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Harsha Gowda asked: What is ‘strategic restraint’? Does following the policy of ‘strategic restraint’ consistently make India a rather soft state?

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  • Abhay Kumar Singh replies: Resolve and restraint are two key aspects in examining problems of conflict. Resolve refers to state’s willingness to use force for the resolution of a dispute or a crisis in its favour. Restraint refers to the use of other coercive options, viz. diplomatic, psychological and economic, for the attainment of the same objectives without resorting to the use of force. Strategic restraint, thus, can be defined as a state’s self-imposed reticence in using military force for the attainment of its strategic objectives in a crisis or dispute.

    An effective deterrent strategy needs to include a resolve to use force to retaliate against aggression along with restraint as a promise to reciprocate in cooperation. The core issue is that a state needs resolve to maintain and use strong force along its reputation for restraint. Lack of resolve will provide others temptations for intimidation through the use of force for seeking further concession. However, the absence of a reputation for restraint will create a fear to make peace and competitors would continue to seek stronger military options.

    India, according to some analysts, has earned a sobriquet of ‘soft state’ due to its policy of ‘strategic restraint’. In the bilateral dynamics of India and Pakistan, India’s self-imposed strategic restraint has not been effective. Pakistan has kept the pot boiling through the use of non-state actors and has maintained a level of violence that is low enough to avoid the outbreak of an overt conflict. However, it is pertinent to highlight that the policy of strategic restraint has allowed India to build a reputation of a responsible and benevolent military power in the region and even globally.

    India’s security strategy includes both resolve and restraint. However, there has been a greater focus on restraint than resolve in the past. The cross-LoC strike and focused attention on military capability building indicate that India’s security strategy is being reformed to achieve the required balance between resolve and restraint.

    For more on the subject, please refer to my latest IDSA publication:

    Abhay Kumar Singh, “Cross LOC Strike and India’s Reputation for Resolve”, IDSA Comment, October 21, 2016.

    Posted on October 28, 2016