South China Sea: China’s Double Speak and Verdict at The Hague
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
When Premier Xi rubbished the 12 July 2016 verdict of the International Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague on China’s claims over most of the South China Sea, what exactly was meant? For no international justice system had thus far ever called China to order for its expansionist strategy.
What The Hague had in fact done was not only to uphold the case filed by the Philippines in 2013, after China seized a reef in the Scarborough Shoal; but also condemned China’s conduct in the South China Sea (SCS) over construction of artificial islands and setting up military infrastructure. In an unequivocal rebuke,it found China’s expansive claim to sovereignty over the waters had no legal basis, historical or otherwise. The verdict gives motivation to the governments of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan to pursue their maritime disputes with Beijing in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). Small wonder then is Premier Xi’s fulmination.
The central issue before the PCA was the legality of China’s claim to waters within a so-called “nine-dash line” that appears on official Chinese charts. It encircles 90 per cent of the SCS, an area of 1.9 million square kilometres approximately equal to the combined areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Myanmar put together. Philippines’ contention was that China’s claims were in violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which both China and the Philippines have ratified. In its decision, the tribunal said any historic rights to the sea that China claimed “were extinguished” by the treaty. And its failure to be a party to the deliberations in no way bars the proceedings. The UNCLOS lays out rules for drawing zones of control over the world’s oceans and seas based on coastal orientation, while the concept of Historic Waters means waters that are treated as internal waters where there is no right of innocent passage.
As far as the “nine-dash line” (originally eleven-dash) is concerned; following the surrender of Japan in 1945, China produced a proprietorship chart titled "Position of the South China Sea Islands" that showed an eleven-dash line around the islands. This map was published by the Republic of China government in February 1948. It did not hold onto this position after it fled to Taiwan. The Chinese Communist Party, however,persisted with this cartographic notion, modifying the 11 to 9 dashes when in 1957, China ceded Bailongwei Island in the Gulf of Tonkin to North Vietnam.
The PCA concluded that China had never exercised exclusive authority over the waters and that several disputed rocks and reefs in the SCS were too small for China to claim control of economic activities in the waters around them. As a result, it found China outside the law in as much as activities in Philippine waters are concerned. The tribunal cited China’s construction of artificial islands on the Mischief Reef and the Spratly archipelago as illegal in addition to the military facilities thereon which were all in Philippine waters.
The episode has besmirched the image of Xi Jinping, his politburo and indeed the credibility of the Communist Party of China (CPC). To lose their legal case for sovereignty over waters that they have heavily invested in must come as a rude shock to their global aspirations. A complaisant response may set into motion the unravelling of the CPC’s internal hold on the state as defence of maritime claims is central to the CPC’s narrative. Any challenge to this account is seen in Beijing as a challenge to the Party’s rule. But the die has been cast; it remains to be seen how more regions and neighbours respond to China’s unlawful claims wherever it is perceived to exist. An indication of the regional response was Vietnam’s immediate endorsement of the tribunal’s decision.
Thus far China has responded sardonically with a typical Cold War propagandist style avowal. “We do not claim an inch of land that does not belong to us, but we won’t give up any patch that is ours. The activities of the Chinese people in the South China Sea date back to over 2,000 years ago” said the front-page in the People’s Daily, which ridiculed the tribunal as a “lackey of some outside forces” that would be remembered as a “laughingstock in human history.” Such dippy doublespeak has no place in contemporary geopolitics. For China to do nothing about the matter will be difficult in the extreme. It does not take a political pundit to note that some form of immediate coercive military manoeuvre in the SCS is in the offing. Also, it would hardly be realistic to expect China to scurry away to dismantle the military infrastructure it has so far set up; more likely it is their revisionist policies that would be reviewed.
Towards the end of the Cultural Revolution, in 1976, China brought out a movie titled "Great Wall in the South China Sea;" it was not about the inward looking narrative of Chinese civilisation but of “expansive conquests that would knit together all of South East Asia.” The Hague’s verdict has grievously injured the latter strategy. And if the free world is to rein in China’s bid to rewrite the rule books, including the right to unimpeded passage in the SCS, then it would do well to convince her of the illegitimacy of her position. In the meantime, Indian diplomacy should promote the littorals of the SCS to seek arbitration for their maritime disputes with China at The Hague.
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
Change, more often than not, is driven by circumstances rather than scholastic deliberation. As President Obama once put it, perhaps as an unintended barb to the legions of geopolitical seers that stalk Massachusetts Avenue, Washington DC, “Change doesn’t come from Washington but comes to Washington.” So it was with Prime Minister Modi’s three-day state visit to the US (6-8 June 2016). Not only did the visit lay the foundation to several strategic goals mutual to both sides, but it was also punctuated by symbolism that provides a basis for the future. When Modi suggested stepping out of the “shadows of hesitations of the past” he could not have stated in more unequivocal terms that India’s strategic orientation was now one that not only respected the status quo, but also would contribute towards ensuring that attempts to upset it would not go unchallenged.
At the same time, laying a floral wreath at Arlington Cemetery to the Tomb of the Unknowns (a first for an Indian PM), on the face of it, was an unconditional tribute to that one unquestioning instrument of state power who historically has laid down his all for a national cause. Underlying the salute was recognition of the role played by the military in binding and stabilising an uncertain security milieu.
Alfred Thayer Mahan in The Influence of Sea Power upon History underscored three prescient perspectives relating to the Global Commons. First, competition for materials and markets is intrinsic to an ever trussed global system. Second, the nature of commerce on the one hand deters war, while on the other engenders friction. Third, the Commons require to be secured against hegemony, disruption and rapacious exploitation. These perspectives today ring a reality whose significance has not been lost on the PM.
Mr Modi’s understanding of contemporary dynamics in the Global Commons and the need to balance out China’s objectives of hegemonic control through strategic security partnerships is adroit. The Global Commons typically describes international and supranational resource domains. It includes the earth’s shared resources, such as the oceans, the atmosphere, outer space and the polar regions. Cyberspace also meets current discernment. It is hardly coincident that it is in these very domains that China has shown aggressive intent. The current distressed state of the Commons is marked by the impact that globalisation has had: strains of multi-polarity, anarchy of expectations and increasing tensions between demands for economic integration and stresses of fractured political divisions are all symptoms. Nations are persistently confronted by the need to reconcile internal pressures with intrusive external impulses at a time when the efficacy of military power to bring on positive political outcomes is in question. While most nations have sought resolution and correctives within the framework of the existing international order, China emerges as an irony that has angled for and conspired to re-write the rule book. The PM’s statement to Congress that it was only strong Indo-US ties that could anchor security in the Indian Pacific Region left little to speculate what direction relations were taking and the extent of mutuality that was perceived in the Logistic Support Agreement (LSA) being fleshed out. Not only is India preparing for strategic collaboration with the US, but it is buttressing its posture in the Indo-Pacific through multilateral cooperation with ASEAN. All this must be seen as its intent to institutionalise its presence in the waters of the Indo-Pacific.
Critics, both in the developed and indeed in the developing world, maintain that scripting an international security relationship with the US flies in the face of autonomy in global affairs. In response one only has to note the transformed conditions of the world order of the day which is far removed from that which existed between the post-World War II era to the end of the Cold War. Uncertainties of events and their multi-faceted impact reflect the new substance of increased global interdependence in every field of endeavour. Whether these fields are in the economic, political or security domains, corollary imperatives are interlinked at the national, regional and international levels.
Latest reports in the run-up to the plenary session of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to be held at Seoul on 24 June 2016 suggest that the US and Russia along with most other member countries (total 48) have expressed support for India’s admission to the Group largely as a result of three considerations: India’s clean track record of non-proliferation; US and Russian along with majority support; and the lure of commercial gain. But China is resisting admission on the basis of a curious principle – that before any decision is taken about India’s membership, the NSG needs to agree on equitable and non-discriminatory criteria for membership of those countries that are nuclear weapon states (for “those countries” read Pakistan), but are not signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). China argues that if any exception to the conditions for admission is to be made, then it should apply equally to both India and Pakistan. As a counter argument, accession to the NPT is not a criterion for membership — France was not a member of the NPT until 1992 though it was a founder member of the NSG in 1975. On the second rule condition — a good non-proliferation record; India has a better history than some of the NSG members. Particularly China, given membership in 2004, has debatably the most dubious proliferation record whether it is their dealings with Pakistan or North Korea. For that matter, equating the Indian and Pakistani applications for membership, as China has done, is disingenuous. India has never had a state-sponsored AQ Khan nuclear black-market network extending from Libya to North Korea nor sold nuclear technology to third parties. For China to have overlooked all this including the fact that, as Modi put it to the US Congress, all global terrorism is “incubated” in India’s neighbourhood (meaning Pakistan), must speak of China’s own credibility within the group.
What are the stakes involved? For India, the logical sequel to the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement of 2008 and the concomitant NSG waiver followed by entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is membership of the NSG; gives legitimacy to nuclear aspirations and unimpeded access to technology. However, will China’s stonewalling work? Given the circumstances that China finds itself in, clearly not for long.
Even the prolific realist that Walt Whitman was would agree that “now that the orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instruments and the baton has given the signal to play;” Modi’s addendum that it “was best that a new symphony be played” is most appropriate.
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
Aggregation of power is never more apparent than when there is dramatic increase in state controlled power-activism. Equally impactful is the growing disregard for moral principles when power (political, corporate or military) is exercised. The wars and repression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, Xinxiang and Tibet are continuous reminders of the nexus between state policy and savagery on the field despite the messianic goal of delivering freedom to the “downtrodden.”
Historically, whether it was the Kremlin’s control over its satellites, Japan’s atrocities in Manchuria, fascist Italy’s carnage in North Africa, China’s subjugation of Tibet or Pakistan’s genocide in the erstwhile East Pakistan; the pattern of state policy unleashing barbarism is familiar. What is not fully recognised is the manner in which technology serves to intensify violence exponentially, on all sides. Unfortunately, the advance of science and technology in the last century and indeed over the epochs has not gone with any comparable advance in human understanding of conflict and how best to mitigate the physical gore of warfare. Instead, the increase of knowledge has repeatedly intruded to generate new forms of atrocities on scales that are unprecedented.
At the state level, the idea of killing machines controlled from great distances executing their missions with chilling precision with neither the palpability of a human in combat nor an ethical code of restraint is most unsettling. Experience from the ‘drone war’ currently being waged in Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan presages the advent of far more lethal systems employing advanced hypersonic remotely operated weapons at hair trigger notice, bringing to the fore all of our techno-moral anxieties. The recent testimony of Brandon Bryant, a former US pilot and ‘predator’ drone operator, at the UN and in the German Parliament leaves a slithering sense that screens and sensors have stolen from reality human feelings, replacing it with a one-sided dystopian view of conflict. The drone operator stated, “... And I watched him bleed out of his femoral artery. And [sic] he’s rolling on the ground, and I can—I imagined his last moments. I didn’t know what to feel. I just knew that I had ended something that I had no right to end.”
Bertrand Russell in his 1915 essay titled “The Ethics of War” suggested that the “fundamental facts in this, as in all ethical questions, are feelings.” However, contemporary mores of conflict gives first propriety to instant success with low or no casualty return. This places power in a position of primacy and in the process relegates ethics to abstraction. In its station is a self-ordained faultlessness of cause, making justification of killing a juridical issue played by the rules of the powerful. In the process, legitimising the extermination of as many as modern armaments makes possible, becomes a foregone conclusion. Whatever became of “the smell of cordite?” Is all now simulacra?
The real issue is the absence of an accepted and well complied rule book (notwithstanding the Geneva and Hague Conventions), opening the question as to why it is that right or wrong is determined solely on the power status of a nation, thereby absolving states of the consequences of their actions. Clearly extrapolating a law and order approach internal to a state in matters of international relations is not only in transgression of the idea of sovereignty but brings with it the natural abhorrence of a super cop. Unfortunately, national interests, corporate fortunes, political insincerity and primordial prejudices besides the ideal propel international relations. The reality is that leadership is wedded to antiquated beliefs to make policy, while instruments to implement are driven by technologies that have long outpaced these beliefs (in terms of their destructive potential and the ability to generate an illusion that the very same beliefs can be clinically realised). This would also appear to be the strategic crisis of these times.
To advocate democracy by war as is being done today in Afghanistan, West Asia and elsewhere through recent history, is only to repeat, on a vast scale and with far more tragic results, the error of those who have sought it hitherto by covert means, the terrorist’s bomb or through ideological indoctrination. Contemporary geopolitics exemplifies the predicament.
Pacifists have long suggested that there is no reason why settlement of all disputes by the UN cannot be undertaken. Their plea that this great trial of our times has worked itself out towards only one conclusion and that is global disaster and suggested that “when the passions of hate and self-assertion have given place to compassion with the universal misery, nations will perhaps realise that they have fought in blindness and delusion, and that the way of mercy is the way of happiness for all” (Bertrand Russell). Actually, very little stands in the way of such romanticism other than nationalism, religion and the pride of leadership who wish to remain uncontrolled by anything higher than sovereign will. In truth, these are all formidable human traits; they are also at the root of violent struggles that trend towards a one-sided faultlessness of cause. Brandon Bryant’s testimony was an articulation of the absence of ‘feelings’ that pushed morality out of the frame and ushered a dystopian vision of warfare.
Ethics in warfare is a complex and often intriguing subject. Killing, at the individual level, has long been taboo with most civilisations; and yet when the scale of proportions is expanded to the state level, there appears historically an attempt to define just cause, just conduct and in more recent times, a morality in post-war settlement. The Christian tradition that exerted to propagate such a perspective saw for both jus ad bellum and jus in bello an awkward and often partisan arbiter, the Catholic Church. Yet, what perhaps provides a more elegant and convincing standpoint are the dialogues between Lord Krishna and the warrior prince Arjuna in the Indian epic Mahabharata.
The discussions begin with the right to war and the criteria that make for a righteous one; the various gradations that postulated proportionality, just means and morality in the conduct of operations were central to the discourse while equality of combatants, their fair treatment and honour in war termination were of essence if victory were to be considered ethical. But then the problem has always been and remains: how, who or what will intercede on the side of the just? Particularly so when exceptional virtuosity is the right of the victor.
Not to labour the point, a quarter of a century ago on 20 December 1989, President George HW Bush launched Operation Just Cause, sending troops and combat aircrafts into Panama to execute a warrant of arrest against its leader Manuel Noriega (noisily condemned by the UN). A one-time CIA asset and close ally, he faced charges of drug trafficking. The country was invaded; its dictator incarcerated, brought to trial and sentenced in the US. The operation set a trend for power activism in the 1990s and the first two decades of the new millennium. The dictum seemed to be a quick, surgical and internationally unsanctioned ‘in’ followed by regime change and a clean exit. Obviously the surgical ‘in’ was a point of view, it invariably left in its wake non-combatant casualties numbering in the thousands.
Before falling into the trap of reducing international relations and it’s sometimes sequel of conflict to a “morality melodrama,” it has to be recognised that humankind in its endeavour to come to grips with trans-national violence has arrived at a stage when the (general) use of force has been legally proscribed. But there remain conditions. And it is within these conditions of self-defence, right of intervention, pre-emptive protection of interests and indeed, the use of comprehensive force that nations bring to bear the weight of unbridled nationalism. It is also under these conditions that veto-wielding Ayatollahs of the UN flourish. This then, is the rub, how can power be subsumed to a larger goal of collective accord? The short answer is that it cannot as long as the idea of nation states lies at the heart of the international system allowing states to internally promote centralisation of power and externally present a Janus-faced approach to moral principles.
Contemporary global order is unmistakably swayed by power, an expedient-slant to morality, and a distinct readiness to use barbaric force as long as the smell of cordite remained sequestered. This perhaps is the lamentable ‘bulletin’ of the day.
To Steer the Stream of Time: The Crisis of Verge Powers
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
The Crisis of Verge Powers
A quarter of a century after the demise of the Soviet Union brought an end to the bi-polar confrontation of the Cold War, what is emerging today is a fluctuating plurality of on-the-verge-great powers. These powers are counselled at times and coerced at others, by one super power, the US. In this milieu, the US retains dominant influence over its European and Pacific allies, but finds itself in confrontation with China and Russia. Japan, Australia and India, also verge powers, politically find an intuitive affinity towards the democratic covey led by the US.
Superimposed on this emerging global construct is the crumbling of order in West Asia where interminable warfare and the stunning spread of radical Islam have exasperated the prospects of stability. Whether motivation for conflict lies in the quest for power or piety is a moot question, but how it affects the international system and how the verge powers respond is the crisis of our times.
Tensions in the Maritime Domain
The maritime domain has not been sequestered from the turmoil in West Asia, tumbling of oil prices, global contraction of economies (barring India and China) or the emergence of ‘verge powers’. A growing disregard for conventions and an urge towards establishing proprietary markets and trade routes appear to be the norm.
And, in what must be seen as a historical paradox, is the return of a new form of colonialism, engineered through favours, money, the creation of local elites, control of national resources of the lesser developed powers - which has sought to be imposed through the agency of manikin dispensations. Every verge power (whether it be China, Japan, Russia, Germany, Australia or indeed India) has, in varying degree, indulged in this practice with the difference that China not only seeks proprietary control over the instruments of growth, but also pursues change on its terms; while Russia’s militaristic involvement in simmering West Asia and Ukraine runs the hazard of sparking off a larger conflict.
