Inaugural Address by

Raksha Mantri

At 09:30 on January 5, 2000


National Seminar organised by IDSA on



(Gulmohar, Habitat Centre, New Delhi)


It is indeed a pleasant duty to inaugurate this seminar on "Challenges of Limited War" organised by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Against the backdrop of a Limited War that we were recently engaged. But what is even more important in, it is that the Institute engage our security community and the defence establishment in debate and discussions on the factors and parameters that are likely to affect our national defence in the coming years and decades.

The type of defence our country will need to cater for during the new century, depends on the nature of the challenges and threats as well as our own thinking and planning on how we intend to fight and win those wars. Over the decades, since the Second World War, defence authorities world wide, have accepted that any future war will have to be fought with the forces "in being", since it would not be possible to create new capabilities within the time in which the challenge would alter into a threat, and the threat into the reality of an operational scenario. While the great advances in military technology enable us to impact in much greater way than in the earlier decades, the time and money needed to make it available operationally has also increased substantively. Given the inevitable limitation on national resources for defence, the premium on making the right choices increases tremendously. The fact that such choices may have to be made years and even decades, before the systems might actually be called upon in operational use, create their own parameters. Long-term planning, therefore, is critical in every aspect. Defence decisions of today affect current strategy, but they really become critical in terms of future capabilities. The type of manpower, and technology demands may be noted from the fact that the Chiefs of Staff of our defence forces in 2030 are already in uniform and were in the academies recently; and the weapons systems designed recently would be still the mainstay of the defence forces at that time. Similarly, military strategy, doctrine and training need to be forward looking in order to avoid preparing for the last war.

Over-riding priorities of socio-economic development of our people define the framework within which defence policy has to be situated. India has traditionally pursued a non-aggressive, non-provocative defence policy, based on the philosophy of defensive-defence. This represents the political doctrine of employing military power. But military efficiency will continue to demand the pursuit of the principle that "offence is the best means of defence." These and other factors lead to a certain limitations, essentially political and economic in nature, on the way we should employ our defence capability and forces in future. But protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity remain vital in this context. The problem is that our desire for peace (so that human development could be pursued unhindered), our policy of restraint, our philosophy of defensive-defence, and our desire to keep armed conflict limited, unfortunately may have been perceived in many quarters as a sign of weakness; as a manifestation of unwillingness to defend ourselves. The result has been that numerous wars (including the one last year) and armed conflicts have been imposed on us. There has been no war that was initiated by India. Yet, we kept all the wars "limited" in the past. No civilian targets were attacked, and the wars were terminated at the earliest opportunity.

We had understood the dynamics of limited war especially after India declared its nuclear weapons status nearly two years ago. Nuclear weapons did not make war obsolete; they simply imposed another dimension on the way warfare could be conducted. The Kargil War, therefore, was handled within this perspective with obvious results. Pakistan, on the other hand, had convinced itself for decades, that under the nuclear umbrella it would be able to take Kashmir without India being able to punish it in return. The covert war against India was started in mid-1980s based on the same premise. This certainly created a continuing tragedy for innocent people in India; but the fundamental error of such policy was clear if anyone wanted to see it. There was a worse error of judgement that Pakistan made after the nuclear tests in May 1998 when its elites started believing that India would be deterred in any war imposed on it, and will not fight back. There was a perception that the overt nuclear status had ensured that covert war could continue and aggression across the Line of Control could be carried out while India would be deterred by the nuclear factor.

In fact, Pakistan did hold out a nuclear threat (on May 31, 1999) and its Chief Executive has repeated it yesterday. Obviously they have not absorbed the real meaning of nuclearisation: that it can deter only the use of nuclear weapons, but not all and any war. Elementary reading of history would tell us that thirty years ago (in 1969) two nuclear-armed neighbouring countries – China and the Soviet Union – had fought a bitter war across their borders. So the issue was not that war had been made obsolete by nuclear weapons, and that covert war by proxy was the only option, but that conventional war remained feasible, though with definite limitations, if escalation across the nuclear threshold was to be avoided. China has been emphasising its military doctrine, based on the assessment, that "local, border wars" would be the pattern in future. India’s success was due to the ability of our defence forces to fight and win such a limited war at a time, ground, and means of fighting chosen by the aggressor. If India can beat a professional military force equipped with modern firepower, at the ground (with Pakistani forces on dominating heights) and time of Pakistani choice, with the initiative also in their hand, then India can beat Pakistan anytime anywhere.

Much has changed in recent years that requires us to reflect on the nature of wars that we might have to fight in future. There are many global trends that we will need to monitor and take note of in our own context. The methods of employing military power have been undergoing significant changes. Use of armed force has moved much closer to the process of diplomacy. Historically, the soldiers took over when the diplomats failed; and the diplomats had to take over again when the soldier came up against a block. In more modern times the soldier and the diplomat need to work hand in hand, particularly since the application of military power, can serve rational purpose only if directed by political goals and objectives. Wars are becoming increasingly more expensive to conduct, and the vulnerability of states to war, has been increasing. And so the question: what sort of war are we likely to face in, say, the next five, or twenty years, and, what sort of capabilities should we create for that purpose? The building of such capabilities has to start much ahead of the time they would be needed. And this requires deep understanding of the trends and parameters that would affect the nature of war and war-fighting in future. This would also require assessing the type, nature and scope of limitations that would affect such wars, and how to succeed within their framework?

The political necessity to ensure that war and armed conflict do not disturb our goal and efforts in the field of human development continues, perhaps were than ever before. Hence, while war, in our context, was kept limited in the past by choice, our interests would require that it should be kept limited in future as a matter of necessity. The most important reason for this is the nuclearisation of our security environment since the early 1960s on one side, and the late 1980s on the other. We need, therefore, to ensure that conventional war, whenever imposed on us in future, is kept below the nuclear threshold. This will require close examination of our doctrine, defence strategy and force structure.

Our primary goal will continue to remain the prevention of war and armed conflict. This would require requisite deterrence strategy at the conventional as well as nuclear levels along with the means and methods of ensuring it with minimum investment of resources. This process will also involve assessment of how to deal with failure of deterrence, resulting in war being imposed on us; and ensuring that such a war is concluded at the earliest, at our terms, and in tune with our interests. Our capabilities should be built up toward these goals and kept under continuous review.

It is in this context that I welcome this seminar as timely and important. I have seen the background papers and feel that they provide a useful basis for professional discussions. We will look forward to the outcome of the your deliberations and recommendations. There is, of course, no finality in such a process. I hope the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis will treat the present exercise as the starting point of a regular debate in the country to provide the backdrop and inputs in decision making for future defence of India.



1,560 words/31 Dec 99.