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]

What they asked Mr Krishna

He ducked the question, but a point was made in the asking

This was the second question the new foreign minister had to answer:

Question: This is on Pakistan. Do you think it is a good time for India to pull back troops from the border? What do you think about America increasing aid for Pakistan without making it conditional on stopping cross border terrorism against India?

SM Krishna: We can change our friends, but not our neighbours. In general, we desire to live with all our neighbours in peace and to create a tension free situation with all our neighbours. We stand ready to extend our hand of partnership to Pakistan, if they take determined and credible action to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism operating from there territory. [MEA emphasis added]

See C Raja Mohan’s rather optimistic take on the prospects for Indian foreign policy under S M Krishna’s stewardship. More than ideological certitude or “expertise” a good, sensible head—and Mr Krishna is known to have one—is what a good minister is made of. So let’s hope Raja-Mandala is right on this one.

Update: According to knowledgeable sources, the journalist who asked this question was CNN-IBN’s Parul Malhotra.