K Subrahmanyam on CDS vs CJCS

We need a CJCS, not CDS

In the light of the renewal of the debate on higher defence reform, there were some questions on the late K Subrahmanyam’s views on the matter. In my few interactions with him, Mr Subrahmanyam was resolutely in favour of a US-style Joint Chiefs of Staff and with theatre commands.

In an interview published in the May 2008 issue of Pragati he said:

Modernisation is a complex process. I have said in the Kargil committee report that we have not modernised decision-making process ever since Lord Ismay prescribed it in 1947. Our military command and control have not changed since the second world war. While we are talking about buying modern equipment, the force structure and philosophy go back to the Rommel’s desert campaign and Mountbatten’s South-east Asia Command. Nobody has done anything about it.

Now there is talk about the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) model. It pains me to hear this. The British adopted the CDS system, as they would never fight a war on their own. CDS is not an institution for us. Ours should be the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs and theatre commands below him

In response to an op-ed Sushant & I wrote, where we used the term ‘CDS’, he wrote back (in an email):

The term CDS is an inappropriate one in the Indian context. It is British terminology. CDS in Britain commands all three (Service) forces. This is what made the Indian politicians resist the concept of CDS.

What is called for is a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who will be the primary and senior-most military adviser to the Prime Minister and Defence Minister but without command over any troops. Therefore the reform of Chiefs of staff shedding their command should precede the emergence of CJCS. While this will not be possible to carry out in respect of the Airforce immediately this should be planned for in the longer run.

India should plan for a sixty squadron (air force) in the next 20 years but making theatre commanders fully responsible for operations and making the COAS and CNS wholly Chiefs of staff without command (over) forces can straight away be done. [Email dated 19.11.2008]

The screws, they tighten on Pakistan’s military establishment

Washington is negotiating by other methods

So the Obama administration has announced that it has suspended $800m in aid to the Pakistani military establishment, amounting to around a third of the annual outlay. This is a bold departure from the traditional throw-more-money-at-the-problem approach that has not quite worked for the United States, Pakistan or other countries affected by the depredations of the military-jihadi complex. It does not yet, however, amount to a decision to cut Pakistan loose. (As I advocated in a recent WSJ op-ed).

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, is right when he says a “pause” is not quite the same as “aid cut-off.” In recent weeks, Washington has ratcheted up the pressure on the Pakistani military establishment. (See this post). Cutting off military aid marks a further turning of the knob, albeit a much bigger one. Why? To make the Pakistani military more amenable to doing what Washington wants it to, and what since even before Osama bin Laden’s killing, General Ashfaq Kayani was refusing to do. What might these be? Taking down al-Qaeda linked taliban groups that Pakistan shelters on its soil, permitting US counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan and ensuring that Pakistan’s Afghan proxies do not disrupt a settlement in Kabul.

These are limited objectives. It is premature to conclude that the Obama administration has decided to break with its ally (the Pakistani military establishment), or even to make the rebalancing of civil-military relations a policy goal.

Even so, Washington’s move will have the effect of strengthening the civilian, anti-military political establishment, not least because the country’s elite will see that the all-powerful generals do not have the US behind them. This can galvanise greater opposition to the army although an open revolt is nowhere on the cards. It is unfortunate that at a time when the military establishment is at its weakest, the main political parties are fighting internecine battles. Given the ISI’s history of manipulating the country’s political parties, the eruption of conflict among Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Sharif, Muttahida Quami Movement and Awami National Party might not be a mere coincidence.

As the US reduces its troop levels in Afghanistan and its dependence of Pakistan to provide supply routes, it becomes less beholden to the Pakistani military establishment. Unless Pakistan manages get China and Saudi Arabia to intervene on its behalf, the Obama administration can continue to mount pressure on General Kayani & Co.

The risk now is of the military establishment attempting out-of-the-box solutions to get out of the box.

How to lose friends and alienate people

India’s decision to reject US fighter planes is strategic stupidity

New Delhi, it is reported, has shortlisted two European vendors for its long-drawn procurement of fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force. Now, military analysts can have endless debates and even objective opinions on which among the American, European and Russian aircraft is technically superior and better suits the stated requirements of the IAF. Financial analysts can have similar debates and objective opinions on which is the cheapest or the best value for money. These opinions may or may not converge. But when you are buying 126 planes worth more than $11 billion dollars, you are essentially making a geostrategic decision, not a narrow technical/financial one.

