Are we really prepared to face a war

Major (Retd) Dr Brahma Singh

The way the Indian leaders connected with defence keep reiterating that the country is fully prepared to face any war that may be thrust on it by any of its adversary, makes one to doubt as to whether we are really so prepared. The reason for this being that no other country in the world that is actually prepared to face a war is known to ever make an announcement to this effect. Any such fact is well known to all because, like Ganguli’s bat in cricket, military preparedness to meet war situations would speak for itself on its own. Any wonder then that the Chinese leaders never speak of their military preparedness to meet any possible threat. The talking in this regard is done by the awesome armed strength that China possesses, which by itself leaves no doubt in any one’s mind that any violation of its territorial integrity from any quarter would be severely punished.

The announcement on our preparedness for meeting any threat of war would look all the more ridiculous when viewed in the light of statements made by our three Chiefs of Staff, at one time or the other over the last two years or so, giving broad enough hints that we are really not yet fully prepared for war. The only Chief who went nearest to the Government claim of being prepared for war, if it could at all be considered so, was General Deepak Kapoor, one time Chief of Army Staff, who had declared during his tenure that the Indian Army Jawans are ever prepared to lay down their lives for their country. This could hardly be of much consolation though. Preparation for war is related to the capacity to kill and not getting killed.

Interestingly one does not have to be a great military expert to be able to assess the extent to which a nation may be considered to be prepared for war. Generally the assessment boils down to simple comparison of military strength of a country with that of its adversary. This should be fairly simple as, thanks to the internet, military strength of every country is universally known fairly accurately. So if the military strength of a country compares favourably with that of its adversary then that country may be considered to be reasonably prepared for war. Assessment by experts – not only military but also of many other shades – would be required only when the opponents are apparently poised equally in terms of military strength and other factors, both tangible as well as intangible are likely to play a decisive role in event of a war between the two countries. In our case, China, which undoubtedly remains to be most uncompromising over its national objectives that are in conflict with ours, and consequently a perpetual source of threat against which we are to remain prepared for war, possesses an armed strength which is, presently, about two and a half time larger than ours. It is also known fairly accurately that after catering to its other security commitments, China can comfortably deploy more than four times the strength that India is in a position to deploy against it after meeting its other security commitments against Pakistan and the Chinese Fifth Column – the Maoist insurgents. There is, therefore, hardly any need for a military expert to tell us that we are not prepared for a war with China over our conflicting national objectives.

The question naturally arises as to why are Indian leaders insisting that we are prepared for war when we are really not. Going by the uproar in the Parliament and the concern expressed by the members of nearly all shades and opinion over the Chief of the Army Staff General VK Singh’s letter to the Prime Minister, leaking out to the media, one might get the impression that many members were disturbed not so much by the deficiencies in the Army as they were at the thought that the leak had compromised security, as such damaging information had now become available to our potential enemies. Categorical announcements by our leaders purporting that we are fully prepared for war is probably part of their exercise in damage control. Apparently not many in India know that Counter Intelligence (the art and science of blocking information reaching undesirable quarters) has never been our strong point and most of the information contained in the Chief’s letter would have already been known to our adversary much before the leak. Are we now trying to fool the Chinese- a diplomatic feat yet to be achieved by any other – into believing not what they already know but what we wish them to believe.

It could also be that the political conglomeration in power at the Centre, with an eye on the next elections, is trying to gain plus points by creating an impression among the not too knowledgeable, (about defence matters), voters that it has successfully fulfilled all its obligations towards the defence preparedness of the country during its present tenure.

The Indian assertions could also have resulted from an ostrich-like attitude of the Indian leaders, wherein threat to the security of the country has been sought to be either wished away or cut to size to suit their convenience in meeting it. This may appear paradoxical but this is what Indian leaders responsible for the defence of the country have generally been practicing since Independence. This explains why our military strength made no upward move in 1950 even as the immense magnitude of the Chinese threat to the country, duly assessed by Sardar Patel in his letter to Nehru, had become crystal clear. It was only after the 1962 military debacle that the Indian leaders felt compelled to carry out some sort of a threat appraisal that resulted in the country’s military force level being raised three fold. The raise was still not enough though. While it did dampen Pakistan’s enthusiasm for open wars, it left gaping holes in our strategy against China. To date, nothing or very little seems to have been done by us in plugging these holes.

Evidently the effort required to prepare effectively for any war with China is so colossal – involving hard work, dedication, sincerity of purpose and a spirit of sacrifice on the part of the Indian leadership that not many of our political leaders have felt enthused in undertaking the task head on. On the other hand they went about considering easier courses as alternatives even as none really exist. It is generally forgotten that diplomacy which is often quoted as an alternative to war is not really so as for it to be effective diplomacy itself needs to be backed by military strength enough for threatening war – one of the instruments of diplomacy.

The present dispensation at the helm of Indian Defence affairs seems to have found the easiest way out of the situation by wishing away the Chinese threat itself on the basis of an assurance purported to have been given by the Chinese Premier Mr Wen Jiahao to the Indian Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh, during their last meeting in Beijing, to the effect that China will not attack India even if to regain its lost territories. Notwithstanding the comical part of the situation akin to that of a house-holder blissfully ignoring the threat to his household on the basis of an assurance given to him by the thief himself, the present political leadership in India, by casting doubts on the very possibility of a war with China, has been able to create an “all’s well” defence syndrome wherein the country can afford to declare being prepared for war even when it is not.