Friday, February 3rd, 2023 03:31:39

Today’s Era is Not of War : A Strong Nation Needs a Strong Military

By Lt Gen (Dr) JS Bajwa
Updated: January 3, 2023 8:27 am

“I know today’s era is not of war…… that democracy, diplomacy and dialogue touch the entire world.”

Prime Minister Modi’s opening remarks at meeting with Putin. 16 September 2022.

On the face of it the two quotes in the title seem to be dichotomous. We will see.


‘Si vispacem, para bellum’ is a Latin adage, 2000 years old, translated as, “If you want peace, prepare for war” (usually interpreted as meaning through strength – a strong society being less likely to be attacked by enemies). Let me start with some very basic issues. The word ‘enemy’ is used quite glibly. It actually denotes one who actively opposes someone or something. The Latin word inimicus, meaning ‘hostile, unfriendly’, is the root of the word enemy and comes from the prefix in-, or ‘not’, and amicus, ‘friend’: an enemy is ‘not a friend’. Thus when two armies fight each other, they both think of the opposing army as the enemy.

Armies training to fight also prepare psychologically to ‘hate’ the enemy so that there is no empathic hesitation when the enemy is in the cross-hairs to squeeze the trigger of the weapon or jab the bayonet in the enemy’s guts. This sort of preparation was also evident in the hey days of Cassius Clay Jr (Muhammad Ali) and his heavyweight boxing opponents wherein they ran a full-fledged hate campaign against each other calling the other names and threatening each other with dire consequences in the boxing ring. And today one is witness to similar vociferous tirades before the WWF bouts on the umpteen sports channels on television.

Reverting back to the issue at hand. War is not just a simple disagreement between countries. It leads to turmoil and upheaval of peace for both parties involved. As a flyer, one of the various interpretations of war itself may be noteworthy. One of these says that – ‘war is an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will, the object being to render the enemy powerless; and that in theory is the real aim of war’.

When seen objectively war has been linked to an act of physical violence to render the enemy powerless.

Today’s hybrid wars are evolving on the lines of ‘whole of government’ approach. The use of economic muscle and sanctions, diplomatic coercion, appeasement, fake news and propaganda, isolation or containment, non-attributable cyber warfare, deterrence and even compellence are put into effect independently as also as a package.

However, today, countries and their militaries are fairly evenly matched. To compel an adversary to submit to the opponents will by force may not be so easily achieved. Therefore, these actions are just a prelude to the actual violent kinetic engagement of forces which becomes inevitable as a last resort.

Often, wars may also lead to newer ways to solve conflicts. It is true that armed conflicts result in death, displacement and devastation, but armed conflicts can also result in removing political leaders, changing despotic autocratic or fundamentalistic regimes thereby liberating oppressed populations. Last but not least it can lead to destruction or even in the balkanisation of a state.

Some analysts opine that on a certain level peace is a negative concept. It cannot exist without war, just like death is a meaningless concept without life. In other words, it should be taken that if there is no war it would naturally imply that there should be peace!? In the India-Pakistan scenario on the Line of Control, since 1989, there may not be any war but neither is there peace.

The prevailing situation, in the Indian Army parlance, is called “No War No Peace” (NWNP). Since 1947, Pakistan has fought four wars with India, three specifically related to the political and strategic intent in altering the status of Jammu and Kashmir on a permanent basis. Pakistan was defeated in these three wars without them achieving their set objects.

Pakistan has indulged in all sorts of hostile acts like sub-conventional war, proxy war and abetted terrorism in the Kashmir Valley. It has made Kashmir Valley, in particular, a hell-hole for the population, displacing the original ancient inhabitants of the Valley and has deeply divided a homogeneous society which will not easily come together for considerable time to come in the future. So even though there has been no war with Pakistan since 1999, peace between the two countries does not prevail. Regrettably, due to their own strategic interests the US, UK and China have been sheltering Pakistan.

The case is not too different along India’s Northern borders with Tibet (now occupied by China and called the Line of Actual Control – a name China unilaterally gave to this border in 1959).India and Tibet had co-existed peacefully as neighbours for centuries. There was never any major dispute regarding the border which had been accepted by custom and religious traditions between the two. The border dispute was orchestrated and created by Mao for larger long term strategic intentions other than mere territorial claims.

Despite the existence of a number of Treaties and Agreements, China continues to indulge in unilaterally changing the status along the LAC through its unprovoked aggressive actions. India and China fought a war in 1962 but that has not resulted in any peace with that country.

The boundary issue is always simmering in the background and is generally ratcheted up by China randomly at will. While there may be those who say that “true peace” is a positive concept, signifying harmony in world affairs or perhaps well managed social conflict, it will never apply to two neighbouring adversaries where there exists a territorial dispute between them.

Territorial disputes are directly linked to a nations sovereignty and hence will not be solved by negotiations. Since negotiations, in simple terms, means give and take and involves comprise.

Which government will dare to compromise on its territorial claims? A democratic government cannot and one that is a quasi-democracy controlled by the military and the other that is a one Party controlled dictatorial state, surely will not.

The United Nations (UN) was created in 1945 following the devastation of the Second World War, with a central mission: maintenance of international peace and security. The UN accomplishes this by working to prevent conflict, helping parties in the conflict to make peace, deploy peacekeepers and creating conditions to allow peace to hold and flourish by ‘peace-making’.

The UN Security Council (UNSC) is responsible for determining the existence of a threat to peace or an act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of settlement. In theory it is plausible but in reality it is politically naive and ultra-utopian.

From the very outset the five permanent members of the UNSC with veto powers got divided into two ideological camps and never saw eye to eye. That divided the world into three, not two, distinct ideological camps. One aligned with the liberal free West, the other with the Communists and a third who did not wish to align with either – the Non-Aligned group. Of course in reality due to economic and security needs the Non-Aligned group had covert leanings to one or the other side despite claiming to be non-aligned.

