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Need for a limited war doctrine


In tandem, the two books identify the complex policy continuum for the Indian strategic community

LIMITED WARS IN SOUTH ASIA: Maj. Gen GD Bakshi (Retd); Centre for Land Warfare Studies

BALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENCE - Frontier of the 21st Century: Wg. Cdr Anand Sharma; Both the books are pub. by KW Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 4676/21, I Floor, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 780 each.

The security and ethical dilemmas that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) pose became an intractable reality after the Hiroshima holocaust of August 1945. The apocalyptic nuclear age had dawned and the advent of the inter-continental ballistic missile during the early Cold War decades completed the global trapeze of ‘terror-induced coercion' as a tool of national policy. Security became MAD — or to clarify — the foundation of global security was based on ‘mutually assured destruction.' This, in turn, was predicated on the U.S.-Soviet 1972 ABM (anti-ballistic missile) treaty, which forbade the development of credible missile defence. Asia, site of the only two nuclear explosions (Hiroshima and Nagasaki), was WMD-ized in October 1964 when China became a nuclear weapon power. Over the uneasy, intervening decades, southern Asia — the Indian subcontinent in particular — became turbulent in the nuclear domain in an opaque manner, till the May 1998 nuclear explosions which saw India, and then Pakistan, becoming states with nuclear weapons.

Opaque use

Southern Asia has made a distinctive contribution to the ‘opaque' use of nuclear weapons outside the MAD framework by way of the linkage between WMD and state-supported terrorism. In the trajectory of the troubled India-Pakistan relationship, May 1990 is often identified as the period when nuclear-weapon-enabled-terrorism (NWET) became a reality. The brief but bloody Kargil war of 1999 and the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack are an extension of what began in the summer of 1990, and India has been trying to find an appropriate policy response to this tenacious NWET malignancy.

Concurrently at the international level, in an inexorable techno-strategic development, the concept of ballistic missile defence (BMD) has been acquiring traction and gradual credibility. The first Gulf War (January 1991), also called the ‘Operation Desert Storm', saw the use of rudimentary Scud missiles armed with a conventional warhead by the subaltern power Iraq, against the hegemon, the United States. The worst case scenario visualised was the possibility of having to deal with a WMD-tipped ballistic missile launched by a state pursuing a revisionist agenda, and very soon BMD became a major policy issue. Located as it is in the world's complex and rough WMD neighbourhood, India has to evolve affordable and effective policy responses to both NWET and BMD — and the two books under review provide a cogent and useful introduction to these tangled and inter-linked issues. Bakshi presents a lucid and well-argued account of the reality of limited wars in south(ern) Asia, while bemoaning the fact that India does not have the requisite clarity about the Pakistan-specific challenge and the need for an Indian doctrine to be put in place. The advocacy is passionate and reference is made to the Chinese concept of ‘zaoshi', or escalation control, and the use of military force against a nuclear backdrop and then extrapolated to Indian strategic ambivalence.


That India needs to evolve an appropriate limited war doctrine and the national security apex should deliberate on it is unexceptionable. But the conclusions arrived at and the certitude they are packaged in are debatable. In any limited war situation that has a nuclear overhang, the escalation dynamic is the wild-card and Bakshi posits that “Pakistan has been able to foist its ridiculous formulation of a one-step escalation upon the Indian political leadership,” leading to a “rather premature [Indian] conclusion that conventional military force is no longer a usable resource against a nuclear backdrop.”

As the Kargil conflict and the terror attacks on Parliament and in Mumbai demonstrated, the Indian security establishment is yet to arrive at an effective response matrix to NWET, and the China-India-Pakistan triangle gets even more tangled in the WMD domain when the U.S. is factored in. Bakshi's book offers a pithy introduction to a very complex issue and CLAWS (Centre for Land Warfare Studies) is to be commended for this initiative.

The book on BMD is derived from a two-year research project the author, Sharma, undertook under the aegis of CAPS (Centre for Air Power Studies). It walks the reader through the advent of the missile — both ballistic and cruise — the concept of missile defence, and the implications of these two capabilities for the prevailing global and regional strategic systems. The relevance for India and the texture of the ‘rough' WMD neighbourhood have been dealt with in the last chapter, and the policy dilemma for India is abiding. As Sharma notes, BMD is “yet to be proved in an actual battle scenario,” but investment in this domain continues.

In tandem, the two books identify the complex policy continuum for the Indian strategic community. What will an enhanced capability of regional cruise missile do to the NWET malignancy directed against India? What will be the fiscal implications of the operational research conundrum for Delhi? More rigorous scholarship in this domain must be encouraged.

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