India- Elephant on one foot?

India- Elephant on one foot?

February 16, 2011 Ralf Ostner

Aside from China, India’s rise as a major power is the prospect that keeps strategists most concerned in Asia. Recently, however, concerns have been raised as to whether India has correctly defined the military threats and whether the enormous economic growth that has led to the modernization and upgrading of the Indian military is also effectively translating into military power. Two contributions in particular dealt with these questions.

 On the one hand: A programmatic article in Forbes India „Seven Security Nightmares India must prepare for“ 16512/0

, which deals with possible threat scenarios and the question of whether India is sufficiently prepared for this.

The second contribution is Brookings expert Stephen P. Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta’s book “Arming without Aiming”, a summary of which can be read in the article The Drag on India’s Military Growth. (

The 7 Nightmares of India The Forbes India article notes that while India’s leaders hoped the 1998 nuclear test would bring security gains, hostilities against India have increased over the past 12 years. The authors see as the first significant future danger that Pakistan’s nuclear capacities could fall into the hands of rogue states and terrorists. Already, Pakistan is a principal source of nuclear weapons proliferation to rogue states, and this is only peacetime. In the event of a political meltdown in Pakistan, there would be a risk that nuclear weapons would also fall into the hands of Al Qaeda, which has designated India as its explicit enemy.

“In that event, India’s interests lie in joining international efforts and providing logistics support to secure Pakistan’s nuclear warheads, says an ICRIER paper ‘Conventional Threats to India’s National Security’ authored by Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies. A more radical situation could emerge if the US and Israel decide to launch a joint operation to “take out” the nuclear facilities when terrorists begin controlling them. The second situation seems extremely unlikely, though.”

The second major danger the authors see is that the war on terror will fail and the Taliban will return in Afghanistan and the Pakistani Taliban will seize power in Pakistan, giving India a direct frontier on terrorism. For this it is necessary to develop a network of partners that offers an integrated answer to this threat. India could appoint a counter-terrorism ambassador to influence the international debate in India’s favour. Furthermore, there are suggestions from Israel that India, with the help of states like Israel, increases its counter-terrorism capabilities. The third major danger is that China will encircle India and start a limited war. The unresolved border issues with China and the undemarcated Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the Indo-Tibetan border do not contribute to the long-term peace between Asia’s two giants.

“The next major incident on the LAC could lead to a localised border conflict as either Indian patience with Chinese intransigence wears thin or the Chinese look at Indian attempts to build infrastructure and develop the border areas as the adoption of an aggressive forward posture. Hence, in the foreseeable future, a limited border war between the two cannot be entirely ruled out.”

Sino-Chinese maritime relations are also not free of tension, especially since China is now also acquiring port facilities around India in Hangyi, Hambantoa, Gwadar and the Maldives as part of its „string-of-pearl“ strategy. While Chinese nuclear submarines are already operating in the north of the Indian Ocean, India’s uncertainty would increase if China were to expand its maritime presence in the Indian Ocean with military ships and port facilities. Likewise, Chinese actions and demands against the Indian province of Arunachal Pradesh caused constant tension. Although the Chinese strategy so far has been not to rock the boat too hard, it reserves the right to change the situation at any time if it pleases. India’s foreign trade with China is no guarantee of deterring China here, which is why India would have to expand its military capacities at the same time.

The next threat scenario deals with the question of what would happen if India’s nuclear deterrent strategy is not orking. The authors believe that India’s nuclear deterrent would lack any credibility. On the one hand, there were no intercontinental missiles, i.e. many areas of the potential opponents were beyond the range of an Indian deterrent. The Agni missiles have not really been tested yet — in short: India does not even have the prerequisites for a minimal nuclear deterrent:

„At a maximum of 80, the number of warheads available to India does not fulfil even the low-end requirements of minimum deterrence. Add to all this the lingering doubts over the efficacy of the thermonuclear device tested in 1998. The outside world doesn’t believe India is ready to respond to a nuclear conflagration.“

Pakistan is much more aggressive, and unlike in India, the military controls the nuclear weapons. Pakistan has enough fissile material for 70 to 115 nuclear warheads, is rapidly closing the gap in nuclear warheads and may even surpass India in the area. China would have around 400 nuclear warheads that could reach any corner of India. Although China adheres to a „no-first-use“ policy, it could possibly lack this generosity in the case of India, especially since China does not see India as a nuclear power either and consistently refuses to take mutual confidence-building measures in the field of nuclear risk reduction.

After these above all foreign policy threats, the authors turn to domestic political dangers. Here the Maoist guerrilla movement of the Naxalites ranks high on the list of priorities. 194 districts of 22 states are currently affected by the Naxalites – albeit to varying degrees. The Naxalites are said to be extremely successful, underestimated, and their influence — as wrongly assumed — is far from limited to the visible violence they wield. The central and provincial governments have so far acted in an uncoordinated manner and intelligence cooperation has been poor. A comprehensive counter-insurgency approach is needed that envisages the restoration of statehood, especially the legal system, as well as social programs and economic development:

“The restoration of the authority and functions of governance, including development, health, education and basic social and human security, is imperative, and must constitute an integral part of any comprehensive approach to counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism. This can only be done after the restoration of a modicum of law and order, and efficiency in the operation of the justice system.”

