Interview with General Asthana: „In the existing circumstances Indian Military can fulfill its roles successfully“

Interview with General Asthana: „In the existing circumstances Indian Military can fulfill its roles successfully“

Global Review again had the honour to have an interview with General (ret.) Asthana. Major General Asthana is a veteran and gives his own opinion which is not that of any organization. However he is member of the United Services Institute (USI). USI, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) are the three most premier defense and security think tanks in India. IDSA is funded by Ministry of Defense and CLAWS is under the administrative control of the Indian Army.

About the author: Indian Major General Asthana (veteran)

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  • 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

Sadanand Dhume on March 9, 2019  wrote  in the  Times of India  an article „Closing the Bollywood gap“ about the rise of a „New India“, a „muscular India“ which doesn´t want to be so defensive anymore in the face of Pakistan´s support for Islamist terrorists. He says that the mood in India has changed and that a paradigm change happened. He sees the Bollywood blockbuster „Uri: The surgical strike“as indicator for such a paradigm shift:

 „Many Indians are fed up with the old national habit of turning the other cheek to cross-border violence. They expect their elected leaders to protect them, and to punish their attackers.

As national aspirations go, this is perfectly reasonable. Who wouldn’t want to junk the sordid moral calculus behind India’s supine response to the 2008 Mumbai attacks? India essentially forswore retaliation against the murderous Lashkar-e-Taiba in return for a pat on the back from Washington and a few empty promises from Islamabad. India all but announced that Indian life was cheap.

In one important way this restraint served India well. In the world’s eyes it cemented a contrast between India’s sense of responsibility and Pakistani adventurism that first emerged nine years earlier, during the Kargil conflict. But for India this was merely the silver lining in a cloud of humiliation, an attempt to wring a measure of consolation from an exercise in cowardice.

Twenty years after Kargil, and more than a decade after the carnage in Mumbai, the Bollywood blockbuster ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ vividly captures the quest for a more muscular India.

In the movie, a politically resolute government decides that the aftermath of a terrorist group’s attack on an army camp is no time to worry about what the United States or the United Nations think. The national security adviser approvingly cites Israel’s ‘Wrath of God’ operation, in which crack Mossad agents methodically hunted down the terrorists responsible for killing 11 members of the Israeli team at the 1972 Munich Olympics. When they attack, buff and bearded Indian army warriors slay their enemies almost at will. The message: Indian blood is no longer cheap.(…)

The movie boasts of a “new India”, which not only punishes terrorists but, in the words of the national security adviser in the film, “will enter their homes and kill them”. Modi’s tough talk since the Pulwama bombing – such as his promise in Tamil Nadu to pay back terrorism with interest – would not be one bit out of place in the movie.“

Do you agree that a paradigm shift occurred? In your article you proposed and discussed out-of-the -box solutions for dealing with Pakistan. Will India´s „Research & Analysis Wing“ (RAW) become some sort of Indian CIA or Mossad? Is the RAW and the Indian army capable of executing CIA operations like the USA against Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan or the Mossad against the Black September or like Entebbe in the 70s? Will we see an Indian James Bond in Bollywood blockbusters and in reality? Is the RAW already capable for offensive operations and maybe regime change operations in face of Chinese and Pakistani intelligence agencies as the ISI in Afghanistan or Bangladesh?

Maj Gen S B Asthana

The reaction of India to suicide attack on police convoy in Pulwama in the form of a precision air strike on terrorist camp of Jaish-e Mohammad at Balakot, on a non military target, ensuring no civilian casualties indicates Indian resolve and capability to undertake offensive operations not only in Pak Occupied Kashmir, but across the international border in Khyber Pakhtunwa Province of Pakistan. The boldness of this decision can be gauged from the fact that it was for the first time that a nuclear country crossed the air space of another nuclear country and launched operations on terrorist camp of the terrorist group responsible for Pulwama suicide blast.

