The nuclear umbrella, we would like to believe, has secured India against the threat of conventional war. We just have to contend with the irritants of terrorism and proxy warfare, and the trajectory of these patterns of violence suggests improving capacities of containment, if not resolution. A few planes, warships and submarines, some tanks, artillery and missiles, and a smattering of other military hardware — discarded generations that the great powers hive off at exorbitant prices to what is still substantially a backward country — will not only ensure our security, but put us well on our way to emerging as a global power. All we need is a healthy growth rate, and all will fall into place. Meanwhile, our internal “enemies” can simply be crushed by sheer majoritarian force.
This is the fantasy that fuels the nationalist juggernaut today.
The world, however, is being transformed at a pace few in India’s policy establishment appear to comprehend. At the heart of this transformation are new ways of warfare that obliterate the distinction between domestic and external, between professional soldiers and non-professional “warriors”; battlespaces overlap with the civilian realm. We have moved into an era of what Chinese strategists describe as “unrestricted warfare” that “transcends all boundaries and limits”.
The threat of traditional “blood and iron” wars may have receded — though its resurgence will always remain a possibility, particularly at a time of national weakness. However, the new ways of warfare inject “a different kind of cognitive and cultural violence” that can be no less devastating. Its instrumentalities span the entire spectrum of human activity that can be deployed to inflict harm on the target system, including predatory economics and trade, criminal and terrorist activities, cyber warfare, media manipulation and fabrication, technological and environmental conflict, as well as a wide array of patterns of social and political subversion. Overt or conventional conflict may seem absent, but economic, political and social fissures in the target system can be exploited to engineer disruptions, violence and collapse that are no less devastating.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union was, in fact, a direct consequence of the application of a comparable but relative incipient model of “protracted war” by the US, relying on psychological, political, information, social and economic attacks against the Soviet State.
India is already a target of and vulnerable to the strategies of unrestricted warfare. Terrorism and proxy war have long provoked a national obsession with Pakistan, but it is from China that our gravest dangers arise. It is useful to note the carte blanche Beijing gives to Islamabad in its “war of a thousand cuts” against India, despite loud proclamations of supporting the war against terrorism everywhere; and to recall the cycles of support China has provided to insurgencies in India’s Northeast. But these are identifiable threats, and the violence they inflict steels the national will to react, albeit fitfully.
The instrumentalities of unrestricted warfare, on the other hand, are often celebrated by the target society, even as they destroy the fundamentals of state power. The flooding of Indian markets with cheap Chinese goods, and the range of predatory trade practices designed to evade Indian strategies of response, is a case in point. Indian manufacturers are shutting down, or are rebranding and selling Chinese imports. An increasing proportion of Indian manufacture is on the spectrum of screwdriver technology. Over time, industrial capacities, skills, research and development, entrepreneurship and human resource profiles are being eroded.
At the heart of India’s accruing failure is an incomprehension of the sinews of power, and an obsession with postures and theatre. It is in the military-industrial complex that real power has traditionally been located. States that have invested directly in defence sciences and technology have accumulated power, even as they have prospered economically with the civilian spin-offs of these technological developments. Virtually, the entire gamut of the most powerful civilian technological transformations of the past century have been midwifed by military research.
While investment — consequently, economics — is key, the pivot of the military-industrial complex is research; and research is based on the quality and outreach of the educational infrastructure. All these, in turn, depend on policy and the State’s capacity to secure its intended goals. It is more meaningful, today, to speak of the “military-industrial-academic-bureaucratic” complex.
India’s weakness in each of the elements in this complex are manifest. Deficits are gigantic, and growing. The power of our principal adversary in the region is augmenting exponentially. As Beijing secures dominance in a wide range of emerging technologies, its capacity to inflict harm – both intended and collateral – will expand.
But even as the gap between the economic and technological capabilities of the two countries grows, there has been a regression in India to irrational ideologies of religious extremism and ultra-nationalism, to all that militates against the scientific temper, and against the stability and endurance of the system. There has been a persistent neglect, indeed, active erosion, of scientific and educational institutions across the country. Our dreams of emerging as a great power can only fade on our current trajectory.
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