Thursday, 6 October, 2022
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Modi is right about indigenous defence doctrine. Army staff colleges can’t keep studying US

The PMO can hardly blame the armed forces for soldiering on however they could. After all, they’ve been working without any political guidance for years.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known to be not just an orator, but also someone who often throws in a few surprises in his speeches, or even shocks, depending on where you stand. His recent speech at the Combined Commanders’ Conference, the most vital annual meeting in terms of India’s defence, could come into either category. Many were outraged at the breaking with convention in inviting personnel below officer rank, while most others found aspects of his directives puzzling, to say the least. But in the general discontent, there is one aspect that deserves attention and critical analyses — Modi’s reference to an indigenous military doctrine.

Doctrines decide what you buy, produce, or prioritise, all of which flows from deciding your best fighting foot. At one level, it’s simplicity itself; at another, it’s the most complicated exercise in the world, because it needs you to think for yourself, and not unthinkingly rely on exotic language and catchy slogans used by other countries, all enticingly available on the internet.

Doctrines and the like 

First, what Modi said is available only as an official précis that says he “stressed the importance of enhancing indigenisation in the national security system, not just in sourcing equipment and weapons but also in the doctrines, procedures and customs practiced in the armed forces”. The reference in this article is only to the doctrine, and not the rest. The armed forces have more history and ‘indigenisation’ in their customs than any other government department. For instance, the Punjab Regiment’s history profiles the evolution of the Indian Army with that of the nation itself. Doctrines are, however, another matter and evolve continuously even while resting on historical precepts.

The dictionary defines doctrine as ‘teachings’. Russia defines it as “a system of officially adopted State views on the preparation for armed defence and armed protection of the Russian Federation”. The NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) defines it as “fundamental principles by which the military forces guide their actions in support of objectives”. India’s Integrated Defence Staff distils it as “Who we are, What we do, and How we do” in a basic and generic manner.

In short, doctrine, at the strategic level, is the foundation for everything else.


Also read: Break down civil-military silos, indigenise customs & doctrines, Modi tells armed forces


Who we are, what we do – a belief system 

At the very basic level, who are we? We’re a country that doesn’t go out and attack others; most of the time. When we did, as in Sri Lanka, the consequences were disastrous and may have reinforced the non-attack principle. We do, however, act when goaded in our immediate neighbourhood. There was Bangladesh in 1971 and Maldives in 1988.

In both cases, the countries or people concerned requested it, reinforcing our image of ourselves as the ‘big brother’ in South Asia. That image was tied to our memories of colonial history and the freedom movement, which underpinned a moral ascendancy, where India was seen – sometimes irritatingly – as superior to the rest of the world.

In her book Making India Great, author Aparna Pande writes that “the moral dimension of policy making has always been extremely important to the country”. Today, that seems exemplified by the ‘Vaccine Maitri’ where India is supplying vaccines to 71 countries. But the overwhelming sentiment is not morality but ‘pride’ in Indian strength and displacement of Chinese influence in these countries. The same phrasing was evident in our ‘standing up to China’ narrative in Ladakh and the unprecedented strikes against Pakistan in 2019. Despite the stress on “vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ (the world is one family), India’s current belief system is based on a shifting image of ourselves as a dominant power. It’s too short a time to tell whether this is a permanent shift or a short-term aberration. Suffice to say, any new doctrine will need to decide which side of the line our beliefs systems lie on for the foreseeable future.


Also read: Why the military brass is scratching its head over Modi’s Commanders’ Conference speech


Who we are – values 

Values are how a nation defines itself, and flows from what its beliefs are. Values are central to identity, and are usually part of the constitution. That’s why Russia ties its doctrine to its constitution, which implies that these values are what it will fight for. ‘American values’ have always been vital to US self-identification. It’s at the bottom of all strategy documents, including the Joe Biden administration’s Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, which mentions “values” 25 times calling specifically for their defence. 