To get a deeper sense of the transformations that are occurring in contemporary global affairs one notes four tectonic shifts. First, the diminishing sheen in what was the dazzling two and a half decades of double digit growth that provided global impetus to economic activity and the military sway of China; as it shrinks, the danger it faces is a fractious populace that may not suffer an authoritarian dispensation without the enticement of unparalleled growth.
Second, the fall and rise of Russia from a one time super power to that of ‘verge’ status attempting to salvage a little of its past with neither the economic clout nor the ideological resolve. This poses a prickly predicament, for within a period of a quarter of a century, to have been reduced to pariah status and then rise amongst the verge powers with little to bolster state power other than its creaking arms industry, vast resources of primary produce in its icy wastes and a rapidly ageing demography; can hardly make for impact on the international system.
Third, the breaking out of Japan from its post World War II enforced pacifism as it finds out today that commercial dynamism and financial clout do not constitute a security shield in the contemporary anarchic world. After all, the deepest anxieties of Japan is of an over-extended US weakening in its resolve to uphold its Asian commitments at a time when China has announced its intentions to dominate the West Pacific and the trade routes of the Indian Ocean. All the while, looming to the north and west of Japan across the Sea of Okhotsk is a nervous Russia and a trigger happy North Korea. It is equally clear that for the US to bring about strategic rebalance in the region it cannot do so with a fettered Japan.
And lastly, the sole super power, US, veering its strategic pivot in the wake of the centre of gravity of world economics shifting into the Indo-Pacific. This has underscored the importance to build a strategic entente in the region to counter-balance a possible revisionist thrust by a Sino-Russian combine. Mutuality in security matters will be the rule as it is clear that the cost of security will stretch the resources of the US.
The four ‘tectonic shifts’ that have been noted are a part of a larger transformatory dynamic which has today become palpable as technological and economic changes collide with political systems, social structures and military power. In this setting the only certainty is that change will be increasingly more disruptive and unerringly more self-sustaining. While most of the verge powers have sought resolution and correctives within the framework of the existing international order, China, and to some extent, Russia, emerge as anomalies that have angled for and conspired to re-write the rule book. The primary challenge, however, emanates from China.
A Period of Shengshi
In the 18th century, China under the Qing dynasty enjoyed a golden age. It was a period of shengshi. Currently, some Chinese nationalists say that thanks to the Communist Party, its economic prowess and energetic policies, another shengshi has arrived.
China released its most recent Defence White Paper in May 2015. When read as a sequel to its earlier white papers, it announced the arrival of a self-confident China recognising its own growing economic and military muscle. The paper places a premium on wide area maritime combat preparedness, manoeuvre and a thrust to attain a first-rate cyber warfare capability. At the same time, criticality of containment of various internal fissures is on top of the agenda. The paper significantly points out that struggles for cornering strategic resources, dominating geographically vital areas and tenanting strategic locations have, in fact, intensified. In this context, West Asia’s oil reserves, critical location and economic opportunities provide the strategic canvas for the ‘one belt one road’ initiative. Control of proprietary maritime routes backed by vast continental economic investments furnishes the framework within which resources of the region could be cornered. China has to satisfy its growing internal demands and eroding markets at a time of declining growth if it is to keep the illusion of shengshi alive among its increasingly edgy populace.
The consequences of China activising artifices such as the Anti-Access Area Denial Strategy and geo-political manoeuvres to constitute proprietary sources of raw materials, their ports of dispatch and controlled routes, all euphemistically called the maritime silk route, and establishing the String of Pearls in the Indian Ocean Region evokes increasing strategic anxieties among players in the same strategic locale. Progressively, China appears to be challenging not just today’s economic orthodoxy and order, but the world’s political and security framework as well without bringing about a change within her own political morphology. China’s claim to sovereignty over the South China Sea; territorial aggressiveness; her handling of dissent within Tibet and Xinxiang; her proliferatory carousing with rogue states such as North Korea and Pakistan, does not inspire confidence in change occurring within without turbulence. The paradoxical effects of China’s actions are to undermine its own strategic standing, hasten counter-balancing alignments and catalyse a global logic of cooperative politics over imperial strategies.
Strategic Imperatives for India The first imperative for India is to bring about policy coherence between strategic sea space, growth and security interests. It begins by defining the geographical contours within which a strategy can be developed. The parameters of this definition must factor in the regions from where trade originates, energy lines run, sea lines of communication pass, the narrows contained therein which an inimical force would endeavour to secure and the geographic location of potential allies. In this context the sea space covered by the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific provides the theatre within which Indian maritime strategy will have to function. It accounts for over 70 per cent of global trade, 60 per cent of energy flow and is home to more than 50 per cent of the world’s population.
Indian strategy must seek to Contest, Discredit and Deny, the ability of regional or extra regional countries to unilaterally intervene. To ‘Contest and Discredit’ would suggest a clear understanding of where the centre of gravity of power projection lies. In China’s case, it is the triumvirate of the Aircraft Carrier; security of the narrows and of its ‘string of pearls’. The narrows provide strategic opportunity while the ‘Pearls’ that assure sustenance of forces and safety of hulls, characterise vulnerability. To achieve denial is by convincingly raising the cost of military intervention through the use or threat of use of methods that leverage opportunities while targeting vulnerabilities. ‘The cost of military intervention’ is a matter that resides in the mind of political leadership, yet there will always be a threshold, the edge of which is marked by diminishing benefits of intervention.
India’s relationship with the US and her allies is robust. It upholds the status quo, yet invites change through democratic forces. India’s rise is not only welcomed but is seen as a harmonising happening that could counter-poise China. The next step would logically be to establish an Indo-US-Japan-Australia strategic framework if the challenges that obtain are to be contended with.
To Steer the Stream of Time
Bismarck suggested that great powers travel on the “Stream of Time” which they can neither create nor direct but upon which they can “steer with more or less skill and experience.” How they emerge from that voyage depends to a large degree upon the wisdom of leadership. Bismarck’s pithy thoughts go back to the fundamental question: whether motivation for conflict lies in the turbulences of the Stream of Time or in the quest for power or piety is moot; but how they affect the international system and how verge powers respond is the crisis of this time.
The international system over the last century has been a persistent history of warfare or at least preparation for conflict; and so it is with the current convulsions in West Asia and the emergence of verge powers. Whether China’s revisionist thrust, grandiose scheme to establish proprietary trade routes while seeking sovereignty over vast sea spaces; or a Russia, perceiving in an anarchic global system, strategic opportunity to regain some of its battered national prestige will lead to war is not at all certain. The presence of nuclear weapons with their intrinsic threat of mutually assured destruction may give strategic nuclear forces a restraining role to define and demarcate the limits within which conventional forces operate. Or, it may leave proxy wars as the future of conflicts as in West Asia today. Each of today’s ‘verge-powers’ are therefore left grappling with the crisis of reconciling their respective rise with the four ‘tectonic shifts’.
Will China see its future in a militaristic surge aimed at securing survival of dispensation and the instruments of growth and at a time when change collides with politics? Will Russia accept its fall from great power status without militarily seeking opportunities to anaemically re-stake its claim? Will a Japan unleashed from the strictures of its post world war status transform from a successful Pacific trading state to that of a militarily strong partner that provides strategic balance in the West Pacific Ocean? And how successful will the US be in forging a strategic entente to enable an Indo-Pacific equilibrium?
Or will the sagacity of leadership steer the ‘Stream of Time’ with skill?
Forecast 2016: Pakistan, Aberrated Strategies and Strategic Stability
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India and Distinguished Fellow IPCS
In the immediate aftermath of the 26/11 terrorist assault on Mumbai, a grisly prayer was being intoned in many of the two lakh mosques of Pakistan. The Qunut-e-Nazla, a prayer in times of war, was accompanied by a fervent imprecation that al Qaeda and the Pakistan Army fight India jointly. The verity of this statement is borne out by Azaz Syed in his recently published ‘tell-all book’, Secrets of Pakistan’s War on Al-Qaeda (Al-Abbas International 2014, P 69). The aim of the linkage was the creation of an Al-Qaeda State in Pakistan in the wake of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.
The link between sub-conventional warfare and nuclear war fighting is at best a tenuous one. Conceptually, no nuclear policy, by the very nature of the weapon involved, can conceivably be inclusive of terror groups. And yet the strategic predicament posed by Pakistan is perverse, for their stratagem on select terror groups is that they are instruments of state policy. Now, consider this: Pakistan promotes a terrorist strike in India, and in order to counter conventional retaliation, uses tactical nuclear weapons, and then in order to degrade massive retaliation, launches a full blown counter force or counter value strike. This extreme chain of events would suggest the reality of a self-fulfilling logic of nuclear apocalypse.
A Pakistan that is controlled by a military-ISI-jihadi combine, is plagued by an obsession for parity with India and an inspiration that wallows in the idea of India as a threat in perpetuity (in great part to provide a reason for the army’s pretentious existence). One is spoilt for choice while discerning instances of Pakistan’s military-intelligence links with terrorist groups. It began at the time of partition, when tribal lashkars along with regulars invaded Kashmir; the clumsy and doomed Operation Gibraltar in 1965; state-sponsored insurgencies in the Kashmir valley during the 1980s and 90s; war following the 1999 invasion of Kargil; the failed attack on the Indian Parliament; the Kaluchak massacre of 2002; the 2008 Mumbai attacks; and the continuing low level insurgency across the Line of Control (LoC); and the latest manifestation was the failed assault on the Pathankot airbase on 02 January 2016 - coordinated with the failed assault on the Indian consulate at Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, on 03 January 2016.
For India to suffer the violent effects of covert action in silence makes for poor internal as well as external policy. It is here that Pakistan will have to pay for Indian restraint (now frayed to the extreme), which in turn places before the Indian planner a host of considerations and a set of possible responses that include covert action against targets across the LoC or border who are known to have liaison with jihadi forces. Planners will do well to heed that it is Pakistan’s policy that has to be targeted; and more specifically, it is control of that nation by the ‘deep state’, by which is implied that the sway of the military-intelligence-jihadi combine must be subordinated.
Recently, this author engaged the US Secretary of State John Kerry’s International Security Advisory Board (on Strategic Stability, chaired by Dr. Raymond Jeanloz) in a dialogue on sub-continental strategic stability. During the deliberations with the group, two issues became apparent. First, the State Department group was split down the centre as to what defined strategic stability. The proposition on one side was the cold war paradigm that perceived stability through the ‘nuclear equilibrium’ prism - of survival through a nuclear first strike and then retaliating massively. A mirrored rationality of survivability and credibility of retaliation was of essence. The equilibrium between nuclear weapon states, from this perspective, was given surety by developing a nuclear war fighting capability and retaining a ‘limited nuclear option’ at hair trigger notice to control the escalatory ladder. This “Strangelovesque” advocacy appeared to disregard the fact that limits on use of nuclear weapons (by the nature of the weapon) defied escalatory control.
Second, the group also perceived the potential of terrorists being armed with nuclear devices justifying collaboration with Pakistan at any cost; this presented a strategic irony since it was the Pakistan deep state that made terror groups an instrument of state policy in the first place.
On the other side of the divide was the group that saw, in the contracting role of the US in Afghanistan, a diminishing utility of Pakistan. The sense that emerged was the need for strategic recalibration of their Pakistan policy. A common discernment in this group was that time had come to contend with the deep state in Pakistan for its’ duplicity throughout the US' war on terror, beginning with the evacuation of jihadis at Kunduz; providing a haven for al Qaeda; providing vital intelligence to various terror organisations; screening the AQ Khan network; or indeed, providing sanctuary to Osama bin Laden. This group also found definition in a holistic analysis of the various determinants that contributed to strategic stability (in line with this author's presentation). The determinants ranged from historical wholeness to geographic recognition; politico-social-religio conformity to economic friction; purpose and adequacy of military power; to the quest for a stasis; and lastly, the correlation between leaderships.
The question then reduced to what manner, intensity and degree did the interplay of determinants influence inter-state relationships? While it was generally accepted that transactions between determinants could either spell proclivity towards a symbiotic approach in relations, or it could persistently precipitate friction and conflict. In both cases, the basis of outcomes were largely predicated on discernability and rationality of both polity and leadership.
Unfortunately, the South Asian context is blurred by three contumacious factors. First, Pakistan’s cultivated reluctance to accept the anthropological reality of their identity as sub-continental Muslims, the preferred fiction is in favour of Arab or Central Asian descent rather than the truth of the vast majority being descendants of converts. This poses a unique dilemma when leveraging civilisational empathy as the basis of amity. Second, military power without political accountability views itself as the sacred keeper and absolute champion of national interests; and this presents an awkward predicament as to who is in charge when dealing with that State. But the most impious obstacle promoted by the deep state is its one track agenda of hostility towards India as the basis of its ascendancy. After all, if the question is put to the Pakistan establishment as to whether they accept a regime of strategic stability, the answer will most certainly be in the affirmative, with the caveat that control of the nation remain in the hands of the military-intelligence-jihadi nexus.
The strategic nuclear ‘self-fulfilling logic’ mentioned earlier cannot be the basis of doing business with Pakistan. For far too long, the world, and the US in particular, has taken an ambiguous and at times set double standards for terror groups and their sponsors. What needs to be recognised is that terrorism emanating from Pakistan is, unequivocally, a global scourge; and no other interests can justify their continuation. For as former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously put it, Islamabad could not keep "snakes" in its backyard to strike its neighbours. She said, "It's like that old story - you can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard."
The establishment that promotes it as an instrument of state policy must be targeted internationally through exacting sanctions while the perpetrators of terror along with their handlers and infrastructure must be struck by covert military action.
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
The Cold War Paradigm
There is no consensus on the definition of strategic stability nor is there common understanding of what it comprises; it is also reasonable to assume that there probably never will be. Yet, the awkward irony is that nations of every predilection individually clamour for strategic stability and therefore rises the need for determining its significance.
For the Cold Warriors, strategic stability was a military rationale. It was all about surviving a first nuclear strike and then credibly being able to respond with a massive retaliatory nuclear strike. Moony mirrored rationality, mutually assured destruction and a willingness to fight limited nuclear wars (as if control over the escalatory ladder existed!) were of the essence. But as history so starkly illustrated, such an approach catalysed great instability at the regional level and if the regional players were themselves nuclear weapon states then stability persistently teetered on the brink.
An Alternative Characterisation
So, it is not in the Cold War paradigm - which sought strategic stability in parity of nuclear arsenals in terms of capabilities, numbers, conceptual permissiveness of limited nuclear war fighting and conformity of intent - that one can find understanding of strategic stability. Not either can pure military analysis of inter-state relations provide comprehension of what makes for strategic stability. An alternative characterisation perhaps lies in a holistic inquiry into the matter where the parts determine, and in varying degrees, influence the whole. Following this thread, nine determinants of strategic stability may be identified, these include: civilisational memory, recent history, geographical context, political proclivity, social structures, economic interests, religious orthodoxy, technological prowess, leadership and military power. The real question to now answer is what manner, proportion and to what intensity do these determinants influence inter-state relations? A report in these terms would offer an insight into strategic stability; this conceivably provides a more sophisticated approach to the matter. Intuitively, the absence of strategic stability is perceived as a proneness to friction and conflict between states.
The South Asian Stability See-Saw
Before applying the determinants to the South Asian region we must first consider that there are dynamics involved that prompt the need to view Indo-Pak and Sino-Indian relations separately, and then discern them together for there exists a collusive orientation that bears on bilateral correlation. Taking Pakistan first, of the ten determinants, other than the civilisational narrative (and even there, some suggest that they are in denial), technological stimulus, and an imaginable economic potential; the remaining seven present an appositeness marred by friction. Assigning the determinants to the Sino-Indian situation we cannot fail to note a sense of accord in eight of ten determinants; other than geography in terms of the un-demarcated border in the north and north east and military power, where there is undeniable competition, yet relations are not quite 'uncongenial'.
A singular feature of the deterrent relationship in the region is its tri-polar character. As is well known today, it is the collusive nature of the Sino-Pak military and nuclear relationship which created and sustains its weapons programme. Therefore it is logical to conclude that there exists doctrinal links between the two which permits a duality in China’s nuclear policy; a declared no first use can readily fall back on Pakistan’s developing first use capability as far as India is concerned. Such links have made China blind to the dangers of nuclear proliferation as exemplified by the AQ Khan affair. Also, as was reported, the July 2007 army assault of the ‘Lal Masjid’ was at the behest of China (or was it on orders from Beijing? The then Chinese ambassador’s almost imperial declaration after the abduction of seven PRC citizens in June of the same year that Pakistan must do its utmost to capture the culprits and protect Chinese citizens would suggest who was behind the decision to storm the masjid).
It becomes amply clear that the key to GHQ Rawalpindi’s compliance with rational norms of strategic behaviour lies in Beijing. And the direction in which Sino-Pak collusion is headed will, to a large extent, also influence nuclear stability in the region. If the alliance was intended (as it now appears) to nurture a first-use capability in order to keep sub-continental nuclear stability on the boil, then the scope for achieving lasting stability is that much weakened. However, the current political situation in Pakistan represents a very dangerous condition since its Establishment nurtures fundamentalist and terrorist organisations as instruments of their misshapen policies in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The essence of Pakistan’s rogue links will, unmistakably, seduce the Islamic State (IS) into the sub-continent, underscoring the distressing probability of the IS extending its reach into a nuclear arsenal. At a time when the politico-ethnic situation in western China remains fragile and the fanatical outburst of xenophobia advanced by the IS has stretched south and eastward to influence the fertile jihadist breeding grounds of Afghanistan and Pakistan, a nuclear-armed Islamic State is an alarming prospect, which China cannot be blind to nor can it be in China’s interest to persist with the promotion of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme.
