Lessons worth learning

Laying of the foundation stone for the Indian National Defence University (INDU) by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on May 23 has been a seminal step in creating a national-level defence education infrastructure. The long-awaited university will be instituted by an act of Parliament with the President of India as the visitor and defence minister as the chancellor. This is an important measure aimed at ensuring synergy between the government and the armed forces on the complexities of national security issues, approach to defence and military strategies together with the understanding of the changing nature of warfare for optimisation of comprehensive national military power.
As India seeks to be a net security provider in a region marked by an extremely complex and multifaceted security environment, the future military and civilian leadership will need to understand the nuances of these changes, examine alternative futures, and set course for developing hard and soft power options in pursuit of national security goals. The recent standoff with China over its deep incursion into Indian territory in Ladakh illustrates the urgency of the issue and underscores the fact that we have learnt few lessons from the past.
Our approach and response once again lacked both understanding and synergy in harmonising national power for common national security goals. An unmistakable impression of our handling of the crisis was the three principal ministries responsible for shaping national security namely, external affairs, home and defence singing from different sheets of music.
Worse, each was reacting to guard its own narrow turf through extremely short-sighted and benign explanations sans analysis and understanding of Chinese motives in pushing for escalation days prior to their Premier Le Keqiang’s maiden visit. That India was forced to compromise both on the issue of Border Defence Agreement and removal of structures in the Chumar area of Ladakh further highlights our inability to create a common perspective on key national security issues.
An important issue that the Indian establishment needs to understand is that India’s growth story is closely linked to the strategic influence India can exercise in furthering its national security interests. India’s position is peculiar. To ensure unhindered growth, it will remain a net importer of its energy requirements as also other strategic raw materials for at least the next three to four decades.
Adding to the complexities is the emerging Asian strategic environment mired by competition between China’s attempt to emerge as dominant power by enhancing its sphere of influence and the US attempts to counter it through its balancing strategy. Adding to the above is the turmoil in West Asia — an area that services India’s core energy needs. This puts at stake the security of sea lines of communications, and more importantly, the ability to secure Indian national interests in the Indian Ocean.
Closer home, in the backdrop of the unfinished task of boundary settlement with our two nuclear neighbours, India will have to ensure credible and strong dissuasive conventional and strategic deterrence. Our security environment is compounded by the collusive factor between our two neighbours as a means of strategic coercion. It is, therefore, imperative for India to take steps to develop credible military power harmonised with soft power through diplomacy and economic relations.
In the overall context, the INDU will play a role in providing both the civil and the defence leadership with a deep understanding of the interplay between all attributes of national power. “The university must be geared to track regional and global trends, new and emerging technologies and developments in defence capabilities and strategies. It will also need to map the contours of future conflicts and understand the relationship between defence and finance, between external and internal security and between defence and diplomacy,” said Dr Singh.
In its present curriculum, the INDU proposes to conduct courses of varying duration in areas ranging from strategic studies, war gaming and simulation, neighbourhood studies, counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism, Chinese studies, evaluation of strategic thought, international security issues, maritime security studies, Eurasian studies, Southeast Asian studies, material acquisition, joint logistics, national security strategy in peace and war etc. The National College of Defence Studies (NCDS), Indian Institute of Defence Technology (IIDT), Indian Institute of Defence Management (IIDM) and Defence Institute of Distance and Open Learning (DIDOL) would be the constituent colleges and institutions of the INDU.
In formalising detailed curriculum, it is important for the INDU leadership to examine the nature of courses it plans to offer. This is important as present curricula of existing training institutions such as war colleges, national defence colleges and even the College of Defence Management are based on outdated attritional conflict models without seriously considering dimensions such as asymmetric, space or non-contact warfare. Nor do we have any centres for specialised regional military studies, particularly military modernisation philosophies or doctrinal thinking. Almost all inputs are based on Western scholarship.
Some of the important centres which the INDU should include are centres for chinese military affairs and South Asian studies. Similarly, a centre for strategic and nuclear studies including CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defence) warfare is extremely important from the point of view of doctrinal development, crisis stability perspectives, as also doctrinal thinking of our adversaries.
Centres for strategic research and lessons learnt are important from the perspective of understanding important political and military lessons from past wars, and also the nature of future wars. At the Higher Command Course in the College of Army Warfare there is practically zero focus on the study of past wars fought by India and important politico-military lessons that emerged; this has been a major shortcoming. Another area of study should be contemporary warfare. Establishing a centre for cybernetics and asymmetric warfare together with its technical operational perspectives is imperative for this purpose.
Now that the first step has been taken, there is a need to use the intervening period of seven years to create the edifice of India’s defence university through a series of brain-storming sessions and workshops as between the armed forces, the civilian leadership and, most importantly, the strategic community. It should be possible to initiate some pilot programmes over the next few years once the INDU Act is approved, the important point being not to wait seven years but to initiate the process right away.

The writer is director, Forum for Strategic Initiative, New Delhi

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