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Sunday, July 19, 2009

#1485, 1 September 2004
'No' To 'Cold Start' Firdaus AhmedFreelance writer on security affairs
Reports during the Army Commander's Conference at Delhi have it that a new Army doctrine is in the pipeline. Details may never be released in keeping with the Army's isolationist tradition. The earlier Training Command generated Army doctrine, named 'Fundamentals and Concepts' and released to the public in a bout of inexplicable glasnost, was equally inexplicably graded classified soon thereafter. Therefore, any reflection on the new doctrine, dubbed 'Cold Start', would very likely be as wanting in information. The present is as apt a time as any since the issue has not as yet been swept away from the public eye. The implications of the new doctrine on nuclear deterrence require to be grappled prior to the next crisis rendering the effort too late. In times of relative peace, peace-mongers need to be as vigilant as Military Operations planners are busy.
News reports let on that the Army envisages a 'cold start' to the next round in which smaller groupings of all arms called 'integrated battle groups' are to carry the war into enemy, read Pakistani, territory. The Army appears to be acting on the 'lessons' of Operation Parakram, in which the mobilized might of the Indian Army was preempted by deft diplomatic action on the part of Pakistan and its new-found patron, the USA. The window exploited by them were the three weeks or so. It took the Army's three 'strike corps' to get into position to 'fight and win the nation's war'. In the event, President Musharraf's speech of 12 January 2002 defused the war situation into what spin doctors have since referred to as 'coercive diplomacy'. A 'cold start' with 'integrated battle groups' will ensure that the Army is on hand to flex its muscles in real time the next time round.
In order to keep the military instrument relevant to the next crisis, the Army appears to be unwittingly narrowing the window of opportunity available to diplomats and crisis managers. The time window was crucial in early January 2002 to extract from General Musharraf his landmark speech of 12 January. Similar crisis management will be precluded next time if 'integrated battle groups' are already on the starting blocks. Secondly, there are credible reports that the last time witnessed a close shave in which one of the 'strike corps' jumped the gun. Such false starts would be more likely with smaller and quicker 'integrated battle groups' available in larger numbers and with relatively greater autonomy. Thirdly, the political head could well be enticed or coerced into contemplating the military option once the means are readily available and arrayed in battle ready formation. The earlier hiatus between ordering mobilization and the decision to wage war will no longer be available for sobriety to sneak in by the back door in a war charged atmosphere. Lastly, the current peace initiatives will lose steam once it is assumed that the military alternative has been revitalized yet again.
The tacit mutual deterrence regime presently operational in the subcontinent will be upset by adoption of the new doctrine. Even President Kalam in a telling faux pas early in his tenure acknowledged that nuclear weapons had kept the peace during Operation Parakram. It can be surmised that Pakistan's decidedly uncertain 'nuclear redline' stayed India's hand to an extent. Besides India was then at a loss as to how to use its 'strike corps' in a manner not to breach the nuclear threshold; this despite having practiced the manoeuver during a media hyped Exercise Purna Vijay ('Total Victory') in stimulated nuclear conditions with a 'strike corps' the preceding year.
Therefore, the Army has come up with the idea of smaller 'battle groups' to wage war more in keeping with its post Operation Vijay doctrine of Limited War. This would also enable the 'salami slicing' of Pakistani territory (referred to by Prawin Sawhney and VK Sood in their Unfinished War), so as to offset its appreciated nuclear 'first use' doctrine. Undermining the Pakistani deterrent in this manner could have the unintended fallout of forcing Pakistan to contemplate deploying tactical nuclear weapons and even further lowering its 'nuclear redline'.
The Indian doctrine formulators perhaps hope that this new operational level doctrine will have the strategic outcome of deterring Pakistan from pursuing its proxy war, with India giving itself the means to respond on a sub-nuclear conventional plane that it earlier lacked, Pakistan would be self-deterred from pursuing its proxy war agenda. Such reasoning could prove disastrously wrong once the 'battle groups' have been launched with the 'strike corps' forming up in their wake. The onus to keep the war 'limited' would then be foisted on Pakistan when its regime is reeling from the Indian attack as also against its political backlash within Pakistan. The 'cold start' doctrine is thus no answer to India's strategic cul de sac, an answer that can only emerge from the peace initiatives underway.

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