Thus the UNSC did not live up to the idealistic agenda that was set for it. Until February 2022 only North America and Europe were spared from unrest, internal displacement and the ravages of conflicts which raged in the rest of the world where the two powers, US and USSR, fought out their proxy wars.

The US with its Western partners and Russia along with China, have tended to manipulate the agenda in the UNSC to suit their national interests. When it did not suit them the veto card was played without much compunction or care for the others sensitivities.

Today UN General Assembly, too, has been reduced to a forum of ‘jaw-jaw’. Issues of substance are brushed aside. Heads of states raise bilateral issues between nations rather than matters relevant to larger global and humanitarian concerns. Even at the cost of repetition, reform of the UNSC is a matter that cannot be sidelined any longer as it will only make the organisation more irrelevant in global affairs. USA, UK and China are the ones which are deliberately putting spokes in the wheel even while they clamorously proffer global multilateralism.

There is a ‘democratic peace theory’ which predicates that democracies are hesitant to engage in armed conflict with other similar democracies. There are variations of this democratic peace theory which talk of democracies that are generally more peaceful in their international relations (‘monadic’); democracies that do not go to war with other democracies (‘dyadic’); and with more democratic states in the international system which makes the international system more peaceful (‘systemic’).

It is hypothesized that democratic publics are more ‘dovish’ in their interaction with democracies and that democratically elected leaders are more likely to resort to resort to peaceful resolution in disputes. With institutional checks and balances, accountability of leaders to the public make it harder for democratic leaders to go to war unless there are clearly favourable ratio of benefits to costs.

It, therefore, makes it harder for democratic leaders to mobilise for war and initiate surprise attacks which reduces fear and as a consequence, inadvertent escalation of war. The West has always vociferously pursued the agenda of ‘democracy and individual freedom’ as the ideal system of governance which has led to its many interventions and conflicts in the rest of the world.

Ironically, at the same time the US has cosy relations with dictators and autocrats since it suits its interests and enables it to undermine USSR (prior to 1990) and Russia now. Such duplicitous philandering dents the moral authority of the regime. Also, as a matter fact, there are many shades of democracies. In many of the countries the right to vote is the only freedom allowed to the citizen in their democracies so as to put up the necessary façade.

After having secured ‘legitimacy’ of being a democracy the people are sidelined and the business of cronyism and corruption becomes rampant. Autocracy and such like pseudo democracies are more likely to indulge in wars just to divert attention of their internal governance shortcomings and failures which puts the regime is under pressure.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said: “The US Navy is an infinitely more potent factor for peace than all the peace societies of every kind and sort.” The need for a strong military begins with the mission to fight and win wars, but it does not end there. Nations have long appreciated that a formidable military can produce abundant diplomatic and economic dividends even in times of no war. US military capability supported that nations rise to global greatness over the past century, but this was often because of increased influence and credibility of the military potential rather than the overt use of this force.

There are many ways beyond the kinetic use of force that a strong military capability gives to the nation. It fortifies national power and global influence. Indicators of such capability are evidenced in the country’s matching defence budget; its advanced and well-funded defence oriented R&D; accompanied by a robust defence manufacturing industry that is supported by a broad based ecosystem; a clear security doctrine. All these go to strengthening a nation in manifest other ways.

A well-equipped defence enhances the nations capability and influence virtually across all other elements of national power: its economy, diplomacy, bilateral relations and its standing in various international forums where decisions impacting the country’s interest are formulated. Conversely, an under-resourced national defence threatens to diminish a nations national power across all of these other dimensions. A strong national defence is thus indispensable for a peaceful, successful and free nation – even without the need to fire a shot. For too long India has been an importer of weapons, ammunition and military hardware. It has had the dubious distinction of being the top importer of arms and military equipment in the world. The ‘Aatamnir bharta’ initiative has been aimed to arrest and reverse the trend by boosting and Defence R&D and defence manufacturing. The strangle hold of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Ordinance Factories, which were both directly under the Ministry of Defence, and had not been answerable to the main customer, the armed forces, has been broken for good.

Indigenous private defence R&D and equipment manufacturing in collaboration with foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s) has been initiated and given impetus through a range of incentives and relaxation of rules. Defence manufacturing can only sustain and develop if they are able to sell their products to foreign customers. In that the competition is stiff wherein the quality of the product and its price along with assured spares, midlife overhaul and such like are attractively packaged and offered. The results are already becoming evident.

The Defence Minister is often heard making statements of the earnings from the export of indigenously manufactured defence equipment. The Defence Ministry sources report that in the 2021-2022 fiscal, India’s defence items and technology exports touched a record INR 13,000 crore (USD 1.6 billion) , which was nearly eight times that of the 2014 figure and a 54.1 percent rise over the previous year.

Around 50 Indian companies in the private sector contributed to defence exports (approximately 70 percent of the total exports). These are as yet baby steps in this highly competitive market. But a beginning no doubt. It is unfortunate that governments in the past did not consider it strategically important enough for India to be self-sufficient in defence manufacturing. They were either naïve or there were driven by ulterior motives. History will tell.

It is said that wars of self-interest usually end when the winners’ interests are met. However, wars of moral standing are often “longer and bloodier”. It axiomatically flows from all the above that even while the Indian Prime Minister publicly advises another foreign head of state that “this is not an era of wars” he is convinced that to ensure peaceful existence and focus on development, a country must have a strong military and a robust defence industrial base with compatible ecosystem so as to be prepared to protect its sovereignty and its national interests at all times. Viva La India!!


By Lt Gen (Dr) JS Bajwa

Comments are closed here.