India’s value systems are laid down in our Constitution’s Preamble, which defines us as a “socialist, secular, democratic republic”. Our values include an exhaustive array of freedoms of all kinds. But the Constitution mentions “Hindu” just four times. In Article 25, it includes Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains in the term Hindus. But does this reflect our current values? Can the armed forces adopt an ‘indigenous’ doctrine that predicates itself on these newly minted values? Probably not. If yes, then that multi-religious army becomes questionable. It’s that simple.

Geography and how we are

Who we are is also heavily defined by geography. To illustrate, Israel’s aggressive and pre-emptive doctrines arise from the fact that it is all of 22,145 sq. km in size. India at 3.287 million sq. km is likely to think very differently about itself.

India has always been aware of its size in the subcontinent, and that, in turn, has—for instance—defined its nuclear doctrine of ‘No First Use’. When the doctrine was being discussed in the National Security Advisory Board, its chair was the brilliant K. Subrahmanyam. His objections to a first-use doctrine were many; but one was that it was not in India’s character. More than anyone else, he understood that an aggressive tone in policy simply would not stand the test of ‘credibility’. That’s what size does. It makes you less aggressive, unless pushed.

Geography also includes our large coastline of 7,516 km, which has hardly ever been a factor in warfare, since all of our threats from the times of the Mongols were overland. That still holds, but with one important reservation. The biggest threat of all came in the guise of a trading firm, the East India Company. That went on for a hundred years. No surprises then at our reluctance to step up to the Quad and an instinctive distrust of foreigners. Any doctrine has to do that math. In defence, it’s the land. On the sea, trade matters and its protection. But 77 years ago, a German cruiser Emden did bomb the Madras coast, and Japanese plans did make some ingress. So, Quad matters. But don’t squander your resources for one incident in a hundred years.


Also read: Standoff with China highlighted India’s technological asymmetry. Time to update


How we do – rethink the realities

Modi does have a point in what he says about indigenous thinking. For decades, our strategists and army staff colleges have studied doctrines and essays put out primarily by the United States. That’s not because anyone wants to imitate the US. It’s just that there’s so much material around when you have to put up that study paper for your next promotion. That kind of overwhelming availability of data meant that American military doctrines such as “Air Land Battle” and “Follow on Forces” were duly imbibed and replicated to an extent on the ground. General K. Sundarji’s doctrines owed not a little to these concepts, and lie at the roots of the Cold Start doctrine.

To learn from others is laudable, but it prevents clarity on our innate strengths and capabilities. For instance, re-evaluate how the Himalayas remained India’s true frontier for decades. Using it as an advantage could translate into a series of airfields to quickly bring up men and material, while removing roads altogether. Let the enemy battle it out in the forests. Our advantage is in bringing forces to bear against a China with incredibly long logistics lines. It may be oversimplification; but the point is think with along with your history books. Think also of limitations in terms of what our defence budget will ever permit. Large plans need large purses. Stop the roads, and spend more on in-depth surveillance.

Finally, the Prime Minister’s Office can hardly blame the forces for soldiering on however they could. After all, they’ve been working without any form of political guidance for years. It’s the PMO that needs to set the ball rolling by deciding on a doctrinal paper that examines all of the questions identified above, and more. Such a large mapping requires civilians, military and academics to sit together and decide in the simplest language what India was, and what it is now, what worked for us, and what didn’t. No, it’s not that convenient ‘Vision’ document with great English. This is hard reality. But as PM Modi says, it also needs you to look at the whole issue through a Made-in-India lens. He’s right. Now just get on with it.

The author is former director, National Security Council Secretariat. Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

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25 COMMENTS

  1. “The biggest threat of all came in the guise of a trading firm, the East India Company.”?

    I’m pretty sure the biggest threat were the hords of central asian invaders over a millenia.

    That said, the author spoke of geography forgetting that countries that have large economies are also those with the safest borders. Build the economy first and the rest will follow. As long as India will trail behind China in economic terms, there is no reason to even think of equalling it militarily.

  2. Modi’s indigenous military doctrine was to provoke China by boasting the planned capture of Aksai Chin, making his bhakths feel he is a man of iron. When China responded and took land, he said nothing happened, and the bhakts said Modi is preparing a counter secretly in his own sweet time, and he is keeping China guessing.