The UPA government’s decision to reject both American proposals, of the F-16 and F/A-18, demonstrates either a poor appreciation of the geostrategic aspect or worse, indicative of a lingering anti-American mindset. While the US ambassador has resigned, whether or not it will prove to be a setback for India-US relations remains to be seen. Damaging the careers of pro-India American officials is a silly thing to do.

This move will most certainly reduce India’s geopolitical leverage with the US military-industrial complex, at a time when India needs it most. From the unfolding dynamics in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, to the changing balance of power in East Asia, to UN Security Council reform, to a number of geoeconomic issues, the United States can take positions that can have long-lasting consequences for India’s interests. Is the United States more likely to be sympathetic to India’s interests after a $11 billion contract—which means much needed jobs for the US economy —is awarded to someone else? Long used to complaining that the United States doesn’t care for India’s interests, will awarding the contract to some European firms help change the situation?

The argument that the European bids were ‘technically’ superior are not entirely credible either, for two reasons. First, at sufficiently high levels of technology, the difference between the planes on offer is marginal. To suggest that the European models are vastly superior defies logic, because some of the world’s most powerful air forces are flying F-16s, leave along F/A-18s. Second, the notion that combat requirements can be perfectly defined at the time of procurement is false. It is the combination of man and machine that wins battles. The focus on machines ignores the reality that much swings on the man flying it. Moreover, given the nuclear deterrence relationships obtaining in the subcontinent and across the Himalayas, those planes might never see an aircraft-to-aircraft dogfight in their lifetimes. For other tasks like air support for ground operations, the specifications are even lower.

What about those alphabet soup agreements and fine-print contracts that the US insists that India sign, that might prevent the planes from being used when needed? Those who make these arguments do not understand what war means. War means all bets are off, and India will do whatever necessary to protect its interests. While the existence of those agreements was a usual bargaining chip for India, to get a discount, to believe that such arguments will hamstring India’s military options is naivete. The government might not need to spell this out in public, but it should know it.

It has been this blog’s argument that in the contemporary geopolitical environment, India’s interests are best served by being a swing power, holding the balance between the United States and China. It must enjoy better relations with each of them than they have with each other. It must also have the credible capacity to give pleasure and inflict pain. In this context, buying fighter planes from the United States would have been an excellent move.

And who has New Delhi shortlisted instead? European companies. The European Union is a bit player in the international system, zealously safeguarding its own legacy position at the United Nations Security Council, the G-20, the World Bank, IMF and other places, against India. Italy is engaged in process of blocking India’s UNSC candidature. An order placed with Eurofighter or Rafael isn’t going to change its plans. EU busybodies can be found everywhere from inviting Kashmiri separatists to speak, to attending court hearings of Binayak Sen. Some small EU states almost wrecked the India-specific waiver that the United States was obtaining at the Nuclear Supplier’s Group. When it’s crunch time in Afghanistan, does anyone in New Delhi think that the EU will or can make any move that’ll safeguard India’s interests? Why is India being gratuitously generous to Europe when there is much to gain from giving the contract to the United States?

Yes, France, Britain and Germany are countries that India must engage. There are ways to allow them to benefit from India’s growth process—from power projects to manufacturing to services. The fighter aircraft contract need not be awarded to European firms, because it has higher strategic opportunity costs.

The downshot is that the UPA government has squandered a unique opportunity to gain leverage in Washington at a crucial time when closer ties are in India’s interests. It first took way too long to decide, dragging the procurement process even China built its own new fighter plane. It now decided to pick two vendors who might well sell a technically superior and cheaper product, but do no more than that. To put it mildly, this is strategic stupidity.

Update: [April 29th] This post and related tweets were quoted in the Times of India and New York Times today.
My colleague Dhruva Jaishankar has a different take over at Polaris. Offstumped has it in a nutshell.

Reforming the home ministry’s troops

In my DNA column – why India’s paramilitary forces need structural reform

This is an excerpt from the article that appears in today’s DNA.

Why do we need BSF for the border with Pakistan, but separate forces called ITBP for the border with China and the Sashastra Seema Bal for the borders with Nepal and Bhutan? Why should the Assam Rifles be distinct from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)? My colleague Bibhu Prasad Routray argues that it is a good idea to merge the various central paramilitary forces into a single force. Indeed, given that most of them are doing each others’ jobs anyway, wouldn’t it make sense to bring them under one chain of command? If this is way too radical, then why not rationalise them into three forces with distinct roles—internal security, border security and infrastructure security? This is as good for accountability as it is for the forces to develop greater competence within their domains.

