An IDC Analysis 


New Delhi, 22 April 2004

Ashley Tellis, an American analyst had a ring side view of India’s nuclear set up in the 90s and he was one of the first to tell us about it in his excellent book, ’Nuclear India’, but his take was that India should cap its nuclear capability. His inside knowledge, his many contacts in high places, his charming Parsi wife, landed him a cushy and powerful job as the Security Adviser to the US Ambassador Blackwill.

Tellis came from the Rand Corporation (which is funded by CIA, US Armed Forces and Industry) to be close to the Roosevelt House on Shanti Path in Delhi’s Embassy Row, where people die to get invited. He learnt more about India’s Defence than anyone we know hence what he said and wrote was watched with great interest. He gave a lecture last month at the India Today Conclave, where he very cogently put forward the main challenges before India’s Defence Planners.

India had to make up its mind like China to become a great power, because that was its destiny and in this regard India’s defence posture was important. India was dithering on this, and except President APJ Abdul Kalam articulating it, no one else had done much in this regard. The Babri Masjid/Temple issue and such were more important!

To be a great power India had to have a good economy not just be shining. Growth rates had to be upped and Tellis did not touch on population control but that too needs addressing.

The Internal security structure was crucial and just creating more and more CRPF, BSF, RR, SSB, CISG, NSG, Assam Rifles and so on –– now numbering 800,000 –– will not give India internal security. In the same vein a large Army and DRDO’s aim to make everything in India would also not help and India had to put together a cheap and effective nuclear deterrence Policy and use the international Fora to its advantage. In this regard all thinking defence and security personnel will enjoy the following excerpted parts of Ashley Tellis’s excellent speech. Comments are welcome.

Challenges Facing Indian Defense Policy In The New Century

By Ashley J. Tellis

Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,  

Washington, D.C. 20036

Transcript of a Speech made at the India Today Conclave, New Delhi, March 13, 2004

Let me start with a confession. I am not a security fundamentalist. I am not one of those who believe that war makes the state and that the state exists only to make war. States have multiple objectives many more than are sometimes imagined and given consideration. But when one looks at the broad sweep of history it becomes clear that countries cannot become great powers unless, at some level, they demonstrate mastery over the creation, deployment and the use of military force in the service of national objectives.

For a country like India, which essentially seeks to follow its own path, the rise to great power status will require it to be able to integrate the creation, deployment and use — and I use the term "use" — in the broadest sense of the word — of military instruments in support of national objectives. The ability to create and use military force for national purposes is, of course, not the only criterion for greatness.

But it has to be an element integrated with other measures of greatness like economic prowess, social cohesion, and political stability. In this context, whether India can master military instruments of power and develop the tools that have made great powers for the last two thousand years will depend on its ability to master three macro and five micro problems.

Macro Issues

The first macro problem that must be resolved, if India is to rise as a great power, is achieving higher rates of economic growth. The reason for that is simple. A competent military costs money and modern defense capabilities, which are sophisticated and effective, are priced in numbers that boggle the imagination. For a country like India, which has to deal not simply with questions of defense but also questions of development simultaneously, high economic growth becomes the only solution especially in those situations when India cannot choose between the objectives of defense and development.

When one begins to think of the revolution in military affairs — the kind of capabilities today that characterize the military forces of the great powers — it is simply impossible for India to acquire such capabilities without sustaining economic growth of at least 7 to 9 per cent per annum consistently. China is a good example. A country that has experienced close to double-digit growth for more than twenty years since 1978, still finds it hard to develop the kinds of sophisticated military capabilities it seeks to acquire across the board. Therefore, one must be prepared for the fact that even if the Indian economy were to grow between 7 and 9 per cent consistently for the next twenty years, the best India would be able to do in the area of cutting edge defense technology is to acquire niche capabilities. But those niche capabilities may be enough for the specific strategic circumstances that it faces.

The second macro problem that India needs to engage and satisfy is the development of an appropriate national vision and appropriate institutions designed to manage the acquisition of great power capabilities. What substantive goals, defined in terms of national interest, does India really seek to service? The answer to this question cannot be defined in terms of platitudes like a "just world order." That is a useful phrase for a political campaign. It is a terrible criterion for defense planning and force structuring. The other aspect of this question of defining India's goals and creating the appropriate institutions pertains to the issue of whether India will be able to achieve the right balance between state control and societal autonomy. It is very important to realize that successful states in the modern era have been those that have maintained this balance in the most creative way possible.

The third macro challenge that I would highlight for your consideration is whether India is capable of exploiting the existing structure of the international system to its advantage. In this context, I think India should get rid of the notion of a multipolar world order as a practical outcome in the relevant future. Pursuing chimerical goals like multipolarity does not make for good policy. The international system, for all practical purposes, is going to remain a unipolar system for at least the next half century. By all indicators, if you define power in terms of comprehensive national strength, it is unlikely that the United States will face serious peer competitors for at least another fifty years.