This operation does indicate a paradigm shift of India in tackling cross border terrorism. The approach seems to be of ‘Offensive Defense’ rather than defensive, for protection of its citizens from Pakistan sponsored Proxy War through the terrorist groups like JeM, LeT. They continue infiltrating into India with the help of Pakistani Army and ISI, kill innocent people and lure the youth of Kashmir towards misplaced version of Jihad, after a prolonged dose of radicalization through Madrassas on the name of education. Pakistan has thus upgraded its ‘Proxy War to Hybrid War’ by synergizing with unprovoked firing across Line of Control and International border, thereby adding conventional content to it.  The Indian strategy to respond therefore is muscular and calculative. It is fair to assume that India would have calculated every stage of escalation dynamics while striking across the international border from conventional to nuclear options. The intent was clearly stated to be punishing the terrorist group which claimed responsibility for suicide blast and not a declaration of war on Pakistan, supported by the fact that a non military, isolated target was chosen to avoid civilian and military casualties.  India is fed up of Pakistan’s ‘Proxy War” which is a series of coward operations by terrorists, incited, radicalized on pseudo-religious lines, trained, brainwashed and infiltrated to India to fight Indian Security Forces. The new approach thus aims at tackling terrorists at the start point of their operations, instead of trying to search them inside Kashmir and putting our own population to inconvenience.

Your question mentions about some of the intelligence agencies and their potential naming their earlier operations. Like all other countries, India also has very capable intelligence agencies like RAW. It is fair to assume that India, like any other country too has many covert options which can be exercised, but it is not appropriate for me to comment on it. India does not believe in sacrificing innocent lives to kill few culprits, hence its operations are planned to minimize collateral damages. A Bollywood movie on operations is a cultural creation and most countries do make films on dramatized versions of operations. The movie you mentioned adequately express the Indian resolve and sentiments, but I would still treat them as healthy entertainment and an excellent, motivating cultural work.

 Global Review

 Some American experts doubt the credentials of India being a reliable and strong partner against China militarily. Sadanand Dhume wrote at February 7, 2019 in the Wall Street Journal   

„India is falling behind China in an Asian arms race

High defense-spending totals mask the weakness of its weapons systems, and the threat is growing.

When it comes to military spunk, no Indian politician shows it off like Narendra Modi. The prime minister sometimes dons camouflage to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, with troops on the borders with China and Pakistan.

While inaugurating a film museum last month, Mr. Modi greeted the audience with a catch phrase from “Uri: The Surgical Strike,” a recent Bollywood hit about a 2016 military operation in which Indian soldiers entered Pakistani-controlled territory to take out purported terrorist training camps. The prime minister often cites the episode to contrast his muscular leadership with the allegedly feckless opposition.

Unfortunately, Mr. Modi’s spending priorities do not match his rhetoric. Last week’s federal budget—a stopgap exercise before national elections this spring—underscores his habit of choosing butter over guns.

The budget promises income support for poor farmers, increased outlays for a government health-insurance scheme, tax cuts for the middle class, and pensions for workers in informal businesses. Though the $60.9 billion earmarked for defense is the most ever in absolute terms—and an 8% increase over last year—defense outlays have dipped to a modest 2.1% of gross domestic product.

That decline is made worse because much of India’s military budget is consumed by salaries for its bloated 1.4-million-strong army, rather than for buying weapons and investing in new technologies. Inflation and a weakening rupee—India imports about two-thirds of its military hardware—crimp the budget further.

For the U.S., which is cooperating more closely with New Delhi as a hedge against Beijing’s expansionism, the long-term risks of India’s tight military spending ought to cause concern. Each year India falls further behind China’s rapidly modernizing military.

“India’s aspirations are always lofty,” says Ashley Tellis, an expert on Asian geopolitics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “But there’s a huge disconnect with what would allow them to achieve those ambitions.”

On the surface, India’s military spending looks robust: It ranked 10th in the world in 2007, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. By 2017 it had climbed to fifth, behind the U.S., China, Saudi Arabia and Russia. India is also the world’s largest importer of arms.

Yet this may not be enough. Thanks to populist politics, defense spending has declined steadily, from 3.5% of GDP in the mid-1980s. China’s vastly larger economy allows it to allocate almost four times as much to defense as India—$228 billion in 2017.“

Do you agree with this assessment? If yes, what should be the consequences? Arms reduction or raising the quantity and the quality of the Indian military?

