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#816, 11 August 2002
The Need to Revisit Conventional Doctrine Firdaus AhmedFreelance writer on security issues
Nuclear Risk Reduction Measures have rightly attracted considerable attention, energized by the standoff between the two South Asian nuclear powers. While technical means to emplace them have been the preoccupation, these presuppose an element of trust obtaining, which is absent in the subcontinent. Therefore, the effort should be on attaining a modicum of trust, beginning with talks, even ‘talks about talks’. An additional element required that has been missing thus far from the discussion is conventional doctrine and its implications for the nuclear doctrine of both countries.
This point is highlighted because nuclear risk reduction implies raising of the nuclear threshold. From a survey of current conventional doctrines it appears that they can dangerously lower the threshold, and therefore require early revision. This is unlikely to be initiated by either military, and requires the sensitization of political heads to the issue, besides public and international scrutiny to press for political supervision of the doctrine generation domain – which is otherwise seen as being the preserve of professional autonomy.
Pakistani conventional doctrine, discerned by its validation during the Zarb-e-Momin exercises, can be characterized as one of ‘offensive defence’. Being confronted by a superior power and lacking strategic depth, it seeks to carry the war into enemy territory by getting first off the mark. The implications of this aggressive doctrine is the pressure the military can build on strategic decision makers for seizing the initiative in times of crisis. This has a bearing on crisis stability appreciating that the decision-making apparatus in Pakistan is a military preserve. In the current circumstances with Indian forces threateningly deployed across the border, it is good luck, not good sense, which has stayed the Pakistani hand. The current favourable circumstances, in having the sole superpower enmeshed in the neighbourhood, may not obtain again. Besides, several studies inform us of the dangerous effects of misperception on crisis management. Therefore, there is a case for revisiting Pakistani conventional doctrine, to build into it elements of confidence and stability by measures other than preemption.
A look at Indian conventional doctrine reveals a change therein towards war fighting doctrine – from set piece attrition-oriented operations of the industrial age to fluid mobile operational capabilities suited to the nuclear age. The focus is on speedily exploiting breakthroughs across a front by the exercise of operational innovations. The aim is to force mechanized forces through the enemy innards to paralyze him. This, by definition, entails striking worthwhile objectives in depth. It can be reasonably assumed that such war aims may invite a nuclear response. Lately, the theorizing on ‘limited war’ hints that limited war aims may reduce worthwhile objectives to inconsequential ones. This brings into question their relevance to Indian war aims. It is therefore evident that limited war theorizing does not resolve the problem that conventional war doctrine poses in the nuclear era. It bears mention that reports put Indian force levels capable of achieving such deep thrusts at three armoured divisions. The proactive roles sought for the air force, of destroying enemy infrastructure, and for the navy, by implementing a blockade – lessons thrown up by the Gulf War – is relevant in that they lower the nuclear threshold.
Since nuclear risk reduction is a priority, it is important that the scope is enlarged from military-technical and political measures to include those generally neglected as they are viewed as being essentially the military’s internal business. Since militaries are conservative institutions in which the induction of a new idea is more difficult than revising an earlier belief, there is a requirement for concerted political pressure to get the military to revise their doctrine. Such pressure is unlikely to be initiated by the political dispensations in power on either side of the border. It will have to be built in the public domain by discerning intellectuals and self-critical strategists. This is an effort that awaits a beginning.

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