The geo-political world of 2015 is vastly different from what it was a decade or more ago. The Cold War is over and the U.S. has emerged as the sole global policeman. Russia is nowhere near its earlier military stature, though it continues to aspire to reach the earlier level of military prestige. China aims to fill the void created by erstwhile USSR as a challenger to the U.S. but lacks any geo-political agenda. True, it aims to build its military to protect its economic interests worldwide but lacks the kind of military or diplomatic influence that USSR once exerted.
Today, the entire Arab world is in disarray and caught in between conflicting socio-religious beliefs, which are taking its toll on people living in the region. There is a serious crisis of identity, which is threatening years of deep-rooted existence, with no international power, not even the U.S., having the requisite deep understanding or influence to intervene. The situation continues to spread with serious possibility of spilling over to nations outside the Arab world.
In South Asia, India continues to face a hostile and belligerent Pakistan on the West and a canny but aggressive China in the North and Northeast. Pakistan has been India’s biggest problem and all its military and diplomatic efforts have been focused on keeping Pakistan in check. It’s only in the last decade and a half or so that India has seriously taken on the role of providing an alternate check to China’s growing influence. Therefore, with hostile neighbours on both the West and North-eastern fronts, India has been forced to divert its scarce resources to build its military strength for a potential though unlikely conflict, on both the fronts.
How real is the possibility of an all-out war with Pakistan and/or China?
It’s been 44 years since our last all-out war with Pakistan (1971); Kargil was at best a local conflict and not an all-out war. With China, it’s been 53 years since we last went to war in 1962. With China, we have had localized skirmishes over the years on the perceived ‘Line of Control’, but none to elicit serious worry, whereas, with Pakistan, it has been mostly restricted to the J&K region involving cross-border firing, with mostly small arms and in the backdrop of cross-border infiltration from the Pakistani side.
So what are the chances of India taking on Pakistan in a full scale war? Almost nil. With both countries holding nuclear arsenal, the chances of either country initiating an all-out war is minimal. Very often, one hears the cry to take on Pakistan and ‘teach it a lesson’, with several sections clamouring that India ‘invade’ and ‘destroy’ Pakistan and its belligerent military. That’s an extremely naive and amateurish view to take.
War must always have a clear goal and purpose. The aim can be to take additional territory, expand political or religious agenda, expand economic zone, or plainly decapitate the military to ward off possibility of future conflict. India does not have any ambitions on any of the mentioned agendas, barring perhaps the last one, but ground reality is that India cannot risk that as long as Pakistan continues to retain its nuclear arsenal, and Pakistan knows that.
It is this knowledge that Pakistan has been using to its advantage by continuing to test Indian military patience and there is little that India can do about it. We had the chance in the late 1970s, just after the emergency, when Moshe Dayan, the famous Israeli Defence Minister, visited India on a secret mission and offered to take out Kahuta, the Pakistani nuclear reactor that was working on the nuclear bomb. All they wanted was India’s go-ahead and re-fuelling facility for Israeli warplanes, so that they could land in India, re-fuel and bomb the Pakistani reactor, on their way back to Israel.
The then Indian government had neither the political will nor the geo-political foresight to take up the offer. India refused, and in hind sight, continues to pay the price till date. Today, India is no longer in a position to risk an all-out war with Pakistan and therefore is forced to continue to contain cross border pinpricks in J&K and hopes to restrict the skirmishes to J&K until a political solution is reached sometime in future.
In the context of China, it must be acknowledged that China has been and will remain militarily stronger than India. Despite clear military superiority, China has not held any territorial ambition beyond what it perceives as its own area. The same is true for India. Both India and China realise that an all-out war is not possible anymore, both on account of nuclear arsenal and the fact that the Himalayas acts as a natural barrier between the two countries, thereby making it very difficult to gain territory deep inside the other country.
Even if that was possible, holding on to territory in an alien land is no easy task, as the Americans learnt the hard way in Vietnam and now in Afghanistan. This applies to both India and China. Once the border problem is resolved, and it will be, India and China will not have any reason to invest heavily in preparing for a potential war that is no longer practical, feasible or desirable for both sides.
