Interview with General Asthana (retired): India and the Second Nuclear Age- „India has also developed nuclear triad and raised the Cyber Warfare Agency and is slowly moving towards taking on these challenges“

Interview with General Asthana (retired): India and the Second Nuclear Age- „India has also developed nuclear triad and raised the Cyber Warfare Agency and is slowly moving towards taking on these challenges“

Global Review had the honour to have another interview with Genral Asthana about India and the Second Nuclear Age and the relations between the worldpowers USA, China and India.

Biodata of General Astahana:

  • Veteran Infantry General with 40 years of varied experience in national, international fields and UN. Former Additional Director General of Infantry of Indian Army and Head of Training at Defence Services Staff College Wellington. Awarded twice by President of India, twice by UN, and CEE excellence award for Nation building by Governor of Haryana.
  • Presently Chief Instructor of all Courses for military officers in United Service Institute of India.
  • Prolific strategic & military writer/analyst on international affairs. Authored over 100 publications/articles and over 100 blogs, on international & National issues. Has been interviewed by various National and International media channels in various appointments in India and abroad, including frequent discussions/opinions on WION, Rajyasabha TV, NewsX, Doordarshan, Samay TV, APN TV. Interviewed by Sputnik, SCMP (Six Times), Global Review (Germany) five times, Safety & Security International (Germany), Financial Express, The Sentinel and ANI (Several Times). Editorials in Financial Chronicle. Writing for  Washington Post, The Guardian, Modern Diplomacy (EU and Africa), Global Review (Germany), FDI(Australia), Korea Times, Economic Times, South China Morning Post, Global Times (China), Asia Times (Australia), WION News, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Journal, Tuck Magazine(Australia), Eurasian Review, Business Standard, Diplomacy and Beyond, Indian Defence Review, GIAP Journal, USI Journal, Indian Military Review, Synergy Journal, ANI, Kootneeti, Borderless Newsonline, National Defence, Salute, Scroll, Print, Newsmobile, and Newsroom 24X7, Indian Observer Post in different forms, besides own publications.
  • Currently on Board of Advisors in International Organisation of Educational     Development (IOED), Confederation of Educational Excellence (CEE), and Security Council of United Nations Association of India (UNAI), United Nations Collaboration for Economic and Social Development in Africa (UNCESDA), International Council on Global Conflict Resolution (ICGCR) and International Police Commission (IPC). Life member of various Think Tanks like IDSA, USI of India, Center for Land Warfare Studies & FDI (Australia).
  • Delivering talks regularly on strategic, military & motivational subjects in various universities/organisations, UN subjects in Centers of UN peacekeeping (globally), CUNPK, New Delhi, & conducting UN exercises. External examiner for M Phil, with Panjab University, in Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), New Delhi.
  • Doctoral researcher with JNU, holds two M Phil degrees with outstanding grade, PGDHRM and various management degrees, UN Courses, prestigious Defence Courses, Advanced Professional Program in Public Administration at IIPA, and National Development Course in Taiwan.

Reachable at Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube and Google+ as Shashi Asthana, asthana_shashi on twitter, and writing on own site     email   LinkedIn Profile

Global Review:   In the article „India-US Relations: From Distant Partners to an Alliance “in the US Army War College Quarterly Vol.48 No.3 Autumn 2018, Vinay Kaura writes: 

„India’s approach to the Indo-Pacific is neither one of alignment nor strategic autonomy. It lies in the grey zone between them. It is in the US interest to push India out of this zone by helping it overcome major obstacles: India’s commitment to strategic autonomy doubts America’s reliability as a strategic partner, emphasizes the need to sustain engagement with Russia, and seeks to avoid the adverse consequences of provoking China. The Modi government has assured Russia that the Indo-Pacific strategy would not compromise the ties between the two countries. Modi has been cautious with his Indo-Pacific strategy. But he will not be able to convince Beijing that India has given up its efforts to balance or contain China. Whenever the Indo-Pacific concept is discussed, China is not mentioned. Yet the formulation of a free and open Indo-Pacific suggests an anti-Chinese connotation. The declared objectives of seeking greater freedom and openness—in terms of governance, fundamental rights, and economic transparency—run counter to the Chinese political model.