Against the reality of conventional war with its limited goals, moderated ends, and the unlikelihood of it being outlawed in the foreseeable future, the separation of the conventional from the nuclear is a logical severance. Nuclear weapons are to deter and not for use; intent is the key, coherence and transparency are its basis. These remain the foundational principles that a nuclear weapon state must adhere to. However, given the politics of the region, historical animosities, rising influence of Islamic radicals and the persisting dominance of the military in Pakistan, the dangers of adding nuclear malfeasance to military perfidy is more than just a possibility. The nuclear relationship with Pakistan has catalysed a perverse logic that links sub-conventional warfare with nuclear escalation. This bizarre correlation, Pakistan will have the world believe, comes to play if and when India chooses to respond with conventional forces. Stability in this context would then suggest the importance of not only reinforcing the determinants that foster amity but at the same time for Indian leadership to bring about a consensus among both China and the US to compel Pakistan to harmonise and at the same time bring about a re-orientation in the Sino-Pak nuclear collusion.
End of the Deep State
The challenge before us is clear. To roll back the Deep State in Pakistan is to wish for Pakistan’s own ‘Islamic Spring’, this unfortunately, in the short-term, remains an anaemic possibility. We noted earlier the discord that existed between the determinants of strategic stability and the impact that Pakistani collusion with China (particularly in the nuclear weapons field) has had on the wobbly condition of inter-state relations in the region. What remains is to convince international opinion that it is the Islamists that continue to pose the existential threat to not just Pakistan but rather to the world. Rapprochement with India is anathema to the ‘Deep State’. Therefore, the removal of the Pakistan Deep State is the first step towards strategic stability in the sub-continent.
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
Pakistan’s use of terror organisations as a tool of State policy to wage unconventional war against India (Christine Fair, Fighting to the End) has perverse consequences that link sub-conventional warfare with nuclear escalation. This bizarre correlation, Pakistan will have the world believe, comes to play if and when India chooses to respond with conventional forces to a terror strike puppeteered by their “Deep State.”
Notwithstanding the reality of inter-State relations that finds expression in a byzantine system of the larger un-codified international relations, common ground exists in the challenges that threaten the very existence of the State. Military power, economics, politics, religion and the dynamics of change provide very convincing provinces within which to fix challenges, yet it is the hazard of mass destruction that, without debate, presents itself as the “emperor-of-challenges.” Willingness of the Deep State in Pakistan to catalyse such a scenario, keeping that country always “on the brink” in order to preserve the position of the army, the ISI and the jihadis as upholders of the State, is the peril of our times. And yet if this be the substance then it must equally be true that willfully enabling a nuclear exchange carries the immanence that will finish the Deep State. Keeping the nation persistently on the edge has left Pakistan’s internals in a state of violent turmoil, as several interest networks such as the elites that drive military autonomy, the security apparatus, enfeebled political groups and the fractured jihadis battle for supremacy. The circumstances are fraught since the fallout is demise of (already impoverished) democratic institutions and the wasted idea of a unified Pakistan. In this milieu the cracks in control of nuclear weapons are apparent. After all, the internals may, in the extreme, catalyse the use of nuclear weapons in a plot that begins with a terror strike on India.
The question of motivating Pakistan to demobilise anti-India terrorist groups and thus defuse the reason for escalation of conflict is the most pressing strategic imperative. China, in this frame of reference, though cognate, is a more distant strategic intimidation. Relations between India and China have been stable and improving, save for occasional flares on account of a border that has denied definition. There have not been sustained hostilities since 1962 nor has there been a predilection to reach, even in rhetoric, for nuclear weapons. Deterrence between the two large States has also been relatively stable, since the Chinese nuclear doctrine founded on NFU and minimality finds accord with India’s doctrine and neither country is seeking to change the status quo by exploring space below the nuclear threshold. India's nuclear deterrent is not country-specific; its credibility will remain an abstraction in the mind of the potential adversary, while minimality is magnitude in the mind of the deterrer (India in this case). On the other hand, Pakistan and India have experienced four wars, two of which were initiated and waged in concert with non-State actors. The two States have also confronted two major crises initiated by terror attacks in India. To strategic planners in India, Pakistani use of jihadi groups as an instrument of State policy is a factor that is always considered when mapping a conventional riposte. Despite successes in recent history, it is equally clear that that sub-conventional warfare can only be beaten by State policy on both sides coupled with conventional forces. The clamping down on terror activities from Pakistan post operation "Parakram" (the military standoff between India and Pakistan between December 2001 and October 2002 following jihadi assault on the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001) that resulted in the massing of troops on either side of the border and along the Line of Control in Kashmir. One of the positive outcomes of the mobilisation and coercive threat of military action was President Musharraf’s policy statement of 12 January 2002 not to permit Pakistan soil to be used for launch of terror activities. Significantly, on ground, the declaration held till 2008. This aftermath stands in testimony as to what works.
Evolving Nuclear Context
The link between sub-conventional warfare and nuclear war fighting is at best a tenuous one. Conceptually, no amount of tinkering or reconstitution of nuclear policy can deter terror attacks. Such a notion would appear farfetched because of the very nature of the weapon involved. Clearly it is the policy that harbours terror groups as instruments of State policy that has to be targeted. Pakistan has today inducted tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) into its arsenal with the stated purpose of countering an Indian response to a terror strike. Almost as if to suggest that they control the levers of nuclear escalation. This an odd proposition since India does not differentiate between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, (this is not only stated by most scholars in the know, but is also the bed rock of a nuclear deterrent relationship). Also, TNWs involve decentralisation and dispersal, both of which dilute command and control and multiply the risk of the weapon falling into the wrong hands. In the end analysis, the use of nuclear weapons introduces a new and uncontrollable dimension. Logically, if a Pak-sponsored terror attack is the triggering event of a sequence of reactions, then it must equally be clear that their nuclear red lines give space for a conventional response. After all, the premise that a terror attack is seamlessly backed by nuclear weapons is not only ludicrous but is not even the Pakistani case. For, when dealing with the threat of use of nuclear weapons, to suggest that ambiguity and first use provide options, is to suggest that nuclear war-fighting almost in conventional terms is an option. This, by most, is denial of the nature of nuclear weapons, characterised by mass destruction and uncontrollability.
There is a suggestion in some scholarly quarters, that there was little or no Pakistan sponsored terror activity before nuclear umbrellas were raised in the sub-continent. This is repudiation of history (whether at partition in 1947-48, in 1965 or in the 1980s to 90s). Unfortunately this mistaken assumption has led the narrative on a quest to seek answers to sub-conventional warfare in nuclear weapons and their deterrent effect, increasing in turn the dangers of early use. This does not serve the interest of deterrent stability. Yet, as with the conventional military options, some experts and former military officials in India, echoed by western analysts, have begun to question whether India should alter its approach to nuclear deterrence in ways that would affect Pakistan’s calculus. The relationship between nuclear deterrence and sub conventional aggression - what has been colourfully described as “jihad under the nuclear umbrella” - is not a new phenomenon in South Asia. But since 2008, and especially after Pakistan tested a new short-range missile in 2011 and declared it part of a policy of “full spectrum” deterrence, Indian strategists have begun to question more vocally whether New Delhi’s approach to nuclear deterrence should more directly confront this challenge through the induction of TNWs. Nuclear weapons in any nuclear weapon State, barring Pakistan, are today a political tool. So why there is a contrary belief is, least to say, inexplicable. To advocate that deterrence success has been achieved by Pakistan because it was able to indulge in terror activities since 2008 is also to suggest that India's nuclear weapons were made to deter jihadist - this is quaint! Analogous would be that Pakistan achieved deterrence success over the US since it harboured Osama bin Laden till 2011 or Mullah Omar till 2013!
Pakistan has suggested that the induction of TNWs into its nuclear arsenal is in response to India’s Cold Start doctrine. It must be noted that the Cold Start is a conventional war fighting strategy that aims at overcoming the ponderous mobilisation process. Remember, it is a reactive conventional artifice that clutches in, should the need arise to take rapid military action across the border. Its pre-emption does not lie in a nuclear response but in reining in terror activities. For Pakistan to turn to TNWs and varyingly call them "full spectrum deterrence" or "shoot and scoot" options, one wonders if the lessons of the Cold War have sunk home or, where they intend to scoot.
Some scholars question India's nuclear doctrine as an emerging contest between “policy and strategy,” presumably that is to imply military control over a slice of the nuclear arsenal limited by yield, vector and purpose; that is, provide the military with a limited nuclear war fighting alternative (LNWA). This option, for reasons that have been laboured upon earlier is characterised by the absence of escalatory control, a denial of political oversight and ambiguity between controller and custodian of the nuclear arsenal. To the Indian strategic planner there is no such thing as LNWA since the absence of escalatory control negates any notional gains that it may bestow. Retaliation that is either punitive or proportional implies a nuclear war fighting strategy; this is anathema to Indian strategic thought. As far as the correlation of policy and strategy is concerned, it remains the influence of policy on military strategy with a clear demarcation between conventional military resources and control over all nuclear forces.
The Perverse Nuclear Chain of Events and Capabilities
The nuclear scenario and the chain of events that currently finds articulation may in essence be outlined as follows: Pakistan promotes a militant strike and in order to counter conventional retaliation uses TNWs and then in order to degrade a massive retaliatory second strike launches a full blown counter force/counter value strike. This is perverse for by this logic even a bolt from the blue strike is in the realm of possibilities and for Pakistan to launch a nuclear strike it does not even need a nuclear adversary at all! The use of nuclear weapons releases restraints on retaliation. It is compelling to note that the Kargil conflict of 1999 was brought to closure because both military and economic pressures were becoming intolerable for Pakistan. Of equal significance is that it did not reach for the nuclear trigger but capitulated.
Western sources have in recent times has been quick to point out that India has either fallen behind in quality, technology or quantity of nuclear weapons. It need hardly be underscored that the 4th and 5th of the 1998 tests were low-yield warheads. India’s nuclear doctrine, NFU policy, minimalistic approach to its arsenal size and the current quest for strategic nuclear stability is more swayed by China than Pakistan. Doubts that have also been cast on the technical capabilities and yields of the nuclear weapon programme based on the words of one disengaged member of the Indian scientific community, these are misplaced. Yields that have been operationalised are far in excess of 25kt, they include thermonuclear devices. Numbers are adequate. The ability to reconstitute to low yield weapons also exists.
Seeking Escalation Dominance
For India to emulate Pakistan's nuclear policies i.e. FU and TNWs, runs counter to every logic that has so far been propounded. To promote that the solution to nuclear deterrence asymmetry is escalation dominance is not to state the entire theorem, which is, that the corollary is nuclear war fighting, which most scholars agree is a rather flaky concept. LNWA and proportionality of nuclear response are all sub-texts to the same. To transpose conventional strategy on nuclear policy can prove disastrous more so when dealing with a State controlled by its military and intelligence apparatus. Once again the logic of orderly nuclear escalation is fallacious. Deterrence in essence is a mind game that does not brook any logic other than total escalation when confronted by a nuclear strike. The three options before India in response to a TNW strike are LNWA, punitive nuclear strike or doctrinal massive retaliation. The former two may sound reasonable on paper but notions of counter force strikes, flexible response, LNWA etc. do not make sense in the face of total escalation.
A Conclusion: One Answer to Jihadist Aggression
Conventional forces are different by nature from nuclear forces. The former is susceptible to control, escalation, geographic spread, and indeed to economic pressures. The latter is not. Tolerance to conventional forces is the rub; where their limits lie is the question that planners must answer. India's incentive to keep below the nuclear threshold is as pressing as it is for Pakistan. This is deterrence at play. The conclusion that nuclear weapons do not deter sub-conventional warfare is appropriate. At the same time conventional forces can and do suppress the use of jihadists and if this policy is brought to bear in concert with anti-terror policy answers may be found to jihadist violence.
Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
Is ambiguity in Pakistan’s nuclear policy a deliberate drama being played out by a strutting military to legitimise its vision of the Pakistani nation?
A prevalent position in the Pakistani military establishment, particularly amongst their intelligence community, is: since terrorism is sanctioned by the Quran, then (by some perverse logic) it is also a legitimate instrument of state power; forgetting that the words of the Quran had a historical context long overtaken by the concept of nationhood and creation of complex state structures.
The evolution of nations and the interplay between them have been characterised by the urge for a common identity and nationalism. Leading particularities that impinge on this correlation include shared history, linguistic bonds, common religion, cultural unities or even a collective subconscious driven by perceptions of pre-existence. The aggregate of these discernments led to social mobilisation, precipitating loyalties that have become the foundation of statehood, the creation of distinct political entities, and an elaborate system of international relations. Unfortunately, these political entities do not fit into any scheme of harmony. Lamentably, the idea of nationality and self-determination are advanced by inter-state friction ranging from competitive co-existence to full-scale war.
While internationalism and the emergence of a globally congenial community lie somewhere in a very distant future, we are stuck today with the reality of complex inter-state relations that find expression in a Byzantine system of the larger un-codified international relations. This continual friction at two levels makes the need for stability of relations among states an imperative. Even here, there is no consensus of where to start. Clearly, if common ground exists, it must lie in the challenges that threaten not just the health of inter-state relations but in the very existence of the state. Economics, politics and the dynamics of change provide very convincing provinces within which to fix our study of challenges, yet it is the hazard of mass destruction that, without debate, presents itself as the ‘emperor-of-challenges’ to inter-state existence. The potential for mass destruction in the sub-continental context shows itself in the ambiguity in nuclear relations.
Tools that promote a stable nuclear relationship between nations are characterised by a congruence of views on proliferation of weapon and vector technologies, fissile material control and strategic transparency; the last makes clear the strategic underpinnings that motivates weapon programmes. The discernment that a nuclear exchange will invariably lead to the obliteration of political purpose lies at the heart of a stable deterrent relationship. This is the reality of nuclear weapons. Its value lies in non-usage; its aim is nuclear war avoidance; its futility is in attempting to use it to attain political goals.
Pakistan has no declared doctrine and has adopted ambiguity as central to their nuclear policy. Tactical nuclear weapons in their arsenal suggest that conventional principles of war apply (which places a premium on elements such as surprise, offensive action and deception). This sets into motion a military dynamic that provides the incentive for use of nuclear weapons and a reactionary development of a first strike capability, while the adversary strives to generate a counter-force potential. Ambiguity has been used as an offset for conventional inferiority with the belief that control over escalation is possible. This is so obviously a fallacy due to the nature of the weapon. Covert technology intrusions coupled with ambiguity of intent and the mounting influence of radical Islamists on policy has increased the hazards of use and in turn a precarious instability.
Is ambiguity in Pakistan’s nuclear policy a deliberate drama being played out to cause regional anxieties or is it essentially a strutting nationalism by a military to legitimise its vision of the Pakistani nation and its role both domestically and within the existing strategic milieu? Stephen Cohen’s incisively observed, “Pakistan is likely to remain a state in possession of a uniformed bureaucracy even when civilian governments are perched on the seat of power. Regardless of what may be desirable, the army will continue to set the limits of what is possible in Pakistan.”
When states involve themselves for decades on end in irregular, decentralised warfare such as the Afghan-Pakistan situation which has been in a condition of violent chaos since 1979, the idea of central control is anaemic. The breakdown of the region into several ‘Tolkienesque’ warring worlds has opened geography to historical fractures that the politics of the last half a century have failed to reconcile. Today, a simmering Baluchistan finds little mutuality in a Punjab-dominated Pakistan; Pakthunwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) ferociously cling to religio-ethnic links with eastern Afghanistan that reject the modern idea of statehood within Pakistan; inside the rest of Pakistan is a smouldering Jihadist sentiment against India and the West; and finally, failure of the US Af-Pak strategy has left an insurgency engorged with modern weapons and enabling technologies. The region has become the hatchery for the next generation of terrorists.
The key to GHQ Rawalpindi’s compliance with rational norms of nuclear behaviour lies in Beijing. And the direction in which Sino-Pak collusion is headed will, to a large extent, influence nuclear stability in the region. If the alliance was intended (as it now appears) to nurture a first use capability in order to keep sub-continental nuclear stability on the boil then the scope for achieving lasting stability is that much weakened. The essence of Pakistan’s rogue links will, unmistakably, seduce the Islamic State (IS) into the sub-continent, underscoring the distressing probability of the IS extending its reach into a nuclear arsenal. At a time when the politico-ethnic situation in western China remains fragile and the fanatical outburst of xenophobia advanced by the IS has stretched south and eastward from Syria and Iraq, a nuclear armed IS is an alarming prospect which China cannot be blind to nor can it be in China’s interest to persist with the promotion of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme.
The challenge before us is clear. To put the nuclear genie back into the bottle is not realistic. A movement in Pakistan towards democracy and weakening of the army’s hold on the establishment, as history has shown, remains an unlikely event. Rapprochement with India would, on the other hand, diminish its own internal pre-eminence and therefore be anathema to the army. At the same time to roll back the links that Jihadist elements have established with the Pakistani army and to convince them that it is the Islamists that pose the existential threat to that nation rather than India is a proposition that merits consideration. But the fact that it runs counter to the army’s foundational narrative, despite providing a basis for global pressure to be applied, gives it a low probability of success. All of which would suggest that nuclear stability will remain hostage to the army’s revisionist and ambiguous nuclear policies.
