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Ensuring security of land frontiers The Excelsior 07 Nov 2023
Speaking at the fire side chat as part of the curtain raiser of the Chanakya dialogue a few days ago, the army chief, General Manoj Pande stated, ‘In my view, the salience of land domain is going to be extremely important, especially in our case.’ Sometime ago, in an interview to a reputed magazine, General Pande, discussing lessons learnt from the Russo-Ukraine crisis mentioned the relevance of hard power as the ‘ultimate instrument’ to preserve national interests when all other instruments of the state have failed, adding that land has been the ‘decisive domain of warfare.’
In a similar vein, General Naravane, the former army chief had mentioned, while discussing the Russo-Ukraine war, ‘Given the character of warfare, boots on the ground will always be there and you cannot do away with that no matter how much technology we have. Only with boots on the ground can you claim the territory as yours.’ Territory would always be at the core of any dispute India would be involved in.
Simultaneously, all service chiefs have emphasized on the importance of Aatmanirbharta of defence. At the same curtain raiser, General Pande mentioned that the country’s security can neither be outsourced nor be dependent on the largesse of others. Banking on imports implies compromising on diplomatic autonomy, as also being impacted by global disruptions. India is compelled to adhere to neutrality in the Russo-Ukraine conflict, as it remains dependent on Russian military supplies and oil, though it could have a different perspective.
It emerges that aspects which have relevance in the Indian context is primacy of securing land frontiers and developing military power as a deterrent.
The government is seeking to draw in the best global manufacturers to invest in defence manufacturing in India. The Indian military market remains amongst the world’s most lucrative. It is well known that disruptive and dual use technologies are changing character of war as also grey zone warfare is emerging as the strategy of choice of nations. Also, unless a nation creates a strong technological base it cannot absorb emerging technologies.
The world has also realized that India plays a crucial role in balancing a rising and hegemonistic China and must be supported in its development of military capabilities to enable it to deter China. Nations are aware that India has no offensive designs and seeks to support its neighbours rather than bully them as China does. Thus, countries are comfortable transferring technology to India, US being the latest.
India’s volatile frontiers, for which the nation always needs to be prepared, are a result of unsettled borders, none of which are likely to be resolved in any near timeframe. Every war that India has fought with Pakistan has been stopping them from grabbing land which it believes belongs to it. Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir only appears to grow by the day and is a means of diverting attention of its public from its economic mess.
Beijing views India as an adversary which is fast developing capabilities to thwart their attempts at changing status quo. Increased focus on infrastructure along the LAC is also intended to warn China that its actions are unacceptable. Recent Chinese actions at salami slicing were an attempt to grab territory which could provide it with an advantage in future military operations. Their refusal to resolve the LAC is aimed to keep India under pressure.
China is also seeking to embarrass India and the easiest way is by occupying key territory, become involved in endless discussions and finally realign the LAC. Simultaneously, China claims that the border dispute must not be linked to normalization of ties which India refuses to accede to. The Indian public is unwilling to accept loss of land, a fact the government understands. Strong land power is thus essential to deter any misadventures.
India continues to face hybrid warfare from both its major adversaries who are working in tandem seeking to stall India’s rise as a major power. By supporting secessionist movements in different parts, both China and Pakistan hope to keep the government’s focus on internal issues. This implies that the CAPFs must be capable of handling internal challenges. Information warfare targeting India and its reputation as a democracy has witnessed an increase in recent times. As elections draw close, this will rise. Unless these are countered, Indian global standing will wane.
In view of a multitude of threats, India needs a whole of government approach, employing both diplomacy and deterrent capability. Simultaneously it needs an armed force built around its core intent of ensuring territorial integrity. This means giving primacy to development of capabilities to deter adversaries from attempting to grab Indian territory, with secondary emphasis on capabilities to project Indian military power abroad.
Technology is a means of enhancing capabilities of a soldier and can never be a replacement, as was evident when Hamas broke through the barriers separating Israel and Gaza, considered as a technology marvel. Similarly, air and naval power should be considered as an added deterrent for any adversary attempting to browbeat India and not institutions which would determine victory.
Wars of the future in the Indian context would be intended to grab disputed territory by any means. They may not be full-scale and along the entire front, especially under a nuclear overhang, but could be limited in scope and intent.
This suggests that land forces need to be provided capabilities to deter misadventures, while other services act as force-multipliers with the ability to support land forces. Capabilities should be of the level that any misadventure would be met by a stronger and suitable response in an area of own choosing. India would never seek to escalate unless compelled to.
With the annual budget currently under discussion, there is a need for the government to consider the quantum it would allocate for securing India’s land frontiers. There is no doubt that there are competing priorities and an election around the corner but at the same time enhancing capabilities must remain a priority. Threats are only likely to increase and neighbours would become bolder in case there are gaps in our defensive capabilities. Defence planners must consider these facts while projecting defence budget demands.