Beijing is unlikely to back down from its claims to the Indian Territory along the border. And there is no indication China will reduce its attempts to contain India.(…) Rajesh Rajagopalan, a leading Indian strategist, argued India’s hedging approach “will satisfy neither China nor the partners that India hopes to balance China with” and is likely to “be seen in Beijing as conference hall sophistry” that will be ignored against the background of India’s balancing efforts. Explaining the downside of this hedging strategy, he believes “India will neither reduce the threat it faces from China nor have the partners it needs to counter this threat.”

If this pattern of strategic ambiguity continues, it could spell the end to any chance of the revival of the Quad. India’s strategic reorientation could also mean that the Quad will never materialize in the way it is being conceptualized. Divergent ideas among the four countries regarding China constitute another big hurdle to the Quad. But even if there is not much formal progress, the parties must work towards better coordination and cooperation on common concerns. Merely opposing China’s economic hegemony through multiple plans and initiatives will be futile because of the urgent need to develop infrastructure in many parts of the world. The challenges emerging from China’s growing economic and military footprint in the Indo-Pacific can, however, be tackled if India, the United States, Japan, and Australia “combine forces.”

The Quad provides an insurance policy against China’s strong-arm tactics; it also provides states in the region with confidence that pressure from China can be resisted. As Asia struggles under the burden of a permanent Chinese military presence in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, New Delhi has no option but to balance power with Beijing, using the “quad with teeth” as the trump card. Adhering to strategic autonomy made sense when India did not have global power ambitions. But in aspiring to emerge as a world power, India cannot rely entirely on internal balancing. With global interests and global responsibilities, strategic orientation cannot remain prisoner to a bygone era. Persistent concerns need persistent partnerships to demonstrate the readiness for joint action. New Delhi needs to conceptualize an alliance with Washington—beyond friendship—to address long-term concerns.(…) At the same time, the United States must show publicly that it remains committed to India’s rise to global prominence. A long tradition of strategic autonomy may ultimately prevent India from forging a formal alliance with America. But it makes sense for New Delhi to establish a unique, multifaceted, and future-oriented partnership with Washington. Such a partnership can deliver a beneficial balance of power without the limits of a formal architecture.“

Do you think that India has to depart from his concept of strategic autonomy and ambiguity as it wants to become a world power? Would an US-Indian partnership which comes close to an alliance with the Quad without the limits of a formal architecture be in India´s interest? Or would India´s Political elites split in the event of a coming conflict with China in three factions: One committed to strategic autonomy and India´s role as mediator, one who wants a semi-autonomous partnership with the USA or a third faction which would demand an alliance?

Maj Gen S B Asthana

You have quoted various authors who have their respective views on strategic autonomy of India and its ambitions. I do not think there is any ambiguity regarding India’s position and there is no grey zone as pointed out by one of them. In my opinion India has no ambition of becoming a global power and it would like to maintain its autonomy and sovereignty intact to ensure that no one can dictate our strategic choices. India has many domestic priorities and is looking at peaceful, inclusive growth of its people instead of indulging in any power play.   India has a set of convergences and divergences of interests with each of the key players you have mentioned, namely China, USA and Russia. India has so far been able to keep these relations exclusive of each other, and hence, has been able to successfully manage an independent foreign relationship without any bias. In the turbulent complex environment of today, our convergences and divergences have started impacting each other. India’s differences with China on certain aspects of Sino-Pak nexus, use of global commons in South China Sea and Indian Ocean, and obstruction to Indian entry in NSG can also be viewed as convergence of interests with US. India’s differences with US on trade, tariff, and CAATSA can be seen as convergence of interests with China. Russia despite being India’s long term strategic partner and major supplier of defence equipment is showing a recognisable tilt towards China basically to withstand US competitive gestures and their idea of Eurasia, but will not move away from the second largest arms importer (India) for economic reasons and time tested strategic partnership.