Consequently, the challenge for India becomes, can it develop a viable strategic partnership with the United States that serves both mutual interests and India's own unilateral interests? Can India develop a relationship with the United States that helps it enhance and magnify its own power? This is not to suggest that the United States is the only power in the international system. Clearly not –– there are many others. This is also not to suggest that India's goals ought to consist solely of developing a relationship with the United States, or that India somehow is constrained solely to develop a relationship with the United States and no other. Not true. India has the flexibility to maneuver within the interstices of the international system. But at the end of the day, there is one eight hundred pound gorilla that has to be engaged. And that is the United States. That gorilla is not going to go away. That gorilla has already put its nose for the first time in modern history, into the physical environment of the subcontinent. And it is in India's national interest, and important for its capacity to generate and magnify its power, to develop a productive and a collaborative relationship with the United States that enhances the interests of the two countries.

Micro Issues

First, India has to deal with the challenge of neutering internal security threats without undermining its capacity for effective external defense. This is harder to do than is sometimes imagined. It is unfortunate that the principal security threat that India is going to have to deal with on a day-to-day basis is the threat to internal security. There is no running away from this problem. Historically, India dealt with this challenge by essentially throwing manpower at the threat instead of technology. And the reason it did this was simply because it enjoyed a surfeit of manpower and a deficit of technology.

There were two consequences to this strategy. One was that its approach to preserving internal defense was probably not as effective as it could be, because technology could provide that valuable supplement which was not available to India. The second consequence was that preserving internal security became extremely expensive and has now come at the cost of being able to acquire the new technologies required to raise a modern military force. It is a myth that India's manpower is cheap. Maintaining the size and kind of forces that India does, if maintained over the secular period, will undercut its ability to acquire the kind of RMA capabilities that wins modern wars. And this is going to require India to make very painful choices — painful choices about reducing its manpower strength and changing the inter-service budgetary balances, choices that it cannot make today because of the gravity, importance, and burdens of its internal security commitments.

The next micro issue is the need to preserve effective external defense, now in a nuclear shadowed environment. This brings us face to face with the vexed question of whether India has the capacity to successfully prosecute a limited war. Most commentary so far has focused on the issue of limited war as an example of Indian recklessness. People have chastised the Defense Minister, Mr. George Fernandes, for arguing that limited war in fact represents a solution to India's external security problems. My take on the issue is somewhat different. I believe that limited war should be viewed not as a product of the proclivities of the state, but rather as a predicament resulting from a specific set of structural circumstances. The transparent presence of nuclear weapons in the subcontinent for the first time makes unlimited wars untenable as a matter of state policy. This is not simply India's choice — it actually represents a dilemma of the nuclear age. And it is a challenge that faces India both with respect to Pakistan and with respect to China. In both cases, unlimited war is not feasible. There is also no guarantee that war is obsolete. And therefore the challenge of limited war confronts India squarely, both with respect to its northern and its western borders.

What does limited war mean for Indian defense policy? It means that India is now confronted with the task of being required to hit hard and effectively enough to punish an adversary, but not hit so hard or so effectively as to cause inadvertent escalation. This in turn leads to questions like "how do you avoid escalation?" Most commentaries have focused on this aspect of the problem. But there is another aspect to the problem, which has largely escaped attention. Because it is going to demand of India a new style of war fighting that New Delhi traditionally has been uncomfortable with and which historically it has been relatively incapable of. It is a style of war fighting that puts a premium on achieving very speedy decision on the battlefield and then terminating offensive action either before the international community intervenes or before the conflict degenerates into unavoidable attrition. Getting the Indian military to successfully prosecute a fast paced war that generates quick decisions is something that we have not seen in fifty years of India's independence. It is also the kind of war that traditionally the United States was not very good at. We preferred wars that allowed us plenty of time to mobilize, plenty of time to deploy, and then plenty of time to be able to grind down the adversary at our convenience. If India is to be able to prosecute the opposite kind of war, as the United States is now proficient at — fast, decisive, and yet limited — it is going to require an investment in new technologies and new operating skills apart from new doctrines and new concepts of operation.

Third, if India is to become a great power of the sort that it seeks to become, it also has to become a net provider of regional security, both in the sub-continental and in the extra sub-continental arenas. This is easier said than done; yet at one level it is the quintessential part of the definition of a great power. After all, what is the meaning of having great power capabilities if at the end of the day you cannot extend net security to others? And yet any Indian attempt to provide the kind of regional security that I am talking of, even in the sub-continental arena, is fraught with hazards because it risks deepening intra-regional rivalries and it risks deepening the suspicions India’s weaker neighbours have of its capabilities and its intentions.

Finally, will India develop the organizational structures that are required to maintain and operate these capabilities if it seeks to provide the kind of regional security that is to be expected of a great power?

The fourth micro problem pertains to whether India can acquire an effective nuclear deterrent without breaking the bank. My view is that nuclear weapons are important for India's security in some limited sense, but it is also essential to remember that they are actually relatively obsolescent technologies. Nuclear weapons are now over fifty years old and they are generally unusable as instruments of international politics.

The last micro problem is the question of India's developing an appropriate defense industrial policy that recognizes and accepts the limits to autarky. I recognize that India's fear of vulnerability has driven its traditional strategy of large-scale defense import substitutions. I think the time has come though to resist the temptation of trying to develop everything from assault rifles to main battle tanks to advanced combat equipment.

Where does all this imply in terms of conclusions about India's capacity to develop the defense capabilities that would make it a great power in this century? My argument essentially would be that its capacity to master the creation, deployment and use of military instruments is still not assured at this point in time.

Whether it will succeed in this endeavor will depend greatly on how it resolves the three macro and five micro problems that I have identified.

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