The Mythology of Cold Start

Discussion in 'Defence & Strategic Issues' started by Singh, Nov 9, 2011.

  1. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

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    A small group of lawmakers gathered last month in Pakistan’s army headquarters, where the country’s head of military operations, Maj. Gen. Ashfaq Nadeem, stiffened their resolve about the threat from India. He warned of one Indian capability in particular: India’s Cold Start army doctrine.

    Cold Start is Rawalpindi’s favorite bogeyman. But what is it? In the words of a cable released by Wikileaks, it is “a mixture of myth and reality.” As I argue in a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Strategic Studies, it tells us a little about the aspirations of Indian officers, but a lot about the fears — real, imagined and contrived — of their Pakistani counterparts.

    To understand Cold Start, It’s worth thinking about how India’s military thinking has evolved in the nuclear age.

    India has won nearly every war it has fought against Pakistan. Perhaps that’s why nuclear weapons have always gnawed at the Indian army, long before either country got the bomb. Senior officers thought long and hard about how Pakistan’s nuclear program would blunt India’s superiority in numbers.

    Pakistan already had its ways of needling India. Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, poured fuel onto the flames of the Kashmir insurgency which began at the end of the 1980s. India’s generals could only fume.

    Then came Kargil, a brazen but limited strike across the line of control, in 1999. If Pakistan could launch such an offensive, asked the top brass, couldn’t India do the same? After exploding five nuclear bombs in 1998, didn’t Delhi have its own shield from behind which it could parry the many blows of Islamabad’s covert war?

    That logic was tested in 2002. The militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba precipitated an international crisis by assaulting India’s Parliament. New Delhi rushed to respond. A million men were mobilized by both sides and India spent $2 billion. Eight hundred soldiers died in accidents and skirmishes — making the exercise deadlier than Kargil, an actual war. A year later, India slunk back, having extracted some desultory and quickly reversed promises by then-President Pervez Musharraf to curb terrorism.

    The army, whose lower ranks were apoplectic at being held back, made a simple diagnosis. India had taken too long to move its ponderous strike corps from the country’s heartland to the front line. As the weeks passed, the international community built up a crescendo of calls for restraint, and the element of surprise was lost.

    Moreover, this was still the army that had cut Pakistan in half in 1971. It was trained to thrust toward the Indus and throw the enemy off balance. But in the nuclear age, that sort of total victory was so reckless as to become impossible. Maj. Gen. D.K. Palit, one of the few soldier-scholars in the history of the Indian Army, once noted that wars between India and Pakistan resembled “communal riots with armor.” The challenge in the nuclear age was to keep them like that.

    So the army had to become suppler, quicker to rise (hence “Cold Start”), nimbler on its feet, less of a hatchet and more of a scalpel. It was reorganized into eight so-called “battle groups,” modeled on old Israeli and Soviet formations. Each would punch into Pakistan at unpredictable points, but to a much shallower depth and therefore below the imagined nuclear threshold. Only if war could be limited, went this argument, could it be credibly threatened.

    In Pakistan, these efforts were taken as evidence of Indian perfidy. But the irony is that India would struggle to carry out anything as clinical and swift as Cold Start. Its army faces basic problems of nuclear strategy, politics and basic readiness.

    What would India do, for example, if Pakistan used nuclear weapons to attack advancing Indian forces? India, despite its avowed promise to retaliate to any nuclear strike, is unlikely to incinerate Islamabad in return for an attack on its tanks.

    But the deeper issue has nothing to do with Pakistan and everything to do with India’s political DNA. Unlike in Pakistan, where the military casts a long shadow over civilian leaders, Indian civilians don’t trust their military to handle nukes as war-fighting instruments. And even without this nuclear shadow, civilians are unwilling to green-light an army doctrine that could spiral beyond their control in a crisis.

    They are frightened of what AJP Taylor said of war in 1914: “imposed on the statesmen of Europe by railway timetables.” As a Pakistani naval officer hinted last week, Pakistan’s generals have fallen into the simplest of cognitive traps — mirror-imaging — by assuming that the Indian Army’s plans are automatically national policy. Indeed, in India the army is kept on a leash tighter than that of nearly any democratic country.

    Is this ambiguity a good thing for India, if it leaves Pakistan guessing? Cold Start has been a public relations disaster for India, allowing Pakistani officials to paint India as a jingoistic bully.

    Yet even if the taciturn Manmohan Singh was in a jingoistic mood, not everything would go smoothly. The Indian Army developed Cold Start on its own, so it’s no surprise that the Air Force — which would prefer strategic bombing to close air support, but whose role is essential to the battle group concept — considers the whole thing “a concept dead at inception.”

    There’s more. When the cabinet mulled over retaliatory options after the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, the “poor state of the armory” was a serious constraint. For example, the army only acquired a third of necessary tanks between 2002 and 2007. Ammunition holdings are way below necessary levels, and there’s a shortage of more than 10,000 officers. This mess can’t be laid at the generals’ feet, since these failures are mostly rooted in essentially political pathologies — such as civilian apathy toward strategic affairs and a dysfunctional procurement system.

    None of this means that a military offensive is necessarily the ideal response to a terrorist act, or that India lacks options altogether. No Indian government could survive another serious attack traced to Pakistan unless it responded robustly.

    But the mythologies of Cold Start — the embellishment of India’s efforts to keep fighting communal riots with armor — is the product of a strange interplay between an Indian Army still striving for relevance in the nuclear milieu, and a Pakistani military establishment that sees the ghosts of 1971 lurking over the plains and mountains of Sindh, Punjab and Kashmir.

    Shashank Joshi is a doctoral student at Harvard University and an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. You can follow him on Twitter.

    This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

    Correction: November 7, 2011

    This post originally said that the Indian Army has a shortage of 100,000 officers, not 10,000.


    The Mythology of Cold Start - NYTimes.com
     
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  3. SPIEZ

    SPIEZ Senior Member Senior Member

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    What a stupid article, we fully trust the nukes with the army and defense forces. Who we don't trust the very "trust-worthy" politicians who would do anything with them.

    What does the author expect us to do, sit on our hands when the pukes seem to be attracted towards India in either the way of extremists and/or military.

    How prepared is the pukestani army does the author think ?


    There's a terrorist attack on most days in India, if India should have waged the war they SHOULD HAVE DONE IT VERY LONG AGO.


    All in all another worthless piece of article.
     

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