Against the reality of conventional war with its limited goals, moderated ends and the unlikelihood of it being outlawed in the foreseeable future, the separation of the conventional from the nuclear is a logical severance. Nuclear weapons are to deter and not for use; intent is key; transparency and an abhorrence of ambiguity are its basis. These remain the foundational principles that a nuclear weapon state must adhere to. However, given the politics of the region, historical animosities, rising influence of Islamist radicals and the persisting dominance of the military in Pakistan, the dangers of adding nuclear malfeasance to military perfidy is more than just a possibility. Stability in this context would then suggest the importance of not only reinforcing assured retaliation to nuclear violence, but at the same time for Indian leadership to bring about a consensus among both China and the US to compel Pakistan to harmonise with foundational rules of nuclear conduct.
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
In April 1999, a decade after the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, an encore of the 1989 tragedy unfolded at the same venue. The scale of proportions was the same and so were State anxieties that unleashed mass persecution. In the event, the State came down with its bludgeons on over 10,000 followers of the Buddhist inspired Falun Gong spiritual movement; government assessment placed the number of practitioners at over 70 million. The number of casualties in the crackdown and the subsequent repression which continues to date remains uncorroborated, however estimates suggest over 3,700 deaths in re-education labour camps and custodial torture and a shocking 65,000 in fatal organ harvesting.
Falun Gong philosophy is centred on the Buddhist concept of Dharma Chakra and its morality driven by truthfulness, compassion and forbearance. The Movement’s only plea is to be given recognition, not as some “lunatic fringe” (as State intelligentsia had labelled them), but as a legitimate entity of the People’s Republic of China. So what was it about these gentle devotees that brought upon the ire of the Communist Party of China (CPC)? It certainly could not have been their deep breathing and smooth flowing rhythmic exercises that invited brutal battering, extrajudicial imprisonment in the tens of thousands, psychiatric abuse, torture, alleged fatal organ harvesting and a continued repression that has forced millions of adherents underground.
Most puzzling is the persistent severity of the crackdown and the vicious denunciation of the Movement (membership said to be more than the CPC) as a heretical one. Particularly so, when the labour is pacific in nature and is neither irreverential nor has it set out to desecrate the Communist State. At which time why the Central Committee of the Politburo considers it a menace to the “stability and unity” of the Middle Kingdom remains perplexing. Despite persecution, the fact is that Falun Gong, even today, remains the preferred life style choice of millions of mostly elderly Chinese many of whom are in positions of power.
Stability of political dispensation and territorial unity is considered to lie at the heart China’s national interests. To the CPC, it is non-negotiable and any event that is perceived to even remotely endanger these interests, sets into motion an extreme response. The extraordinarily brutal reaction to root out Falun Gong, an idea that can be traced back to two millennia of Chinese civilisation, in the name of upholding recently imported principles of Marxism-Leninism, is all the more inexplicable when one notes that these latter principles have long since been buried when the State adopted “State-Controlled Capitalism” to drive their economic policies. Is it that the politics of commercialism and economic change can surge ahead, divorced from the politics of the State without undermining stability and unity? Or will we in the immediate future witness devolution of economic activities sacrificed at the altar of centralised political power? And what of the State’s abiding belief in the idea of Da yitong or the imperial concept which saw politics and socio-economics as two sides of the ‘Great Systemic Whole’ which never quite collapsed with the Qing Dynasty in 1912?
It is significant that today the political dispensation in China, with its siege mentality, repressive social policies and a self-ordained (almost imperial) historical mandate; finds itself at odds with the consequences of its economic vigour, and any social dynamic that seeks to make moral interpretations contrary to that by the CPC. Falun Gong is convinced that the practice of atheism has enabled the Communist Party to interpret freely what is virtuous and what is good or bad. Such a flexible approach is abhorrent to the movement for it gives to the ruling elite the powers to blur the distinction between the corrupt and law-abiding. Morality then becomes an act of mass belief that the Party is invariably “truthful, magnificent and exalted.” Falun Gong practitioners, on the other hand, evaluate right or wrong based on truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. And this is where the rub comes, for to the CPC any form of spirituality gives people an unchanging standard of good and bad. This obviously hinders the Party’s perpetual efforts to ‘unify’ people’s thinking in order to ‘stabilise’ their own position. The consequences of sharing, the hitherto monopoly on societal power, may explain the fears within.
Thus far China’s splendid economic surge and its exhortations to its people to find ‘goodness’ in getting rich fast has muzzled the impulse to pluralism in political thought and indeed has postponed the need to reckon with the contradictions between central political power and economic vitality. However, as the current economic downturn shrivels political options, the probability of a face off between an ‘old State’ against new societal impulses becomes a reality. It is true that the Peoples Liberation Army may tip the balance, as with the Tiananmen Square uprising of a quarter a century earlier, the old State (albeit in mauled circumstances) may triumph; but this only puts off the inevitable.
In 1859, John Stuart Mill, the British political economist, suggested in his philosophical work On Liberty that “a State which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes, will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished.” Repression against the Falun Gong represents one more such dwarfing in a litany which began with Mao’s invasion of Tibet, the “Great Leap Forward,” the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the massacre of Uighurs, Tiananmen Square massacre and the Umbrella Revolution. In each of these seismic episodes the State responded brutally to societal events as it shielded its all-consuming hankering for political power; at the same time the incidents exposed a deepening fear within.
Whether today we can distinguish the concluding steps of a despotic regime in a last ditch attempt to turn back the clock on economic reforms and cling to autocratic power; or the emergence of a new political order that is in sync with the socio-economic vitality of the Chinese people, remains an arguable proposition.
Vijay Shankar Former Commander in Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
Mao launched his ‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’ on 16 May 1966. It unleashed furious and complex internal armed struggles driven essentially by a struggle for power between Mao’s status quoists and Liu Shaoqi’s impulse to reform. Recognising the catastrophic failures of Mao’s economic policies, his deep seated paranoia towards change and his very brittle interpretation of what conformed to Marxism and more dangerously what did not; Liu set about staging a coup d’état through manipulation of the internal mechanism of State power. Mao used more direct methods. He urged, “Bombard the headquarters and overthrow those in authority taking the capitalist road” and charged, in a mass of contradictions, that “things can be Left in form but Right in essence.” Government and the State machinery, Liu’s instruments, were thrown into paralysis and a bloody inner cleansing of opposing leadership began. The revolution combined “elements of a witch hunt, a crusade, an inquisition and cutthroat palace politics” (William A Joseph, Politics in China: An Introduction. 2014). A destructive decade on an unprecedented scale was the outcome.
In January 1967, a year after the Cultural Revolution had taken root, another seismic event occurred. Mao’s estranged wife Jiang Qing along with three cronies who included Wang Hongwen, a second vice chairman of the Party, Zhang Chunqiao, head of the Shanghai revolutionary Committee, and Yao Wenyuan, a party mass media manipulator, formed what infamously came to be known as the “Gang of Four.” It was under Wang’s leadership as the head of the Maoist faction that he seised power from the ‘capitalists’ in Shanghai; to Mao, this was his ‘January Storm’. It became the archetypal model for the Cultural Revolution in the other provinces.
More critically to the Gang of Four, Mao’s favours at a time of his failing health gave them access to the levers of power over the remains of the purged Liu. In the event the power struggle ended with a dying Mao, supreme after a heap of Liu’s cadres had been overthrown. While the Gang consolidated their sway through their slogan “suspect all, overthrow all” (Chi Hsin, The Case of the Gang of Four, Cosmos Books, Hong Kong 1978, Pg. 1-50). They mobilised over half a million Red Guards to besiege State organs, usurped control of Government and stifled all opposition. In the meantime large-scale poverty, external security anxieties and growing disenchantment of the long-suffering people forced the Party to opt for a government of stability that could end the anarchy let loose by the power struggle. The key was support and unconditional backing of the Peoples Liberation Army, which was denied the Gang.
Marshal Ye Jianying (Marshal of the PLA), Deng Xiaoping, Hua Guofeng and reform economists Chen Yun and Li Xianian formed the core of the next party leadership which in the interest of stability included four serving Marshals and seven Generals; they animated the party and challenged the Gang. Within a month of Mao’s death on 9 September 1976 this latter group led a successful coup d’état. The Cultural Revolution came to formal closure in October 1976 with the downfall of the Gang. Four features of the unsettled decade are significant to this study. Firstly, power politics that pervaded Mao’s brittle authoritarian rule. Second, the continuing distress and disenchantment of the people who had suffered famine, displacement and death on the scale of millions during Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” now being subjected to a thinly veiled power tussle in the garb of a Cultural Revolution. Third, mass hysteria that the revolution generated aroused sentiments akin to religious worship of Mao; while creating power centres such as the Red Guard that surpassed law and even challenged the PLA. Lastly, violence that sought destruction of “Old Thought.”
In this period, in a Chinese Government poster titled Destroy the old world; build a new world, a Red Guard of heroic proportions places his boot on a statue of Buddha, a Crucifix and traditional books and crushes them with a sledge hammer.
More than half a century after the ‘January Storm’ China has seen two decades of dazzling economic growth. This too during a period of general global economic slowdown, strife in West Asia, the rise of radical Islam, an inward looking EU and a frenetic Russia intent upon rising from the debris of empire. China’s growth story has been accompanied by ambitions of global leadership. This has in turn has spurred an unparalleled military growth. But the real alarm is, China seeks to dominate international institutions and rewrite the rule books without bringing about a change of her own morphology. China’s claims on the South and East China Sea; handling of internal dissent; proliferatory carousing with North Korea and Pakistan are cases in point.
When Xi Jinping took over reigns of general secretaryship of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in November 2012, he also took over the top offices of the Party and the Military when he had the Central Committee of the CPC anoint him as the President of the PRC as well as Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) making him, informally, the ‘Paramount Leader’. Announcing deepening reforms, his declared opening move was to crackdown on State corruption at all levels. His first target was the political grouping (coincidentally also called the Gang of Four!) of Zhou Yongkang (former security chief), Xu Caihou (former Vice Chairman CMC), Bo Xilai a “princeling” and former Chongqing party chief seen as a threat to Xi’s power base, and Ling Jihua, former advisor and confidante of the erstwhile Premier Hu Jintao. Whether the blitz was on account of political anxieties or indeed corruption-related offences is not entirely clear, but they were rising stars in the CPC firmament and were deposed. Their followers, however, remain on edge. In the meantime economic growth has slowed down (less than 7 per cent) while sustained illegal capital flight out of China has strained China’s financial system; globalisation and the arrival of the middle class (petty bourgeoisie) have raised unreal material expectations; there is restiveness amongst minorities particularly in the South West where radical Islamic influence is strong and mass incidents of social unrest caused by large scale migrations from the rural to urban regions is on a steep upward slope. All the while a brooding military finds itself shorn of its traditional CMC Chair and without a seat in the Standing Committee of the Politburo. The aggregate of these seemingly unrelated episodes leaves a question mark on whether the State apparatus can reconcile the nation’s aspirations with growing internal stresses peaceably or will reconciliation take the form of another 'January Storm'.
Tocqueville, in 1858, suggested the most critical moment for authoritarian governments is the one which witnesses their first steps toward reform. Mao lived the axiom; the question is, how will Xi receive this truism?
Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India and Distinguished Fellow IPCS
Since August 1945 when two nuclear weapons destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and unimaginable horrors visited over 199,000 of its inhabitants, the world has lived with the implicit fear of widespread annihilation. During the Cold War that rapidly shadowed the mass killings of World War II, the two power blocs, the US and the then-USSR, in ‘Strangelove-esque’ logic, amassed over 70,000 nuclear warheads, with the fatal knowledge that the use of a nuclear weapon would set into motion an uncontrollable chain reaction.
All the while, irrational, and often outlandish, doctrines of intent-to-use were hatched in the opaque corridors of power in Washington and Kremlin. ‘Nuclear mysticism’ of the period embraced Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), hair trigger arsenals, Launch on Warning (LoW), war-fighting with nuclear weapons, and the idea of flexible response encompassing the prolific use of tactical nuclear weapons, almost as if the resultant escalation could be controlled. Influenced by these very dangerously opposing concepts, the idea was that deterrence would prevail and strategic stability would be the outcome.
The Cold War, in a debilitating conclusion, saw the break up of the Soviet bloc, emergence of a multi-polar world, proliferation of nuclear weapons, emergence of a clandestine nuclear black market and the rise of Islamist radicalism; the aggregate of it all was strategic uncertainty. In this wobbly milieu, in 2008, an international movement was launched with the improbable purpose of eliminating all nuclear weapons. Central to the concept is to check the spread of nuclear weapons and associated technologies, account for and secure all fissile material, eradicate the threat of nuclear terrorism and abolish nuclear weapons. Most world leaders including those of the US, Russia, China, Europe and India, have endorsed Global Zero.
The plan envisages achieving a Global Zero accord by 2023 and complete nuclear disarmament by 2030. Implementation visualises a four-phased action plan. Phase 1 proposed a bilateral treaty between the US and Russia to reduce arsenals to 1000 warheads each. Phase 2 conceives a further reduction of arsenals by the US and Russia to 500 warheads each, while a multilateral framework called for all other nuclear weapon nations to freeze their stockpiles until 2018 and enjoins them to put in place verifiable safeguards and enforcement systems to prevent diversion of fissile material towards weapon production. Phase 3 requires these nations to negotiate a Global Zero accord by 2023 for the proportional reduction of all nuclear arsenals to the zero level. The final Phase is reduction to zero and the continuation of the verification, safeguard and enforcement systems.
Till recently, the problem with the entire scheme was lack of clarity of what measures would be needed to be put in place in order to establish a multilateral structure that addresses immediate nuclear risks. These immediate nuclear risks are presented by nations adopting a posture of intent to use nuclear weapons first; absence of transparency in strategic underpinnings; development and deployment of tactical nuclear weapons and its corollary of decentralising control; and lastly the hazards of terrorists gaining access to nuclear weapons. During a meeting of the Global Zero Commission in Athens from 30-31 March, 2015, a draft report was presented; and its aim was to reduce the risks of deliberate or unintended use of nuclear weapons through the instrument of establishing a multilateral norm that de-alerts nuclear forces. Refreshingly encouraging was a suggested paradigm shift from intention-to-use to that of intent-to-avoid the use of nuclear weapons.
Addressing the Commission, as one of the Indian participants, this author underscored that the nation’s nuclear posture was founded on its declared policy of No First Use (NFU), which formed the basis of operationalising the arsenal. Intrinsic to its nuclear orientation was the separation of the custodian of nuclear weapons from controller, achieved not just in word, but by robust technological systems supported by stringent procedures and redundancies at every stage. Central to control was supremacy of polity. In this framework, there was no room for conflict between operational goals and strategic policy.
On matters of hair-trigger state of alert of nuclear forces with intent-to-use, this author suggested that de-alerting of nuclear forces without a commitment to the NFU did not in any way assuage the situation since there were no apparent restraints to reverse transition from the de-alerted to the alert stage. The Indian and Chinese NFU posture provided a first step towards stability and the final goal of disarmament. On tactical nuclear weapons, this author was unequivocal on India’s stand of being unwilling to distinguish between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons on grounds that control of escalation was not possible once the weapon was used. This author noted that the hazards of non-state actors gaining access to nuclear weapons was a real danger, primarily because jihadists are an integral part of Pakistan’s military strategy, making subversion of their nuclear establishment an existential threat. The narrative was rounded of by this author by re-emphasising that de-alerting of nuclear forces was a natural hand-maiden of a policy of No First Use of these weapons.
Despite the doubts expressed by the Russian participants over the credibility of the NFU, the traction that the twin ideas of de-alerting and NFU generated amongst the Commission was surprising. Equally surprising were the Japanese reservations of how such a policy would affect extended deterrence; perhaps this was more on account of the inability to see a time when the need for nuclear deterrent forces would be a thing of the past.
State of Play: Non-Proliferation, Fissile Material Cut-Offs and Nuclear Transparency
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
Tools that promote a stable nuclear relationship between nations are characterised by a congruence of views on non-proliferation of weapon and vector technologies, fissile material control and strategic transparency; the last makes clear the strategic underpinnings that motivate weapon programmes. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which was negotiated in 1968 and entered into force in 1970, is the corner stone of all international efforts to provide stability within the bounds of a globally ‘iniquitous’ nuclear regulatory system by limiting access to nuclear weapons. The impetus behind the NPT was a stated concern for the safety of a world with many nuclear weapon States. It was recognised that the Cold War deterrent relationship between just the US and the Soviet Union was fragile. Having more nuclear weapon States would reduce security for all, multiplying the risks of miscalculation, accidents, unauthorised use of weapons and the hazards of regional tensions escalating to nuclear conflict. The concept of the NPT process was formulated by Frank Aiken, Irish Minister for External Affairs, in 1958. A total of 190 States have joined the Treaty, though North Korea, which acceded to the NPT in 1985 but never came into compliance, announced its withdrawal in 2003. States that have never joined the NPT are India, Israel, and Pakistan.
The NPT is, unfortunately, a flawed treaty; while its origins pre-date the Cuban Crisis, it was the fragility of the existing fraught relationship between the two super powers that pushed leadership towards a pact that restricted possession of nuclear weapons. Based on a ‘bargain’ that traded denial of nuclear weapons for peaceful use technologies, it distinguishes between three categories of States: nuclear-weapon States (the US, Russia, UK, France, and China), non-nuclear weapons States and thirdly States that are not signatories of the Treaty in possession of nuclear weapons (India, Israel and Pakistan). Many of the non-nuclear weapons States agreed to forego nuclear armament because the nuclear-armed States made a promise that in return they would work towards nuclear reductions with the ultimate aim of abandoning all nuclear weapons and because the nuclear have-nots had been promised support in making strictly peaceful use of nuclear energy. The system has not evolved to find a status for the last category of players whose security needs were neither addressed nor any remission given.
