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#800, 24 July 2002
The Impetus behind Limited War Firdaus AhmedFreelance writer on security issues In his article 'Limited War in a Nuclear Backdrop' PR Chari hints that the armed forces are the constituency behind recent Limited War theorizing and the current impetus to waging Limited War. This is not entirely exceptionable given that the military dimension of national security is viewed as the domain of its social responsibility by the military in any democratic polity. Since the onset of nuclearisation has rendered ‘Total War’ unthinkable, ‘Limited War’ must of necessity be central to the military input into decision making. The military is indeed charged with the responsibility to furnish options that would ensure in conflict ‘limitation’. If it does not address itself to this aspect, in its strategic and operational planes, it would be negligent of its mandate.

There are two other drivers behind military reflection on ‘war in a nuclear backdrop’. One is its own institutional interest, in that the compelling logic of nuclearisation is in the obsolescence of military force as an extension of interstate politics. The argument against this in favour of continued utility of military force is that conventional capability thrusts the nuclear threshold upwards and thereby contributes to security, if only in a perverse manner.

The second motivation is to counter the received theory that ‘deterrence’ is in respect of deterring ‘war’. The Indian military’s contribution has been in contesting accepted wisdom by suggesting that nuclear weapons deter nuclear use rather than ‘war’ itself. The concept has origin in the need to restrict the sub-conventional space created for conflict in the nuclear era – that is being exploited by our neighbour with relative impunity. It is deemed that deterrence for the same is a conventional one, holding out the promise of limited war as conventional retribution.

In the current political circumstance, it is understandable for the military to appear responsive to its conservative political masters. For it to give its position a favourable 'spin' can also be absolved as part of bureaucratic politics. It is a political level prerogative to gauge the acceptability of options provisioned by the military. The military can at best inform the decision maker on the possible consequences of exercise of the military option. In this respect, it would appear that the political leadership has done well enough thus far in not hastening into hostilities. This could also be on account of the military's own apprehensions conveyed to the political leadership, unbeknownst to us for obvious reasons.

It is very likely the case that the military is equally keenly aware of the nuclear factor as is Mr Chari. It makes good sense not to present itself as being overly concerned by the same, lest the adversary take it as license to continue to bleed the country in the manner it has over the past decade. Therefore, for want of more evidence than that overtly available, one can only reserve one's judgment on the manner the Indian military, and indeed the political leadership, has conducted itself in the period of the current crisis.

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