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Shaping Wars versus Shaping for Wars

Traditionally armed forces over the centuries have been accused of preparing for the last war rather than for a future one. Blurring lines between war and armed violence by paramilitaries against the state has added to the dilemma of shaping military for future wars. This has led to the safe option of building capabilities based on a typology of warfare that the armed forces are likely to face resulting in over capacity which may never come into use. On the other hand by creating potential to shape future wars this problem can be overcome.

Historically there have been numerous examples of how wars have been shaped by a country by building military capabilities rather than based on envisaged threats. India’s campaign in Bangladesh is ample proof of how an army seeped in principles of attrition warfare performed admirably in a campaign where maneouvre and tactical outflanking predominated. The force that participated in this campaign was shaped in a short period of nine months building on existing organizational strengths. Expanding the time available for capacity building it could be well argued that it would be possible to build forces to shape wars or non-wars to gain strategic advantage based on national objectives with a perfect combination of hard and soft power. In other words adopting the approach of Kautilya and Sun Tzu rather than Clausewitz or Jomini.

Will India have a choice in shaping wars particularly so when we are operating in a hostile security environment both traditional and nontraditional and also envisage ourselves to be a status quo power is a question that is natural? A short answer lies in ability to take advantage of positive national power based on geography, demography and knowledge culture rather than on the negatives of experience of past centuries of colonial subjugation or recent ones of proxy war acting as a trigger to combat on the opponent’s terms. Secondly by basing capacity building on cardinal principles of full spectrum, depth, simultaneity, synergy and sustenance the inherent strength can be capitalized.

Amplifying the same over the millenniums India has enjoyed geo-strategic advantages of a peninsular country with a heartland of economic riches buffered by the mighty Himalayas on one side and the sea on the other. The situation has not altered radically even though the 1962 experience and recent infrastructure development in Tibet has made us believe so.

The challenge of building forces on the Tibetan plateau and launching operations across the Himalayan passes if these are, “well defended,” are insurmountable. India could well be able to shape the war by building forces which can look, degrade and destroy deep while maintaining the anvil of all round defence on the mountain face. Supplement this with the ability for sea control and denial in the Indian Ocean and a war with an adversary fighting on one or two fronts can be easily shaped with triggers resting in Delhi. Synergy in capacity building and force employment is a sine qua nan.

Taking the case of counter insurgency, basic principles for success are effective intelligence and policing. The Andhra counter Naxal model has amply proved this premise where without deploying even a single military person, the State has been able to combat Left Wing Extremists successfully. In the case of a proxy war scenario capacity building will extend to a variety of intelligence dimensions employed transnationally from targeting financial support, arms and gun running networks, drug and criminal syndicates to covert and clandestine attacks employed selectively against the back stop of a strong counter infiltration grid. This should enable shaping the conflict to advantage without necessarily having to deploy the military in the manner it has been done over the past few decades at the cost of modernization of the Army in particular.

In the nuclear dimension an understanding of implications of employment has already acted as a powerful imprimatur to shape wars through avoidance. Very wisely both India and China have adopted the no first use principle. By supplementing the same by a credible second strike capability based undersea, a future war could be shaped though the challenge of managing rationality of the opposing actor will always remain a dilemma.

The logic of developing conventional missiles may also follow the same, “trajectory,” (sic) for these will remain counter force rather than counter value weapon systems to avoid mass casualties in populated centres in the Indian Sub Continent and would operate in the depth-degrade-destroy triad.

An overriding factor in ability for shaping wars in the future would remain that of domination of the information spectrum. Just as establishing a degree of superiority in air was essential in warfare in the 20th Century, in the forthcoming decades ability to control information in myriad forms from processing by computers, transmission on communication networks and profiling through favourable content will dictate success on the battlefield. Presently only the United States has the ability to fully control this medium.  This was more than evident in the conflict in Libya where NATO forces were completely dependent on the US for this purpose. Though highly desireable an autonomous capability may not be practical for India even in the long term, establishing niche competencies to enable us to structure war fighting to advantage should however be possible and our scientific talent should be devoted to the same.
Some facets of how building full spectrum capability in many dimensions will enable us to shape wars in the future rather than developing overkill for combat of varied types which our forces may never face has been attempted herein. Such a capability will also enhance the core principle of our foreign policy, strategic autonomy and thus would be worth striving for as the ability to shape wars provides an umbrella under which core national objective of mass economic development can be fructified.

Brig Rahul Bhonsle (Retd) is a Defence Analyst based in New Delhi

Views expressed are personal

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Rahul Bhonsle
Brigadier (Retd)
Contact at: [email protected]
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