In fact, massive expansion of central paramilitary forces without structural reforms could end up being counterproductive. The most important links in the internal security chain are the beat constable, the local police station and the deputy superintendent of police. Policing is a state subject. The massive expansion of central para-military forces after 26/11 belies the total refusal of all state governments to implement the Supreme Court-ordered police reforms. Indian states persist with a colonial police structure designed to keep a subject population under the rulers’ thumb. Persuading them to change is hard enough. If a state government comes to believe that it has easy access to large numbers of central forces, it will have fewer incentives to improve its own police force.

The goal of internal security should not be about sending the CRPF (and certainly not the BSF) to Hyderabad. It should be about ensuring that the Andhra Pradesh police can handle the task without outside help. [DNA]

How to spot the next revolution

Demographics, mobile phone penetration and the army’s disposition

Earlier this month, after the protests in Tunisia caused the reigning despot to fly to Saudi Arabia, this blogger said that the phenomenon is unlikely to spread. In the event this was proven wrong by Egypt. Bear this in mind as you read the rest of this post.

How can we tell which country is susceptible to political transformation brought about by “people power”? Here’s a rough guide:

First, look at demographics. Scholars such as Samuel Huntington, Jack Goldstone, Gunnar Heinsohn and Henrik Urdal argue that if there are a large number of young, healthy, educated and dissatisfied men, the stage is set for unrest. Of these Mr Heinsohn goes the furthest, predicting that when the population of 15 to 29-year-olds crosses 30 percent of the overall population, then, regardless of the cause, violence will ensue. The countries of sub-Saharan Africa, Arab North Africa, the mainland Arabia and Pakistan meet this criterion. Turkey and Iran are exceptions. [Related link: The New Security Beat blog has a good discussion on this]

Second, look at mobile telephone and internet penetration. Mobilising large numbers of people in short periods of time requires ubiquitous access to mobile phones and the internet. This is important because state machinery can pre-empt large protests if they have enough time to identify, intimidate or imprison the field organisers. That is why Twitter (and to an extent Facebook) beat SMS text messages, and why text messages beat phone calls and pamphlets. A tweet is likely to reach any given fraction of the population orders of magnitude faster than a SMS text message. Most importantly, they work in combination—a tweet can be relayed on SMS, and vice versa.

(In fact, the failure to account for this factor might be one reason why I underestimated the likelihood Egypt will stir. Both Hosni Mubarak and I might have been stumped by the speed of the mobilisation.)

While technology allows faster mobilisation, it does not create leadership or an alternative political vision. It is not surprising that some of the recent “leaderless” uprisings do not have a clear idea of “what next?” beyond the toppling of the current regime. What this means is that organised political groups—like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt—can wait for the uprising to oust the incumbent, even let a transition government operate for a while, before stepping in to take over. Not unlike what the Pakistani military-jihadi complex did following the ouster of General Musharraf.

Third, when it comes to the crunch, look at whether the security forces—specifically the army—will fire upon their own people. This is both a yes/no question, as well as a question of extent.

In countries with compulsory military service, it is less likely that the army will fire on its own people. In countries where the armed forces are insulated from the general public—culturally, socio-economically or ideologically—then it is more likely that the army will not have such compunctions. That is why Iran has a special revolutionary guard that is distinct from the army. This is also why the Pakistani army engages in massive domestic skulduggery, because its leaders do not want to be in a situation where they have to fire at Pakistanis from the Punjabi heartland.

Worked Examples

Tunisia
Demographics: median age 29, (borderline) check.
Mobile phone penetration 95.3%, check. Internet 4.5% no check.
Army: Didn’t fire

Egypt
Demographics: median age 24, check.
Mobile phone penetration 77%, check. Internet 21.1% no check.
Army: ?

The rest is left as an exercise for the interested reader.

What triggered the Lahore massacre?

Bigotry was an unlikely trigger

“How can anyone blame a Muslim,” the Supreme Court of Pakistan asked rhetorically in a landmark 1993 judgement, “if he loses control of himself on hearing, reading or seeing such blasphemous material as has been produced (by the Ahmadis).”

Initial reactions to the terrorist attack on two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore yesterday have focused on the official and popular bigotry against the heterodox sect in Pakistan. Intolerance towards the Ahmadi community is being seen as the explanation behind the massacre of worshippers, allegedly and by their own admission, by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, and the ‘Punjab wing of al-Qaeda’.

While that narrative explains why the Ahmadis were targeted at all, it does not answer the important question of “why now?” Ahmadis have been victims of official discrimination, political violence and popular invective for as long as Pakistan has existed. ‘Sectarian’ terrorist groups like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and the al Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have not only been in existence for a long time but are political allies of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the party that is in power in Punjab province.
Organisations like these had the capability and the motives to massacre Ahmadis all this while, but until yesterday, the violence was ‘below the radar’.

