Originally Published 2010-12-22 00:00:00 Published on Dec 22, 2010
My revered teacher late professor Matin Zuberi had once remarked that major states in global affairs, real or aspiring, end up possessing superfluous arsenals often times through superficially planned and mostly ad hoc manners.
Column : Arming while aiming
My revered teacher late professor Matin Zuberi had once remarked that major states in global affairs, real or aspiring, end up possessing superfluous arsenals often times through superficially planned and mostly ad hoc manners. He made another remark by explaining that superfluity in arms build-up may be a subject of debate but to say that a state like India builds arms without any purpose amounts to narrow scholarship. He was reacting to a book written by Christopher Smith titled India’s Ad-hoc Arsenal: Direction or Drift in India’s Defence Policy, published in 1994.

Years later, K Subrahmanyam, India’s most prominent defence analyst, supported Smith’s views, whose book Shedding Shibboleths came out in 2007—some of the latter’s arguments remarkably resembling those of Smith. Publications on Indian military power have not been too many, which can be counted from Lorne Kavic in the late 1960s, Raju Thomas in the mid-1980s, Smith and Ron Mathews in 1990s and now a new book titled Arming without Aiming: India’s Military Modernization by Stephen Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta in 2010. In between, David Kinsella has branded Indian military industrialisation as ‘symbol of statehood’. Indian reviewers of the book have praised Cohen’s book.

Analyses on India’s ‘hard power’—explained as the aggregation of national military capabilities—have always been a difficult subject of research, hence the few attempts by Indians and still fewer by foreigners. For example, the Chief of Indian Army Staff General VK Singh recently stated that India has no “Cold Start” doctrine, as claimed by secret American documents recently, while there are dozens of papers already written by analysts, mostly Indian, on the subject in the recent past. Research on hard power needs both objective (data, primary information) and subjective (secondary and authentic tertiary sources) interpretations by dedicated scholars. Neither the Indian university nor research system has been able to attract scholarship on such subjects. No wonder then, when you speak to a strategic analyst, you actually talk to a former military guy or a former civil servant who would often recount golf course or cocktail stories.

Six arguments on the observations made by both foreign and Indian analysts on the Indian defence sector are advanced here. First, the ‘drift’ in the Indian defence policy as argued by Smith seems pretty far-fetched. In fact, contrary to it, a sense of direction was always evident in the past and seems evolving further in current times, thanks to efforts to initiate major reforms in national security management, in general, and defence production and management, in particular. Creation of new institutions, attempts to reform production and procurement policies point to the refinement and prioritisation of the ‘hard power’ component of Indian national power. Second, ‘strategic restraint as a limitation’ as argued by Cohen may be a millennia-old civilisational tradition but recent evidence, like nuclear tests and restraint shown in crisis situations like the Kargil conflict or 26/11, has paid dividends for India as it is seen as a more responsible power now. It must be noted that the acquisition of strategic weapons, creation of Special Forces and joint doctrinal attributes being slowly embedded in Indian military preparedness are certainly not for perpetual defensive purposes. Third, the Indian arsenal being describes as ‘ad hoc’ is debatable. Ad hoc is quantifiable—segregating the unnecessary from the stated quantum. India’s long-term military modernisation plan currently under way is certainly not vague in the numbers of systems required, to be phased out or that exist in the arsenal. Fourth, executive decisions on national security matters are often short-sighted and, as Subrahmanyam, Smith and Cohen argue, may not be true all the time. Unfortunately, in the case of India, strategic decisions taken at certain times in history are interpreted by analysts with excessive reliance on secondary sources like autobiographies, biographies and tertiary sources, like interviews and personal conversations in the near absence of official documents in the public domain. Fifth, complex bureaucratic institutional arrangements have been the biggest hindrance to timely and transparent decision making in India, as argued by Subrahmanyam and others, is fine but nobody offers an alternate proposition. A systems overhaul, as argued by many, is an impractical idea against the backdrop of the systems in question being too traditional and rigid. A slow yet incremental change in structural aspects of MoD and armed forces from within is what seems to be a practical idea. That is exactly is what has been happening for the past few years. Cumulative essence of half a dozen committee reports in the last ten years—from the GoM, to Kelkar to Sengupta to Rama Rao—typifies such an attempt. And last, India as a ‘strong society presided over by a weak state’ as argued by Cohen is unpalatable. It is actually the other way round, to say the least.

Both foreign and Indian analysts have pilloried the Indian defence sector, including me, for various reasons, yet a rational set of arguments on Indian hard power still elude us. It is time that government-funded and non-government research institutions encouraged multi-disciplinary scholarship on the subject. The proposed effort should not be time specific but must be treated as a constant in Indian scholarship to provide requisite inputs to the state wisdom.

The author is a senior fellow in security studies at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. These are his personal views

Courtesy: Financial Express

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