Recently US and Indian convergence in containing terrorism in South Asia, especially emanating from the terror factory of Pakistan, and China’s support to them by putting repeated technical holds on declaration of Maulana Masood Azhar as global terrorist brought India, US and some other Western countries closer to India. US collaboration with India in military capacity building is also increasing, but its a subject of mutual interest because India continues to procure equipment from many countries with competitive bidding. Chinese stance on CPEC cannot be accepted by India as it violates its sovereignty; however China continues to be the largest trading partner of India. China is India’s land neighbour with unsettled border is a reality and in this context India has to deal with China in bilateral terms with some assistance in capacity building, technology and intelligence from other strategic partners. In Indo-Pacific or maritime domain Chinese assertiveness and incremental encroachment into South China Sea (SCS) to convert global common into Chinese lake, disregard to UNCLOS and increasing military bases in this region is a global concern, where China has pushed many countries to address it together. The origin of Indo-pacific term, naming ‘The United States Central Command’ as ‘Indo-Pacific Command’ and Quad as a grouping is an after effect of it.

India conceptually is in sync with US, Japan and Australia, but it believes that for success of ‘Quad to mature into grouping with teeth’ for seamless Indo-Pacific, ASEAN and other countries having maritime dispute with China, but do not have necessary muscles to oppose it, need to be taken on board. China’s growing strategic expansionism in the Indo-Pacific region necessitates US, India, Japan, Australia and other affected countries to join up to meet the fresh challenge. Quad needs to be taken to the next level. Every grouping has teething problems and Quad is no exception. These could be read by some strategists as ‘Grey Zone’ but it should be read as issue based grouping forced by China itself by its actions in SCS and Indian Ocean. India as a country is one in dealing with external threats; hence I do not think that there are different factions in looking at Indo-US relationship. In my opinion an issue based partnership with an overall ambit of its strategic partnership without getting into an alliance will suit the Indian interest best at this point of time.     

Global Review: General Asthana, as an outlook for 2019 and the future the former Indian national security adviser Shivshankar Menon published  two articles in The Wire. In the first one he claims: „China-US Contention Has Opened Up Space for Other Powers, Including India“

In the second article he draws the following conclusion:

„„Asia’s Three Futures and the Place of India and China in It. There is opportunity again for India’s transformation in the emerging global situation, if we take advantage of it.(…)

A new modus vivendi

What might a new framework consist of? It would include respect for each other’s core interests; new areas of cooperation like counter-terrorism and maritime security and crisis management; a clearer understanding of each other’s sensitivities; settling or at least managing differences; and, a strategic dialogue about actions on the international stage. The new security issues like maritime security which is increasingly important to both India and China, can be positive sum issues, if not looked at territorially. Both have an interest in keeping the sea lanes open and secure for their trade and energy flows and should be discussing them and cooperating.

It would include a revised framework for economic cooperation in the periphery that we share. China has reportedly proposed extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to India. If we are to solve the trade imbalance, we must broaden the economic relationships to manufacturing, investment etc. Should not the two countries connect trans-Himalayas, using transit through Nepal to improve such trade, and China begin to treat both sides of Jammu and Kashmir equally in practice, while reverting to her stated position in the 1990s that J&K is disputed and to be settled by India and Pakistan between themselves?

If so, we might see a changed economic paradigm in the India-China relationship which would not appear so mercantile and exploitative to the average Indian. This would go beyond engaging China’s financial and other capabilities to build Indian infrastructure, as the present Indian government has attempted.

