Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Delusionary Generals

By Pravin Sawhney

When French Prime Minister George Clemenceau wrote that, ‘war is too important to be left to the generals,’ he had people like Lt Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain in mind who do not understand military coercion or coercive diplomacy as distinct from war-fighting, are mixed up between perception management and reality check, and fail to appreciate that land war is just one of the six domains of war. The war-fighting domains are land, sea and air, while military coercion (short of war also called non-contact war) is possible in space, electromagnetic space and cyber domains.
Military coercion is more demanding than actual war-fighting because in addition to the kinetic capability it needs credibility to deter and compel if deterrence fails. A failed military coercion demonstrates a blunted conventional war-fighting capability. This has adverse political, military, diplomatic and psychological implications as the enemy gets emboldened.
An example of failed military coercion is India’s Operation Parakram in 2001-2002 against Pakistan. The Indian Army lost 979 soldiers in what General V.K. Singh refers to as ‘mine panic’, which ‘exposed the hollowness of our operational preparedness’ (his book: Courage and Conviction); India, by official account, spent Rs 858 crore; and New Delhi eventually blinked after the 10-month military stand-off seeking refuge in a vague posture called ‘strategic re-deployment.’ Pakistan’s 26 November 2008 Mumbai attacks were a direct consequence of India’s failed military coercion.
On the other hand, an example of successful military coercion is the three-week intrusion in April-May 2003 by Chinese border forces in Depsang plains (Ladakh). At the political level, Union minister of state for home, Kiren Rijiju told the Rajya Sabha (13 August 2014) that ‘No intrusions have been reported or taken place on the Indo-China border during last five years (since 2009).’ At the military level, the Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board, Shyam Saran wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 10 August 2013 after a spot-inspection ordered by the Prime Minister Office that, ‘the PLA troops are not allowing their Indian counterparts to patrol the Indian perception of the LAC in eastern Ladakh.’ (Hindustan Times, 3 September 2013).
The inference is obvious: China’s successful military coercion compelled India to reduce its patrolling limits. Moreover, New Delhi (Modi, and not Manmohan Singh government), as evident from Rijiju’s statement, acquiesced to Beijing’s diktat as it does not want military escalation assessing that it has little hope of winning a war. Indian political leadership correctly concluded that it is easy to start a ‘localised showdown’, the difficult part is to control escalation which has its own dynamics. After all, there is the dictum that no war plans, however brilliantly conceived, usually survive first contact in war.
In the larger sense, when Chinese shot down one of its own satellite in the low earth orbit demonstrating its Anti-Satellite (ASAT) capability in February 2009, the Pentagon saw this as a coercive reminder to the United States that it could not count on uncontested control of space commons. Within months, the US’ Raytheon was given the contract to work on a defensive shield in space to ensure that Chinese ASAT capabilities do not interfere with US’ military use of space with debris from destroyed satellites hampering their optimal utilisation.
Against this background and without digressing any further by explaining the implications of the 20-day recent stand-off in Chumar-Demchok (Ladakh) which coincided with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India starting September 17, I would like to return to Gen. Hasnain’s comments on my writing (reproduced below for the readers).
To Gen Husnain’s suggestion of a ‘localised showdown’, I argued that China would prefer military coercion through three probable methods, namely, shooting our satellite, cyber-attacks, or by test-firing its ballistic missiles with conventional warheads. This will be done to remind us of our miniscule capabilities in these non-contact war areas, and also to rub in that the PLA is well past the 1986-87 Sumdorong Chu crisis when both sides had more or less matching military capabilities. To be sure, China has no reason for a border war with India when it could achieve its purpose through lesser methods like the 2013 Depsang crisis.
What is Gen Hasnain’s response? He writes that I (Sawhney) do not ‘understand perception management’, which according to him means a gradual build-up for war. ‘Conflicts do not reach levels of shooting satellites out of sky without a build-up,’ he adds. Now, why is a forces’ build-up required for shooting satellite? Gen. Hasnain read about military coercion! I recommend Joseph S Nye’s brilliant book ‘The Future of Power.’