Western thinking (by which is implied the nuclear haves) on the matter is, regrettably, dominated by only two issues: how best to retain the power exclusivity of the ‘Nuclear Club’ and the situation in the Middle East. Questions related to nuclear proliferation, hazards of non-State actors gaining access to nuclear weapons and stability of nuclear relations, on the other hand, have taken a back seat. The US and Russia, as the States with by far the biggest nuclear arsenals, have neither shown the imagination nor the will to formulate a new dispensation that holds nuclear stability as a function of enforceable transparency and an acceptance of No First Use as an inviolable first step towards disarmament.
On the ground, the US accuses Russia of violating the Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) treaty that commits both sides to abolishing their intermediate-range nuclear arms; there is no progress in matters of multilateral nuclear disarmament; the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is a distant illusion as the US has still failed to ratify the treaty; there are no negotiations or an agreed agenda over stopping the production of fissile material for military purposes; the Geneva Conference on Disarmament that is intended for this purpose cannot agree on the principles that will govern the Treaty. While transparency in arsenals and doctrines has been rendered opaque as nuclear weapon States have found new reason to enlarge and modernise. In this mileu ‘Global Zero’ remains a Utopian ideal.
The ‘cardiac’ arrest in the nuclear disarmament agenda is more symptomatic of the growing perception that in an uncertain world, nuclear weapons provide a persuasive argument for strategic stability. During the Cold War, strategic doctrines relied heavily on nuclear weapons for their deterrent effect; it resulted in a veritable freeze in the probability of war in Europe. Today, while the picture may have changed due to tensions of the multipolar and the competitive tyranny of economics, the need to underscore the boundaries of inter-State behaviour remains an imperative. In the absence of globally accepted regulatory regimes not only are conflictual situations likely to arise and have indeed arisen, but there is also a necessity that these conflicts remain restrained; this is where the deterrent value of nuclear weapons plays a role till such time that an alternate disincentive can be devised. It is also for this reason that nations are increasingly demanding reliable extended nuclear deterrence. The escalating friction in the South and East China Seas; the war in Ukraine where a nuclear-armed Moscow has arrogated Crimea (and parts of eastern Ukraine) in defiance of the December 1994 Budapest Memorandum; the seemingly irrational nature of North Korea’s nuclear threats; the continued existence of nuclear black market networks of AQ Khan notoriety; the appearance of non-State actors into the equation and China’s programme of nuclear proliferation which has nurtured and continues to sustain and enlarge Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, are all demonstrative of the current apocalyptical state of play. For many nations, this has reinforced the impression that possession of nuclear weapons adds-up to strength, protection, and inviolability; while foregoing nuclear weapons can threaten the very existence of the State. As the importance of nuclear weapons increases in a geopolitical environment of uncertainty the prospects of stability becomes bleaker.
An appraisal of the contemporary universal state of nuclear affairs will suggest that the three pillars of global nuclear stability, namely, non-proliferation, control of fissile material production and transparency of nuclear arsenals are wobbly for lack of foundational support. And in the truancy of global foundational support, the answer may well lie in establishing a regional framework of détente.
Swabbing the Bleakness of Subcontinental Nuclear Instability
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
Nuclear Stability: Where does it Begin?
After the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, it dawned upon President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev how catastrophically close to nuclear war they had blundered due to a misshapen military-led nuclear policy, a ludicrous nuclear doctrine that believed that a nuclear war could be fought controlled and won. Both leaders sought a change to the nuclear status-quo. As Khrushchev described it, "The two most powerful nations had been squared off against each other, each with its finger on the button." Kennedy shared this distress, remarking at a White House meeting, "It is insane that two men, sitting on opposite sides of the world, should be able to decide to bring an end to civilisation." He called for an end to the Cold War. "If we cannot end our differences," he said, "at least we can help make the world a safe place for diversity." In a series of private letters, Khrushchev and Kennedy opened a dialogue on banning nuclear testing. Thus began a progression of political moves and agreements that sought to dampen the risk of a nuclear war, contain the proliferation of nuclear weapons, do away with tactical nuclear weapons, limit strategic arms, cut arsenal size and indeed bring stability to nuclear relations. If at all there is a historical lesson to be learned then it is that nuclear risk reduction and stability begins with serious dialogue between leadership.
The Subcontinental Nightmare
If one were to hypothesise what petrifying form a nuclear nightmare may take, then it is a hair trigger, opaque nuclear arsenal that has embraced tactical use under decentralised military control steered by a doctrine seeped in ambiguity and guided by a military strategy that carouses and finds unity with non-State actors. It does not take a great deal of intellectual exertions to declare that this nightmare is upon the subcontinent. The need to bring about an awakening to the dangers of a nuclear conflagration is therefore pressing.
The effect of an enfeebled civilian leadership in Pakistan that is incapable of action to remove the military finger from the nuclear trigger; the active attendance and involvement of jihadists in swaying strategy; technology intrusions brought in by covert means; absence or at best ambiguity in doctrinal underpinnings that make Pakistan’s nuclear posture indecipherable and the alarming reality of ‘intention-to-use’, all in aggregate makes the status-quo untenable. The need for change in the manner in which we transact nuclear business is urgent. Strategic restraint predicated on failsafe controls, verification in a transparent environment, providing logic to size and nature of the arsenal and putting the brakes on the slide to nuclear capriciousness become imperatives to stabilising the deterrent relationship on the subcontinent.
But the catch is, how does one begin a meaningful nuclear dialogue with an emasculated Pakistani civilian establishment that does not control a military which in turn finds no reason to come to terms with a subordinate role? And as Cohen so succinctly put it, “Pakistan will continue to be a state in possession of a uniformed bureaucracy even when civilian governments are perched on the seat of power. Regardless of what may be desirable, the army will continue to set the limits on what is possible in Pakistan.” Add to this is the widely held belief within the army that terror as sanctioned by the Quran (I shall cast terror into the hearts of the infidels: Sura 12) is a legitimate instrument of Sstate power; the nature of the predicament becomes clear.
The Tri-Polar Tangle
A singular feature of the deterrent relationship in the region is its tri-polar character. As is well known today, it is the collusive nature of the Sino-Pak nuclear relationship which created and sustains its nuclear weapons programme. Therefore it is logical to conclude that there exists doctrinal links between the two which permits a duality in China’s nuclear policy; a declared No First Use can readily fall back on Pakistan’s developing First Use capability as far as India is concerned. Such links have made China blind to the dangers of nuclear proliferation as exemplified by the AQ Khan affair.
No scrutiny, of any consequence, of the regional nuclear situation can avoid looking at the internals of Pakistan. The country today represents a very dangerous condition that has been brought about by the precarious recipe that the establishment has brewed in nurturing fundamentalist and terrorist organisations as instruments of their military strategy. The extent to which their security establishment has been infiltrated is suggested by the attacks on PNS Mehran, Kamra air base, Karachi naval harbour and the assassination of the Punjab Governor; while the recent murderous assault on the Army School in Peshawar and the every day terror killings are more symptomatic of the free-run that these elements enjoy across the length and breadth of that country. Such a state of affairs does not inspire any confidence in the likelihood of the nuclear nightmare fading away or the robustness of their nuclear command and control structures to keep it in check.
Failure of the US Af-Pak Policy
As early as 2003 the US set out two major policy goals towards Pakistan, firstly holding it as an indispensable ally in its war in Afghanistan and secondly ending the proliferation of nuclear weapons in and from the region. However, over a decade later, both goals have failed dismally. There are confirmed reports that the Pak military has persistently deceived the US forces while elements within the former either lack the will to combat the insurgency or are actively involved with the jihadists. On the nuclear front, the rapid setting up of the unsafeguarded Khushab series (II, III and IV) nuclear reactors with Chinese collaboration having no other purpose than the production of weapon grade Plutonium, development of tactical nuclear weapons and the uninhibited growth of their arsenal do not in anyway enthuse belief in the US ability to exercise any stewardship over Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile. The inexplicable disappearance of key nuclear scientists who had recorded liaisons with al Qaeda remain alarming episodes that must cause anxieties. With US involvement in the Af-Pak greatly diminished and their focus on nuclear proliferation much sharper, the time is ripe for the US to clamp down on the maverick Pakistani nuclear posture.
Orientation of Sino-Pak Nuclear Collusion
The key to GHQ Rawalpindi’s compliance with rational norms of nuclear behaviour lies in Beijing. And the direction, in which Sino-Pak collusion is headed will to a large extent influence nuclear stability in the region. If the alliance was intended (as it now appears) to nurture a first use capability in order to keep subcontinental nuclear stability on the boil then the scope for achieving lasting stability is that much weakened. However, the current political situation in Pakistan presents a frightening possibility which is not in China’s interest to promote, more so, since Islamic terrorist elements have sworn to obtain nuclear weapons and the politico-ethnic situation in western China remains fragile. This in turn provides an opportunity to the Indian leadership to bring about change in the current ‘tri-polar tangle’.
A Blue Print for Regional Nuclear Stability
Against the reality of conventional war with its limited goals, moderated ends and the unlikelihood of it being outlawed in the foreseeable future, the separation of the conventional from the nuclear is a logical severance. Nuclear weapons are to deter and not for use; intent is the key; coherence and transparency are its basis. These remain the foundational principles that a nuclear weapon state must adhere to. However, given the politics of the region, historical animosities and the persisting dominance of the military in Pakistan, the dangers of adding nuclear malfeasance to military perfidy is more than just a possibility. Stability in this context would then suggest the importance of not only reinforcing assured retaliation to nuclear violence, but at the same time for India to bring about a consensus among both China and the US to compel Pakistan to harmonise with foundational rules of nuclear conduct. India’s current strategic relations with the US and Prime Minister Modi’s impending visit to China provides a timely opportunity to bring an end to the nightmare by swabbing the bleakness of subcontinental nuclear instability.
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
Armageddon is the mythical site of gathering of armies for battle that will end all. Its geographical location is shrouded in biblical lore and considerable controversy exists of its mercatorial coordinates, but its implications of the eventual catastrophic destiny of mankind (as revealed) are becoming less indistinct. Our study is far removed from eschatology; it is however keenly concerned with the settings and geography of an impending geopolitical upheaval caused by the withdrawal of American forces from the Af-Pak region. Inconclusive American abdication leaves in its wake a weak, nuclearised and failing Pakistan unable to reconcile a will to modernity with Jihadi aspirations; an Afghanistan whose writ does not prevail beyond the edgings of Kabul; a resurgent Iran that seeks domination over west and northern Afghanistan; Central Asian Republics whose civilisational, ethnic and cultural roots in northern Afghanistan exert fissiparous pressures; and an incensed and isolated Russia that sees in the region an opportunity to impel its own influence as a limiting factor to that of the US and the Saudis. Such competing external dynamics and interferences will work against central control from Kabul rather than in support of it, leaving bare a ‘gathering of armies’ driven by motivators in persistent friction with each other.
When states involve themselves for years on end in irregular, decentralised warfare such as the Afghan-Pakistan situation which has been in a state of violent chaos since 1979, the idea of central control is anaemic. The breakdown of the region into several ‘Tolkienesque’ warring worlds for causes that can only be termed antediluvian has opened the geography of the expanse to historical fractures that the politics of the last century failed to reconcile. Today, a simmering Baluchistan finds little mutuality in a Punjab-dominated Pakistan; Pakthunwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) ferociously cling to religio-ethnic links with eastern Afghanistan that refute the modern idea of statehood within Pakistan; inside the rest of Pakistan is a smouldering Jihadist sentiment against India and the West; and finally, Afghan resistance to US occupation in the post-al Qaeda defeat has left an insurgency engorged with modern weapons and enabling technologies.
Iran’s Intriguing Inclination
In understanding Iran’s contemporary posture towards Afghanistan, it is long forgotten that it was an early supporter of the 2001 invasion, played a key role in the ‘Bonn’ process that gave a constitution to the latter and has been historically wary of the radical militant ways of the Taliban and the manner in which it has been sponsored, fuelled and given sanctuary by Pakistan. While the seemingly endless supply of narcotics across the porous Baluchistan border and through the Nimruz and Herat sectors, along with linked violence, remains an abiding source of societal distress, illegal finances and arms trade, all of which has generated a strong impulse in Iran to control and affect stability in the Western region of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan and Iran have long been tied by culture and geography over centuries. Approximately one-fifth of Afghanistan’s population is Shia - a focal point for strife - for Iran views itself as the guardian of Shiites. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Khomeini dispensation created a sphere of influence by organising and materially supporting the Shia community there. Soviet inabilities permitted Iran to form a network of Afghan Shia organisations in the Hazarajat region.
When the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan, the country became a battleground for a proxy war between Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The Saudi’s sought the spread of their brand of Islam throughout Central Asia and Pakistan connived to install a Sunni-dominated government and gain “strategic depth” against India. Iran, having ended its eight-year war with Iraq, sought to establish a friendly government in Kabul, encouraging non-Sunni groups to form a united front. These contrary interests spurred a civil war, frustrating Iran’s policies in the region. This time of confusion that saw the rise of the Sunni Taliban. In 1996, the Taliban seized Kabul and overthrew President Rabbani, arousing the creation of a military front comprising Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, and Pashtuns, called the Northern Alliance, that sought to counter the Taliban. Iran, India, Russia, Tajikistan, and the US supported the Northern Alliance with material, training and sanctuaries.
It was only after 9/11 that support for the Northern Alliance extended to military intervention by the US to defeat the Taliban (and al Qaeda) and establish a new Afghan government. Iran’s interests in Afghanistan are in conflict with Pakistan’s single-track preference of an Islamist regime in Kabul (the purpose being to foster its misshapen policy of “Strategic depth” both geographically and ideologically to confront a rising India.) Pakistan also believes a weak and fundamental Islamist government in Kabul may be the best way to keep ethnic, irredentist claims at bay, while at the same time expanding its own influence. Such a policy only paves the way for increased military involvement by all parties including Iran.
Russia’s Part in the ‘Novaya Great Game’
There is a veiled attempt by Russia to fill the current void in Afghanistan despite the probability that destabilisation of the region may be the outcome. Greater competition between neighbouring powers, in Russian perceptions, may set the stage for a new “great game” for the so-called heart of Asia. Russia has need to enter this contest and vie for influence in Afghanistan against other, more motivated external players, not only to reawaken and accentuate its great power status (as it has done in Ukraine and in Syria) but also, understanding the positions these countries hold and taking their conflicting postures into consideration, the unfolding situation in Afghanistan will affect Russia’s security indirectly by way of Moscow’s allies in Central Asia. Central Asian nations fear the possible consequences of destabilisation in Afghanistan, which may include an influx of refugees or an upsurge in Islamic extremism, drug trafficking, and tran-border crime, and they may well turn to Moscow for help. It is also difficult to portray a Russia of the immediate future, blind to the emerging Chinese influence in the region by way of their grand scheme of the ‘Continental Silk Route’ and their efforts to corner strategic mineral resources (1400 mineral fields including rare earth elements and over three trillion USD in untapped deposits) that Afghanistan abounds in. The probability of competing politico-socio-economic interests morphing into security concerns is real.
The Central Asian Republics
The Central Asian Republics (CARs) worry about how instability in Afghanistan affects the survival of their own political regimes. These concerns are also symptomatic of their existential weaknesses. But reality would suggest that Central Asia’s economic prospects depend more on China, Russia and India rather than on Western military presence in Afghanistan, if only internal stability could be assured. And here lies the rub: CARs have historically depended upon centrally administered authoritarian rule such that even today they are unable to view a globalised world through any prism other than that provided by a distant Moscow, advancing a possible return of a Russian Domain 2.0. Recent moves by Putin to build greater security cooperation among the CARs particularly with Kazakhstan (key regional player) and consolidating military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan would underscore the prospects of revisiting privileged partnerships and the return of the Super (Capitalist) Commissar. More worryingly, the stage will be set for enhanced friction in the region.
The Thing about Gathering Armies
The thing about ‘gathering armies’ is that it puts in stark relief the dangers that a policy drift can inflict upon a designated region. India cannot treat the post-2014 situation in Afghanistan as a potential Armageddon for its security in South Asia. An Islamist takeover of Afghanistan and the country’s subsequent turn into a hotbed of international terrorism is not a certainty. India will have to take more responsibility for regional security. This heightened responsibility must first close out the possibility of armed intervention and put in place a dispensation that promotes cooperative engagement in economic development and institution-building. Under all conditions the use of geography to further strategic security interests by any of the stakeholders must be abhorred. This approach is consistent with idea of placing strategic stability above strategic competition.
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
Both Julian Corbett and Admiral of the Fleet Sergei Goroshkov had an astute perspective of the importance of a theory for the application of Combat Power. Theory, as Julian Corbett put it, “…be regarded not as a substitute for judgment and experience, but as a means to fertlise both”.
India’s armed forces have traditionally evolved to cope with operational scenarios. Whether this orientation was by instinct or a deep-seated misplaced trepidation of the power of the military is really not germane to our study. However, its impact was to stunt the development of Combat Power to the operational canvas. So it is that the inspiration of the instantaneous intimidation was and continues to be the pretender that fills strategic space.
The strategic approach derives from two characteristics of the international system. First, the endemic instability of protagonists involved in the system; whether it is their politics, national interests, alliances or historical antagonisms. Second is the function of a state as a sovereign entity charged with guardianship of a unique set of values often contrary to the larger system.