India too will need to adjust to new economic realities. For example, the rise of China and her economic strength has made the extent of India’s engagement in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)  a matter of debate in India – this at a time when trade in goods accounts for almost half of India’s GDP. Equally, India now has an interest in freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, since $ 66 billion worth of her exports and about 33% of our trade passes through that waterway, but the nature and manner of safeguarding that interest are still an issue in India.

We thus face a double opportunity.

Tactically, China-US contention – which I think is structural and therefore likely to continue for some time with a paradigm shift away from cooperation to increasing contention, despite temporary deals and “victories” declared by one or both – opens up opportunities and space for other powers. Both China and the US will look to put other conflicts and tensions on the back burner while they deal with their primary concern, the other. We have seen this effect already in the Wuhan meeting and the apparent truce and dialling back of rhetoric by both India and China, even though this does not extend to a new strategic framework or understanding or to a settlement of outstanding issues.

Strategically speaking, there is opportunity again for India’s transformation in the emerging global situation if we take advantage of it. Is this the pie in the sky?  Lack of ambition has been part of the problem in the India-China relationship over the last few years. We will never know unless we try. And we must try. Our grasp must exceed our reach.“

Do you agree with his thesis and how does this approach fit to your own approach that India should play the mediator in Asia and within the G 20 and between the USA, Russia and China?

 Maj Gen S B Asthana

I have read both the articles and have heard the author in my institution. I generally agree with his thesis with some differences. I do not recommend India to play any mediator role in Asia or in G 20. While I agree that Indian economy is the fastest growing economy and third largest in size in PPP terms, but it also is home to second largest poorest population in the world. India needs to keep its global aim within practicable limits. China which has much larger economy is also suffering the trade war with US and problems with BRI because its global ambitions grew faster than its per capita capacity, and it’s up swinging economy has nosedived, with many nations opposing its moves. 

I do not subscribe to the idea of joining CPEC.No other country is confronted with an issue as serious as “sovereignty issue” in context of OBOR as India, with China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) passing through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK), which is sovereign territory of India. India therefore cannot forgo its claim on POK and Gilgit Baltistan. We have to keep this claim alive because legally speaking, the entire Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India, which includes POK and Gilgit Baltistan. China understands our position and is continuing business as usual despite continued absence of India from BRF. In case of Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM), India has already negotiated connectivity through Bangladesh and work is in progress. The roads in Northeastern states are being developed by India, and connectivity to Myanmar is being negotiated bilaterally, hence China driven BCIM has very little to charm India.

Global Review: Do you think the world and Asia is facing an new arms race? Trump set Russia an ultimatum to destroy its new middle range cruise missiles, the SSC8; otherwise the INF-treaty will become obsolete. NATO is already thinking about the possible deployment of new weapon systems in Europe. In Asia China is also developing middle range cruise missiles and modernizing its nuclear assets, while Japan begins to build aircraft carrier groups. Do you think this will change the strategic balance and deterrence in the world and in Asia substantially and destabilize the international relations?

Maj Gen S B Asthana

I agree that the world and Asia is facing a new arm race to include sophisticated missiles, additional nukes including its miniaturisation, space, Information War, Cyber and economic war including sale of arms and technology. The strategists all over the world normally call the present global situation as ‘Cold War’, which as per Cambridge Dictionary, is a state of extreme unfriendliness existing between countries, especially countries with opposing political systems that expresses itself not through fighting but through political pressure and threats. This expression was usually used to describe the relationship between the US and the Soviet Union after the Second World War. The erstwhile Cold War has grown in dimension from oil politics, trade war including the arms race to encompass every element of Comprehensive National Power (CNP).