Maj Gen S B Asthana

I will interpret the same facts put up by Wall Street Journal in a different form. The military capability building of any country depends on certain factors like threat; geography; roles envisaged; economy; technological and industrial base and other national compulsions.  In case of China, the threat is different, the number of flash points are many, and the size of land and maritime borders and disputes are far more. China has an expeditionary intent to protect its BRI investments; hence their defense budget being four times does not surprise me. On the other hand, India has a limited intent of self-defense and retaining strategic autonomy. On land frontier with China, Himalayas do pose a formidable terrain friction and in maritime domain the distances pose some limitations to Chinese capability in acting against India.   Considering the statistical figures quoted in your question, I agree that the ab initio defense allocation should be more, but there are competing priorities in India; hence its system of defense procurement and capacity building policy framework is slightly different.

As mentioned in your question that Indian military has grown amongst top five in combat power, and India is also the world’s largest importer of arms. India is therefore looking at modernization of military a big way by incorporating private sector into Defense production, reducing some load on defense budget and public money. ‘Make in India’ is a comprehensive policy to attract FDI as well as promote Indian private manufacturers in to defense production, with transfer of technology, collaborating with foreign manufacturers who have sound ‘Research and Development Base’. Indian military is also looking at rightsizing teeth to tail ratio to be able to cull out more funds for modernization with lesser burden on social sector. India also has been talking of making additional funds available for procurement of critical defense equipment as and when required, over and above the budget allocation. If our public-private partnership programs, Make in India programs work well then the visual effect of limited defense budgetary allocation may be mitigated to quite an extent. India is also manufacturing dual use items requiring low end technology indigenously, and picking it up as Commercially of the Shelf (COTS) Items. India has started looking at defense production as an industry, with a profit making and export potential. In this transition phase, prolonged lower defense allocation can be a cause of concern as it impacts the deterrence value of India, but in the existing circumstances Indian Military can fulfill its roles successfully, however like all militaries it is striving for modernizing and capacity building.

 Global Review: It seems that Trump and Putin want to make a deal. Interesting  to see that Trump didn´t threaten Russia with new sanctions, after its passport diplomacy in Ukraine and now its involvement in Venezuela. He also supports now General Haftar in Lybia as Putin, France, Egypt and Saudi Arabia do. After the Mueller report Trump is now free to meet and act with Putin. Indicator is the 1 1/2 hour telephone meeting between them where they spoke of Venezuela, Syria, Ukraine, and North Korea. Also interesting that North Korea launched new short range missiles after the visit of Kim in Moscow and at the height of the Venezulanian crisis. Putin could use this to be a mediator between the USA and North Korea. And last point: Trump proposes an armaments pact with Russian and China. There is a lot in motion at the moment. This could also have effect on India. What should India’s reaction to such an armaments reduction pact should be? Do you think Trump can win over Putin as the US junior partner against China or to bring him more in distance to China? What about India? How would India´s foreign policy change if Putin wasn´t so close to Beijing and after Trump has won Bolsanaro-Brasil as new ally inside the BRICS?

Maj Gen S B Asthana

In my opinion, notwithstanding the incidents of softness of President Trump towards President Putin, which you quoted in your question, President Trump in the run up for elections, is unlikely to be seen closer to Putin. US will like Russia to mediate between them and North Korea because it was thoroughly disappointed with Chinese mediation, which they found to be ineffective and halfhearted effort. US may look at Putin to moderate North Korea, because anything is possible in international affairs provided it serves their mutual interest. Russia will definitely like to have some bargaining chip for such an initiative, if it is ever thought of. Ideally, a thaw in Russia –China relations serves US interest best, but it does not seem to be practical, despite pleasant optics by US, because it was the economic sanctions by US that pushed Russia towards China and no major policy change has taken place so far. 

President Trump walked out of INF Treaty because it was a mutual restraint between US and Russia, leaving no restrictions on China, which seems to have made full use of this loophole by helping Pakistan and North Korea, reach a stage of nuclear and missile arsenal, where they are. In this context US thinking of an armaments pact with Russian and China is well understandable. Unfortunately US respects only those powers which can strike its mainland. Russia, China and North Korea (although not recognized as a nuclear power by them) fall in this category and it continues to have ‘Blow Hot Blow Cold’ relations with Pakistan depending upon their (US) assessment of their terror potential and leverage over terror groups, which have the potential to launch terror attacks against them. Russia and China’s closeness is also a marriage of convenience, otherwise Russians, especially President Putin may not like to be dominated by anyone, or play subordinate to someone. In this context the trajectory of US-China Trade war will also impact Russian-Chinese relations, which are bounded by financial compulsions.