    His indigenous military doctrine is to make his followers believe loss is victory. Pulwama and Balakot was another one. We are sure that the combined loss to India was 58 dead and one plane shot down, but we are unsure what happened in Balakot. But Indians believe it was a victory.

    Modi is the greatest spinner since Bedi ! He bamboozles the Chinese and Paks, and all the domestic crowd.

  3. What exactly is Modi doctrine of defence? Too many people attributing too much to Modi even when his understanding of military affairs is next to nothing.

    In my 34 years in the Army (thankfully before his time) I have seen enough evolution and course correction and policy formulation based on experience.

    But too many people eying too few seats in National Security Council.

  4. One must have a working knowledge of the subject before lecturing or indeed sloganising. If indeed there is a degree in ‘ Entire Political Sciences’., pray tell me which curriculum was followed. When you the Pakistani radar will not be able to intercept our aircraft because they are sent under the cover of clouds……..

  5. Modi wants indigenous military doctrine, but he likes foreign military hardware, with no transparency in the deals. What Modi says and what he does are two different things ! Such high falutin articles will please the “sychophants” of the present dispensation.

  6. India’s security situation is complex. Unlike the US it faces not only external threat, but also insurgencies, terrorist threats, and deadly Maoist naxal threats. Any security doctrine has to encompass all the threats to the country’s security. Unfortunately, unlike the US, India does not have the think tank culture of dedicated scholars and secularists working on developing such doctrines. Don’t depend on politicians and bureaucrats to do that.

    I find the suggestion of doing away with border roads. India has so far paid heavy price for poor border infrastructure, starting with 1962 war in Bomdi la, Thag La ridge, where the soldiers had to lug the supplies and trek for seven days. Series of air strips along the border may enhance accessibility. But, do away with roads? Sounds like a very luxurious suggestion which India cannot afford.

  7. I am a common person but I remember we won the 1971 War, Kargil War, and Siachen operations through our own strategy and doctrine. Kargil war and Siachen operations were high altitude Operations and no Western Country has fought at such high altitudes.
    The army has competent Commanders and does not need the advise of illiterate Politicians who have never shed any blood.
    In 1971 War Indira Gandhi gave a free hand to Sam Maneckshaw listened to his advise and he ensured victory. Madam Gandhi listened to his advise.
    When Hitler started advising and dominating his Generals, the German a fine fighting Machine started crumbling because a megalomaniac Corporal was chalking out Military strategy and doctrine. Hope this never happens in our Country.

  8. “Israel’s aggressive & pre-emptive doctrines arise frm th fact tht its all of 22,145 sq. km. India at 3.287 mil sq km is likely to think very differently abt itself” 😱
    I shudder to think abt the “pre-emptive” doctrines tht Luxembourg & Lichtenstein must be having!

  9. Indian Army is not a newly raised mercenary group but a fighting machine more than 300 years old. War doctrines, strategy and even basic tactics are time tested by shedding sweat and blood of men in the battle fields of the world over except probably what we call western world. Top brasses of two major armies of this sub continent were trained in the same ‘ akkada’. You still want some pin brains to evolve some ‘ desi ‘ doctrines when armies of the world are learning from us.

  10. I would just like to say TARA you are an exceptionally gifted writer and oriator….. Seriously.. journalism like this is soooo lacking … particularly where I live… The style of your writing and ability to fully explain without even stopping for a moment of opinion on your own piece is SOOO refreshing…. Please do keep covering the stories that mean the most…..

    Thanks Again

  11. I really can’t understand Print articles! On same commanders conference of PM with army, you first published an article in which you only criticized PM. And now in this article you are highlighting merits & praising PM’s vision & thought process.
    I mean come on man, Print contradicting itself again!!🤦🤷

    • @ Vikas Yadav: You are still stuck in the old mindset where a paper/magazine (The Print in this case) has to take an ideological stand. I think what The Print does is brilliant.

