Brig. Vijai K Nair (Retd). Dr. Nair an M Sc. in Defence Studies and a Ph. D. in Political Science. He specializes in Nuclear Strategy formulation and nuclear arms control negotiations. He has considerable experience on issues related to NPT, CTBT and FMCT. Dr. Nair is currently revising the nuclear strategy for India [in keeping with nuclear transience] suggested in his book “Nuclear India.” Besides two tenures of combat duty, in service experience includes being a Member Army Experts Committee - 1989-90; Core staff officer to the Committee on Defence Expenditure 1990.
He is the Life Trustee of the Forum for Strategic & Security Studies; and, Managing Director, Magoo Strategic Infotech Pvt Ltd. An information service providing daily news updates and analyses on “Nuclear Agenda’s”.
South Asia comprises all countries from Pakistan in the West; Afghanistan in the North; Myanmar to the East; and the Indian Ocean on the south. Countries that till recently, were ruled by colonial powers that imposed their own brand of governance in keeping with their interests rather than those of the native people. It was only as recently as the mid-20th century that these nations shed the colonial yoke and started to develop indigenous means of governance (monarchical, democratic, autocratic, or totalitarian) as behooved historical national systems. These countries fell into the category of ‘developing nations.’ Unlike the more advanced western colonial powers, the agricultural and industrial revolutions in South Asia came about simultaneously and as late as the mid-20th century accompanied by the phenomenal socioeconomic turbulence that affected governance and its evolution in the ‘developing nations.’
Consequently, these states assumed their sovereign responsibilities to develop the elements of national power in keeping with their specific national interests, manoeuvre through the politico-military Cold War minefield while retaining their newly acquired sovereignty, fend off the restraints of economic and technological colonialism that had been foisted on them by the developed world, generate structures, means and systems to hold their own in a nuclear environment and space era and, emerge as independent reckonable entities on the geopolitical map of the world.
The geostrategic location of the region, its prodigious material and human resources are crucial to the sustenance of regional and global economies that makes it an important pivot of strategic interests for the major world powers.
Consequently, antagonistic rivalries between the various global powers in their efforts to gain influence in the region have often resulted in significant interstate and intraregional instabilities that characterises this part of the world.
The region comprises of heterogeneous and belligerent entities that: have amassed considerable military means; the presence of at least two nuclear weapon states, not party to the NPT, threatens to snowball nuclear proliferation in the region; and are plagued by debilitating internal and transnational instabilities. Singly or in combination, these issues have a potential to ignite an uncontainable conflict with devastating repercussions on the regional and global security environment.
Management of internal and external security and the ability to create appropriate systems and structures for governance was further vitiated by: the end of the Cold War; shift of the centre of gravity of US strategic security imperatives at the turn of the century from Europe to Asia; globalisation; free trade agreements; the war on terror; country specific institutional approaches; scramble for diminishing non-renewable raw materials essential to support evolving 21st Century socioeconomic structures and systems on which national growth is dependent; the polemics of nuclear disarmament; and the resurgence of erstwhile colonial powers under the umbrella of NATO. All these issues have collectively morphed traditional understanding of security and stability of the countries comprising the Asia region, causing them to evolve their sprouting institutions to adjust to new challenges to their individual imperatives.
With the end of bi-polar dominance in geo-political affairs and the rise and influence of the Asian Giants in the international arena, it becomes imperative to get a clear understanding of what drives the dynamics of South Asian nation states.
The political, economic, technological and military vitality of the Asian nations, in particular India, China,Israel and Iran, is redefining international relations at an ever increasing frequency that is a challenge to established Western strategic thought. The region now hosts nations, which have ‘state of the art’ missile, nuclear weapons and space programmes, robust GDP figures and increased Foreign Direct Investments opening these oriental cultures to global influences which are being absorbed and re-engineered by the peoples of this region in keeping with their national interests and imperatives.