“Home-grown jihadism” is mentioned as a further domestic political danger. Islamic terrorism has an Indian face, whether in Kashmir or due to the fact that many of the Muslim terrorists have a significant Indian constituency. Likewise, numerous terrorist groups have emerged on Indian territory, the most important being the „Student’s Movemnet of India“ (SIMI). Pakistan is a safe haven, training ground and resting place for terrorist movements, but these are also increasingly establishing their infrastructure in India, especially in a small number of the 35,000 Indian madrassas and Koranic schools, which are supported by the Pakistani secret service ISI. This domestic threat could also have repercussions on foreign policy should the rest of South Asia turn hostile — meaning the alleged increasing operational cooperation between Pakistan’s and Bangladesh’s secret services and Islamic religious warriors. The ambiguity of the borders between the two countries promotes terrorist tourism and illegal migration, so profiles of the border population must be drawn up. Nepal, traditionally pro-India, would increasingly lean towards China. China can use the newly built roads in Nepal to launch an attack on India, but this is unlikely as it can also be done directly across the Indo-Tibetan border. However, the increasing number of Muslim Koran schools on the Indo-Nepal border is worrying.

India—arming without aiming

While the authors of the Forbes India article are more concerned with foreign policy threats to India’s security, the book „Arming without aiming“ and the article „The Drag on India’s Military Growth“ focus more on the structural internal weaknesses of the Indian military , its armaments industry, the civil-military relationship and the pacifist-tinged ideology of India’s military restraint. However, US hopes of having India as a new strategic partner, the „prospect of a major rearment“ and the „hopes of a military revival“ would not stand the reality test, which is why reforms of India’s military, its defense industry and its defensive ideology are urgently needed be reminded. It claims an imbalance in civil-military relations, to the detriment of the military, which has led to a lack of political leadership, disagreement over goals, and material and intellectual corruption, thereby hampering planned military modernization. policy of strategic restraint First, the ideology of strategic restraint is castigated. Similar to the authors of the Forbes India article, an increasing missile gap with Pakistan is also being criticized here, which calls into question the quality of India’s nuclear deterrent, which is only an expression of strategic restraint. India’s will to use military force to achieve political goals is hardly existent:

“The high point of Indian military history – the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971– therefore, stands in sharp contrast to the persistent inability of the country to raise effective military forces. No factor more accounts for the haphazard nature of Indian military modernization than the lack of political leadership on defense, stemming from the doctrine of strategic restraint. Key political leaders rejected the use of force as an instrument of politics in favor of a policy of strategic restraint that minimized the importance of the military.”

The Indian government’s strong anti-militarism has led to a demotion of the military leadership, but more importantly, military science and research are decided through the heads of the military leadership. Prime Minister Nehru would have invited Britain’s Blackett to analyze the relationship between science and defense, leading to the Blackett Report calling for a limit on India’s defense spending to 2% of GNP, limited military modernization and government funding and ownership of military research laboratories intended. Blackett would then have his protege, Dalaut Singh Kothari, as head of the military research laboratories implementing this line. In the 1950s, as defense spending slumped, India engaged in a friendly „forward“ policy toward China, resulting in an unprepared Indian army losing to China in the 1962 war. This was followed by significant military expansion in India and more operational and institutional autonomy for the military, leading to the successful wars of 1965 and 1971. However, the Indian political leadership was still uncomfortable with the military’s relative increase in power, which was still very limited due to fears of military coups and possible militarism.

“The problem, however, was that the political leadership did not suddenly become more comfortable with the military as an institution; they remained wary of the possibility of a coup d’etat and militarism more generally. The Indian civil-military relations landscape has changed marginally since.”

In the 1980s there was further military modernization and rearmament in view of Pakistan’s armaments aspirations and advances in the field of nuclear weapons technology, but Rajiv Ghandi did not use this potential in 1987 during the Brasstrack crisis, which was the last chance to achieve a non-nuclear Pakistan dominate. India was just as hesitant about its victory in 1971, when it didn’t take the opportunity to carry it not only east (Bangladesh) but also west (Pakistan) and instead signed the Simla Agreement, which offered a peaceful solution to the conflict intended. For the Brookings Institution authors, it is also a „puzzle“ that India waited between its first nuclear test and 1998 for a second, all of which are outgrowths of the ideology of military restraint, deemed wise but detrimental to military planning becomes. Combined with other factors, the policy of restraint ignores increasingly aggressive Pakistan and undermines military modernization:

“Underlying these puzzles is a remarkable preference for strategic restraint. Indian leaders simply have not seen the use of force as a useful instrument of politics. This foundation of ambivalence informs Indian defense policy, and consequently its military modernization and reform efforts. To be sure, military restraint in a region as volatile as South Asia is wise and has helped persuade the great powers to accommodate India’s rise, but it does not help military planning. Together with the separation of the armed forces from the government, divisions among the services and between the services and other related agencies, and the inability of the military to seek formal support for policies it deems important, India’s strategic restraint has served to deny political guidance to the efforts of the armed forces to modernize. As wise as strategic restraint may be, Pakistan, India’s primary rival, hardly believes it to be true. Islamabad prepares as if India were an aggressive power and this has a real impact on India’s security.”

