second-largest arms importer in the world. Such a status is rooted in the infirmities of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which is a department in the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The inability to meet the demands of the armed forces, some of which are idealistic, has spawned strategic weakness of dependency on Russia, US, France, Israel, inter alia. The document makes recommendations to reengineer the DRDO to deal with the issue.

The key reform suggested is the restructuring of the DRDO by separating the functions of strategy and operations. The strategy function must be driven by military strategy objectives that must be translated and prioritised by a multidisciplinary board headed by the secretary, department of DRDO, in the MoD. The DRDO, as it exists today, could be rechristened as the  Defence Research and Development Agency (DRDA) and headed by a CEO responsible to the board. The CEO could be selected from any sector, private or public, but must be an accomplished individual with a proven track record.


Also read: India keeps focussing on a future China threat. But just looking east is bad security policy


Why we need a publicised doctrine

In the decade ahead, India’s geopolitical environment is pregnant with possibilities.  In the case of shaping India’s military instrument, the doctrine on the use of force enunciated in the document can provide India’s security establishment the strategic soil for a debate to cyrstallise a national strategy with a base for political guidance for the military. That too, at a time of tardy economic growth.

The doctrine must be viewed as the fountainhead that must animate a host of downstream national security initiatives. The National Security Council and its support structures that exist today must ideate, develop options and seek political approval. For sure, it is a challenging process that has to traverse the torturous terrain of inter-governmental coordination. Overcoming such frictions requires political patronage of ideas generated by experts. The role of the PMO is crucial.

Some semi-official sources suggest that India has an unwritten National Security Strategy. Be that as it may, publicising a Doctrine on Use of Force can dispel the notion that India is often non-committal, promises but sometimes fails to deliver. It is a low-hanging fruit that mostly requires the power of thought.

Lt Gen (retd) Dr Prakash Menon is Director, Strategic Studies Programme, Takshashila Institution; former Military Adviser, National Security Council Secretariat; and former Member, Executive Council, IDSA. He tweets @prakashmenon51. Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

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