The magnitude and pace of evolution of the Asian region has created a paradigm shift that has yet to be fully absorbed by traditional observers and analysts. The start of the 21st Century is marked by an increment of magnitude in growth rates, national pride, military spending, strategic thinking, and industrial and commercial capacities amongst Asian States that signals a breakout on to the global scene by new players.
Internal Threats To Stability And Security
The major threats to internal stability and security of individual States flows from numerous factors such as: poor governance leading to domestic unrest; tracts of ungoverned territories; arbitrarily drawn borders by Britain in keeping with its interests in the region at the time they were forced to relinquish their hold over the colonies thus dividing ethnic and socioeconomic entities across borders; the tribal character of the Asian peoples fosters secessionist proclivities; ethnic and secular diversities and inequalities; and so on.
At the start of the 21st century the biggest challenge to internal security and stability in the South Asia is posed by the phenomenon of terrorism, a comparatively new symptom that dominates the management of internal security and remains their primary long-term concern for strategic stability. Terrorism has become the primary tool of intrastate dissension and of interstate rivalries/conflicts. Sponsored terrorist organisations are being used by regional entities to launch “proxy wars” against neighbours to whittle their comprehensive power quotient while containing conflict threshold short of war.
This phenomenon manifests itself across all the South Asian States.
To deal with these aberrations in their internal stability and security, these states have created and continue to modernise large formations of civil police, intelligence assets and paramilitary forces. Most of these assets have dual roles. They spearhead management of law and order, and are responsible to handle internal security operations, security of vital installations and border management. Their secondary role is to secure rear areas to facilitate military operations against external aggression.
However, terrorism continues to evolve in concepts, strategy, tactics and means, seriously reducing the potential of traditional police and paramilitary forces to contain it within acceptable limits, leave alone eliminate the scourge. Consequently, states in South Asia employ military forces to assist the civil administration to fight the more virulent terrorist organisations. In some cases standing military units are deployed and in others the military creates specially designed units for the task. These are usually structured and equipped to operate under specific climatic, topographical and socioeconomic conditions, sans the usual combat support systems required to prosecute all-out war.
In both cases the concerned states have created additional military force levels over and above that they deem necessary to overcome external aggression.
External threats to South Asian states are either from within the region or extra regional powers. In both cases these states have created appropriate military forces to offset the regional threat and continue to increase this potential to secure their national interests from threats that exist, or perceived from extra regional sources.
The primary intra-regional problem lies in the Indo-Pak rivalry. Pakistan has always coveted the Muslim majority parts (states) of the pre-partition undivided India, i.e, adjoining State of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) as also Hyderabad and Junagadh. India resolved the latter by suitable military/police and political action in the late 1940s.
Similarly, Britain bequeathed large tracts of the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan to Pakistan along its Western Borders by an arbitrary adjudication along the Durand Line. Predominantly Pashtun, Afghanistanimmediately contested this and claimed all territory up to the Indus River. This dispute was never resolved and resulted in ungovernable tracts across the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and parts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) that added to the establishment of a stable border along the Durand Line.
The lesser territorial disputes between Bangladesh and India are being resolved amicably by political action.
However, Pakistan launched military operations to wrest J&K from India. In spite of four wars – 1947-49, 1965, 1971 and 1999 – it has failed to dislodge India from a major portion of J&K leaving it as a bone of contention. Both countries lay claim to parts of the State occupied by the other in the form of a major territorial dispute. This has resulted in establishment of large standing military forces in both countries that are held in readiness at all times with substantial numbers deployed eye-ball to eye-ball on the Line of Control (LoC) between them in J&K.
The dismemberment of its Eastern Wing from Pakistan in 1971 and the occupation of large tracts of territory in the Western Wing during the war, by the Indian military, brought about the realisation inIslamabad that their conventional forces were inadequate to deter India from invading it. These events amplified the perception in Islamabad that India aimed to dismember Pakistan. Besides major qualitative and quantitative increments to its conventional forces, the leadership concluded that Pakistan needs a nuclear weapons capability to deter India from using its overwhelmingly superior conventional military to launch an offensive into Pakistan. Under the aegis of Prime Minister Z A Bhutto Pakistan launched its nuclear weapons programme in 1972 that fructified in the early 1990s. The devices were tested in May 1998 bringing the nuclear capability out of the closet.