Imbalances in civil-military relations

Although there is a long wish list of weapon systems worth around US$ 100 billion and announcements by the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) regarding upcoming breakthroughs in military modernization, substantial improvements are not to be expected. On the one hand, the various branches of the armed forces see their tasks differently and these are uncoordinated. Likewise, there would be no political measures to coordinate the coordination of the various arms. Second, the Indian security establishment is fragmented and just as uncoordinated. Although one agrees to an increase in the defense budget, it refuses to make organizational changes or changes in priorities, especially those that would affect changes in the hierarchies. The institutionalization and appointment of a defense chief who would coordinate and organize the different priorities of the 3 different branches of the armed forces is essential. But the government is reluctant to give too much power to a military and has instead set up an integrated defense staff, which it says is a toothless body. Lack of legitimate procurement process The problem of corruption in weapons procurement programs is inherent and would also affect the effectiveness of weapons development. Thus, the Indian fighter plane and tank programs failed and only missile development succeeded. However, in 2010 India does not have any missiles that could change the strategic balance with China or Pakistan in India’s favour.

 Above all, there is a state monopoly on military research laboratories and the Indian private sector is left outside the defense industry. While small and medium-sized defense companies form the backbone of the research complex in the USA, India is a long way from such a development. The Defense Research and Development Organization is also not accountable, and also has a dual role as supplier and consultant, which entails inherent conflicts of interest. In addition, India prefers arms imports from other foreign state-owned companies, above all from the Soviet Union and now Russia, since the Indian government assumes that western arms companies are corrupt and greedy and therefore prefers intergovernmental arms purchases.


Both articles agree on the issue of India’s lack of a nuclear deterrent against Pakistan and China. The question will be how India manufactures and can manufacture them, but how the international world would react to the possible armament of India with ICBMs – perhaps the USA would even welcome this (as a counterweight to China). There is also the question of what to replace India’s policy of strategic restraint. Offensive or pre-emptive doctrines are no less dangerous than the presumed weakening of India by strategic restraint. The authors do not answer whether they advocate a third way. The minimum consensus remains: credible deterrence by closing the missile gap. It also begs the question of what Stephen Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta actually want: While they state that the policy of restraint was wise, their article nevertheless implies that India should have in fact conquered and dominated Pakistan in 1971 and 1987 while it lasted didn’t have nuclear weapons. This somewhat underestimates the fact that China would not have stood by and watched such a development at its main ally in South Asia, Pakistan, and that a Sino-Indian war could easily have developed from it (perhaps with a Chinese nuclear threat — China had had nuclear weapons since 1964 and ab carrier systems sufficient for the 1970s — counter-argument: India was allied with the Soviet Union in 1971 and the latter could have prevented China from intervening — but possibly with the risk of a Sino-Soviet war) — it is quite possible that this strategic restraint is less due to Indian pacifism and more to coolness could have sprung from realpolitik calculations. Today, given the nuclear potential of China and Pakistan, such forward strategies are even more unlikely and absurd. It would be interesting to know what India would look like as a military power if the reforms demanded: allowing the private sector in armaments research and procurement, establishing a chief of staff, more authority for India’s military were implemented. It remains to be seen to what extent India’s political leadership will open up to the reform proposals. However, as can be seen from the Forbes India article, India is not only facing foreign policy challenges, but also domestic ones: in particular the question of the Maoist Naxalite movement. This will not only be dealt with by military means, but counter-insurgency also requires social programs. The extent to which the Indian government is willing to raise funds for this is likely to be just as crucial to stability as the question of a credible nuclear deterrent. In addition: India, as a BRIC state (Brazil, Russia, India, China), which is also considering membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (alliance of Russia, China and Central Asian states), would be misadvised to clearly position itself as the spearhead of the USA and the Defining NATO in Asia. Not even the very pro-American Indian-Hindu nationalist BJP government under Vajpayee wanted that. The hoped-for „prospect of a major rearment“ and the „hopes of a military revival“ projected onto India by the US brokerage institution, which is close to Obama, are not necessarily congruent with India’s security and foreign policy interests. While catching up with Pakistan’s and China’s armaments efforts and a relative upgrading of the military may be legitimate, India will have enough strategic restraint not to be drawn into an open confrontation with China or Pakistan, nor will it be willing to to see the world’s largest democracy — ala Pakistan — sink into a succession of military dictatorships. Mahatma Ghandi and Nehru have had some thoughts in restricting their military.

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