It is interesting to examine the Chinese case. Two events of the 1990s shaped their military strategy. The assembly of coalition forces in preparation for the Gulf War of 1991, they believed, constituted first firing and justified strategic pre-emption. Second, the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1995-1996 was a humiliating experience of Chinese sovereignty being violated when two American carrier groups deployed in the Straits with impunity. These two events caused them to develop the ‘Anti Access and Area Denial’ strategy and structure Combat Power to enable it.
Combat Power in a given operational situation is defined as the ability to achieve a decisive outcome, mindful of the principles of war, through the application of leadership that coalesces the various elements of military capability. It harnesses the total impact of destructive and disruptive forces that can be applied. This fundamental process provides the conceptual framework for execution of operational tasks.
Leyte Gulf: Flawed Application of Combat Power
The Battle of Leyte Gulf (22-26 October 1944) was the largest naval battle that was ever fought. It proved decisive to the war and yet provides a study of the failure to apply full Combat Power.
By October 1944 Japan had long passed Clausewitz’s ‘culminating point of the offensive’; it was strategically distended and materially exhausted. In contrast US Navy air power dominated the skies; its ships controlled the Pacific, severing energy lines and isolating millions of Japanese soldiers in China; its armies were rampaging northward towards the Philippines. Under these circumstances the Japanese Navy decided to launch a last ditch naval offensive.
The plan hailed back to a pre-First World War concept of operations; it envisaged a complex multi-pronged gun attack on the US Seventh Fleet covering the Leyte landings while a diversionary was to lure the US Third Fleet with its heavy carrier groups away from the Leyte. The Third Fleet took the bait and abandoned its primary task. Just as Japan was on the point of success, a lightly armed defending force attained their limited armament range by radar and dealt a crippling blow on the Japanese attackers.
Japanese losses at Leyte completed the extinction of their maritime combat power, underwrote the fall of the Philippines and opened the home islands to the final phase of the Pacific Campaign. The battle had been won and lost through a combination of poor intelligence, presence of superior technology and blunders of leadership on both sides inhibiting application of full Combat Power.
Strategic Maritime Space
What bearing the current shift in global power, to Asia in general and China and India in particular, will have on the larger security environment in the region must now be recognised. It begins by defining the geography within which the power shift will be most felt and maritime strategy operate. This characterisation factors area of origin of trade, energy lines, sea lines of communication, narrows contained which could be dominated or denied and location of potential allies. The Indian Ocean and the South China Sea (IOSCS) dominated by ten choke points provides the strategic context in general to trade passing through and in particular to maritime forces that would seek to surveil, deny or control.
Policy, Power and Oceanic Vision
Declarations such as the ‘Look East Policy’, the ‘India Africa Forum Summit’ or indeed Prime Ministers Modi and Abbot’s more recent Strategic Security Framework (SSF) in the Indo-Pacific provide the necessary stimulus for developing a strategic orientation.
The expansion of the Association of South East Asian Nations (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. Indeed, the India Africa Forum Summit is yet to articulate a security perspective, but clearly this is on the cards. As far as the more recent SSF in the Indo-Pacific is concerned; the players involved and their shared interest would have to be identified, objectives defined and collective control and decision-making would need to be fleshed out and made to harmonise with the American “re-balancing” act in the region. Notwithstanding, contemporary challenges in the IOSCS are dominated by three currents:
• The Challenge of a rising China that seeks to rewrite the rule book.
• Whether existing dispensations will tolerate distress to the ‘status-quo’.
• The mixed blessings of globalisation that endows disproportionate destructive power to lesser states.
Force Planning and Missions
Force planning must be driven by three considerations: first, understanding of what the articulated national policy is; second, what challenges may arise in the short and long-term to this policy; lastly, an estimate of potential harm that may occur to our interests if Combat Power were not developed to address the first two.
The Mahanian logic of being able to provide “unity of objectives directed upon the sea” must drive major infrastructural centres in the Andaman Sea, support facilities in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam; and to the west in the Indian Ocean littorals of South Africa, Malagasy, Tanzania, Mauritius and Seychelles. Military maritime missions that the Navy may be tasked with in the IOSCS include:
• War fighting which includes Sea Control, Access Denial and littoral warfare.
• Surveillance in all dimensions.
• Strategic deterrence.
• Coercive maritime deployments including marking.
• Co-operative missions.
• Diplomatic missions, policing and benign role.
Forces that would be required at all times to fulfill these missions would comprise of one carrier group for control tasks with an amphibious brigade group attached. Suitable airborne anti-submarine and sea-bed surveillance assets and units for marking high value opposition forces. Nuclear attack submarines for denial operations and the nuclear deterrent would be on patrol at all times.
Contemporary challenges are marked by a China that has lost the power-bashfulness of the Deng era and replaced it with a cockiness that aims at revising the status-quo. There is an invitation to a contest that India cannot refuse; to take the next step to establish a strategic security framework with the US, Japan, Australia and the littorals is logical. The security construct will necessarily have to be centred on deployed Combat Power, all of which will serve to ‘contend, control and deny’.
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
Islamic State's Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a July 2014 speech at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul vowed that "this blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes-Picot conspiracy."
At the start of the First World War a curious informal group took shape in Egypt. It called itself the ‘Intrusive Group’ comprising surveyors and archaeologists; it was headed by the Director of Civilian and Military Intelligence, Cairo. Sensing the rot in the Ottoman Empire, the Group saw in the vitality of the Arab desert tribes a latent power that could upend the Turks in the Hejaz, Syria, Mesopotamia and Kurdistan; if they banded together, were motivated by the belief in a Pan-Arabic State and led by the British. Amongst the adherents was a diminutive British archaeologist Lt Col TE Lawrence, better known as Lawrence-of-Arabia. Patrons of the idea included Kitchener, Wingate and McMahon.
The British foreign office would have none of it as the campaign against the Ottoman Empire was being waged vigorously and very successfully, till the Dardanelles Campaign came along and by end-1915 the British were facing a wretched defeat. The idea of raising the Arabs in revolt Northward from the Hejaz became more palatable.
By early 1916 the Arab bureau was created in Cairo to foster and whip up the revolt. The remarkable guerrilla campaign against the Turks led by Lawrence brought victories to the Arab Army and conquest of Syria and Palestine. At the peace conference Lawrence pleaded the Arab cause, but unbeknownst to him and the Arab Bureau was the machination of Foreign Office which had other plans for war termination. This took the form of the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement, an Anglo-French Pact hatched as early as May 1916 to carve the Middle East into British and French spheres of control and influence (Czarist Russia played an undermined part in the Pact). The rest is history as the League of Nations awarded the Palestine mandate to the British and French and ratified their spheres of control.
Lawrence was the first to recognise the difficulties of the Arab estate on the one hand while on the other, their readiness to follow to the ends. One could never answer, with any conviction, a fundamental civilisational question: “Who were the Arabs if not ‘manufactured’ people whose names were ever changing in sense year-by-year?” (Seven Pillars of Wisdom). He further noted that the harshness of both climate and terrain made the tribes desert wanderers circulating them between the Hejaz, Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia with neither attachment to lands nor systems that inspired settlement; what established fanatic bonds was their character that despised doubts and the disbeliever; found ease in the extremes, and pursued the logic of several incompatible opinions to absurd ends carrying their beliefs from “asymptote to asymptote.” They were people to whom convictions were by instinct and activities intuitional so they required a prophet to lead and set them forth; and Arabs believed there had been forty thousand of them. To sum their mystique Lawrence notes most prophetically: “they were a people of spasms for whom the abstract was the strongest motive and were as unstable as water, and like water would perhaps finally prevail.”
Kobani, a Syrian Kurdish town on the border with Turkey, is today under siege and under partial occupation by Baghdadi’s Islamic State (IS). Already this lethal spasm which fuses 21st century American technology and equipment with Arab fanaticism has rolled across parts of Syria, Iraq and through dozens of Kurdish villages and towns in the region sending over 200,000 refugees fleeing for their lives across the border.
Predictably, the lightly armed Kurdish militias desperately holding out in Kobani are fighting and losing to the IS. So why has the American grand coalition not been able to relieve the town or why has air power not been able to destroy the rampaging forces of the Islamic State? And why, the question begs to be asked, has Turkey, not done anything substantial to relieve the hapless Kobani?
In what is a historically awkward irony, the very destruction of Saddam’s Iraq has paved the way for fragmentation of the Sykes-Picot borders and the tri-furcation of Iraq into a Kurdish enclave in the northeast, a Shia enclave in the south and the IS running riot in the centre. The US delusion that it was building a new Iraq flies in the face of the current situation which tragically is more reminiscent of Lawrence’s Arabia.
In the meantime Turkey’s President Erdogan stated his nations position in unequivocal terms - “For us, IS and the (Kurdish) PKK are the same” - the crisis in Kobani is a case of terrorist fighting terrorist. The Kurdish fighters in Kobani are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK which has long been considered Turkey’s top security threat and has been officially classified as a ‘terrorist’ group by the US.
Further South, the Saudis want to destroy the Assad regime in Syria because it is allied with their Shiite enemy, Iran. Consequently, they see the fight against IS as essentially a pretext for escalating their war against Syria and show little interest in militarily engaging the Islamic State. The Emirates appear content to show token participation in the ‘Grand Coalition’ while at the same time seeking economic opportunities that Islamic State may offer.
Indeed it would appear that neither does the US have the resolve to confront and neutralise the Islamic State that is having a free run in the Levant, Syria and Iraq; nor does the coalition share common purpose. The situation in the region is evocative of the appreciation made by the “Intrusive Group,” a fading imperial power waging a strategically irrelevant war amidst the rise of the IS led by one more prophet driven by a fanatic belief. Lawrence, in the circumstance, would have suggested, demolish the belief, dry up the water and attack the prophet.
All the while, the esoteric call for Jihad and the establishment of a Pan-Islamic Caliphate under al-Bakr Baghdadi that the IS has put out has not fallen on deaf ears particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Strategic Estrangement: An Odd Bedfellow to Economic Engagement
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
The inextricable interdependence of survival of China’s despotic leadership, its economic growth and stability of State-controlled Capitalism poses a curious dilemma when large democratic economies choose to expand and boost economic engagement. This is particularly so when there exists unresolved geo-strategic fissures. And yet, the overriding importance of political stability and economic growth (in that order) to China’s Communist Party leadership presents an opportunity to best influence China.
Of the ten bloodiest massacres in history five of them occurred in China (Qing conquest of the Ming Dynasty 1618-83, casualties 25 million; Taiping rebellion 1850-64, casualties 20 million; An Lushan rebellion 755-63, casualties 13 million; Dungan Revolt 1862-77, casualties 10 million; Chinese Civil War 1927-50, casualties 7.5 million). It can hardly be accidental that all five were internal to China. Neither is it coincidental that this part of their grisly past is an important determinant of their resolve to suppress uprisings whether in Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square or indeed in the current more-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The so called “Umbrella Revolution” has thus far resisted strong arm tactics; the State buying off local tycoons and using veiled threats of the use of disproportionate force. The underlying fear of encroachment of the Party’s authoritarian values on Hong Kong’s way of life is at the core of dissent. Nonetheless a vacillating leadership runs the risk of being perceived as weak when withholding the impulse to action. All the while an edgy mainland China watches uneasily. The Party knows full well that to loosen grip is the first step down the slippery slope to political instability.
On the growth front China is at that stage in development when expectations and standards of living of its citizens can no longer be nourished by the diminishing sheen of the “China Price.” The IMF World Economic Outlook for 2014-15 marks a downward GDP growth forecast for China to under 7 per cent by 2015 as the economy attempts to make the transition to a more sustainable path along the service and technology sectors. This relative slow down puts a poser before Beijing: the only guarantee of the passivity of the masses is a satisfied populace; dissatisfaction amongst the citizenry animated by the urge to more democracy provides the recipe for mass upheavals, so how best can the current politico-economic situation be bridled?
In the meanwhile India finds itself fortuitously positioned. Politically, the Modi-dispensation’s has a resounding mandate and economically, there is an avowed emphasis on development, prodding an upward growth trend (indicated by the same IMF report), reaching 7 per cent by 2015 - a combination of both factors provides the vehicle to not just influence Sino-Indian relations but also to resolve our prickly border predicament. According to a study by the PHD Chamber of Commerce, an industry trade group in New Delhi, China has become India’s largest trading partner and in the wake of Premier Xi Jinping’s recent visit to India, targeting bilateral trade of over US$100 billion is not only achievable but also would make India amongst China’s top five trading partners.
Economic intertwining comes with its own set of tilting levers which may be actuated to mutually settle the tricky border situation. It must be kept in perspective that the 3,225 km border (un-demarcated in the main) has been influenced historically by considerable cartographic jugglery. Significant to the boundary situation are the Johnson Line of 1865 which placed the Aksai Chin in Kashmir (which the British never took seriously); and the McCartney-MacDonald Line of 1899 which showed Aksai Chin as Chinese. China was not a signatory to either of these frontier delineations. However, by the second decade of the 20th century as both China and Russia lapsed into turmoil the Raj sensed a closure to the ‘Great Game’ and the border was redrawn to the original territorially favourable Johnson Line.
At the time of India’s independence in 1947, the Johnson Line in the north and the McMahon Line in the east, also not ratified by China, were inheritances of the partition award. Both independent India and China harboured no apparent conflicting territorial claims. But the annexation of Tibet in 1950 and the consequent moves aimed at strategic consolidation of the Aksai Chin to conform to the McCartney-MacDonald Line presaged the coming armed clash of 1962. It is of some consequence to note that in 1960; Premier Zhou Enlai had ‘unofficially’ offered a quid pro quo in Aksai Chin and the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA); that India accept the McCartney Line while China would abandon its claims across the McMahon Line. The time for this ‘grand bargain’ has perhaps arrived.
Geopolitics and international relations are often greatly influenced by timing events to capitalise on circumstances. For India to consider on the one hand strategic estrangement of China while on the other intensify economic engagement, at a time when Beijing faces the prospects of a slow down in growth coupled with restiveness amongst its citizens is to miss the opportunity to bring about stability on our borders and indeed in relations. In turn this can only spur growth, which for both nations is currently most desirable. The time to resurrect Zhou’s ‘grand bargain’ is at hand and as Mark Twain put it, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
The Islamic State Caliphate: A Mirage of Resurrection
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India and Distinguished Fellow IPCS
The Universal State: The Last-Gasp Opportunism of Power
Belief in the immortality of a ‘Universal State’ has in history periodically evoked those very ghosts that had established the State’s mortality causing their decay and expiry. The fall of the Ummayad Caliphate in Damascus at the hands of the Abbasids, only for the former to supplant itself on the Iberian peninsula and draw roots in Cordoba; the Abbasid Caliphates shock overthrow when Baghdad fell to the Mongols was resuscitated in the Fatamids Caliphs of Tunisia and the rise of the Ottoman Empire under whose suzerainty the Caliphate survived till its death at the hands of westernization are illustrative of the degeneration, reinvention and last-gasp opportunism of power.
The Flawed Revelation
While this selection has been uncovered from Islamic history, the truth is equally appropriate to other civilizations. To our study it is the causes of this rhythmic phenomenon that is of greater significance, even as our focus remains on the idea of the Caliphate. The first manifest reason is the ideological imprint that the founders of the Islamic Universal State cast on its adherents as contemporary historical truth was imposed on an overwhelming religious legend. The second branch of the root lay in the genius and impressiveness of its leaders. Lastly, the fact that the inspiration of the Universal State was built around past glories captivates the heart and minds as it embodies a rally from the rout of a ‘time of troubles’ (Toynbee, A Study of History). The universality of the state was therefore not just a geographical idea or a final impulse to brazen out decay of a civilisation but more a flawed revelation in the minds of the faithful.
The current turmoil in West Asia may be traced to the aberrant imposition of a Western order in the aftermath of the defeat and collapse of the Ottomans and the eventual denial of the idea of a Caliphate by its leadership. The Caliphate, which had lost its religious and civilizational magnetism, was substituted by a mosaic of states that was mandated more by the promise of colonial influence and economic profit. This led to a situation when the underlying antagonism and economic dispossession have erupted in aggression and a yearning for a return to the Universal State.
Disruptive Nature of the Islamic State
The Islamic State (IS, varyingly called the ISIS or the ISIL) has swept from Syria into Iraq in a maelstrom of destruction and has in a short but bloody campaign laid waste to the northern third of Iraq. No political Islam or civilizational impulse here, just rabid intolerance. In its wake it has disrupted the correlation of political forces in the region as the US seek a quick blocking entente with Iran; Syria sees in the situation an opportunity to settle scores with the insurgency raging within; Shia organisations find common cause to offset the IS; Sunni States carry a cloaked bias towards the IS to the extent that a recent New York Times report suggests funding by Turkey, Saudi and Qatar; terrorist organisations in Afghanistan and Pakistan welcome the new leadership that has displaced al-Qaeda and Kurdistan has been catapulted to the forefront of opposition to the IS.
Distressing Probability of Nuclear Reach
As the fanatical outburst of xenophobia stretches south and eastward the IS’ influence will in due course manifest in the fertile Jihadist breeding grounds of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistan today, as many perceptive analysts have noted, represents a very dangerous condition as its establishment nurtures fundamentalist and terrorist organizations as instruments of their misshapen policies in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The essence of Pakistan’s rogue links will, unmistakably, seduce the IS into the sub-continent underscoring the distressing probability of the IS extending its reach into a nuclear arsenal. The impending withdrawal of US forces from the region will only serve to catalyse such a calamitous scenario.
