Originally Published 2004-11-22 05:07:13 Published on Nov 22, 2004
Clausewitz may be out of fashion and less relevant today but no one can question his evergreen noting, ¿Each age has had its own peculiar forms of war.... Each, therefore, would also keep its own theory of war¿.
Limited War and Escalation Control
Clausewitz may be out of fashion and less relevant today but no one can question his evergreen noting, "Each age has had its own peculiar forms of war.... Each, therefore, would also keep its own theory of war".&nbsp; <br /> <br /> As someone who had to learn, understand and practice war as a career for over four decades, I could also add, "Except for the background of a conflict, war circumstances and war situations are seldom alike". <br /> <br /> Comparing current strategic situation on the subcontinent with nuclear theology of Cold war period to bring out an intended message howsoever noble that may be, may not be an objective or sound analysis. There is a need to understand the ground situation in South Asia and the circumstances under which a limited war has been considered likely or possible.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> After conducting nuclear tests at Pokharan and Chagai in May 98, political establishments in India and Pakistan thought that we could now usher security stability era on the sub continent. Unfortunately, the tests and overt nuclear capability had an opposite impact on the proxy war already initiated by Pakistan. Contrary to expectations, it showed intensification on the ground.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> It was apparent that nuclear optimists, who believed in nuclear deterrence theory, had not taken into account the stability-instability paradox or a proxy war. I do not blame them. Nuclear deterrence was an established and a rational concept. Use of terror and proxy war in the spectrum of conflict to destablise the adversary was neither an established concept nor rational. The West realised this lower end of conflict spectrum only after 9/11. We have been facing the music for a long time. <br /> <br /> In November 1998, while addressing National Defence College, I had stated, rather warned, " If terrorism/ militancy/proxy war grows too big, both the 'initiator' and the 'affected' nation are tempted to go into a conventional war fighting mode. 'Initiator'-To give it a greater push to achieve the desired goal. And the 'Affected'-Pushed to the wall: tries to bring the proxy war into the open so that it does not have to fight with the limitations of a 'no war, no peace' situation." <br /> <br /> India took a major initiative of discussing terrorism and nuclear CBMs with Pakistan at Lahore in Feb 1999. I was part of the Government then. But what was the result? The result was Kargil war. It was totally irrational and, therefore, a surprise. I am not condoning poor intelligence and surveillance. The Kargil war was a big challenge to us. We achieved spectacular success against heavy odds without escalating the conflict. After the war, we had to go through the whole conflict scenario once again. We had to analyse and find an answer to this new challenge below the nuclear threshold, other than launching a covert or a proxy war. <br /> <br /> With nuclear weapons here to stay, it is hard to see a large-scale conventional war between India and Pakistan, or for that matter even with China. The probability of an all out high intensity regular war hereafter will remain low. Even if a conventional war breaks out, it is likely to be limited in time and scope. <br /> <br /> Was there a space between proxy war and a high intensity conventional war? The answer had been given by Pakistan in Kargil and our reaction to that. How small or big is this space? This I believe will always be a matter of circumstances, conjecture and debate. What are the factors that will impact this space? For that one has to consider: - <br /> <br /> Who takes the initiative? What is the international perception? Will the adversary chance nuclear retaliation even when its survival is nowhere at stake? How limited are the political and military objectives? How big and effective are the conventional forces on both sides? The nuclear doctrine and its credibility! How low is adversary's nuclear threshold? If it is very low, then why keep large conventional forces? Will the adversary heed or not heed deterrent response of nuclear retaliation? <br /> <br /> Was this space exploitable? The answer was yes. It had been done in the past. Pakistan had done it now. This space becomes more exploitable if you are reacting to a Kargil type or proxy war situation.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> What could be the nature of war within this exploitable space? It would have to be conducted within the framework of carefully calibrated political goals and military moves that permit greater control over escalation and disengagement, and greater synchronization of politics, diplomacy military and others, as we did in Kargil war. It would imply limited political and military objectives, not to hurt the adversary excessively at any one time, limited in duration, in geography, and in the actual use of forces level. Such a conflict could also spread out in time in what could possibly be termed as a war in 'slow motion'. <br /> <br /> Almost all these factors have a bearing on escalation control. In addition, there is also the factor of 'escalation dominance'. That too has a bearing on escalation control. There is yet another factor that is peculiar but applicable to the sub continent. Even during conflicts and wars, communications between India and Pakistan have seldom broken down completely. Let me remind you that during Kargil war, both at political and military levels, the hot lines continued to work. We tend to fight and talk at the same time. <br /> <br /> So, a limited war was, and still is, a strategic possibility so long as proxy war continues on the sub continent. As Ashley Tellis put it in the last India Today Conclave," 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."