The dimensions of war has changed from erstwhile conventional wars under nuclear hangover (barring nuclear strike on Japan) to Cold War, arms race (including Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense (CBRN) arsenal), with political bouts interspersed with few offensive actions. The world is yet to mentally accept the transition of World War into a new dimension to encompass economic warfare, trade, diplomatic manoeuvres, technological, space, and information war including cyber warfare. The conventional war has now taken a back seat, but the space exists for such wars at regional level. The other recent additions to instruments of war could be strategic and economic alliances, strategic posturing, joint military exercises like Malabar Exercises, but the most discouraging part is the entry into a dirty domain like double gaming with respect to terrorism, despite everyone claiming to be together in global fight against terror. In space dimension, with recent advancements, the world may see former President Ronald Reagan’s fancy dream of ‘Star Wars’ to new potential. The strategic power of water is the another dimension likely to get added in future, besides continuing oil politics. All the developments mentioned above will definitely have a major impact in strategic balancing in Asia and the world.

Global Review: US strategists speak of a new Second or even Third Nuclear Age which is different from the First Nuclear Age of the bipolar Cold War. As a pioneer of this new thinking the Centre for Strategic Budget Assessment (CSBA) wrote a new study called „Rethinking Armageddon“:

Rethinking Armageddon

March 1, 2016 • By Andrew F. Krepinevich and Jacob Cohn • Studies

The First Nuclear Age was characterized by the Cold War era bipolar international system and a corresponding bipolar nuclear competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. While a few other states, such as Great Britain and France, also possessed nuclear arms, their arsenals were very small compared to those of the two superpowers.

The world is far different today. On the one hand, both the United States and Russia have far smaller nuclear arsenals than they did at the Cold War’s end. At the same time, new nuclear powers have emerged in pace with advanced conventional precision warfare capabilities. The rise of cyber warfare has also led to concerns over the security and reliability of early warning and command-and-control systems, and weapon systems as well. Advances in the cognitive sciences and research on Cold War crisis decision-making have challenged some of our thinking as to how strategies based on deterrence work, or risk failing. Together, these and other recent developments have combined to form what some are calling a Second Nuclear Age.

Dr. Andrew Krepinevich and Jacob Cohn have authored a scenario-based assessment of the competitive dynamics of the Second Nuclear Age. The assessment explores, among other things, the implications for extended deterrence, crisis stability, missile defense, prompt conventional global strike, growing multipolar or “n-player competitions, and planning assumptions as they have been influenced by advances in the cognitive sciences, to include prospect theory. Their paper also includes an analysis of the implications for U.S. interests, with an emphasis on preserving the seventy-one-year tradition of non-use of nuclear weapons (since their only use in 1945), also known as the “nuclear taboo.” The existing and prospective challenges posed by the Second Nuclear Age, as reflected in these scenarios, are sobering. If the United States seeks to preserve the nuclear taboo, it ignores them at its peril.“

“Rethinking Armageddon“ is an appeal to rethink and modify the framework of Hermann Kahn´s escalation ladder in a Second/Third Nuclear Age and to make appropriate and thought-through decisions in an era of new weapon systems and multipolar competition. It´s a very complex thinking and simple ideas like Donald Trump´s „We have nuclear weapons, so why don´t we use them?“ might be not the right approach, even produce the Armageddon.

The Second Nuclear Age is much more unstable, dynamic and unpredictable for a deterrence and has no “one-fits-all”-approach, but has to include new factors and drivers as global strike potentials, mini nukes, precision strike weapons, cyberwar, space weapons, missile defense,  haystack attacks , stealth weapons, nano weapons, automized masses of drones, hypersonic weapons,  Counter-electronics High-powered Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP/ an EMP weapon without a nuclear blast and fallout), multipolar and not bipolar nuclear competition and the tendency towards much more trigger-alert constellations as well as new analyses about the rationality of decision-makers. Till now no strategy integrates all these new parameters as a new framework for a Second Nuclear Age, its escalation ladder and future wars. The study even thinks about the idea if the term Second Nuclear Age is sufficient or if there is already the dawn of a Third Nuclear Age due to the appearance of new weapon systems. Do you agree with the assumptions of   the CSBA study? Is India and Asia prepared for such a second nuclear age including cyber and space war?