In my opinion, India will welcome any Arms Reduction Treaty between US, China and Russia. As regards the foreign policy, my view remains that India will continue to follow an independent foreign policy and retain its strategic choices, instead of grouping with someone beyond a point. It has good relations with all the three countries, continues to be strategic partner of US and Russia, and a major trading partner of China, besides being its geographic neighbor. India also does not have any unrealistic expectations from any one, and will like to maintain its strategic autonomy and take actions, which are in Indian national interest.G

Global Review: Nandan Unnikrishnan – Distinguished fellow at Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi. And Uma Purushothaman – Assistant professor of international relations at Central University of Kerala, India wrote an assessment of India´s multilateralism in Eurasia. They came to the conclusion:

„India’s increasing multilateral engagement does not mean that it deprioritizes bilateral relations. Multilateral diplomacy only complements and supplements its bilateral relations in Eurasia and elsewhere. India’s approach to multilateral institutions in Eurasia is a function of its need for a stable and prosperous periphery and broader region due to their impact on its security as well as economic development. Moreover, the lack of an overarching security framework in Eurasia means that India has had to be part of many multilaterals.

New Delhi hopes to shape the emerging security and economic dynamics in these multilaterals and participate in building a regional order while also keeping an eye on its adversaries. Each multilateral of which India is a part has different benefits from India’s point of view. Some are focused mainly on economics like the EAEU, while others focus on security like the QUAD; some enable it to play a global role like RIC, and still others have a mix of these benefits. India’s stance on multilateralism in Eurasia is thus purely functional. However, Indian approach towards multilateral cooperation and institutions in Eurasia cannot be described as ‘obstructionist’, unlike the case of its skepticism towards the World Trade Organization or earlier climate change negotiations. This means that it either plays a positive role in shaping the agenda in these multilaterals or its views are highly valued by the other members.

To conclude, India’s participation in various multilaterals in Eurasia can be interpreted in two ways: as a demonstration of its enhanced standing in the global arena and, at the same time, a reflection of its need to make its presence visible everywhere so that it is taken as a serious global player. Finally, some significant bilateral that will affect India’s engagement with Eurasia are those with China, Russia, Japan, Europe (either the EU if it evolves a security role, or France, Germany, Spain, or Italy separately), Iran, Saudi Arabia, and at a lower level Indonesia, Australia, South Korea, Turkey, etc. However, the real test of India being a great power will be its ability to establish on its own and promote multilateral organizations that ‘protect its interests and reflect its values’[22] – as the US did in the post war era and Beijing is doing now through the BRI and the AIIB.“

Do you think their assessment is right and do you think that India has sufficient power to build its own multilateral organizations comparable to BRI and the AIIB beyond the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor? How is the AAGC developing? Did the USA and other states besides India and Japan join the initiative and how did Trump react to this initiative?

Maj Gen S B Asthana

I generally agree with the assessment of both the scholars you referred in your question, in context of India´s multilateralism in Eurasia. Let me open the strategic span a little wider beyond Eurasia, to answer your specific question. Presently we are living in an interdependent world, where each country has a set of issue based dependencies on others, under the overarching priority of its own national interest first. Today is an age of alliances, partnerships, groupings of countries formed on the basis of converging interests. Some of the groupings you mentioned in your question and there are many more outside Eurasia, which India forms part of.   

When a large number of countries including US allies, strategic and trade partners joined AIIB, against the wishes of US, it was quite evident that a time has come that many countries will like to have alternate sources of funding other than west dominated IMF or Japan dominated ADB and will follow their own national interest. Similarly when China exhibited aggressive design of converting feature and atolls to artificial islands, with a view to have South China Sea as ‘Chinese lake’ based on unilateral interpretation of history ignoring international laws, UNCLOS and decision of ICJ, a group of democratic countries huddled together to form QUAD with a potential to counter balance such moves, which have possibility of obstructing global trade and exploitation of global commons. The Russian aggression westwards post Crimea, brought many western countries together resulting heavy sanctions on Russia, which was instrumental in pushing Russia nearer to Beijing. The international relationships and strategic interests of most countries in the interlinked world of today are so interwoven, that it is difficult to count countries only in one grouping; hence many new issue based groupings have emerged in last few decades.