&nbsp; <br /> <br /> I will not go into strategic or operational details of how to successfully conduct a limited war. <br /> <br /> I am not one of those who believe that war makes the state and the states exist only to make wars. No one in right senses wants to have a war on one's hands. Least of all democracies like India; and people like me who have studied, participated, and had to conduct a war. But the Armed Forces have to be prepared for all possible conflict contingencies. Is any one of you prepared to say today that a war has become obsolete? A war is a risky activity. So, how can anyone give you a guarantee that there shall be no risk of escalation in a limited war? <br /> <br /> But what surprises me is the criticism from people who not only practice war for the same reason but also accept the concept of pre-emption. They do not find much wrong in USA invading Iraq while suspecting Saddam to be in the possession of WMD. (Suppose Saddam did have those weapons, what would have been his/US coalition reaction? Did they consider such a contingency or not?) Some of those very people tell us don't talk of limited war; it is dangerous. They have their own definitions of terrorism and proxy war, and will not do enough to ensure that proxy war, which can always lead to a limited conventional war, must stop on the sub continent. They talk more of nuclear escalation and less of what may cause a conventional war.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> And now I come to the essays on the Limited war and escalation control written by Michael Krepon in his forthcoming book 'Escalation Control in South Asia'. Michael is a good friend, and I respect his intellect, sagacity, and value his friendship. His book is educative, useful, and valuable ......... except where he and I differ! He knows that I believe in escalation control but strongly oppose terrorism; state sponsored or not. I have myself participated in two of his conferences on Escalation Control and made my contribution. Some comments are: - <br /> <br /> Yes! Stability instability paradox does exist in South Asia. The reason is the on going proxy war on the sub continent. <br /> <br /> The concept of such a limited war has no connection with nuclear theories or tactical nuclear weapons. Fundamentally, it avoids escalation to a level of nuclear threshold. <br /> <br /> Michael Krepon states that two chastening experiences-Kargil war and prolonged military deployment of 2002-have provided the impetus for constructive engagement in nuclear risk reduction and expert level talks on nuclear CBMs. May I remind you that we took the initiative before these two events, in the form of the MoU that was signed in Lahore in Feb 1999? We seem to have done a full circle on that. I continue to support all such CBMs. <br /> <br /> Have nuclear tests created greater tension on the sub continent? The nuclear pessimists say yes. Michael tends to agree with them. In talking about a limited war, I may sound another pessimist. But actually, I am not. My view is that it has created greater stability between India and China. Higher-level stability has also been introduced between Pakistan and India too. At lower level, however, it has created further instability due to on going proxy war. This is well below a nuclear threshold and only in short term. In the long run, people will realise the dangers and futility of proxy war and LIC, and then escalation control will become more effective. I believe there is still a great deal of sense of responsibility on the sub continent. Even during a war, people on the sub continent are more sensitive to collateral damage than the West. To that extent, I am an optimist. <br /> <br /> I also believe that India Pak nuclear hyphenation, like all strategic issues, distorts the realities of the sub continent. It is a responsible, but a narrow view.&nbsp; <br /> A few days ago, I asked Mr Chari why were some people critical of my limited war statement when they did not disagree with its possibility and rationale. His answer was, it is seen as provocative. Well! So long as the rationale is accepted and it enables people to understand, that proxy war or low intensity war on the LoC is dangerous and it can escalate into a conventional war, my provocation would have served a useful purpose. <br /> <br /> And what is more provocative- a proxy war or a limited war? You decide! <br /> <br /> <em>Text of the talk given during discussion on Michael Krepon's book 'Escalation Control in South Asia' at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi on November 17, 2004.</em> <br /> <br /> Former Chief of Army Staff. Currently, President, ORF Institute of Security Studies. <br /> <br /> <em>* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.</em>
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