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The Changing Nature of War

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  • July 07, 2010
    Round Table

    Chair: K. Subrahmanyam
    Panel: Air Cmde. (Retd.) Jasjit Singh, Rear Adm. (Retd.) Raja Menon, Brig. (Retd.) Gurmeet Kanwal

    Presentation: Brig. (Retd.) Rumel Dahia

    Brig. Dahia initiated the session by summarizing key ideas contained in the recent paper entitled “The New Rules of War” by John Arquilla. Following were identified as central postulates:

    • US military spending is incompatible with changing nature of warfare
    • “Many and Small” Beats “Few and Large”
    • Finding Matters More than Flanking
    • Swarming is the New Surging

    As well as elaborating on their implications, the presenter also proposed some critical counter-arguments to these postulates.

    The Chair took a dissenting view on the proposition that globalization does not necessarily rule out the prospect of future war. He argued in favour of a debate in India on the nature of wars this country is likely to fight in the future.

    Following the presentation and the Chair’s opening remarks, the panellists put forth their considered observations on the subject.

    Air Commodore Jasjit Singh

    Contextualizing Arquilla’s ideas within the American experience over the recent past, he drew attention to the fact that America’s war effort during this time has been heavily air power-driven. He underlined the increasing critical significance of technology, emphasizing that even non-military organizations have been demonstrating military-like tactical capabilities. Employment of force – combining technology with force strength in numbers – was singled out as the most important determinant of success in war.

    Many global powers are catching up with the US in terms of air-power capability. India needs to work on its preparedness in the event of three kinds of war: Nuclear Exchange, Force-on-Force Conventional War, and sub-conventional, low intensity conflict. At the conventional level, the shifting strategic-tactical differential and compression of time and expansion of space in the arena of conflict have circumscribed the range of options available, in particular, with reference to nuclear weapons powers.

    Admiral Raja Menon

    He highlighted the underlying message in Arquilla’s writing that reform of the forces is called for in light of changing requirements and specific contexts, suggesting that there are countries already making the tough choices that this adjustment demands. He also noted the link between the structure of the armed forces and the nation’s polity. He described technology as a double-edged sword and no straight-forward substitute for boots-on the-ground.

    Brig. Gurmeet Kanwal

    One important qualification in the Indian context is that it faces very large rival conventional forces, which makes some of Arquilla’s prescriptions inapplicable. Continued importance of Strike Corps, unresolved border disputes and the nuclear overhang further set the Indian case apart. He recalled that the idea of varying force concentration to match the nature of threat has been long known and employed. He argued that the experience in Kargil established the continued potency of the “many and large” approach. In the same vein the “many and small” approach, he suggested, has been at the heart of India’s iron-fist-in-velvet-glove counter-insurgency strategy. On the downside, it was identified that the Indian Army remains far from fully networked and there remains scope for better synergy in operations.


    According to one participant, since velocity was as much a determinant of force as mass, speed of decision-making on all fronts needs to be addressed and improved upon as a matter of priority. Another intervention was in favour of learning from others’ experiences and in that spirit drawing conclusions for organizational reform based on contributions such as Arquilla’s.

    A view was taken, stemming from a review of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in 2006, that there is need for the military mind to overcome biases that stand in the way of appropriate perception of the contemporary nature of threat. Some concrete proposals for reform in the forces were pointed out and commented on. Areas where such reform is already underway were also made mention of. Importance of preventive action against threats of terrorism and insurgency was underscored by one participant. Fundamental reform in the education system was postulated as a pre-condition for getting the “sociological aspect” of armed forces reform right.

    Conceding the need for adequate forces for conventional deterrence, DG IDSA Mr. N. S. Sisodia took the view that the likelihood of a serious, long-drawn out conflict should be thoroughly examined. This assessment needs then to be juxtaposed against similar projections on sub-conventional and other threats such as counter-insurgency to arrive at key recommendations for the armed forces.

    Chair’s Summary

    Mr. K Subrahmanyam recognized a need to draw sharp distinctions between various types of conflict scenarios. Speaking on the matter of insurgency, he described it as something of a card held by federal units as a bargaining chip against the central government. This allows for equilibrium between mis-governance and politics, rendering the situation amenable to the growth of insurgency. He spoke out in favour of a deep-seated recognition of the fundamental tenet that there is no room for violence in a Parliamentary Democracy.

    Prepared by Kalyani Unkule