When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan, a longtime ally on board the Central Eastern Treaty Organisation (CENTO), willingly spearheaded an allied offensive to dislodge the Soviets fromAfghanistan. This was gainfully used to extend Islamabad’s influence over a post-Soviet Afghanistan, ostensibly to provide it strategic depth against India, but more importantly to settle the territorial dispute on its own terms. Equally important was the belief that it would make the US beholden in a closer alliance vis-à-vis Islamabad’s objective to resolve the Kashmir issue. This was belied by the US disengagement fromSouth Asia after the Soviet withdrawal and its economic collapse that brought about an end to the Cold War.
Thereafter, Pakistan developed and executed a strategy to acquire greater strategic influence in Afghanistanby allying with the Taliban to facilitate their military operations to acquire control over Afghanistan. They provided about three plus Brigade sized military forces, military advisers and established intelligence networks in Taliban held parts of the country. For this Islamabad raised additional military forces over and above its planned requirement to secure the Indian front.
Simultaneously, Pakistan initiated its strategy to wage a ‘proxy war’ in J&K with a view to wean that state away from India.
Pakistan’s strategy was disrupted by the American war to eliminate Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, initiated in September 2011. Islamabad was coerced into joining this war on terror at the cost of its own strategic interests inAfghanistan. Over the last decade, the Pakistani military has been constrained to execute a bloody war against its own people (Pashtuns) in the FATA. That in turn has aggravated the fundamentalists in Pakistan and ignited virulent terrorist operations in the homeland, with two major consequences: first, denuding forces deployed on the Eastern Front and second, increasing friction against the US and its military to the point where the centre of gravity of America’s war on terror has shifted south to the Pakistan border.
In essence, economic constraints notwithstanding, over the last two decades Islamabad has made substantial increments in its overall military strength that would have a telling affect in the military balance in South Asia.
To address all its security dilemmas, Pakistan fields a large military establishment equipped with ‘state of the art’ military equipment provided to it by the US and China. It is designed to wrest J&K from Indiathrough military means, if necessary, and to overwhelm any Indian counter-offensive across the International Border duly supported by a nuclear deterrence that Islamabad claims would be employed in a war fighting mode to blunt India’s conventional military superiority.
The question that intelligence agencies and analysts need to examine is the sustainability of this massive war fighting inventory for any length of time. With its enervated economy and continuous operational employment for the last decade, has Rawalpindi stocked adequate war wastage reserve (WWR) to sustain this military force once an all-out war breaks out? What is the residual combat potential of the equipment deployed so extravagantly on its Western Front and that being utilised to train personnel and units? (see box). Can Islamabad infuse the phenomenal resources required to replenish existing deficiencies in the light of the economic crunch that Pakistan has been undergoing since the turn of the Century. Answers to these questions will provide a true picture of the efficacy, or otherwise, of this massive military structure.
China is a major player on the South Asian politico-military scene. In keeping with its larger strategic matrix, as an emerging great power, China has crucial security interests in South Asia and the Indian Ocean.
After invading and incorporating Tibet into the People's Republic of China in 1950, Beijing focused on getting control of its Southern borders with Pakistan, India, Bhutan and Nepal. As with other states in the region, anomalies left behind by the British, resulted in a major territorial dispute that led to the Sino-Indian Border war in 1962. The war failed to resolve the dispute that persists to date. The militaries of the two are separated by a Line of Actual Control (LAC) that is also disputed, and the cease-fire continues to be punctuated by cross border incursions and limited actions.
In the last five decades China has built up its military forces along the border of India. In the west there is the Lanzhou Military Region with the Ari Military Sub District responsible for Western Tibet. The Chengdu Military Region is responsible for TAR and has created the Tibet Military District.
