India — Force Planning To Shape India’s Maritime Space: The Nuclear Dimension

Both Julian Cor­bett and Admi­ral of the Fleet Sergei Gor­shkov had an astute per­spec­tive of the impor­tance of a the­o­ry of war. Such a hypoth­e­sis, they advo­cat­ed, pro­vid­ed a con­text to for­mu­late and enable a strate­gic pol­i­cy to deter war and, should the need arise, to wage that war. Cor­bett sug­gest­ed that “by mar­itime strat­e­gy we mean the prin­ci­ples that gov­ern a war in which the sea is a sub­stan­tial fac­tor” he went on to add “Since men live upon the land and not upon the sea, great issues between nations at war have always been decid­ed — except in the rarest cas­es — either by what your army can do against your enemy’s ter­ri­to­ry and nation­al life, or else by the fear of what the fleet makes it pos­si­ble for your army to do”. Gor­shkov on the oth­er hand enlarged the scope and of sea pow­er and placed it with­in the frame­work of com­pre­hen­sive nation­al pow­er. In his sem­i­nal book, The Sea Pow­er of the State he empha­sis­es that “the essence of sea pow­er of the state is how far it is pos­si­ble to make effec­tive use of the World Ocean or, as it is some­times said, the hydros­phere of the earth, in the inter­est of the state as a whole”.

This arti­cle is pub­lished with the kind per­mis­sion of “Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA) Mag­a­zine” New Del­hi-India

Defence and Security Alert (DSA

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India’s armed forces have tra­di­tion­al­ly evolved to cope with oper­a­tional sce­nar­ios. At gen­e­sis, this may have been attrib­uted to the military’s role in cre­ation and uphold­ing colo­nial empire, how­ev­er, post-inde­pen­dence; to have delib­er­ate­ly brought about a sep­a­ra­tion between the armed forces and the strate­gic deci­sion mak­ing process was a para­dox that defied norms of nation build­ing. The Amer­i­can strate­gist, George Tan­ham inci­sive­ly argued, that India had prob­lems devel­op­ing a robust secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy includ­ing a strong mil­i­tary force because the coun­try was bereft of coher­ent strate­gic thought. This oper­a­tional can­vas is a tran­sient that abhors futur­is­tic force plan­ning. It was, there­fore, the ‘imme­di­ate intim­i­da­tion’ of the chang­ing glob­al sce­nario that drove plans and con­se­quent­ly result­ed in the accre­tion of forces. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this inspi­ra­tion of the instan­ta­neous intim­i­da­tion was and con­tin­ues to be the pre­tender that serves to fill the strate­gic space. The case of our strate­gic mar­itime pos­ture as a func­tion of declared ‘Look East’ pol­i­cy is a study in point.

The strate­gic approach

It is inter­est­ing to exam­ine the Chi­nese case not just to view how inter­na­tion­al events catal­ysed a strate­gic approach but also how their inabil­i­ties worked to bring about a trans­for­ma­tion in their strate­gic pos­ture. To Chi­na, two events of the 1990s had sig­nif­i­cant impact on the shap­ing of their mil­i­tary strat­e­gy. The first of these is the Gulf War of 1991. Chi­na took home not lessons or answers but, a rea­son for strate­gic pre­emp­tion. In the words of Gen­er­al Liu Jing­song “allow­ing a mod­ern mil­i­tary oppo­nent unfet­tered access to land, sea and air ter­ri­to­ries in which to build-up and employ forces, as well as region­al bases and logis­tic hubs to sus­tain them, was a recipe for defeat”. He point­ed out that “the very assem­bly and posi­tion­ing of coali­tion forces con­sti­tut­ed first fir­ing and jus­ti­fied action to pre­empt or deter actu­al war”. The sec­ond event was dur­ing the Tai­wan Strait cri­sis of 1995–1996, which to the Chi­nese was a humil­i­at­ing expe­ri­ence of their sov­er­eign­ty being vio­lat­ed when the US deployed two car­ri­er groups in the Straits with impuni­ty. These two events were the pri­ma­ry caus­es for them to for­mu­late and enable their ‘Access Denial’ strat­e­gy. Chi­na has nev­er pub­licly acknowl­edged this strat­a­gem; how­ev­er force plan­ning and struc­tur­ing that we are cur­rent­ly wit­ness to, whether it is the ASAT pro­gramme, the mis­sile mod­erni­sa­tion, the thrust on ‘infor­ma­ti­sa­tion’ and cyber war­fare or indeed, of focus to the arti­cle, the nuclear sub­ma­rine build and replace­ment agen­da; should leave none in doubt of the course which their force plan­ners have chart­ed.