There is a need, therefore, to look beyond religious bigotry as the immediate cause of yesterday’s violence.

Tthe attacks could have been triggered by the allegation—by Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir—that the controversial Khaled Khawaja was, among others, working for the Ahmadis. Because Mr Mir’s words were widely publicised it is possible that hotheads in one or more of the militant groups decided to deliver a violent response. While this has happened in the past—as when a television personality’s anti-Ahmadi vitriol triggered a lynching—it was never on this scale.

If the Lahore attacks indicate that reactionary violence has escalated to this scale, then Pakistan is closer to the precipice that many people think. It is also unlikely. Instead, the scale of the attacks and the choice of the targets suggests that the Pakistani military establishment has once again, used terrorism to change the dynamics of its current situation. The large number of casualties will grab international attention. That the targets were Ahmadis will not play too badly with the domestic audience. But why?

The Pakistani military establishment uses terrorism essentially to create conditions that are favourable to its leadership and interests.

First, Taliban violence in Afghanistan primarily rises and falls with Washington’s moves away and towards Pakistan’s proxies there.

Second, terrorist attacks in Pakistan primarily rise and fall with Washington’s moves away and towards the Pakistani military establishment. Scaring the United States with the bogey of jihadis getting hold of nuclear weapons is an old, time-tested way for the army chief to be anointed with sash of indispensability. Escalating violence or triggering political crises also allow the military establishment to fend off US pressure to do things that it does not want to do.

Third, terrorist attacks in India primarily rise and fall with the Pakistani army’s need for an alibi to avoid fighting along the Durand Line. They are also connected with ensuring that the Pakistan army remains the real power in the country, regardless of what the civilian government wishes.

For the last several months, it appeared that General Kayani was having his way with the United States—with the London conference, strategic dialogue with the Obama administration, inflow of funds and so on. Compared to the violence of the previous year, things were relatively quiet in Pakistan…until Faisal Shahzad turned up and rocked the military establishment’s boat. Suddenly, not only was Hillary Clinton warning of dire consequences, but the US national security advisor and CIA chief personally put the Pakistan army on notice to move against militants in Waziristan. Meanwhile General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani is looking for ways not to retire on schedule.

As long as the United States keeps the pressure on the army to move into North Waziristan, there is a higher risk of terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The risk increases to the extent that there is a lack of clarity as to whether General Kayani will stay on.

Factional power struggle in Beijing

Cadres are competing to out-tough each other

“So much bungling in such a short period of time—from a regime that is seen as a deliberate, strategic player—rules out mere incompetence” this blog wrote in July this year. “While an outright leadership struggle is be unlikely, it could well be that a fratricidal war of succession is raging in Beijing.”

Well, the Sydney Morning Herald’s John Garnaut reports that’s what is going on. (via The Peking Duck & The Paper Tiger)

There are some well-connected political observers in Beijing who believe that the party’s recent across-the-board political and security tightening, including a ruthless attack on the legal profession, is linked to efforts by the vice-president, Xi Jinping, to secure the leadership of the country by 2012.

They say Xi is desperately wooing the hardliners, mainly allies of former president Jiang Zemin, who control the party’s core security apparatus: internal security, propaganda and the military. Xi’s immediate goal is to lock in a promotion to be vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission this month, in time for the National Day military extravaganza on October 1. President Hu Jintao received the same promotion at the same point in his transition to the leadership in 2002.

Beyond Xi, senior party figures are manoeuvring to get themselves or their allies into the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee by the time of the next party congress in 2012. Everywhere, cadres are competing to out-tough each other.

The internal competition is more unpredictable than usual because the party no longer has any god-like revolutionary heroes to defer to. [SMH]

Did General Kapoor really call for a review of NFU?

Mistaken nuclear strategy or mistaken media management?

It might well be that General Deepak Kapoor’s remarks on Pakistan’s fast-expanding nuclear arsenal were blown out of proportion by the media. A Times News Network (TNN) headline in the Times of India yesterday said that India “(may) have to revisit nuclear no-first use policy: Army chief” but the accompanying report did not quote him as having said that. The report says that “Kapoor’s implied suggestion that India could have to revisit its no-first use policy in case the strength of Pakistan’s nuclear was close to what had been claimed, will challenge a long held position.” But since it does not carry his words verbatim, the reader must rely on the reporter’s opinion on what the army chief might have implied.

