Friday, 14 January 2011



Between November of 1986 and March of 1987, the Indian Army conducted the massive Operation Brasstacks in the deserts of Rajasthan, pretty close to India's border with Pakistan. It was largely believed that a war was imminent with our neighbour as Pakistan responded by deploying its forces along the border as well. I remember staying glued to the radio --- even while travelling in crowded Calcutta buses --- to know whether we are indeed going inside our neighbour's territory. Our Army didn't cross the border, as we all know. And I kept wondering whether it was just a show of coercive diplomacy on part of the Rajiv Gandhi government --- without really intending a full-scale war, or was it our political leadership's policy of “restraint” that didn't let the Indian Army cross the border into Pakistan. Or was it really a military practise to check our military manoeuvres?

Two well-known commentators on defence matters, Stephen P Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta of the Brookings Institution, has dealt with this idea of Indian's military restraint in their recent book Arming Without Aiming --- India's Military Modernization. The authors argue that India must get rid of its policy of “restraint”, if she wants to be a global power. And that will involve procurement of defence equipments, rather than depending on indigenous productions; reforming the existing sectors of the three services rather than expanding them; coming up with transparent defence policies; allowing the defence establishments to be part of the decision-making process, and the like.

The book charts India's military policies and engagements post Independence, leading up to India's nuclear programmes, its role in Afghanistan and cooperation with the USA. The authors have added their views and predictive ideas all along. However, several of such views are questionable. For example, I have doubt as to whether India's perceived “restraint” is really a restraint. Going by India's post-Independence military history, I cannot say that the authors are fully correct. There was no restraint in 1948, 1965 or in 1971. India did not restrain herself during Goa's liberation from Portuguese rule. The 1962 war with China was largely due to Chinese objection to India's Forward Policy along the India-China border. India's humiliation in that conflict was due to bad management of the war, and ill-preparedness to fight the Chinese in the high altitude battle theatre. But then where was the “restraint”, really?

The present situation is different, because India, Pakistan and China have nuclear capabilities and unless something untoward happens in Pakistan --- say, the nuclear weapons go in the hands of the religious fundamentalists --- there is hardly any possibility of nuclear war in South Asia. Moreover, Indian focus is more on economic growth than browbeating its neighbours with show of military strength. India is not some expansionist nation who would claim foreign territories and subjugate foreign nationals. All India tries to do is defend its territory. Had India followed an expansionist policy, then scholars like Cohen and Dasgupta would have made loud noises from their academic high tables in the USA; and powers like the USA would have done everything to contain India, as they did by imposing sanctions against India following our nuclear tests.

The authors have depended on several media reports to reflect on India's defence strategies. But in the process, they have based their arguments on incorrect information. “India's Vietnam”, as the authors have dubbed India's Peace Keeping Mission in Sri Lanka, was nothing compared to the United States' engagement in Vietnam. Over 58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War. During India's mission in Sri Lanka, a little over 1,100 Indian soldiers died. That is even less than the casualties India suffered during any full-scale war. More importantly, India was helping to establish peace in its immediate neighbourhood, rather than poking nose in a faraway land. And Indian forces were not defeated. They left Sri Lanka when it was mutually decided by both the Indian and Sri Lankan governments.

I don't know from where the authors got the idea that the Kargil conflict didn't have Pakistan's support (pg 42). But they kept contradicting themselves by stating elsewhere in the book that the Kargil conflict began with Pakistani intrusion. In any case, that the intruders during the conflict in 1999 were Pakistani Army personnel is established.

The authors have denounced India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for their failures in producing indigenous defence equipments. But their claim that the DRDO failed to produce the Main Battle Tank Arjun is dated. The tank has been successfully manufactured and tested, and the Army has placed order for the tank with the DRDO. It is one thing to point out the glitches in the DRDO and another thing to criticise with typical western bias.

Having said all of that, however, I agree that it is important to balance between the three service while allocating funds and planning defence procurements. Also, there must be better coordination among the services, the intelligence agencies and the political leadership. Diplomacy is fine, but at times India must think in terms of its military capabilities. And there cannot be any place of complacency in indigenous defence research programmes and establishments. But these things are already known. Aren't they? So, what's new in the book?
Arming Without Aiming

By: Stephen P Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta
Publisher: Penguin-Viking
Pages: 223
Price: Rs 499