India is already a member of large number of regional and global groupings, hence it need not built any more multilateral organizations comparable to BRI and the AIIB. India has retained its strategic autonomy and is strong enough to make its own strategic choices, besides being part of some groupings which may be seen to be competing with each other. The best example of strategic balancing of India was displayed in the trilateral summits during recent G-20 Summit, wherein India was part of JAI (Japan, America and India Summit) and RIS (Russia, China and India). India remains strategic partner of US as well as Russia.  The ‘Act East Policy of India’ is linking us to South East Asian countries, where the engagements are increasing in terms of connectivity, trade, tourism, and culture. My take will be that if India can manage the neighbourhood, BIMSTEC, and other existing multilaterals to pursue its national, regional and global interests, it need not complicate the groupings by adding some more. India continues to enjoy good relations with EU members and I feel that there is no tweeking required in it.

India is already a part of AIIB, but it is unlikely to accept BRI because China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of BRI passes through Indian sovereign territory of Gilgit Baltistan which was acceded to India. The Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) cannot be compared to BRI because the intent of the initiatives is different. AAGC is an economic cooperation agreement between the governments of India, Japan and multiple African countries focusing mainly on maritime routes between Asia and Africa. India on 25 May 2017 launched a vision document for Asia-Africa Growth Corridor or AAGC at the African Development Bank meeting in Gujarat. The document was prepared by all stake holders, unlike BRI which was purely Chinese initiative to start with. AAGC will essentially be a sea corridor linking Africa with India and other countries of South-East Asia creating new sea corridors that will link ports in Jamnagar (Gujarat) with Djibouti in the Gulf of Eden and similarly the ports of Mombasa and Zanzibar will be connected to ports near Madurai; Kolkata will be linked to Sittwe port in Myanmar. The AAGC would have four main components: development and cooperation projects, quality infrastructure, institutional connectivity, capacity and skill enhancement and people-to-people partnerships to promote growth and all round development in both the continents. Transparent connectivity projects including digital connectivity are being focused. Japan is the main partner and US approach has been positive so far.G

 Global Review: There are some military strategists who think that a great power war could be possible under the threshold of a nuclear war. TX Hammes Offshore Control or Airseabattle are two examples. General Asthana: In a recent interview you called the Pakistani threat a bluff and doubted that a war between India and Pakistan would go nuclear. You also wrote:

„Peace through nuclear weapons stands disproved as a concept in case of India – Pakistan, wherein both countries went through limited Kargil Conflict, despite being a nuclear states. This Concept is valid for US and Russia wherein a nuclear war is certainly a Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The reality is that dimension of warfare has changed, and the world will see more of trade wars, economic sanctions, cyber and information, space warfare, terrorism, strategy of alliances and groupings, military posturing and strategic domination will be much more important tools to execute war than counting nuclear weapons, which may never be used. I am of the view that a space exists for conventional war in between peace and nuclear war.“

 In Russia in Global Affairs Alexei V. Fenenko, Doctor of Political Science at Moscow State University as Associate Professor of Faculty of World Politics wrote in his cointribution:“Long Peace” and Nuclear Weapons –Will They Prevent Big War? In 29 March 2019 about the possibility of nuclear wars and the development of nuclear weapons:


Technically and politically, a land-based regional war between Russia and the United States is now more likely than in the 1960s and it may be a great temptation for politicians. In this situation, nuclear weapons will hardly serve as a deterrent. We often forget that the use of nuclear weapons is not a military but a political factor: using them requires a top-level approval. Such an approval is unlikely not only during a limited war on the territory of a third state but also during a full-scale war. It would be appropriate to recall the “chemical precedent” when great powers fight without resorting to their weapons of mass destruction.(…)

Conditions are also developing for conducting major regional wars. Over the past ten years, there have emerged at least two conflict areas between Russia and the United States—the Baltic-Black Sea region and the Middle East—where the parties are deploying military infrastructures in close proximity to each other. In the future, Afghanistan may become a third such area, where U.S. bases are potential targets for Russian retaliatory strikes if Russian facilities are destroyed somewhere else. The U.S. and Russia are actively developing, and now deploying in crisis regions, various types of air defense systems and regional missile defense systems. Washington’s plans to recreate a fleet of medium and shorter-range missiles fit into this logic. They are an ideal means for taking hostage as many regional objects as possible.

