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Sunday, July 19, 2009

#1023, 1 May 2003
The Sole ‘Lesson’ of the Iraq War Firdaus AhmedFreelance Writer on Security Affairs
With the fall of Baghdad, military pundits in India will no doubt busy themselves in riding their hobby-horses, presenting these as ‘lessons’ for India and the Indian military. At least of a few of these can be anticipated: India must quickly arm itself with the ‘triad’ to include ICBMs that can range across the Pacific; with UN being effete, the global hegemon must be singularly cultivated; RMA technologies are the future of warfare; aerospace power is the answer; Air Land battle doctrine must be central to joint and combined warfare etc. One ‘lesson’ that will scarcely find mention is that these ‘lessons’ individually and the very exercise of drawing ‘lessons’ may not be valid in the subcontinental context.
The Foreign Minister has already pronounced that India has a more compelling case for ‘pre-emptive war’ with respect to responding to Pakistan. It would appear that the Honorable Minister falters in discerning the distinction between ‘pre-emptive war’ and ‘right of self-defense.’ A plausible Indian case could be that Pakistan’s proxy war in J&K having cumulatively acquired the proportion of an ‘armed attack’ of the order triggering the ‘right to self-defense’ permitted by Article 51 of the UN Charter, India is at liberty to exercise the ‘inherent right.’ This would involve stretching the interpretation of auto-defense in the Article (as has been resorted by Israel in its incursions into Lebanon earlier). This is a better alternative to the assuredly unintended implication of the Minister’s remark that the Charter era having been overthrown by the US action, India can now dispense with the need for legitimacy and legality for its intent and conduct.
On the other hand, pre-emptive war, as the term implies, is the launching of an attack by own forces prior to the impending and imminent launch of an offensive by the adversary. A more robust case can be made for being first ‘off the blocks,’ if it can be proven that the opponent is already ‘on the blocks.’ Surely, it was not the Foreign Minister’s case that Pakistan is in any way inclined to initiate an ‘armed attack,’ conventionally defined, against India. India’s case is that there is already an armed provocation amounting to ‘armed attack’ underway in J&K that permits India to resort to ‘measures’ in ‘self-defense.’ Therefore, it can be adduced that an inadequately, or worse, inaccurately, briefed Foreign Minister used a term currently fashionable but not entirely pertinent to the Indian circumstance.
Likewise, the point is that applicability of the military features of the conflict in the Gulf to our conditions is at best remote. Military enthusiasts would have it that ‘shock and awe’ from missiles and airpower must be swiftly exploited by mechanized sweeps into enemy innards. The fact is that neither the terrain nor the putative ‘enemy’ here would permit such maneuver with impunity. The conditions determining the course of the war in both the Northern and Southern Iraqi theatres do not obtain in our LoC, plains or desert sectors. The relative balance of forces and their professionalism, and, more importantly, the institutional health of the two states, does not lend itself to our borrowing uncritically from the Coalition of the Willing. While the US has chosen its opponents in Afghanistan and Iraq with care, India has no such liberty to emulate American unilateralism. However, just as the US, India cannot afford to be militarily upstaged. Therefore the political feasibility of the military option, how-so-ever-much influenced by the American way of war, is non-existent.
Next, the unfolding of the Iraq War indicates that it was likely launched with the certainty that Iraq had no WMD, despite the propaganda war that tells us otherwise. In India’s case, there is no escaping the logic of a nuclearised backdrop. Given this immutable fact, there are no equivalent objectives to Umm Qasr, leave alone Basra and Baghdad. Therefore, ‘war aims’, ever in the domain of politics, which compel evolution of Indian armed forces in the direction militarists would take us, cannot be envisaged. Any impulse towards this direction can only be attributed to respective lobbies of arms and services, and the CNN-induced hypnosis of security ‘experts’.
It can be expected that both momentum and strategy will ensure continuation of India’s military predominant approach towards Pakistan. Harping on ‘lessons’, lent immediacy by the current unipolar moment, would give defense lobbies the edge over competing sectors, not least of which is the comparatively weak social sector. It is time that balance in the commentary emanating from the strategic community in the aftermath of the Iraq War is restored by debunking these ‘lessons’ and by refocusing on issues and paradigms more germane to South Asian and Indian security.

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