Like it or not, India is the quintessential soft state. It is unable (or unwilling) to project power beyond its borders, even in its own neighborhood. Its (historically) timid foreign policy has ensured that it evokes neither respect nor fear among its neighbors. Despite its enormous size, it is unable to influence or shape its external environment to suit its national interests.
India is overly defensive. Despite its massive economic and military power, it does not respond to grave provocations (26/11, for example). It does not retaliate when attacked. It tolerates countless attacks on its citizens and affronts to its prestige. Its enemies know that it can be attacked repeatedly, with impunity, at will, and no retaliation will be forthcoming.
If forced to fight, India fights defensive wars. It refuses to cross its borders (Kargil, for instance). It does not aim to conquer enemy territory. If enemy territory or soldiers are captured during the course of a war, it duly returns them once the war is over, without obtaining any concessions in return.
India refuses to play by the same rules as its adversaries, to its immense detriment. It persists in using conventional means to combat Pakistan’s asymmetric warfare and terrorism. It refuses to play dirty. It is more concerned about its “good boy” image than about its national interests.
India’s two major adversaries – China and its vassal Pakistan – employ a host of methods to destabilize the country. Pakistan has bled India with a thousand cuts since the 1980s, first in Punjab, and then in Kashmir, without any fear of retribution. It has been involved in terror activities throughout India for decades, without ever being made to pay for its malfeasance. India has steadfastly refused to respond by employing similar strategies and tactics.
China, which historically has had no role to play in South Asia, claims vast swathes of Indian territory and routinely encroaches into India, often for weeks at a time. It dreams of breaking India into 20-30 pieces. It has been fomenting terrorism, insurgencies, and separatism in North-East India and the so-called “red corridor” since the 1960s. India, on the other hand, has formally recognized Tibet as a Chinese territory, and has not taken steps to pay China back in kind by employing similar methods in the restive Tibet and Xinjiang regions.
China is increasingly encroaching upon India’s supposed sphere of influence by drawing Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and the Maldives into its orbit, and by creating the ever-tightening “string of pearls” and the illegal CPEC.
China and Pakistan, together, have blocked off India’s historic land routes to Eurasia – which should have prompted India to become a maritime nation by developing a formidable maritime and naval presence. This has not happened.
Despite repeated claims that the Indian ocean is India’s backyard, India’s navy has little presence even in the Arabian sea and the Bay of Bengal. India’s coastal security continues to have gaping holes. Large aircraft disappear without a trace and are never found. Chinese submarines and ships ply undetected, even encroaching into Indian territorial waters. Italian marines murder Indian fishermen in Indian waters. The Pakistani navy routinely abducts Indian fishermen illegally from Indian territorial waters off the coast of Gujarat. In return, India rescues them when they drown.
India is a soft state because it fails to take care of its national interests. It keeps punching below its weight and does not make its enemies pay a heavy price for their crimes.
Here are ten things that India should start doing immediately, in order to harden up and discard its soft state image.
One: Put a heavy price on being a terrorist. India has played nice with terrorists far too long. Stop handing over dead terrorists’ bodies to their families. Why should enemies of the nation receive martyr’s funerals? Bulldoze the houses of terrorists’ families. If such actions are illegal, then pass new laws legalizing them. Laws must not hamstring the armed forces and prevent them from acting in the national interest. Laws must be adapted according to the need of the times; they must serve the nation and reflect the will of the people.
Two: Develop prodigious asymmetric warfare and proxy warfare capabilities. Deploy these capabilities against Pakistan and China while ensuring plausible deniability. Ensure they have to pay an unacceptably steep price for interfering in India’s internal affairs and illegally occupying and laying claims to Indian territory. Target terrorist and espionage organizations and their infrastructure; as well as individual terrorists, spies and army officers involved in the undeclared war against India. It is high time India stops being the “good boy” and learns to fight dirty.
Three: Develop sophisticated cyberwarfare, cyber espionage, cyber counterintelligence, and proactive cyber defense capabilities.
Develop the ability to penetrate and surveil enemy nations’ government, defense, nuclear and intelligence agencies, to attack their control systems, energy resources, banking and finance, transportation, water facilities, and telecommunications, to commandeer or disable nuclear weapon delivery systems, nuclear power stations and satellites, to shut down electrical power grids, to carry out denial-of-service attacks, and to obtain sensitive information about persons of interest.
It is inexplicable that India, with its millions of talented computer science graduates, has not done this yet.
Four: Modernize and transform the Indian Navy into a force to be reckoned with. The Indian navy suffers from three glaring shortcomings:
(A) Lack of presence in the Indian ocean region.
(B) Lack of distributed lethality (more power in more places using a variety of delivery platforms).
(C) Severely depleted submarine fleet.
Address the first two shortcomings by building a large number of inexpensive BrahMos-equipped medium-range missile boats to patrol and police what India considers her backyard.
Design these missile boats to be 50-60 meters long, in order to support the massive BrahMos missile (length: 8.4 meters, weight: 3 tons) without being imbalanced, unstable or top-heavy, and withstand the force of its launch. Each boat should carry two or three missiles (inclined configuration), have a range of around 5000 km. and an endurance of about two weeks.