Sustaining the Richest Terrorist Group
Ideologically the IS is driven by little other than a deep rooted malevolence (towards the US in particular) for the near quarter century of armed turmoil and sectarian carnage that has visited the region without near term hopes for restoration. The fallout has been a demonizing of plurality and a fierce rejection of modernity. Resurgence of the banished Iraqi Republican Guard has provided muscle to the movement and the revival of the Baathist faction infused a much needed organisational framework to the IS. The feeble capitulation of the 350,000 US trained Iraqi security forces stands testimony to the vigour of the enterprise. The seizure of over 400,000 pieces of small arms, artillery munitions, the pillaging of USD $430 million from the Central Bank of Mosul and the creation of a self sustaining financial flow to fuel the movement would suggest the work of trained minds and the organisational precision of professionals; besides it also makes the IS the richest militant group in West Asia.
Timing of the fierce advent of the IS and its leadership of the movement to establish a new Caliphate is distinctly ominous. The West in a state of economic exhaustion, militarily fatigued, geo-politically starved of ideas and facing the prospects of a world order being put in disarray by a revisionist China; neither has the stomach nor the resolve to block the onslaught. The only check on the abuse of unconventional and maleficent power has always consisted in opposition by an equally formidable rival, or of a combination of several countries forming a league of defence; unfortunately such an alliance has not been formed.
Conclusion: Development of a Strategy
When Toynbee suggested the emergence of a Universal State he saw in it disintegration of a civilization as it encountered disastrous ‘time of troubles’, such as wars within and without followed by the establishment of a universal state-an empire in the throes of decay. Ultimately the universal state collapses. The menacing feature of the Islamic State is that the end of a ruinous historical rhythm is synchronised today with the draw down of an external enforcing dynamic and the intolerable availability of weapons of mass destruction.
In such circumstances the prognosis can only be a universal catastrophe unless a three pronged strategy is put in place:
• Firstly arrest the rampage of the IS by a coalition of regional forces under UN aegis.
• Secondly, choke the money flow both from patron States and the IS’ financial dealings by targeting beneficiaries.
• Thirdly, deny access to weapons of mass destruction through rigorous guardianship of known sources.
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
Power and Self-Preservation
Hobbes underscored the need to establish an aura of awe and visible power in order that men do not degenerate to their natural anarchic passions. He said, “And covenants without the sword are but words and are of no strength to secure a man at all.” Yet, India forges a nuclear ‘Sword’ whose utility lies in its non-use. However, intrinsic to the logic is a three-fold endowment – the Sword’s unprecedented destructive promise, its influence, and its ability to deter conflict beyond the conventional.
Evolution of a Nuclear Doctrine
India’s nuclear programme was driven by a techno-politico-bureaucratic nexus to the exclusion of the military. Whether this strategic orientation was by default or a deep-seated trepidation of the military is not germane; what it did was to create a muddled approach to the process of operationalising the deterrent. But to its acclaim go the separation of the nuclear from the conventional and distinction between the Controller of nuclear weapons and its Custodian.
Discerning that nuclear multilateralism introduces dynamics that are vastly dissimilar to the two-state confrontation of the past; exceptional faith was placed on a calculus where intentions rather than capability alone, weighed in with greater sway. Convinced that the use of nuclear weapons sets into motion an uncontrollable chain of mass destruction, response-proportionality and controlled escalation were rejected.
India’s nuclear doctrine is rooted in three principles: no first use (NFU); massive retaliation to a first strike; and credible deterrence. There was a fourth unwritten faith; nuclear weapons would not be conventionalised, a principle that remained divorced from the belief that a nuclear war could be fought and won. The nuclear doctrine was made public on 04 January 2003. The first part deals with ‘form’; nuclear war avoidance is the leit motif and NFU the canon. The logic of self-preservation demanded the arsenal be credible and response-ready. The second part of the doctrine deals with ‘substance’, operationalising the deterrent and command and control are the main themes.
China: Proliferation Policy
China beginning in the 1970s promoted an aggressive policy of transfer of nuclear weapon technology and missiles to reprobate States using North Korea as a clearing house. The policy has been continued unrelentingly. Reasons for such profligate leanings are a matter of conjecture. They may have originally reflected balance of power logic. However, proliferation in the Islamic world has implications that are sinister particularly since AQ Khan made known that nuclear chastity is a fable. Radical Islam perceives nuclear weapons as a means to destroy an order that has wilfully kept the Ummah under subjugation. In this frame of reference the singling out of the US, India and Israel for retribution attains new meaning. It also gives to China a heft up the power ladder.
The Unhinged Tri-Polar Deterrent Relationship
A deterrent relationship is founded on rationality. For the ‘deterree’ there is rationality in the conviction of disproportionate risks; and for the deterrer rationality in confirming the reality of risks. The exceptional feature is that roles are reversible provided the common interest is stability.
Unique to the deterrent relationship in the region is the tri-polar nature of linkages and an abiding symptom is Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. Conceived, designed and tested by Beijing, the programme has also rapidly created the means to stockpile fissile material. Under these circumstances any scheme to stabilise the situation must first address the duality of the Sino-Pak programme. Persistent collaboration and a breakneck build-up of nuclear infrastructure suggests doctrinal co-relation which any deterrent relationship overlooks at its peril.
Making Sense of Pakistan’s Nuclear Strategy: The Nuclear Nightmare
The opacity of Pakistan’s strategic nuclear underpinnings, descent to tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) and duplicity of policies has made it prickly for India to either understand nuclear thinking in Islamabad or to find coherence in the mania for parity, the rush for fissile material, and the loosening of controls over nuclear weapons. More puzzling is the strategic notion that the conventional imbalance between the two countries may be offset by “either an assured second-strike capability or, a hair-trigger-arsenal" and as Feroz Khan’s bizarre argument goes, "TNWs provide another layer of deterrence designed to apply brakes on India’s conventional superiority” (ala NATO’s discredited formulation). On a perplexing note Khan concludes that likelihood of inadvertence is high, tenability of central control low, and the probability of Indian pre-emptive conventional attack a near certainty.
No scrutiny of the sub-continental situation can avoid looking at the internals of Pakistan. The country today is in perilous pass caused by the Establishment nurturing terrorist organisations as instruments of their misshapen policies. Pakistan’s radical links makes the status-quo unacceptable for the nuclear nightmare as a hair trigger, opaque deterrent embracing tactical use under military control steered by an ambiguous doctrine and guided by a military strategy that finds unity with terrorists is upon us.
The unbiased examiner is left bewildered that if imbalance in the power equation with India is so substantial and internals so anaemic, then why does Pakistan not seek rapprochement as a priority for policies?
In declaring her nuclear doctrine, India struck a covenant not just with her own citizens but with the global community. At its core was the renunciation of the first use of nuclear weapons. On the face of it such a disavowal defied conventional wisdom. To deliberately temper a sword and then to abjure its first use would appear to contradict sovereign morality, after all if the first duty of the State is to protect its citizens, then to open itself to the first strike would be a failing. And yet if there is belief in the changed nature of warfare that nuclear weapons have ushered, then humanity’s moral weight would be on the side of the covenant sans sword. Fatefully, till that moral weight finds strategic expression, it is the destructive promise of the NFU policy backed by pre-emptive conventional capabilities that will rein in a nuclear misadventure.
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
The run up to the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) was marked by a debate held in Sparta amongst the Peloponnesian allies to determine whether war against the aggressive seapower Athens and the maritime Delian League was to be waged. The leadership of the war-like alliance lay with the powerful yet reluctant Spartan king Archidamus, a man of both intelligence and moderation. He questioned, “What sort of a war, then, are we going to fight? If we can neither defeat them at sea nor control the resources on which their navy depends, we shall do ourselves more harm than good.” To Archidamus, clearly, the inability to access and control the Global Commons of his era presaged defeat.
Global Commons is a term typically used to describe international, supranational, and global common pool resource domains. Global Commons include the earth's shared resources, such as the oceans, the atmosphere, outer space and the Polar Regions. Cyberspace also meets the definition, but for this examination will focus on the hydrosphere. The parameters for enquiry necessarily include physical tangibles of height, width, depth and the awkward intangible of human history.
Mahan in “The Influence of Seapower upon History” underscored three prescient perspectives relating to the Commons. First, competition for materials and markets is intrinsic to an ever trussed global system. Second, the collaborative nature of commerce on the one hand deters war, while on the other engenders friction. Third, the Global Commons require to be secured against disruption and rapacious exploitation.
An understanding of the Commons must not suffer from any delusions that explicit and recognised conventions have evolved over the centuries. On the contrary, till the middle of the last century what passed for a principle was Hugo Grotius’ 1609 notion of Mare Liberum; freedom of the seas. The concept that the sea was international territory and all nations were free to use it. The free-for-all state of the Commons becomes evident in the fact of the seaward limit of national sovereignty being defined by the cannon-shot decree which would suggest that it was the ability to control that defined dominion. By the middle of the twentieth century the collapse of colonial empires and the birth of new nations set into motion a dynamic that demanded a change from cannon-shot rules and lawlessness to equitability and responsibilities in the Commons along with demarcation of territorial and economic zones. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS I, II & III) met 1954 to 1982 to hammer out and define rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans. The deliberations concluded in 1982 and became functional in 1994. Recognising that that the sea bed is the repository of vast and unguaged quantities of minerals, the Convention provided for a regime relating to minerals on the seabed outside any state's territorial waters or Exclusive Economic Zone. It established an International Seabed Authority to regulate seabed mining and control distribution of royalties. To date it has been ratified by 165 nations. Significantly, the US Senate has snubbed the UNCLOS. What critically mars the compact is its imprecision, its illusory demand for the supranational and the absence of a structure to secure the Global Commons against disruption and rapacious exploitation.
The current distressed state of the Commons is discernible by the impact that globalisation has had; strains of multi-polarity, anarchy of expectations and the increasing tensions between the demands for economic integration and the stresses of fractured political divisions are symptoms. Nations are persistently confronted by the need to reconcile internal pressures with intrusive external impulses at a time when the efficacy of Power to bring on political outcomes is in question. While most nations have sought resolution and correctives within the framework of the existing international order, China emerges as an irony that has angled for and conspired to re-write the rule book.
China’s rising comprehensive power has generated an internal impulse to military growth and unilateral intervention in its immediate neighbourhood in the South and East China Sea and its extended regions of economic interests. It has developed and put in place strategies that target the Commons to assure a favourable consequence to what it perceives to be a strategic competition for resources and control of the seaways that enable movement. The consequences of China activising artifices such as the Anti-Access and Area Denial strategy and geo-political manoeuvres to establish the String of Pearls in the Indian Ocean Region evokes increasing shared anxieties and resistance by players in the same strategic milieu. Particularly at a time when the North Eastern Passage through the Arctic is emerging as receding ice cuts the Asia-Europe route via the Suez by half (from 23000 km to 11500 km) and technology opens the Antarctic to economic exploitation. The paradoxical effects of China’s contrivances are to undermine its own strategic standing, hasten counter-balancing alignments and urge a global logic of cooperative politics over imperious strategies.
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
China’s rise has powered an impulse to military growth and unilateral intervention which in turn evokes anxieties and resistance by players in the same strategic milieu. The paradoxical effect is to undermine its own strategic standing.
The Franco-German War of 1870 forms a watershed in strategic thought. After the annexation of the North German Confederacy in 1866, Bismarck sought the Southern German States. He deceived the French into believing that a Prussian Prince would rule from the throne of Spain as a larger strategy of encirclement. By July 1870, France was conned into a seemingly ‘inevitable’ war. Germany through superior military craft and technology inflicted a crushing defeat on the host. In the process the balance of power in Europe was upset. The War, from deception, to alliances, provocation of crisis and defeat of the enemy forcing a one-sided negotiation could well have been scripted by Kautilya or, more significant to this narrative, Sun Tzu.
German victory ushered a strategic orientation to compete with the principal imperial power, Britain. Three strategic objectives swayed the rivalry: military dominance over land and sea; global economic and technological ascendancy in tandem with unimpeded access to primary resources; and thirdly, diplomatic and political pre-eminence. By 1890, Germany had established continental military dominance and a warship-build programme that would challenge British command of the seas. Economically, Germany had already overtaken Britain in heavy industries and innovation, capturing global markets and amassing capital. This in turn muscled influence and superiority in one sector after another.
A thirty-year projection in 1890 suggested that Germany, home to the most advanced industries having unimpeded access to resources of the earth, best universities, richest banks and a balanced society, would achieve her strategic goals and primacy. Yet precisely thirty years later, Germany lay in ruins, her economy in shambles, her people impoverished and her society fragmented. By 1920, her great power aspirations lay shamed between the pages of the Treaty of Versailles. The real lesson was that Germany’s quest for comprehensive power brought about a transformation amongst the status-quo powers to align against, despite traditional hostility (Britain and France; Britain and Russia) to contain and defeat a rising Germany that sought to upset the existing global order.
China in Perspective
Historical analogies are notorious in their inability to stage encores, yet they serve as means to understand the present.
Contemporary fears of nations are driven by four vital traumas: perpetuation of the State; impact of internal and external stresses; reconciliation with the international system; lastly, the conundrum of whether military power produces political outcomes. The paradigm of the day is ‘uncertainty’ with the tensions of multi-polarity, tyranny of economics, anarchy of expectations and polarisation along religio-cultural lines all compacted by globalisation.
If globalisation is a leveller to the rest of the world, to China, globalisation is about State capitalism, central supremacy, controlled markets, managed currency and hegemony. The military was to resolve fundamental contradictions that threatened the Chinese State. Significantly, globalisation provided the opportunity to alter the status-quo. Against this backdrop is the politics of competitive resource access and denial, which rationalised the use of force. It is in this perspective that the rise of China must be gauged.
China’s dazzling growth is set to overtake the US. Its rise has been accompanied by ambitions of global leadership. This has in turn spurred an unparalleled military growth. In this circumstance the race to garner resources by other major economies is fraught. But the real alarm is that China seeks to dominate international institutions without bringing about a change of her own morphology. China’s claims on the South and East China Sea; handling of internal dissent; proliferatory carousing with North Korea and Pakistan are cases in point.
The emergence of China from its defensive maritime perimeters into the Indian Ocean is seen as the coming ‘Third Security Chain’. Gone is Deng’s ‘power bashfulness’; in its place is the conviction that the-world-needs-China-more-than-China-the-world. Its insistence on a bilateral policy to settle disputes even denies the natural impulse of threatened States to seek power balance in collective security.
The Sense in Cooperative Security Strategies The standpoint that provocation and intimidation can benefit China by persuading the victim to negotiate outstanding issues from a conciliatory position is a strategically mistaken one. India, Japan, Vietnam and the South China Sea Littorals have demonstrated so. Far from acquiescing they have chosen to resist, adopting (in trend) a cooperative security strategy. This includes deliberate negative response to favour Chinese economic monopoly even when the benefits are obvious. While individual action may be insignificant, the aggregate of combined action may impede China’s growth which in turn question’s strategic stability of dispensation.
The parallels with the rise and fall of Germany is complete when it is noted that China’s Defence White Paper of April 2013 underscores the will to expand offensive military capability in pace with economic growth. Internationally, this can only be viewed as acutely threatening. The delusion that menaced States will not align to contend and defy China’s grand design is a strategically misleading notion.
The Chilling Prospects of Nuclear Devices at Large
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union produced over one thousand tons of weapon grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium. By 1986 its stockpile numbered 45,000 warheads; it was poorly inventoried; spread across the Republics with fissionable material salted away as reserve in shoddily secured warehouses (remembering that it was the nation that was secured). The post break-up Russian governments of Yeltsin and Putin through the nineties and into the new millennium managed to locate and harvest close to 99.9 per cent of the stash leaving 0.1 per cent unaccounted for, which translates to one thousand kilograms of weapon-grade fissile matter somewhere in limbo; adequate material to put together over one hundred, 20 kiloton yield explosive devices. It is not entirely clear what magnitude of unaccounted weapon-grade fissile matter is adrift from the US and NATO stockpile for at the height of the Cold War, they too had amassed a stockpile of over 30,000warheads and an indefinite number of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) deployed on the European front; and they are not telling. After all in the sample year of 1957 three US nuclear weapons were lost in the North Atlantic Ocean whilst ferrying them across in transport aircraft and remain so to date.
In the meantime, China’s Premier Deng Xiaoping through the 1980s into the 1990s promoted and executed an aggressive policy of direct transfer of nuclear weapon technology and launch vectors to reprobate States (Pakistan, North Korea, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia), using North Korea as a clearing house for the deals. The policy has been continued by his successors unrelentingly.
The reasons for this profligate orientation are a matter of conjecture and may have originally reflected balance of power logic in the sub-continental context; to offset and contain Indian comprehensive superiority. While in North Korea’s case, to keep the US and the Pacific allies embroiled in a snare of insecurities. In the Islamic world the motivations have a far more sinister purpose and perilous fallout.
