Future conflicts are more likely to be short, intense affairs wherein all forces—including cyber, space, nuclear—would need to be deployed simultaneously. Therefore, synergy not only between various armed forces, but also different organs of the state becomes essential
India’s security threats are changing in the light of emerging geo-political environment. However, the security infrastructure within the country has not kept pace with the changing environment. There is, therefore, a need to seriously evaluate if our security set up is configured to deliver the services in support of the objectives that would be assigned by the future political leadership in pursuance of national interests? In other words, is our military optimally organised to take on the challenges that would emerge tomorrow? Unfortunately the answer is an unambiguous no. Our military is configured to meet yesterday’s threats, not tomorrow’s wars. There is, therefore, a serious need to evaluate the emerging threats and reorganise our forces to meet them.
The global environment is changing and the United States under Donald Trump is likely to pursue relatively more isolationist policies in the days to come. The immigration is likely to be curbed and this in turn is likely to considerably reduce the capacity of the US to attract the best brains from across the globe; and when that starts happening, the technological edge that the US enjoys today will start getting blunted. The US is also unlikely to undertake the global policeman’s job and that will devolve responsibility on countries like India to maintain order in their vicinity.
China has emerged as the second biggest economy and a military force to reckon with and possessed with a persecution complex. Of late even Russia has been a little anxious with growing Indo-US bonhomie. Recent conference by Pakistan, China and Russia on Afghanistan was a clear pointer to this direction. Indian policymakers should ensure that such a polarisation does not take place. US-Russian rapprochement, which seems quite likely, under Trump Presidency should make it easier for India to do so.
The conflicts with Pakistan and China, which posed an existential threat during the initial decades, have led to an asymmetric growth of Indian defence forces. However, it would be reasonable to assume that in the coming decade, both Pakistan and China are unlikely to go in for a major confrontation. More significantly, under the nuclear backdrop a prolonged war appears extremely unlikely. This does not completely eliminate the scope for a conventional war, but any prolonged military operation, which threatens the very existence of a nation, is not feasible. Pakistan’s capacity to pose a conventional threat to India has diminished greatly. It has therefore been indulging in proxy war through various state-sponsored non-state actors.
On the other hand, China has galloped ahead, but the demographic crunch has slowed its economic growth and at this point is focusing on reviving its economy. More significantly, its primary objective vis a-vis, India, is to prevent it from becoming an ally of the West. A conflict could certainly push India into an alliance with the US and China would certainly not want that. However, a conflict across Line of Actual Control (LAC), which is neither clearly demarcated nor delineated, is always feasible, but again a prolonged conflict is not in the interest of either country. More significantly, India has a strong leverage against the Chinese in Indian Ocean, through which large chunk of Chinese shipping traverses.
Consequently, the major threat that India is going to face would emanate from non-state actors, at times nurtured and sponsored by external actors as well as extremist ideologies emanating from across India’s frontiers. One of the biggest threats that India is likely to face in future is from global Islamic radicalism. With the advent of Al Qaeda and Islamic State, the Muslim youth in South Asia are getting radicalised and in times could pose a serious threat to India’s security. For long Pakistan has tried to use radical Islamic outfits as a weapon against India, however, Indian security establishment often perceives it as a mere law and order problem. They feel that the problem could be solved with bullet and baton, without realising the ideological dimension of this war. To counter the threats, India needs to master the art of psychological operations.
With new threats, the domain where they can target the state has also expanded. Not only are our assets in air and space at threat, but cyber terrorism has become a serious threat. With the advent of technology, the dependence on internet and computers is increasing and this makes cyber warfare a potent tool. More significantly, as Indian economy gathers momentum, India’s interests will also widen, requiring intervention by Indian forces, not only to protect India’s vital interests, but also to shoulder global responsibilities as an important member of international community.
It is, therefore, quite clear that the future challenges to India’s defence are going to be quite different and our defence forces at this point of time are not configured to face them. The future wars are not going to be like 1965 or 1971, which were essentially land wars with the Navy and the Air Force playing supporting roles. Future conflicts are more likely to be short, intense affairs wherein all forces—including cyber, maybe space, or even nuclear—would need to be deployed simultaneously. Therefore, synergy and interoperability, not only between various armed forces, but also different organs of the state becomes essential. More significantly, as an emerging power, the Indian power may need to be deployed far off from the nation's frontiers. It is, therefore, essential that the Indian military's systems, processes, command and control should be flexible enough to be quickly deployable overseas. It would also require greater enhancement of the amphibious and air assault capabilities of the Indian military. Similarly, Special Operations need to be given due importance as Indian forces may be called upon to destroy terrorists bases deep inside foreign territories. In addition our strategic forces need to be integrated with our warfighting doctrine.
It is essential to reorganise Indian defence forces. One possible structure could be akin to that of the United States, by creating joint theatre commands, directly responsible to the cabinet, with chiefs of the three services responsible for equipping, organising and training only. A Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, separate from the three Chiefs could be the single point military advisor to the government, obviating the need for a bureaucrat to do so. Jointness is a pressing need, however, nowhere in the world, have the services come together voluntarily. Their own vested interests and turf wars prevent it. Such significant changes have always been mandated by the political leadership and must be imposed now in India. To begin with the real estate and training of the three services should be merged forthwith. Cultural changes to remove colonial vestiges and feudal mindset must be brought in to the armed forces. It is also worth considering that the defence forces should be used for internal disorders, only as the weapon of last resort. Similarly, multiplicity of agencies for guarding borders or for counter insurgency may be good for career advancements, but reduces the synergy and operational effectiveness.
As India strives for global leadership in the 21st century, it is absolutely essential that its political leaders understand the subtle nuances of security planning. The political leaders should be able to visualise the future challenges without depending on bureaucratic advisers or military inputs. The reorganisation of Indian military is a necessity that the political leadership will have to visualise, as certain issues can only be analysed in perspective. The impetus for a reconfigured military, designed and optimised to support India's aspirations, must come from the political leadership. War, as they say, is too important to be left to the Generals, least of all to inert bureaucrats, who man the ministry.
(The writer is Director of India Foundation. Views expressed are his personal)