Theoretically, one can imagine a limited war between great powers, in which nuclear weapons will not be used, just as chemical weapons were not used in World War II.

The key question of the 21st century strategy is: Can nuclear weapons be used in some other way, beyond the “air power” concept? There have been no such strategies so far. Yet, the past twenty years have seen new interesting studies in this area.

  • “Minimization” of nuclear weapons. In the early 2000s, publications appeared in the United States on the creation of “mini-nukes” with a yield of one to five kilotons (Caldecott, 2004). This weapon can theoretically be used to destroy hard and deeply buried targets with minimal environmental consequences. Nuclear weapons will repeat the evolution of artillery in the early modern period, from heavy siege weapons of the Hundred Years’ War to light quick-firing guns of the 16th century.
  • Combination of tactical nuclear weapons and infantry actions. Similar experiments were conducted during military exercises in the United States and the Soviet Union back in the 1950s. However, this idea was revived in the U.S. “joint operations” concept of 2005. It provides for combining the use of rapid reaction forces and local nuclear strikes (Doctrine, 2005). There has been no data so far testifying to the continuation of these studies, but these may be secret.
  • “Weapon of genocide”. Russian expert Andrei Kokoshin back in 2003 wrote that nuclear war may have a political goal as a war waged by a nuclear state against a non-nuclear one (Kokoshin, 2003, p. 3). In this case, nuclear weapons turn into weapons of genocide of certain peoples. Perhaps, an ideal solution to this problem would be “a light version of nuclear weapons,” such as neutron bombs which destroy organic matter and inflict minimal damage on infrastructure. Genocide, the scale of which in the first half of the 20th century was limited due to a low technological level, is now becoming easier to commit.

There arises a seemingly unusual perspective. It is not nuclear weapons that help maintain stability; rather, a gradual decay of the “long peace” will raise the need for the transformation of nuclear weapons, perhaps, into some other type of weapon. Modern types of nuclear weapons are not suitable for large regional wars. Therefore, they may either die out (which, in fact, has happened to chemical weapons, which are now being destroyed) or adapt to new conditions and become an integral part of future regional conflicts. Nuclear weapons already act not so much as a guarantee against war as a guarantee that your enemy will not use them against you—like chemical weapons in World War II.“

What do you think about his thesis and what does it mean for an Indo-Pakistani war or an Indo-Chinese war?

Maj Gen S B Asthana

My take on future warfare is slightly different than the hypothesis given in your question. I am of the view that the dimensions of war have grown from erstwhile conventional wars under nuclear hangover (barring nuclear strike on Japan) to Cold War, continued arms race (including Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense (CBRN) arsenal). The nuclear weapons and reach is being viewed as a deterrence/dissuasion for self defense by most countries including new-entrants in this field like North Korea. The miniaturization of nuclear weapons and using it as tactical weapons is a dangerous trend which has attracted attention of many countries. The neutron bombs are also an attractive option for some targets to minimize collateral damages, but the implications of using any of the CBR arsenals in any form are grave, since it starts a new escalation dynamics towards disaster, which most countries would avoid. The practicality of current warfare is political and economic 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 maneuvers, technological, space, and information war including cyber warfare, which are in progress. The conventional war has now taken a back seat, but the space exists for such wars at regional level, within the overall ambit of heated cold war of current era. Capturing territory may not be the aim of war, unlike earlier wars, but economic interests will override other factors.

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. Despite humanity suffering heavy losses, the theory of ‘good and bad terrorists’ is still being followed by some powers, because individual national interests are overshadowing global interests. The space dimension is not yet fully explored; hence with recent advancements in this field, the world may see former President Ronald Reagan’s fancy dream of ‘Star Wars’ to new potential. The strategic power of water is the next dimension likely to get added in future, besides oil politics.

In response to your question on US and Russia, I would opine that the age old Cold War steered by the US and erstwhile USSR, is being followed up by Russia, shifting it to Ukraine and Crimea from heart of Asia. Economic sanctions of West on Russia, adversarial stance in dealing with IS in Syria (for and against Assad), and alleged Russian role in election process of US (Cyber Warfare) are few examples. In case of US and Russia a nuclear war is certainly a Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) hence not a viable option. While US continues its efforts of economic strangulation of Russia, Putin has also demonstrated his threatening arsenal and technological power to signal that it is still a strong military power to reckon with. His recent success of edging out US from Syria and negotiating with Israel, supplying gas to US ally Germany, and standing up with Iran are signals that it is unlikely to give a walk over to US. It now remains to be seen as to how both calibrate their relationship in near future to avoid any catastrophe, as Russia still has the largest stockpile of nuclear arsenal, has competitive technology and above all, a strong leadership.