Possible Emerging Situation in South Asia
The likelihood of an all-out war in the subcontinent is minimal. However, the danger of Pakistan imploding due to take over by fundamentalist forces within the armed forces is indeed very real. In such a scenario, neither the U.S. nor China will be able to prevent the nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands. But should such a scenario emerge, even the fundamentalists will realise the futility of using the nuclear arsenal, in any form. This leaves us with the possibility of blackmail by fundamentalist forces. But then again, Pakistan is already applying the nuclear threat against India to its advantage.
The reality is that if Pakistan were to implode into mass civil unrest and disorder, as being currently witnessed in the Middle East, then a military intervention may be required. In such a scenario, a reluctant India may be forced to join a multinational force that may well include a reluctant China. There is no possibility of India engaging Pakistan on its own.
On the other hand, a political resolution to the border problem with China is a real possibility and we may well see a mutually acceptable agreement being worked out within the current decade. The threat of war, thereafter, should be minimal.
Need to Review Military Strategy and Deployment
Since 9/11, profile of the enemy has changed and therefore the rules of engagement have also changed. Gone are the days when heavy military was deployed to overwhelm the forces of another country. Today, the threat is urban warfare in close combat against an unseen enemy that relies on small weapons and home grown explosives, deployed through guerrilla tactics aimed at inflicting high civilian casualties that cause shock and panic amongst the general public.
Fear, through brutal action against civilian, and when possible, military targets, has emerged as the most potent weapon being used by militant forces including the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan; the same is true for Iraq and now ISIS is deploying the similar tactics across the Middle East. The fight has moved from open battlefield positions to inner urban spaces that restrict the possibility of deployment of heavy weapons, armour and aerial bombing as in classic warfare. Today, the chances of countries going to classic battle engagement are minimal, but military posturing between countries is going to remain a strong diplomatic weapon. China’s military build-up is geared towards optimising this strategy rather than seeking any real territorial gains outside its various disputed territories.
Weapons Need Realignment with Emerging Conflicts
With this backdrop, the chances of an all-out military war seems unlikely, which brings up a series of questions – should India really be investing in heavy and capital intensive weapons and blocking scarce resources that the country needs to continue its civilian growth momentum? And does India really need to maintain such a large defence force? Would it not be prudent for India to realign its forces towards being smaller, better trained for urban warfare and better equipped?
Since Gulf War 1, the shift in military strategy and weapon deployment has been towards the infantry with active support from the air. The new rules of engagement has seen the emergence of C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence) and drone technology as the new game changers. The reliance on piloted fighter aircraft will continue to diminish, while pilotless offensive planes will continue to evolve both in technology and deployment.
Is India really prepared for conflicts of tomorrow?
So, does India really need a massive arsenal of say tanks, fighter aircraft, long range missiles and multiple rocket launchers, when offensive drones can effectively and accurately fulfill the same objective? Should India continue to invest massive resources in manufacturing/procuring fighter aircrafts or should it invest in developing more ‘offensive drones’ that can be deployed along with powerful ‘Directed Energy Weapons’, which could fulfill defensive or offensive roles?
India has and will continue to play an important role in the Indian Ocean but that will be mostly restricted to ensuring the sea lanes remain open. So where is the real threat expected from? While China is developing its aircraft carrier technology and expanding its ‘sea control’ capability, it does not see itself as a global policeman nor does it want to compete with the U.S. but would like to remain prepared to protect its commercial interests overseas. And should it turn aggressive in doing so, the advent of drone technology along with advancing satellite capability can adequately monitor and intercept any such threat, as and when it may occur. The same is true for submarines. With emerging technologies, it will become increasingly difficult for submarines to be able to operate undetected.
So should India be pursuing a ‘catch-up’ policy with China by focusing on developing capital intensive equipment like fighter aircrafts, aircraft carriers, submarines and missiles, when the possibility of ever deploying these is minimal? Or should it invest on developing strategic and lethal pilotless weapons in all three theatres i.e. land, sea and air and integrate the same through effective cutting edge C5I technology with minimal human intervention?
The new paradigms of warfare will require less but effective deployment of boots on the ground; therefore, India needs to seriously review its potential role in future conflicts and whether it can and whether it should continue to maintain such a large force, especially the Army. ‘Make in India’ is good, but ‘Make it Smarter’ will be even better.
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