Status Quo is a comforting fiction in the world of spin. Old guards emaciate, new upstarts emerge to claim their day in the sun.This ebb and flow of power takes decades to bubble up and centuries to play out. In last decade since India has emerged as a dominant regional power and as an aspiring global player, it has had a taste of this game but is yet to find its bearings at the big table. Here is a quick analysis of some lessons that it will need to assimilate as it earns its lapels of being a hard power.
The big payoffs in any Indian war game is to outmaneuver Pakistan in the short run and deter China in the long.
In this game of strategy, the actors are mostly regional (Afganistan/China/India/Iran/Pakistan) with one superpower thrown in (US). The weapons of play are covert, conventional, and economic while fronts of play are strategic and diplomatic.
Most wars of current century are asymmetric as being either between a non state and a state or between two states under a deniability cover. So never being a full scale military conflict, they necessitate surgical strikes in near or off shore, covert missions to capture or neutralize key assets, dismantling global networks and blocking flow of information and funds.
The enemy lines are thus diffuse and if India has to go beyond them it has to develop a fully trained special forces infrastructure. Much like conventional army the special forces will have to have central control and command structure, integrated air, water and land strike capabilities and a credible intelligence gathering system. The lashkars are best countered by HUNKers.
Cyber Warfare is when you can take down someone’s nuclear reactors ( as US did with Iran using Stuxnet) or electric supply of an entire city, or break into national security files to access classified docs around troop deployment, fund transfers and weapon designs or simply break into ongoing webcam transmissions. It is also when you bombard social media with your propaganda material. The cyber warfare unit of the covert ops should provide intelligence, cyber cover and credible defense from foreign hackers. With dreams of being a hard power Indian cyber militia still needs to be raised and trained for oncoming wars especially with China who seems to be already up and running in this area.
A robust covert ops infrastructure, which is still missing, will give India reach, precision and impunity to strike targets.This instills fears and creates a deterrence for asymmetric actors (largely from Pakistan) that if they will not be brought to justice then justice will be brought to them. Thus developing these capabilities is essential for India in pursuit of its near goal to force Pakistan to change its behavior of sponsoring terror attacks on Indian soil.
To completely outplay Pakistan and to catch up with China’s strength in conventional warfare, India will need to spend much more on its weaponization and induction of military hardware. In all areas of conventional warfare, Intercontinental missiles and defense systems, nuclear war heads, submarines ( including nuclear), warships, aircraft carriers, fighter jets, India needs to build or acquire capabilities.
Currently China is almost two or three times more capable in terms of its hardware and India needs to narrow this gap to about 1.5 times in next 10-20 years. The long term hard power strategy of scaling military capabilities will need buying with technology transfers as well as setting up of an incentivized military- industrial complex for mass production of weapons and their delivery infrastructure within India.
The economic side of war games matter in two big areas. Trade wars determine which country has a handle on international trade and its consequent riches. With a significantly expanded treasury one then develops influence to modulate behavior of other countries, Secondly increased economic activity gives two big leverages in war games; market access and economic sanctions.
Indian trade is just about one sixth the size of Chinese trade so this big imbalance will always be in China;s favor in foreseeable future however India can set up barriers and delay shipment of Chinese goods into India and our nearby regions. We cannot stop the juggernaut but we can protect ourselves and our neighborhood.
The doctrine of Coldstart which has upended Sudarji doctrine as Army’s guiding strategy should be fully actualized in terms of organizational changes to create the proposed 8 UBGs, forward troops deployment, inter services cooperation and creation of the joint commands office. Asymmetric strikes against India will continue unless it can credibly demonstrate its network centric blitzkrieg capability that ColdStart envisages.
Enemies enemy in geo politics is a fast friend. With China using its prop Pakistan, to keep India tied strategy, we should prop Afganistan to keep Pakistan likewise engaged. Also rightly Balochistan struggle should be supported and Irans help should be solicited to further their cause. So with India to its east, Kabul to its north and Balochistan to west, Pakistan gets surrounded and stretched in all directions.
Apart from supporting Pakistan that opens up a front in India’s backyard, China’s maritime silk route strategy is a significant surround of India through the sea. As its counter, joining the US pacific command led coalition ( of Japan-Australia-India) that is being opened up in China’s discomfort zone of South China sea is a step in the right direction.
To open up diplomatic fronts against Pakistan is easy as that nation is proficient in scoring self goals. From getting it branded as a state which exports terror, to getting sanctions imposed until it publicly disowns terror outfits is a matter of time in a rising Islamophobic environment of the west. Also Balochistan struggle for freedom undermines the reason for creation of Pakistan itself as a state for Muslims and weakens its support for Kashmir from a Muslim brotherhood argument.
Diplomatic fronts against China will need to be opened soon to counter its weight which it recently used to block India’s entry into Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Here a coordinated strategy with US and other like minded nations will need to be adopted. Signing of Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) between India and US is a step in that direction. Other agreements like CISMOA and BECA which have intrusive elements for Indian state should be negotiated and settled quickly in next 1-2 years.
In next decade or so as China starts to assert itself, western powers will get incrementally fidgety about its threat to the prevailing military and world economic order. It is then that opportunities of collaborations with others and creation of trading blocs will emerge. International diplomacy will then be a negotiated power game between two ideologies, alliances and power coalitions.
So overall, India has still a long way to go in building up its multi pronged war capabilities ( covert/conventional/economic) as also getting its war fronts ( strategic/diplomatic) organized. Its hard power status is yet to be cemented and centered.
Thus it is yet, not the time for war but time to prepare for war.