Ensure that each missile boat costs no more than $25-30 million apiece, including the cost of the missiles (about $2.8 million apiece). India could therefore build 20 to 25 missile boats for the price of a single Kolkata-class destroyer, thereby deploying up to 75 BrahMos missiles, as opposed to the Kolkata‘s 32.
Missile boats are easier and faster to build, deploy, maintain, repair, and replace. They pose a huge threat to an opposing force as they are numerous, dispersed, lethal, and, if deployed in large numbers, present too many targets to effectively engage. Missile boats can pack a huge punch. A number of spatially dispersed missile boats firing salvos of BrahMos missiles can overwhelm any enemy fleet, even an aircraft carrier battle group.
Address the third shortcoming by acquiring a large number (at least 50) of small, cheap diesel-electric submarines such as the lethal, super-stealthy Gotland class, which cost a mere $100 million apiece (half the price of a Rafale fighter jet).
Launch at least one dedicated naval satellite (ideally two, for redundancy) to identify and track targets, track and coordinate naval resources, integrate the battlespace, enhance each naval asset’s situational awareness, and control and coordinate multiple maneuvers in each theater of operations, all in real time. Complement the satellite(s) with long-range, long-loitering drones.
Ensure that India establishes effective control (regular, visible patrolling presence) of the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean up to south of the Maldives. Make every Chinese and Pakistani naval vessel aware that it is being continuously monitored and trailed while it remains in India’s regions of strategic interest.
Develop the capability to control and protect India’s sea route to Chabahar in Iran, keeping in mind China’s growing military presence in nearby Gwadar and Pakistan’s acquisitions of Chinese submarines and stealth catamaran missile boats.
Five: Militarize the strategically-located Andaman and Nicobar archipelago by developing naval and air force bases and electronic surveillance facilities. Transform the islands into unsinkable aircraft carriers. Create Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) bubbles around the archipelago by deploying BrahMos and LR-SAM regiments. These actions will give India the capability to control and blockade the vital Strait of Malacca at will.
Create artificial islands in the Lakshadweep archipelago (à la Great wall of sand). Use them as forward bases for the navy and the air force. Create an A2/AD bubble around the Nine Degree Channel, through which nearly all the merchant shipping between Europe/West Asia and East Asia passes.
In short, develop the capability to monitor, surveil, and interdict if necessary, all shipping passing through the Lakshadweep and Andaman archipelagos and the Strait of Malacca. Make it well-known that the purpose of this capability is to carry out India’s responsibility as the Indian Ocean Region’s net security provider, and as such is peaceful and defensive in nature.
At the same time, leverage this naval capability as a powerful negotiating tool against China, and to compel it to behave at the northern and north-eastern borders.
Six: Develop a full-fledged marine corps, and develop expeditionary warfare capabilities by acquiring the necessary hardware (amphibious transport docks, assault ships, and air-cushioned landing craft such as the Zubr-class). India may not harbor hegemonic ambitions of invading and conquering neighboring countries by sea, but it must develop the full spectrum of military capabilities nonetheless.
Seven: Conduct regular large-scale, full-spectrum military exercises. This is the only way to keep the armed forces rust-free and fighting fit, to test and hone doctrines, strategies, and tactics, and to discover and address shortcomings (note, for example, Russia’s regular Zapad exercises, which have proved to be immensely valuable over the years). Publicize these exercises to boost public morale.
Eight: Modify the Nuclear Doctrine. Abandon the outdated no first use (NFU) policy, which only serves to embolden India’s enemies and further India’s “good boy”, soft state image. Reserve the right to use nuclear weapons first in the case of conflict.
Nine: Expand India’s diplomatic service (the IFS) significantly. India has one of the world’s smallest diplomatic corps, with just 770 IFS officers. Compare this with much smaller countries such as Japan (5,700) and France (6000). The IFS’s minuscule size is grossly inadequate for India’s foreign policy requirements, and as such, is highly detrimental to India’s national interest. Take immediate steps to redress the situation.
Ten: Create a world-wide television and internet news and broadcasting network, with reporters and crews in all major world capitals. Use it to promote India’s national interest, further India’s ability to inform and influence, boost India’s soft power, and counter harmful propaganda. Every major nation has a dedicated news organization that acts as its global voice. Examples are BBC, CNN, RT, CCTV, NHK, al Jazeera, etc. It is vitally important for India to create one of its own, in order to gain visibility worldwide.
The world is changing rapidly. Major geopolitical realignments are underway. Old relationships and equations are dissolving. The era of American pre-eminence may be ending, and China is rushing in to fill the gap, especially in Asia. There are more indications than ever that China’s “peaceful rise” will not stay peaceful for much longer.
The next ten years are crucial for India. Its actions over the next decade will determine whether it will rise as a major power, or keep playing its familiar post-independence role of the soft state punching bag and be relegated to mediocrity and possible subjugation.
India must quickly adapt to the changing world order. It must harden up. Being hard or soft is all about attitude. It about intent. India now has the economy and the resources to pursue its ambitions and safeguard its national interests. It is time for it to show the right attitude and intent.