The extreme environment and exorbitant cost of logistics, restricts the permanent deployment of troops inTibet to approximately 60,000 troops while reinforcements of six to eight divisions are held at theChengdu and Lanzhou Military Regions. In addition, the PLA has rapid reaction brigades in each of its Army Groups at the military regions, some of which were recently test deployed in the high altitude areas in TAR.
However, recent improvement of rail, road and air arteries has made induction and sustenance of troops from mainland to bases in Tibet easier, and is designed to allow China to reinforce existing forces by approximately 30 to 35 Divisions i.e. 6/7 Group Armies, in 60 days. In military terms, this translates into enough combat potential to build up forces and execute a military offensive southwards in the course of one campaign season.
By 1957 China had built a highway down to the vicinity of Karakoram, after occupying Aksai Chin, 37,244 square kms of Indian Territory that was ungoverned and sparsely populated. On withdrawing to the newly established – but disputed LAC, Beijing continues to claim an additional 83,743 square kms occupied byIndia. Consequently, India has a 3,225-km-long disputed border with China in the Himalayas, secured by specially organised and equipped Mountain Divisions, Special Forces and Intelligence forces.
Having realised the problems of effectively governing the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and the futility of initiating a military operation to reclaim ‘disputed territories’ without adequate land and air means of communications, Beijing started building comprehensive infrastructure connecting TAR to China and all parts of Tibet right down to its borders with India in its 11thand 12th Five Year Plans (2005-2010 and 2010-2015).
Yet another part of its strategy to dominate South Asia in General and India in particular, is the creation of strategic relationships with Pakistan and Myanmar and to develop military linkages with all other South Asian States around India.
In the case of Myanmar, it has provided large tranches of economic and political aid, weapons and equipment to support the military Junta, has built a number of ports that facilitate access to the Indian Ocean, constructed strategic land lines of communications from Yuan Province to the Bay of Bengal and connecting Myanmar internally, and has acquired the right to use Coco Islands as a maritime listening post. It has a reasonable degree of strategic influence over Yangon, giving it strategic access to India’s vulnerable flank of the disputed territories and to the Bay of Bengal bypassing the Malacca Straits.
In Pakistan, the strategic relationship goes deeper. Beijing has established a very close equation with both the political and military establishments. It has been more than generous in its willingness to provide modern military equipment, training and logistics support and transfer of technology and technical manpower, to assist the Pakistan military industrial complex. This was of great help to Pakistan in circumventing the sanctions imposed by western Governments before and after it tested its nuclear devices. China has invested heavily in developing Pakistan’s strategic surface communication infrastructure and a strategic port at Gwadar. Sanctions notwithstanding, Beijing is complicit in the expansion of Islamabad’s nuclear programme. Besides transfer of technology, China provides trained human resources, specialised equipment and materials, and facilitates funding for the construction the Chashma series of nuclear power reactors.
Of greater significance is the Sino-Pakistani connection in the realm of nuclear weapons and missiles.China has provided nuclear warhead and missile technology to Pakistan, besides the transfer of M-9 missiles and four nuclear warheads. The maintenance and security of the latter continued to be managed by Chinese technicians and allied staff. Pakistani nuclear weapons scientists have been trained in China and reports allege that it facilitated a nuclear test by Pakistan at Lop Nor as recently as 2006. By helpingPakistan to develop and deploy nuclear forces, it has radically altered the military balance in South Asia that has adversely affected India’s capability to manage its strategic security interests.
When Islamabad was threatened by Washington in 2001, Beijing ordered the evacuation from Pakistan of all nuclear warheads and allied equipment/materials along with all Chinese personnel to China. However, in deference to the relationship between the two and the long-term Chinese strategic objectives, Beijing acquiesced to Pakistan’s request to hold these assets in Baltistan under the protection of the Chinese military, marking the first ever instance of a major element of the Chinese military being deployed south of the McMahon Line.
As a quid pro quo, Islamabad had ceded nearly 5,800 square kms in the Shaksgam Valley of Aksai Chin in 1963, and recently also ceded parts of Baltistan in Gilgit District bordering Xinjiang Province, to China.
