Saturday, 17 October 1998

Different Strokes - Relevance of Asymmetrical Responses

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Just as a houseperson takes a while before getting a new recipe
right, the Indian voter may need to experiment with four or five
Lok Sabha polls before settling on a stable mixture. This election
is the fourth general election since 1989. Hopefully, there will not
be another round before 2000 to craft a political structure that
does not crumble midway through its term.

Even while political leaders inhale the dust of the campaign 
trail, the problems confronting the country remain: weak
infrastructure, excessive regulation combined with inadequate
checks on official corruption, a tendency towards ”populism"
and, finally, security, defined as defense against subversion and

In the melee of issues projected by the political parties,
security has been almost forgotten. This is not surprising in a
political culture which believes that piping hot servings of mooli
paratha and sarson ka saag are enough to deter Islamabad from
its policy of trying once again to vivisect India on religious
grounds. As the two Robins (Cook and Raphel) illustrate, such
a policy has strong support in countries that should normally be
expected to back democracy against extremism.

Twin-track Policy
The Pakistan army, whose actual strategic objective is the
maintenance of the domination of one province over the other
three, can be expected to trigger the break-up of its host country
within a decade, thanks to its indulgence of extremist and
regional interests and the money it is raking in from the legitimate,
i.e., non-drugs trade, budget. Thus, as far as Pakistan is concerned,
all that needs to be done is to ignore the bleatings of the Hurriyat
lovers and operate a twin-track policy of strong action against
subversion combined with offers of expanding trade and cultural
contacts with a population that has been distanced from its
Hanafi traditions since 1947.

Non-democratic China is the main strategic challenge India
needs to tackle in the coming decade. And in working out
doctrines capable of self-defense against hegemonism and
blackmail, this country needs to avoid the mistake made by some
western powers in implicitly presuming an equivalence in the
response by China and by them to different situations.

Thus, while on computer screens China may have the
capability merely to destroy two west coast US cities by 2005
while Washington can pulverize the emerging superpower in
retaliation, the fact is that a two-city capability is enough to deter
a US response in all except a direct attack on itself. In effect,
therefore, the US will cease to have an effective retaliatory
capability against Beijing’s hegemonic moves in Asia by that
year. This means that within the next seven years, New Delhi
will need to actualise enough retaliatory capability against
communist China to deter any attempt at blackmail.

Casualty Rate
A second divergence between thresholds is the casualty rate.
While Beijing can sustain fairly high levels of bloodletting,
Washington will need to reconsider its options once the body
bags move into the thousands. The Vietnam standard is no
longer acceptable to US voters and legislators. Thus, once the
Chinese regime crosses a minimum retaliatory capability in a
few years time, US troops in Asia will have mostly a ceremonial
function, just as the US fleet movements in the Taiwan straits
looked good on television but would have been unable to deter
a sustained missile attack.

Fortunately, this country has a much higher casualty threshold
than Washington, at least in Asian theatres. This has been
demonstrated not just in Kashmir but in external theatres such
as Somalia and northem Sri Lanka. Unless there is a fusion
between the different strokes of India and the other major
democratic powers, it will not be possible to patch together a
credible defense against putative hegemonism in Asia.

Just as New Delhi should adopt a two-step strategy towards
Islamabad, it needs to do so vis-a-vis the US and the EU. Within
the latter grouping, France has moved the farthest from the
standard British position of seeking to equate India with Pakistan
in all security matters. Hopefully Germany will follow. However,
overt development of India’s deterrent will lead to sanctions
from many countries. This is not as negative as it sounds, in view
of the reality that near-maximal technological sanctions have
already been imposed on New Delhi by the US and the EU, even
while the China window ensures that other "target" countries
such as Pakistan escape the effects.

While refusing to accept the Neville Chamberlain option of
unilateral disarmament in a developing threat scenario, New
Delhi needs to adopt business-friendly policies to ensure that
lobbies are created against the indiscriminate extension of
technological sanctions against business. While the insurance
sector needs to be opened to Indian players, infrastructure
projects can be made friendly to foreign investment. Also, while
speculation needs to be protected against in the equity and
currency markets, genuine overseas investors need to be given
incentives on par with domestic interests.

While the Narasimha Rao government made significant
progress in dismantling the legacy of colonial restrictions, it
implicitly accepted the Pollyanna scenario of the Raphels on
external threats. As a result, it continued the underfunding of
strategic programmes that were begun in 1984, and almost
crippled work on Agni and its warhead. The impact of this will
become evident only in the coming years, once Beijing puts in
place sufficient retaliatory capacity to ignore the US in the Asian
theatre. From that point, India, APEC and ASEAN will be at risk
to putative hegemonism, unless New Delhi has by then created
an adequate defensive capability.

Security Issues
New Delhi needs to follow policies that promote the expansion
of its pitiful per capita economic base. Sadly, too many politicians
are succumbing to the 1947-89 mantra of abusing and restricting
those with initiative and enterprise, rather than encouraging
them. Externally, while continuing bridge-building efforts with
other major democracies, work on missile and warhead
programmes needs to be accelerated. This should go parallel
with efforts at promoting trade and cultural links even with

Hopefully, the new government will begin the process of
institutionalising security policies, not just by setting up boards
that are, in effect, sinecures, but by encouraging the web of think-
tanks and institutional interfaces that this country needs to
generate and getting defensive measures implemented.
Otherwise, 2005 may repeat the shock of 1962.

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