Coming to ‘perception management’, this is meant for psychological operations (psy ops) as a part of counter-insurgency operations. An adversary, however, does not get swayed by ‘perception management’, but does a ‘reality-check’ of the opponent’s capabilities and capacity before deciding the form of military power to be used in pursuance of his political objectives.
For argument’s sake, why will China get into a ‘localised showdown’ with India when there are few political objectives to be won? In a worst case scenario (extremely unlikely) it will go for a full-scale war with a capability to pump in 38 to 40 divisions in addition to unleashing other domains of war against India. This is where military strategy and operational art, where the PLA has mind-boggling capabilities, comes into play.
While Gen. Hasnain boasts of teaching operational art, he, to be sure, has, while in uniform, been a tactical player. According to the Indian Army doctrine, a corps (the highest field formation that he has commanded) is the highest tactical level of war; operational art is practiced at the command level. This is not all. He seems to have an aversion for operational art as he commanded the elite 21 strike corps (any officer will feel blessed to command an offensive force) for an unprecedented low period of mere three to four months before getting himself posted to 15 corps in Srinagar. A strike corps by practising manoeuver contributes to operational art in a land war.
However, considering Gen Hasnain teaches higher levels of war, I recommend three basic books for his reading and reflection. These are: Colin S. Gray’s ‘Explorations in Strategy’, Gen E.B. Atkeson’s ‘The Final Argument of Kings: Reflections on The Art of War’, and Edward N. Luttwak’s ‘Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace.’
To appreciate things closer home, I suggest that the he read my first book, ‘The Defence Makeover: 10 Myths that Shape India’s Image,’ written in year 2001, when he was probably a colonel posted somewhere. This book was reviewed among others by Maj. Gen. Ashok Mehta, Amitabh Mattoo and P.R. Chari. The reason why he should read my book is also to know that CI ops in J&K have floundered because its strategic underpinning was never spelt out. The political leadership should have given two directives to the army, namely, the end-state and the need for a mix of offensive and defensive methods. It is a truism that no insurgency can survive without a robust sanctuary outside (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in our case).
During the initial years of the insurgency we were fortunate to have army chiefs like Generals Rodrigues and especially Bipin Joshi. I remember too well how Gen. Rodrigues urged me (I was in Times of India then) to visit the LC and see how our units were responding to Pakistan’s machinations by aggressive firepower and raids; the Pakistanis were on their toes. The next army chief, Gen. Joshi spent a lot of time with me (I was in Indian Express then) assuring that the army should not and will not do CI ops open-endedly. Gen. Joshi died early and his successors, unfortunately, realised that there were rewards and awards to be won in CI ops besides of course an elevation of status. Where else but in J&K can a corps commander challenge an elected chief minister publicly? The pits came in 2004. With Operation Fence, the Indian Army reduced itself to being a (glorified) paramilitary; the Pakistani troops could now sleep well at night. The fence has instilled a Maginot Line mentality in the army. Nowhere in the world there is a fence on a military-line.
Generals like Hasnain who pontificate on the virtues of the fence are unmindful of the three harms it has done to the army. One, the over 450 suicides in the army (in 2013-14 given by the defence minister Arun Jaitley in Parliament) are a consequence of the continuous war-like situation (with a defensive mind-set) in J&K since 1990. The army leadership does not agree with this and reels out a list of other reasons underplaying the primary one.
Two, the army has found itself less than prepared in all crises since 1990, namely, the Kargil conflict, Operation Parakram, and 26/11 attacks. It is rueful that with the largest annual capital acquisition budget amongst the three defence service, in 2013-2014, the air force spent 48 per cent of the total capital outlay followed by the navy. The army leadership is so obsessed with CI ops that war preparedness has taken a back-seat. In the latter, the focus is not on consolidation of assets, but on expansion of manpower. And three, as a consequence of the above, the air force, unlike in the previous wars, is no longer in a supporting role to the army. It is actually the other way round, something that the army leadership is yet to come to grips with.
All this pains me because I care for the Indian Army, an organisation that I am proud to have served. But, those days we did not have officers like Gen. Hasnain. We had professionals who understood war and operational art. They were not obsessed with CI ops and perception management. And self-projection.