Maj Gen S B Asthana

I generally agree with the assumptions of the CSBA study, regarding the strategic competition entering the Second Nuclear Stage. I will however like to add that nuclear equation is only one segment of strategic posturing in the current world amongst many other drivers like arms race (including Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense (CBRN) arsenal), with political bouts interspersed with few offensive actions. The world is yet to mentally accept the transition of warfare into a new dimension to encompass economic warfare, trade, diplomatic manoeuvres, technological, space, and information war including cyber warfare in addition to space weapons, missile defense, haystack attacks, stealth weapons, nano weapons, automized masses of drones, hypersonic weapons, Counter-electronics High-powered Advanced Missile Project mentioned in the study.

The world including US also has to come to terms with nuclear blackmailing by some countries like North Korea developing nuclear missiles for regime survival and Pakistan developing mini nukes to compensate for conventional strength. The threat of nukes/ dirty bombs falling in the hands of terrorists by some irresponsible powers is also a challenge in CBRN domain. Regarding transition from bipolarity to multi polarity, I will like to add that the future brings a compulsion of alliances and strategic partnerships to be able to handle the group of adversaries as it may become increasingly difficult for any country to singly dominate the world. In this context I am sending the link of my analysis on strategic balancing, which highlights this issue in detail.

In Asia, China and Russia are already in a position to take on second nuclear age including cyber and space war. India has also developed nuclear triad and raised the Cyber Warfare Agency and is slowly moving towards taking on these challenges.

Global Review: The NSS declared that the USA is preparing for great power conflicts and that terrorism wasn´t the most import international security issue anymore. It calls Russia and China revisionist powers. The Pentagon issued a new study „„“Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States” which thinks about concrete ways to transform the US economy in an independent war economy which could overcome a long war with China and Russia.

The US Congress issued a bipartisan paper which calls for the preparation for a long war with China and Russia, even as a limited nuclear war. Both Democrats and Republicans supported Trump´s new defense budget which is significantly higher than previous defence budgets. Does all this show that the world is entering a period of great power conflicts, even a new world war?

Maj Gen S B Asthana

My hypothesis is that the world is already into the ‘Great power Conflict’ with trade war and strategic posturing being the new Normal. The increased budget of US is quite convincing in context of taking on strategic competition posed by China and Russia put together. US Defence budget in fact is more than the total defense budget of next seven countries put together including Russia and China, but if US has to remain a super power with global expeditionary capabilities, it will have to bear this cost.    

In this context I am sending you a link of my analysis on this subject published in USI Journal titled “Aren’t We Already in ‘Undeclared Third World War’ with Changed Dimensions and Instruments?”

The analysis in the above mentioned article adequately answers the question at length.

Global Review: In the case of a Sino- American war, do you think that the USA will rely on its war strategy Offshore Control by TX Hammes, means: a sea blockade against China or will the US military use its concept Air sea battle and bomb military assets in China until China surrenders. How likely do you think is a Sino-American war? And how would India react in this case?

Maj Gen S B Asthana

The Sino-American war is already on in terms of trade war, Information war, cyber war, strategic and military posturing and competing for influence all over the globe. The next war will commence with increase in intensity of such ongoing activities, and will take shape based on the trigger for war if any. The likely flash spots are unilateral change of status quo of Taiwan, clash in SCS, or some awkward action by North Korea. The strategy to be adopted could be a mix of all you have mentioned in the question, but the method of force application will depend on the trigger and scenario. Indian reaction will also depend on the trigger and scenario. Your question is more on methodology instead of scenario, but as a strategic analyst I can conveniently say that fighting a conventional war with China, in China may not be a good idea. It will be better for US to draw out Chinese forces away from mainland preferably in maritime domain and destroy in piecemeal besides blockading Malacca strait as well as their outlets through Pakistan and Myanmar for which it will need strategic partners/allies.  

(The views expressed are personal views of the author, who is  reachable at Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ as Shashi Asthana, asthana_shashi on twitter, S B Asthana on Youtube and on personal site     email   LinkedIn Profile )    

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