In context of India – Pakistan, with surgical strikes and Balakot air strike by India, it has called off the nuclear blackmail/bluff of Pakistan, which had been maintaining that whenever India crosses International border or Line of Control, it will respond with nuclear bomb. In both the above cases, India has crossed IB/LoC and created a deterrence of the kind that Pakistan could not climb the escalation ladder to nuclear level. Proxy war and Hybrid war by Pakistan against India, beyond a point, has forced India to go in for strikes under nuclear hangover. I maintain that peace through nuclear weapons stands disproved as a concept in case of India – Pakistan, wherein both countries went through limited Kargil Conflict, despite being nuclear status. In case of China, India with test of Agni series of nuclear missiles and having achieved nuclear triad, it will be able to dissuade China of any nuclear war, despite the fact that there is a large asymmetry in holding of arsenal in favor of China. I still feel that the world will see more of trade wars, economic sanctions, cyber and information, space warfare, hybrid war, terrorism, strategy of alliances and groupings, military posturing and strategic domination as much more important tools to execute war than counting nuclear weapons, which may never be used. I continue with the view that a space exists for conventional war in between peace and nuclear war.

Global Review

The Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree in Moscow on April 12 conferring on Prime Minister Narendra Modi Russia’s highest state award, the Order of St Andrew the Apostle the First-Called. This is the highest and oldest state order of Russia, first established in 1698. It was abolished under the Soviet Union but re-established in 1998. Modi is the first leader from the democratic world to receive the Order of St Andrew the Apostle the First-Called. Does Russia fear that China is getting too strong and wants to rely more on India? The SCO with the membership of India and Pakistan became bigger, but did it become stronger and more united? China wanted to have Pakistan as new member, Russia wanted India. Will this weaken the SCO because this inclusion means that you get the Indo-Pakistani conflict in the house of the SCO? After Trump won Bolsanaro-Brasil over, does Putin now rely more on India in the BRICS as his vision of a multi-polar world otherwise would become obsolete?

 Maj Gen S B Asthana

 Indo- Russian strategic partnership is a robust, time tested partnership of five decades. President Putin and Prime Minister Modi enjoy a good personal relationship and bonding, and conferring Russia’s highest state award, ‘The Order of St Andrew the Apostle the First-Called’ on Prime Minister Modi further strengthens the relationship between the two countries. A close relation between China and Russia is a compulsion for both, more so due to outlook of US as well as their mutual interests. Russia is also the largest supplier of military hardware to India since last six decades. The relations between India, Russia and China are governed by their bilateral convergences/interests and divergences and are not on Either/Or terms. Indian relations with one of them, does not interfere with another, as has been seen in recent times as well. Recently the geopolitical dynamics has played in a manner that India is seen to be having a central/pivotal role between US and China- Russian groupings, which was quite evident in G-20 Summit, wherein India was part of JAI (Japan, America and India) as well as RIC (Russia, India and China). Russia will like to be close to India to tap big consumer market in terms of military hardware, gas, and technology, whereas China too would want to tap Indian consumer market for commercial goods.

I do not think that SCO will get weaker with India and Pakistan in it, because the forum may not choose to address any bilateral issue between these two countries. Terrorism is a common issue with all; hence would continue to be discussed. All BRICS member regard each other as important and will like to be together. Russia will definitely like to have a strong bond with India in any of the forums you mentioned above, as it helps in its strategic balancing and vice versa. Even China wanted Prime Minister Modi not to skip BRICS, when it was the host and India-China were stuck in a standoff on Doklam. Many believe that this was one of the considerations which led to the resolution of Doklam crisis. Russia as a strategic partner will continue to have good relations with India, and I believe that multilateralism is a reality for future, although it may take some time.

(The views expressed by Major General S B Asthana are his personal views). He is reachable at Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ as Shashi Asthana, asthana_shashi on twitter, and personnel site     email   LinkedIn Profile  My Youtube link

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