India, the largest country in the region is the physical core of South Asia surrounded by smaller countries, each with its own specific axe to grind. Its comprehensive power quotient exceeds that of its immediate neighbours many times over. In sheer numbers, it has a massive military complex when compared to others in the region. This military potential was created specifically to deal with threats manifested to its security from the moment it gained independence. Two neighbours launched major military offensives to wrest territories from it.
Critical Land Borders
As outlined earlier, both China and Pakistan used military force to occupy large tracts of Indian Territoryand have been foiled in attempts to capture more territory in Arunachal Pradesh and J&K. These territorial disputes persevere to date. Neither country accepts the legitimacy of the cease fire line that divides their militaries. Until such time an international border is mutually agreed to and delineated, India needs to and has created and deployed appropriate military forces to defend against and deter both from initiating an offensive to occupy those parts of India they lay claim to.
Both are nuclear weapon states with substantial land, air and maritime forces that are being modernised to ‘state of the art’ global standards. New Delhi must, therefore, cater for both threats individually or even simultaneously, especially because of the close strategic linkage between Pakistan and China.
Besides this there are other vulnerabilities that must be secured.
India is a maritime nation strategically straddling the Indian Ocean. It has substantive seaborne trade and its economic well-being is dependent on the ability to keep sea-lanes free and open at all times. Historically India has been susceptible to invasion from the seas and as recently as 2009 when Pakistan sponsored terrorists mounted attacks against Mumbai. In addition, its maritime forces are responsible to secure: an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 2.02 million sq. km; major and minor harbours; and the seaward security of a 7000 km coastline and vital island territories.
Besides the enormity of these tasks, the Indian Navy must be provided with the wherewithal to operate in the complex maritime environment of the Indian Ocean that is crowded with sophisticated sub-surface forces – both conventional and nuclear powered platforms from the US, the UK, France, Israel, Pakistan,China, Iran and Russia. France, UK and the US have naval bases in the Indian Ocean to facilitate maritime operations of sub-surface and surface forces including aircraft carriers. This engenders operational complexities that require the Indian Navy to field platforms and equipment of equivalent capabilities.
The Indo-Pak imbroglio is unlikely be resolved with the prevailing levels of distrust between the two. This requires political action on their part. India has already taken the first step in this direction. It must communicate to the Pakistani civil and military leadership that India has no intention to use military force to dismember it, nor does it have any territorial ambitions, and that the partition of the sub-continent is fully accepted. Such an initiative is a nonstarter without rescinding India’s claims to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. However, to do so would require a Parliamentary resolution that India could – and would – ‘accept the existing LoC as the international border with Pakistan, provided the latter accepts this line as such and recognises India’s sovereignty over all territory East of the LoC currently under its control’. As the military establishment in Pakistan is not convinced that a political commitment holds much water, it will be necessary to arrange for progressive increasing of military to military interaction between the two countries to mitigate this phenomenon of distrust.
However, in making this concession New Delhi needs to keep in mind the propensity in Pakistan to make seemingly minor demands as a tactic in their creeping strategy of incremental moves towards assimilating the whole of J&K. The political leadership must not forget the fate of the 1972 Shimla Agreement after Pakistan achieved its short term objective to get the return of 93,000 PoWs taken during the 1971 war, nor the deception of returning Indian PoWs still languishing in Pakistani jails.
The ongoing Indo-Pak political peace process is being paralleled by issues not consequential to resolving the primary dispute. For example, initiatives to convince Delhi to withdraw its military from Siachen, yet another incremental ploy that will have no effect on Pakistan changing its overall strategy in J&K once Indian forces surrender their hold on Siachen. Addressing such short term demands must be avoided as they are tantamount to an inconsequential tactic to evade the primary issue i.e. resolution of the large territorial dispute, which will automatically fall into place once an International Border is delineated, recognised and ratified by both governments.