Gor­shkov enlarged the scope of sea pow­er and placed it with­in the frame­work of com­pre­hen­sive nation­al pow­er. In his sem­i­nal book, The Sea Pow­er of the State he empha­sis­es that “the essence of sea pow­er of the state is how far it is pos­si­ble to make effec­tive use of the World Ocean or, as it is some­times said, the hydros­phere of the earth, in the inter­est of the state as a whole

Chi­na did not fol­low the course set by the US and USSR in the cold war. Influ­enced more by Chair­man Mao’s belief that nuclear weapons were paper tigers took a more real­is­tic approach to its mil­i­tary nuclear pro­gramme and adopt­ed no first use and lim­it­ed its arse­nal.

Admit­ted­ly, sub­stance of the geo-polit­i­cal con­text that India found itself in was marked­ly dif­fer­ent from that of Chi­na or the cold ‘war­riors’ in terms of its own aspi­ra­tions, nation­al char­ac­ter, his­tor­i­cal bag­gage, chal­lenges that it was con­front­ed with and the eco­nom­ics of build­ing a cred­i­ble con­ven­tion­al and nuclear arse­nal. Yet, the need to adopt a strate­gic approach and to artic­u­late a cogent the­o­ry which inte­grat­ed the pro­mo­tion, nur­tur­ing and main­te­nance of force with a con­vinc­ing con­tract for use remained much the same. It is the under­stand­ing and prac­tice of this imper­a­tive that has per­sis­tent­ly elud­ed India. Enabling of nuclear capa­bil­i­ties in the mar­itime sphere is a spe­cif­ic case in point. The his­to­ry of nuclear mil­i­tari­sa­tion par­tic­u­lar­ly in the Indi­an mar­itime con­text is dogged by secre­cy, the lack of open archival infor­ma­tion, deci­sion mak­ing being left to a politi­co — tech­no — bureau­crat­ic enter­prise bereft of crit­i­cal mil­i­tary par­tic­i­pa­tion and, sig­nif­i­cant­ly, in spasms oper­a­tional con­sid­er­a­tions over­whelm­ing the strate­gic. The essence of the debate that now unfolds is a deep­er under­stand­ing of the mar­itime space of inter­est, its cor­re­la­tion with pol­i­cy, the chal­lenges that it con­tains and the essen­tials of force plan­ning includ­ing nuclear forces to fill and shape the strate­gic space.

The strate­gic mar­itime space

This dis­cus­sion begins by defin­ing the geo­graph­i­cal con­tours with­in which the impact of the now appar­ent glob­al pow­er shift will be most felt and with­in which mar­itime strat­e­gy will oper­ate. In this con­text the sea space between the 30 degree East Merid­i­an and the 130 degree East Merid­i­an extend­ing to the Antarc­tic con­ti­nent pro­vides the the­atre with­in which the strat­e­gy will func­tion. This sea space includes the Indi­an Ocean and the South Chi­na Sea Ocean and may be termed the Indi­an Ocean and the East­ern Ocean (IOEO).

The IOEO hydro­space, bound by land­mass­es on all sides except the 130 East Merid­i­an, has some unique fea­tures. Its weath­er is dom­i­nat­ed by the mon­soons and trop­i­cal sys­tems, the hydrol­o­gy of this Ocean makes it dif­fi­cult for under­wa­ter sur­veil­lance oper­a­tions between the 30 degrees north south par­al­lels. Wide­spread cloud­ing impairs domain trans­paren­cy. Small ship oper­a­tions, oth­er than in the lit­toral seas, are par­tic­u­lar­ly inhib­it­ed dur­ing the 6 month mon­soon peri­od. Den­si­ty of traf­fic through the nar­row pas­sages and straits makes sur­veil­lance with­out iden­ti­fi­ca­tion inco­her­ent. This Ocean­ic body is dom­i­nat­ed by ten impor­tant choke points and nar­rows. From west to east these 10 crit­i­cal choke points may be iden­ti­fied as fol­lows: The Cape of Good Hope: The Strait of Babel Man­deb, the Strait of Hor­muz (this is a key ener­gy cor­ri­dor ship­ping 40 per cent of seaborne oil trad­ed glob­al­ly), Don­dra Head (which pro­vides the pas­sage which con­nects SLOC from the 9 degree chan­nel to East Asia); 6 degree chan­nel (is the pri­ma­ry route that feeds into the Strait of Malac­ca); the Malac­ca Straits (which links the Indi­an Ocean with the Pacif­ic Ocean (being the most com­mer­cial­ly viable sea route with con­sid­er­able depths, it offers the most cost effi­cient SLOC); The Sun­da Strait; Lom­bok Straits: Makas­sar Strait and final­ly, the Luzon Strait which pro­vides the Pacif­ic pas­sage into the South Chi­na Sea.

