The Asian Balance: The case for military diplomacy

The men in uniform can play a useful role in foreign policy

Excerpts from today’s Business Standard column:

India does not engage in military diplomacy in any meaningful form.

This is part of the reason why India finds itself in a bind with respect to Pakistan, where it needs to engage the real power centre but finds itself with no means to. It is not a matter of matching protocol, for it is not purely military matters that we wish to discuss with General Kayani. Washington, in comparison, handles this a lot better through Admiral Mullen and General David Petraeus, the Af-Pak theatre commander, who are the primary interlocutors with the Pakistan army. Given that these admirals and generals are engaged in diplomatic activities of serious importance to India, can we afford to stay out of the military diplomatic loop?

This is not to say that New Delhi must set its generals and admirals off on diplomatic missions next week. Rather, India must make military diplomacy part of its foreign policy toolbox and create the capacities, structures and processes necessary to put it into action.

Diplomacy must enter the syllabuses of our military academies. Trained military officers must be deputed to Indian embassies and missions around the world, both to add to the numbers of defence attaches as well as to perform non-military functions. Not only will this expose military officers to the conduct of diplomacy but also address another problem — the inability of the Indian Foreign Service to ramp up its numbers fast enough to meet the growing demand. Furthermore, the socialisation of defence and foreign service officers through such postings will create benefits in the long term, in terms of greater understanding and policy coordination.

What about structures? As the late K Subrahmanyam consistently argued, India must restructure its armed forces along the lines of the US, with a joint chiefs of staff and tri-service theatre commands. Like it has done for the US, such a structure will lend itself to the conduct of military diplomacy.

However, while we wait for the political and defence establishments to develop an appetite for major reforms, it is possible to make adjustments to the existing structures to get some mileage. Why not make a senior defence officer the National Security Advisor? Why doesn’t the National Security Council have senior military officers in top leadership positions? Indeed, a general in the NSC can well be the point person to engage the Pakistani army establishment. [Read the whole piece at Business Standard]

1 thought on “The Asian Balance: The case for military diplomacy”

  1. A lot of peertinent questions about why India doesn’t utilise Military officers to their maximum potential in relevant spheres. In one word – bureaucracy.

    Tha babu will usurp everyone else’s turf and zealously expand his own. With an indifferent political system, it is the easiest thing to do. Related to me by a person familiar with the incident – some years ago there was a conference of police officers of Asia held in, I think, Thailand. India was the only country whose representative was a Home Secretary not a police official! That explains my point.

    However on opening contact with the Pak Army, though the idea is good on paper, there would seem to be a problem. The US utilise their Military brass to talk with the PA and keep in constant touch because right now they are actually allies involved in an operation. Were the two in adversarial roles, as are India and Pak at the moment, this constant pow wowing would perhaps be absent too. Besides the lines are drawn differently – the PA calls the shot and has authority. Would the Indian establishment be willing to entrust their senior military brass with any authority at all? I think not.

    In India the military is a step child to the politician and the babu. You have Generals commanding a million men and motivating them enough to willingly lay down their lives for a cause merely on their own personal example and leadership qualities. They have no authority to offer any other catalyst such as money etc. Yet, how many military officers does one see in this country at leadership forums and discussions? Zilch! Worth wondering why.

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