The origins of the Sino-Indian territorial dispute are different as is the nature of belligerence. The resolution of this dispute involves issues that transcend the territorial problem. Both countries are nuclear weapon states with India’s competencies slowly nearing equivalence. Both are constrained to make exorbitant financial outlays to create military capabilities and infrastructure to manage the dispute that has persisted for nearly six decades. But simultaneously their mutual annual trade is in the region of $60 billion, extremely beneficial and productive. Both are emerging as economic giants on the global scene. Neither country wants external forces to interfere on their behalf. It is time for both to develop a grand strategy to resolve the existing dispute and co-exist in harmony, whereas a conflict can only hurt both.
It is time for India to devise a mutually acceptable Grand strategy and generate a national consensus to facilitate its implementation.
Threats Posed by Entities Beyond South Asia
Though India’s current relationship with the US, UK and France are benign, they are partners on the US conceived counter-proliferation strategy, that is committed to support nations allied to the US and, by extension, NATO, in the event of a conflict with any other nuclear weapon state (NWS). New Delhi cannot but take note, that India was initially considered, by the authors of this strategy, amongst the list of threatening states, nor the fact that Pakistan has been conferred the status of a Major non-NATO ally (MNNA), a designation given by the US to close allies who have strategic working relationships with theUS. This, therefore, complicates New Delhi’s strategic calculations for dealing with the military threat fromPakistan and it needs to develop and generate the military means to deter external interference in the event of a conflict on the Sub-Continent.
Secondly, once the constraints of the Cold War era were removed, NATO reconfigured its mandate from the original defensive orientation to one that is offensive in nature, designed to justify assimilation of non-European states in a divided Asia through political machinations or military means. This smacks of a 21stcentury version of colonialism to access strategic raw materials to support their sumptuous form of civilisation.
Thirdly, with the advent of the electro-magnetic revolution and the advantages of their technological lead, the advanced countries have harnessed this medium to project military and intelligence capabilities to extra-terrestrial levels. This gives them the potential to exercise total control of the electronic spectrum, a capability to attack and destroy the very fabric of national control, far more potent than raw military capacities.
Amongst a host of issues that India needs to address to secure its being in the 21st century environment are:
Integration of all components of governance into a comprehensive and seamless national security strategy, reduce costs of unnecessary duplication and plug vulnerabilities engendered by blind spots. This strategy must extend to securing the ground, air space, seas and space assets and the electromagnetic spectrum from attack by military or other means.
It is imperative to deny stand-off missile attack from the sea, denial of airspace up to ranges of airborne standoff attacks and ingress from the Ocean by Special Forces and, appropriately equipped and trained quick reaction teams (QRTs) to locate, identify and eliminate any ingress on ground. This will require enhanced surveillance, detection and identification of the air space over land and sea. The military will need to enhance existing capabilities in accordance.
Legislate an integrated national cyber security strategy with appropriate electronic countermeasure (ECM) resources and a comprehensive electronic counter countermeasures (ECCM) strategy with pertinent forces.
Revitalise the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that provided a meaningful, cohesive and collective platform for developing states in the Cold War era to navigate through the pressures of the Blocs managed by the rival super powers. This is the only possible means to negate the West’s strategy of ‘divide and rule’ used so effectively in the past to assimilate control beyond their shores.
In conclusion, a warning to South Asian countries that field impressive military forces. Flouting large well trained standing militaries and the finest array of modern war fighting platforms at designated parades may boost the pride and confidence of the civilian leadership and psychologically bamboozle prospective adversaries. But these are intangible assets on which it would be disastrous to base calculations in formulating national security strategy, if they are not backed by sound and positive decision making capabilities and a national potential to allocate the type of resources required to run this war fighting machine effectively for a minimum period of time to achieve the national objective of waging war. Decisions on quantity and quality must be based on the understanding of the economics of maintaining force levels at maximum combat effectiveness; providing the logistical back up in terms of pre combat readiness, war time wastages and post war replacement. A military is only as efficient as its capacity to sustain the war for the planned duration to achieve national goals.
Source: Defence & Technology Vol.XI NO.90.May-June 2012