The even­tu­al­i­ty of a US draw­back from the region, while of a low prob­a­bil­i­ty, remains a con­tin­gency that will leave a vac­u­um which has the poten­tial for fric­tion between Chi­na on one side and India and Japan on the oth­er with the lit­torals going by inter­ests

In essence the ocean space of inter­est the IOEO, with its ten choke points and nar­rows, pro­vides the strate­gic con­text in gen­er­al to glob­al trade pass­ing through these waters and in par­tic­u­lar to Indi­an mar­itime forces that would seek to sur­veill, deny or con­trol these waters.

Pol­i­cy, pow­er and vision

An analy­sis of the cur­rent state of inter­na­tion­al rela­tions and the devel­op­ments in the region will demand con­ti­nu­ity in growth and con­ti­nu­ity in mod­erni­sa­tion of region­al mil­i­taries. This con­ti­nu­ity in mil­i­tary affairs will most affect Chi­na, India and Japan. While the lit­torals of the IOEO may well devel­op denial capa­bil­i­ties with their focus on indi­vid­ual inter­ests in these waters, their effec­tive­ness can only be assured through co-oper­a­tive engage­ments with like mind­ed nations whose com­bined pres­ence in the region would bet­ter serve indi­vid­ual as well as col­lec­tive inter­est.

With­in such a co-oper­a­tive group it is rea­son­able to assume that indi­vid­ual fric­tion would be sub­sumed to the larg­er denial objec­tives, the expan­sion of the ASEAN and the cre­ation of the ASEAN Region­al Forum (ARF) are sug­ges­tive of the littoral’s aspi­ra­tions to counter-bal­ance the loom­ing pres­ence of Chi­na in their group­ing. USA’s pres­ence will dom­i­nate activ­i­ties in the region in the imme­di­ate and mid-term future. Flash points such as ter­ri­to­r­i­al claims both in the mar­itime and con­ti­nen­tal domain will remain a source of fric­tion that would nec­es­sar­i­ly demand mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties and a strate­gic ori­en­ta­tion that serves to assure restraint. Where Amer­i­can inter­ests dif­fer with the three major play­ers the lat­ter will demand a role in order to assure its own inter­ests. The even­tu­al­i­ty of a US draw­back from the region, while of a low prob­a­bil­i­ty, remains a con­tin­gency that will leave a vac­u­um which has the poten­tial for fric­tion between Chi­na on one side and India and Japan on the oth­er with the lit­torals going by inter­ests.

India’s strate­gic nuclear pol­i­cy is artic­u­lat­ed in her nuclear doc­trine made pub­lic on 04 Jan­u­ary 2003. The doc­trine presents two per­spec­tives; the first deals with ‘Form,’ nuclear war avoid­ance is the leit motif. It rein­forces the belief that nuclear weapons are not for use, so ‘No First Use (NFU)’ is a nat­ur­al choice

Since the dec­la­ra­tion of India’s Look East Pol­i­cy, the ASEAN-India rela­tion­ship has grown in leaps and bounds from the lim­it­ed sec­toral part­ner­ship in 1992 to a full dia­logue ven­ture in 1995 and sub­se­quent­ly to a sum­mit lev­el col­lab­o­ra­tion in the first ASEAN-India sum­mit held in 2002. India and Chi­na along with ASEAN are set to become the world’s largest eco­nom­ic bloc. The group­ing is expect­ed to account for about 27 per cent of Glob­al GDP and will very quick­ly over­take the EU and USA economies. The ASEAN Region­al Forum pro­vides a crit­i­cal stage for pro­mot­ing sta­ble rela­tion­ships between major pow­ers and is a use­ful com­ple­ment to bilat­er­al activ­i­ty which is accept­ed to be at the heart of the secu­ri­ty con­struct in the ‘East­ern Ocean.’ The buoy­an­cy of the Indo-ASEAN rela­tion­ship is backed by surg­ing trade fig­ures which in 2007 was US$ 15.06 bil­lion and is slat­ed to hit US$ 60 bil­lion in the cur­rent year and is billed for US$ 100 bil­lion by 2014. With such bur­geon­ing stakes in the region, the rea­son to estab­lish strong and sta­ble secu­ri­ty ties now becomes a core issue.