Radical Islam envisages a return to the purity of the Koran and sees the possession of a nuclear weapon not just as a symbol of power and an instrument of deterrence but as a means to destroy and dislocate an order that has so wilfully kept the faithful under political, economic and spiritual subjugation. In this frame of reference, nations that have been singled out for retribution are the US, India and Israel. It is here in these countries that the iniquitous probability of a nuclear device being detonated by radical Islamists looms large. Such an event gives to the non-state perpetuators an amorphous form that can neither be destroyed in armed retaliation nor their credo obliterated from the world of beliefs. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq stand in stark testimony to how rooted dogmas have a conviction of their own that deny change through force of arms. Rhetoric such as ‘rogue States’, ‘war on terror’ and ‘failed States’ raise more problems than provide solutions, for any rational interpretation of the terms will invariably indict the very nations that seek to drag out and drub.
Inquiry exposes the real enemy to be States and non-State actors that proliferate nuclear technologies with no other predisposition than to put the status-quo in disarray or driven by avarice. Global double standards and persistent tendentious views that exist on the subject has already brought selective legitimacy of such transactions and taken the world another step closer to a maverick nuclear detonation. Not only do current policies and attitudes to proliferation generate exceptionably high risks of a nuclear attack but there is an inevitability that is emerging if fissionable materials are globally not secured, retrieved and accounted.
The narrative thus far has suggested that global clashes have moved beyond State to State conflict into a realm where the real threat of apocalypse comes from nuclear weapons in the hands of anarchic groups. These amorphous factions are driven by an ideology that seeks the destruction of what it considers antagonistic to its beliefs. The Nation State, on the other hand, is rationally driven by the will to survive. Perpetuation of the State is a national interest that is held supreme even if it means compromises that may cause profound changes. Radical Islam and its insurgents do not operate under such existential constraints; to them it the constancy of an abstract idea, that of their interpretation of the Koran.
The awkward irony is that the militant Islamist is financed by the same ungoverned trade that has made billionaires out of dubious entrepreneurs. The case of the Glencore uranium mining corporation in Kitwe Zambia is a case in point. The sole owners of Glencore are the Marc Rich family now settled in Zug, Switzerland; the same Mr Rich who was indicted for illicit uranium trading with Iran, Israel and, one can only speculate, with which other entities. He also received a full and well-funded Presidential pardon on Clinton’s last morning in office. The upshot is that the transfer of illicit wealth whether it is through the drug trade, uncontrolled resource access, sale of prohibited materials and technologies, illegal arms trade or as a deliberate policy eventually, in part, funnels its way to the nurturing of radical organisations. What we today stand witness to is the convergence of a parallel source of wealth and diffusing technologies together in the quest for weapon grade fissile materials. The means to dislocate and put in disarray the evolving world order is at hand.
It has been noted that the trio of the US, India and Israel have been declared by radical Islam as primary targets for reprisal and therefore it may be inferred for special nuclear treatment. Counter action must, for this reason alone, be spearheaded by the troika. Four concrete measures are suggested:
• Fissile material: All fissile material globally must be retrieved, inventoried and secured. This must be an obligatory international effort despite the current situation in the Ukraine. Scientists and technicians involved in nuclear weapon design and fabrication must be profiled and political control by respective nations exercised over there movements and affiliations.
• Inspection and safeguards: The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1970 along with the Additional Protocol, which gave the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) greater proliferation monitoring powers, was the designated instrument for safeguards. However the treaty has over the years been compromised by the inequities it represented, the discrimination that it promoted and the selective biases that it propagated. What it lacks is teeth to impartially enforce punitive measures against proliferators irrespective of nation. What is suggested is a retooling of the Treaty to make the IAEA the nodal proliferation control agency with mandatory surveillance, intelligence provisions and realistic controls on the production of fissionable material and movement of nuclear weapon technologies.
• Choking the money conduits: Intelligence sharing and coordinated action to shut down ungoverned trade and illicit financial transfers is the key to starving radical organisations. Financial institutions must be obliged to collaborate in the matter.
• China: As noted earlier, China has been the leading proliferator of nuclear weapon technologies and delivery systems. It has over the years transferred nuclear weapons design, provided testing facilities, passed on ballistic missiles along with production facilities and provided material, intellectual, logistic and doctrinal back up to client state nuclear weapon programmes. To some in Beijing the detonation of a nuclear device by Radical Islamists may even be seen as an effective route to upsetting the status-quo and opening the future to its hegemonic designs.
Thus far, the global community has been blind to the dangers of untrammelled nuclear proliferation particularly by China as she supplies ready-to-use WMD technology along with delivery systems to States that are in the tightening grip of radical Islamists. The manner in which Pakistan received a nuclear weapon design package and material support to build nuclear weapons which was then conveyed to Iran, Libya and others is suggestive of a pattern that seeks to deliberately provoke a nuclear incident that can only serve China’s interests. The time is nigh when the trio of US, India and Israel, which have been designated as primary targets of radical Islam, to band together to enforce a nuclear non-proliferation regime that reigns in China.
MH370 and China's Anti-Access Area Denial Strategy
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
fThe mystery of the missing Malaysian Airlines MH 370 continues to confound. Was it a sudden catastrophic end to an ill-fated flight or was it a failure of surveillance that led to a controlled and purposeful disappearance of a marked commercial carrier?
The last reported position of the aircraft was on 08 March 2014 at 0119 hours (local time Malaysia) in the Gulf of Thailand at its first navigational way point IGARI, about 500 km north east of Kuala Lumpur at an altitude of 35,000 feet cruising at 872 km/h, well on its predetermined route to Beijing. This account was immediately followed by loss of all communications and a possible disabling of the secondary radar (transponder). MH 370 was now less than 200 km from the Vietnamese coast with orders to call up Ho Chi Min city Air Traffic Control (ATC). Normal procedures demand a positive overlap when control passes from one ATC to another; this would appear not to have occurred which in itself ought to have rung some alarm bells particularly in a dense airspace which accounts for nearly 16 per cent of global traffic (see Map 1, authors research suggests that there were at least 25 aircraft on international transit within 500 kms of MH 370 at that instant).
Map 1: Intended Flight Path of MH370 (CZ748), its last known position, and traffic density
Leaving aside the initial bungling by Malaysian aviation authorities; conspiracy theories abound, from a terrorist attack to a suicidal cockpit to a US-sponsored clandestine seizure and strike to prevent high security cargo from falling into Chinese hands. However, more significant is the response of China’s most recent Flight Information Region (FIR) Centre at Sanya and its integration into that nation’s Air Defence network. The Sanya FIR (in Hainan) is responsible for managing traffic and maintaining continuous surveillance over the South China Sea. Its formal area of responsibility is a sea space of 280,000 square km which approximates a square of 530 km sides or a circle of diameter 600 km extending into the South China Sea. While China’s claim to sovereignty over the entire South China Sea does not include the Gulf of Thailand; the last reported position of MH 370 was within 500 km of its claimed territorial sea and about 1200 km from Hainan. Also, had the flight stuck to its planned route, it would have over flown Vietnam and entered Chinese ‘airspace’ in the Sanya FIR by 0215 hrs. It did not and therefore the question arises, why was Sanya Air Control Centre at such a run-down state of alert and the Chinese Air Defence organisation wanting in alacrity? Given the current imbroglio in the South China Sea, the state of air surveillance would have demanded early tracking and far more credible situational awareness. Another consideration is the fact that Hainan is home to the Chinese South Sea Naval Fleet at Beihai and houses its strategic ballistic missile submarine force at Yulin; which must play some part in assuring domain wakefulness.
Map 2: Track of MH 370 from take-off to 1h 34m into flight
At 0215 hrs came a positive pick-up of MH 370 by Malaysian military radar fixing the aircraft 320 km north west of Penang at 12000 feet altitude on a westerly heading; having deviated 500 kms west of its intended track (see Map 2). This information had to have been passed to Sanya FIR since the aircraft was bound for Beijing. Two possibilities emerge: either the entire air space management organisation and air defence network in China were in deep slumber or the appreciation of China’s Air Defence Surveillance is flawed. They just do not seem to have the essential surveillance capability - after all an overdue aircraft whether overdue at destination or any of its waypoints is no trifling matter from both the safety and security perspectives.
To the astute military analyst the 370 incident places the edifice of China’s Anti-Access Area Denial (A2AD) strategy, upon which is predicated the emergence of the People’s Liberation Army as a major player in the Asia Pacific region, as some what less than persuasive. The strategy is based on the marriage of the Dong-Feng 21D anti-surface ballistic missile as the ‘aircraft carrier killer’ with matching surveillance capability that could detect and target hostile aircraft carriers at ranges in excess of 2000 km. Critically, the kill chain begins with detection of the Carrier’s flight operations. The entire episode must also have come as a dampener to the heady mixture of Chinese nationalism, its new found wealth and its urge to upset the status-quo that animates what may be called the ‘China Arrival’.
If China touts the A2AD strategy as its existential future, it is clear that the credibility of such a scheme has taken a hammering. China’s planners may argue that they had not used the full weight of their military surveillance capability for security reasons; but this contention does not hold much water for two reasons. Firstly, by 09 March Chinese remote-sensing satellites had been deployed with considerable operational alacrity (if not precision) to join the search effort. Secondly, the A2AD strategy is a deterrent strategy and the conditions were ideal to demonstrate its surveillance competence. Its satellite reported possible debris of the aircraft within 90 kms south of Vietnam’s Tho Chu Island, about 150 kms north of the last known position reported at 0130 hrs on 08 March. The search centre moved to this new position; however the deployed scouts drew a blank. The fresh datum for the search diluted international exertions which only regrouped after an analysis of satellite communications’ doppler shift to concentrate efforts nine days later in the south Indian Ocean about 6000 km southwest of the of the first report.
The search for the remains of the hapless MH370 continues. Meanwhile, China’s quest for an existential strategy as a prelude to confronting the status-quo is convincing nobody.
India-Pakistan-China: Nuclear Policy and Deterrence Stability
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India
“Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call life:………behind, lurk Fear
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Cold War Mantra
In September 1950, responding to a directive from the President of the US to re-examine objectives in peace and war with the emergence of the nuclear weapons capability of the Soviet Union; the Secretaries of Defense and State tabled a report titled NSC-68. This report was, in general terms, to become the mantra that guided world order till the end of the Cold War and in particular formed the source that defined and drove doctrines for the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons. As a founding policy document of contemporary world order the memorandum contrasted the fundamental design of the Authoritarian State with that of the Free State. Briefly put, the coming clash was seen as a life and death struggle between the powers of ‘evil’ with that of ‘perfection’.
NSC-68 came at a time when the previous 35 years had witnessed some of the most cataclysmic events that history was subjected to; two devastating World Wars, two revolutions that mocked the global status quo (Russia and China), collapse of five empires and the decline and degeneration of two imperial powers. The dynamics that brought about these changes also wrought drastic transformation in power distribution with the elements of influence, weight and the means of mass nuclear destruction having decisively gravitated to the US and the USSR. The belief that the USSR was motivated by a fanatic communist faith antithetical to that of the West and driven by ambitions of world domination provided the logic and a verdict that conflict and violence would become endemic. And thus was presented to the world a choice to either watch helplessly the end of civilisation or take sides in a ‘just cause’ to confront the possibility of Armageddon. World order rested upon a division along ideological lines, and more importantly to our study, the formulation of a self-fulfilling logic for the use of nuclear weapons. The 1950s naissance of a nuclear theology was consequently cast in the mould of armed rivalry; its nature was characterised by friction and probing peripheral conflicts. The scheme that carved the world was Containment versus burgeoning Communism. In turn, rationality gave way to the threat of catastrophic force as the basis of stability.
Quest for a New Paradigm
The crumbling of the Soviet Union in the last decade of the twentieth century and the end of the Cold War killed this paradigm. In its wake, scholarly works suggested the emergence of one world and an end to the turbulent history of man’s ideological evolution. Some saw the emergence of a multi-polar order and the arrival of China. Yet others saw in the First Iraq War, the continuing war in the Levant, the admission of former Soviet satellite nations into NATO and the splintering of Yugoslavia, an emerging clash of civilisations marked by violent discord shaped by cultural and civilisational similitude. However, these illusions within a decade were dispelled and found little use in understanding and coming to grips with the realities of the post Cold War world as each of them represented a candour of its own. The paradigm of the day (if there is one) is the tensions of the multi-polar; the tyranny of economics; the anarchy of expectations; and a polarization along religio-cultural lines all compacted in the cauldron of globalisation in a state of continuous technology agitation.
China’s Two-Faced Nuclear Policy Uncertainties of contemporary times and rise of the irrational and the multilateral nature of nuclear relationships only served to enhance the role of nuclear weapons. What it did was to blur the lines between conventional and nuclear weapons, and at the same time, provided a warped incentive in asymmetric situations for the lesser State to reach first for the nuclear trigger. In dealing with fourth generation threats it underscored the significance of strategic non-nuclear weapons in adding pre-emptive teeth to a deterrent relationship.
The current situation has not left the Indian situation unimpaired. The two-faced nature of the Sino-Pak nuclear relationship has put pressure on the No First Use (NFU) doctrine that that has shaped India’s policy and indeed its arsenal. For China’s stated NFU policy hides the First Use intent of Pakistan that the former has so assiduously nurtured. Forgetting the actuality of an enfeebled Pakistani civilian leadership incapable of action to remove the military finger from the nuclear trigger; the active involvement of non-State actors in military strategy and an alarming posture of an intention-to-use have the makings of a global nuclear nightmare. The Pakistan proxy gives to China doctrinal flexibility, it unfortunately also makes the severance of the Nuclear from the Conventional, a thorny proposition that even China must know can boomerang on its aspirations.
Deterrent Stability: First Step to Transparency We note thus far that nuclear relations in the region have been bedeviled by a persistent effort to combat the monsters that shrouds of covertness and perilous liaisons have cast; it has left us the unenviable task of, once again, permitting rationality to give way to the threat of catastrophic force as the basis of stability. It is time we saw the dangers of an Armageddon and embrace the opportunity that transparency presents as a first step towards deterrent stability and in the process to lift the precarious veil that is edging the Indo-Sino-Pak nuclear correlation to the precipice.
Strategic Non-Nuclear Weapons: An Essential Consort to a Doctrine of No First Use
Vijay Shankar Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command of India & Distinguished Fellow, IPCS
Politico-Military thought often harbours a puzzling phenomenon when it organises concepts and institutions in a mosaic of sometimes antithetical notions. Contrary ideas are indeed intrinsic to the art of political sagacity, but when form is defined by a belief, in apparent conflict with content, then there appear distortions more illusory than what logic would suggest. So it is with the emergence of strategic nuclear weapons. They are destructive to the extent that the purpose of warfare is itself obliterated, underscoring a compelling theory of war avoidance. By its side are strategic non-nuclear weapons whose intent is to target nuclear weapons that, ironically, seek a (precarious) stability.
Conventional savvy will first suggest that non-nuclear weapons can neither deliver the requisite high explosive payload to assume a counter-force role against silo-based or caverned nuclear systems; nor do they come with the probability of kill that is demanded with such a role. But just around the technological corner lurks high impact penetration and shaped charges that make a mockery of hitherto simple overpressure reckoning. Second, nuclear pundits will insinuate that a partially successful counter-force strike may in point of fact catalyse escalation to a full blown nuclear exchange; both contain candour of their own.
But strange is our circumstance when on the one hand Pakistan presents us with a nuclear nightmare which when articulated is a hair-trigger, opaque deterrent conventionalised under military control, steered by a doctrine obscure in form, seeped in ambiguity, and guided by a military strategy that carouses and finds unity with non-state actors. The introduction of tactical nuclear weapons into the battle area further exacerbates credibility of their control. It does not take a great deal of intellectual exertions to declare that this nightmare is upon us. However, the very nature of the power equation on the subcontinent and the extent to which it is tilted in India’s favour will imply that any attempt at bringing about conflict resolution through means other than peaceful is destined to fail. In this context it is amply clear that the threat of use of nuclear weapons promotes only one case and that is the Pakistani military establishment’s hold on the nation. On the other hand is a Janus-faced China which, in collusion with Pakistan’s nuclear weapon programme, has not just entrenched proliferatory links, but also doctrinal union that permits a duplicitous approach to the latter’s declared No First Use (NFU) posture and an option to keep the South Asian nuclear cauldron on the boil. Also significant is the alliance bucks the existing global non-proliferation structure.
What may be derived from the current state of affairs, with any conviction, is the political and military unpredictability that prevails. This denies hope for stability and the expectation of fitting conditions into a convenient model, let alone providing for security guarantees. Governments faced with such a conundrum more readily prepare for a worst case scenario than try and reconcile the true dimensions that uncertainty introduces. It is preparedness, therefore, that endows the only tool that can deter possible confrontation of a nature that has earlier been designated as nightmarish.
India today is in a position to impress upon its adversaries a deterrent relationship based on nuclear war avoidance, with the proviso that the rationale of nuclear weapons as a political tool and a means to preclude a nuclear exchange are recognised and adhered to. China’s galloping entwinement with the rest of the world makes this proposition a real probability; contingent upon our resolve and policies of seeking mutuality with like-minded nations to rally around the single point of preventing reactionary overturning of the status quo. This despite the unilateral tensions that China has precipitated in the East and South China Sea over sovereignty, air defence identification zones and the right to control fishing.
Pakistan is, however, a different cup of tea for it portrays a perilous uncertainty, as would any nation under military control that perceives in nuclear weapons the ultimate Brahmastra. As with that weapon of mass destruction, answers lay not just in the promise of disproportionate retaliation but also in the credible ability to prempt and counter its use. India has in place nuclear weapons driven by a doctrine of NFU and massive retaliation. What its strategic forces must now equip itself with is select conventional hardware that tracks and targets nuclear forces (all under political control). This would provide the pre-emptive teeth to a deterrent relationship that leans so heavily on NFU.
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