Other reports, including in the Economic Times, TOI’s sister publication, and Indian Express do quote General Kapoor. He said:

There is a difference between having a degree of deterrence, which is required for one’s own protection, and going beyond that. If news reports of them having 70-90 atomic bombs are correct then, I think, they are going well beyond the so-called requirement of deterrence and that is something which is of concern to all of us.” [ET]

Unless there are other reports it does appear that the general fell victim to some irresponsible sensationalisation and media malpractice. General Kapoor’s comment that Pakistan’s nuclear expansion is “of concern” is reasonable, although this blog has argued that it is more of a concern to the international community than to India. But from what can be gathered from other reports, he did not specifically mention or imply that India should review its no-first-use nuclear doctrine. Perhaps he should have been more careful in choosing his words and fully account for the possibility that sections of the Indian media would think nothing of putting words into his mouth merely to create a sensation.

In the event that General Kapoor did say or imply that an increase in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal warrants a review of the no-first-use doctrine, he would not only be wrong, but irresponsible (which, in this context, might be worse than being merely wrong). As K Subrahmanyam points out in a magesterial op-ed in the Indian Express today:

If today an increase in the Pakistani nuclear stockpile and the development of Babar cruise missile cause concern about a decapitating first strike, then the logical remedy is not to abandon our NFU but to provide for credible, visible succession for both political and military command, and to streamline the chain of command. [IE]

If General Kapoor was misquoted, the army headquarters would do well to issue a clarification. To the extent that the episode draws attention to the need for better governance of India’s strategic arsenal, some good might yet come of it. (See my article on the lines of nuclear succession)

R Venkataraman, RIP

Constitution-maker, defence minister, president

Former president Ramaswamy Venkataraman passed away in New Delhi today, aged 98. He was a member of the constituent assembly and rose to become president of the republic during a critical period in its history. His contribution to India’s strategic security is less well-known, but very significant. As defence minister in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet in 1983 he set-up a unique committee consisting of the three service chiefs, the top defence ministry bureaucrats and the top scientists in charge of India’s nuclear and missile development programmes. The biggest decision he made was to ask Dr V S Arunachalam and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam to accelerate the ballistic missile development programme by running five projects in parallel. It was Mr Venkataraman who allocated Rs 388 crores for the Integrated Guided Missiles Development Programme (IGMDP) that gave India the Agni, Prithvi, Akash, Trishul and Nag missiles.

In Wings of Fire, Dr Kalam writes: “He advised us to list all the resources we needed to achieve our goals, overlooking nothing, and then include in the list our own positive imagination and faith. “What you imagine, is what will transpire. What you believe is what you will achieve,” he said.”

Defence, public goods and effectiveness of provision

Illuminating a Pakistani debate

Two of Pakistan’s perspicacious commentators on military affairs have thrown in their arguments on the issue of whether defence is a public good. [See Ayesha Siddiqa’s piece in Dawn and Ejaz Haider’s response in Daily Times]

Some confusion arises because they conflate defence and the military. The use of the word adjective military as a synonym for armed forces (noun), in the American style, is already a source of confusion. But it’s not hard to inject clarity into the debate.

The simplest definition of a public good in economics is something that is non-rival and non-excludable. In other words, something is a public good when one person’s consumption does not come at the cost of another’s, and when it is exceedingly difficult to prevent any person from using or benefiting from its use. Like the perfect black body that is familiar to students of physics, perfect public goods do not exist, yet the concept helps create analytical frameworks and derive public policy prescriptions.

So national defence, an abstract noun, is a public good. It is so in Pakistan as much as it is in South Africa and Mexico. It is so because when Pakistan defends Dr Siddiqa against an invasion by Mexico, it does so without subtracting from Mr Haider’s defence; and also because when it defends either of them, it can’t exclude their editors from protection against the Mexican invasion. There is no real debate on whether defence in the abstract is a public good or not.

But because Pakistan, like most countries, employs professional armed forces (the ‘military’) to provide the defence, the debate then becomes one of how efficient and effective the armed forces are in providing the public good. It’s no different from debating just how effective is the national environmental agency in ensuring that there is fresh air in the country.

That is the problem with Dr Siddiqa’s argument that “defence is a public good so long as it is beneficial to the general public. When it is restricted to a few hundred or thousand people, then it ceases to be a public good, which must be provided for all.” She should have said that Pakistan’s armed forces are not effective in providing the public good, effectiveness being the ratio of actual beneficiaries to the targeted beneficiaries. Since this is a wonkish post, it doesn’t hurt to add that efficiency is another criteria by which the provision of public goods might be assessed. Efficiency is about bang for the buck, and is the matter for another debate.