      Do you ever go on an online marketplace like Amazon and ask why different competitors are selling things on the same platform? You should do some brainstorming after reading different arguments and counter-arguments and make up your own mind. You all like to spoon-fed. Why should the editors filter out one side of the story? Those who do — that is exactly wrong with journalism.

  12. A disappointing article. The author has no idea abt the Forces. Such authors will make sure that ppl will avoid Print for six monthsch time they read such an article.

  13. Very simplistic. Doing away with roads increases costs of maintenance manifold while subjecting the local population to the curse of being undeveloped in perpetuity. Wars are not fought and won by parachuting forces into the battle area when the need arises.
    Essential tenets of war fighting are Nation agnostic. Experiential lessons obviously will have more relevance Western pedagogy.

  14. National Security Doctrine is followed by a Military Doctrine, which decides, the Military Aims, which decides the Force Composition.

    The threats decide the strategy and Force Organization.

    Everything flows from a National Security Doctrine.

    Do we have one? NO!
    Does anyone in the Government have a clue what it should be? NO!

    COL PREM KUMAR

    • If threats decide force composition we will perpetually be reactive with a defensive mindset. Force composition should be derived from the capability that we need from an offensive mindset. Neutralising threats will be a subset. Offence is the best form of defence. One doesn’t confront the Dada of a Mohalla easily.

  15. I don’t know much about the army stuff really (not that I am not interested, just will have to complete highschool first) but if you are right, then I am really surprised that we followed American writings to manage our borders. Maybe it did work until now. But if you really want to lead then you need to have something original in you. That’s absolutely right. If we don’t have enough data, then we need to research and create it. I liked the article.
    It was enlightening in a way.

  16. I disagree with a lot of what is said in the article including the assertion that we attacked Sri Lanka. It is good to talk of an indigenous Defence Doctrine but it has to be based on a balanced study of successful warfare doctrines around the world. When there is total paucity of any institutional or political discourse on national security issues and all we have to show is what Chanakya postulated, ,the Defence Forces have no option but to study the best in class doctrines and adapt them as per our national requirements. Can anyone contest the counter insurgency and mountain warfare prowess the Indian Army has acquired from it’s own experimentation and experience after assimilating the lessons from the great battles. I do not think that an off the cuff remark from a politician who has in the past also eulogized the frugal pay for yourself INA should be taken with any degree of seriousness. After all he may be a statesman and a venerable nationalist but what are his credentials in the highly specialized domain of national security. He simply requires to pay heed to the professional advisers in this field.

  17. The PM had conveniently forgotten Karigil operation which was not at all based on any US, British or Russian doctrine. The warfare on superaltitude was one of its kind and no foreigner had flown in during that time to advice our Military masterminds. The complete plan was indigenous. As a result US and Russian troops began training in High Altitude Warfare School, Sonamarg & Gulmarg.
    Similarily, operations by Indian Army in Kashmir Valley and Northeast jungles had contained the crisis from getting out of the hands of civil administration there inspite of tremendous support and funding from across the border. In fact many foreign Armies eyes this with appreciation. US and Russian troops had undergone training in Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School, Vairengte.
    50 years back Indian Defence Force had faced a combined threat from US, China and Pakistan without any assistance and emerged victorious in just 13 days with 90k PoWs. The doctrine used was not sent from USSR with love.
    The top Military Brass of Indian Armed Forces are quite competent enough to evolve more sophisticated doctrines provided that Defence allocation can be raised above 3% of GDP and a National Strategy come into existence.

  18. In order for the political establushment to communicate a clear military doctrine to the armed forces, you first need a political establishment that has shed blood on the battlefield.

  19. There is significant difference between doctrines and strategy. Generically speaking, while doctrines deal with current operations, largely with existing plans, one has to stategise for the future. Strategies simply produce the ways, means and ends equation. It is strategy that would lead to the decision on ‘what you what you buy, produce, or prioritise’, and not the existing doctrine and belief system.
    Exhortation to ‘Indigenise Doctrine’ very is important in that it is an authoritative call stating that the current operational plans need a revision, that the doctrine is outdated. It is also implied that newer strategies be formulated for future operations, in the light of ways and means.

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