Friday, March 17, 2006

With all due respect to the enthusiasts!

Nitin Pai's blog - The Acorn epitomizes the positive attributes of India's educated and forward thinking elite. Nitin's views are balanced and well though- out and his incisive writing brings into sharp focus the underlying dynamics of any issue.

Tragically Nitin's understanding and sense of responsibility is not reflected by others in the wider community of Indian defense and security enthusiasts. The problem is particularly visible among the tech-savvy Indian expats in the US. I have spoken to several of these people and I feel they simply put too much sugar in their coffee.

I can understand the desire of Indians to believe that India is capable of achieving any technological aim it sets out to achieve. I strongly support anything that urges Indians to innovate and to think afresh about age old issues, however too many techies are obsessed with the idea of a visible display of military power. This tendency is vividly seen the predominance of gaudy defense (sic) websites that seem to pander to this desire to see "cool pics". The forums in these places are devoted to meaningless discussions aimed largely at satisfying an audience that seems more at home in a Roman ampitheatre than in Gandhiji's India.

It appears for all intents and purposes, the internet is gradually driving away the calm and reasoned prose traditionally used to articulate our national security sentiments and in its place we are seeing big jpegs, jazzy mpegs and bold fonts that urge the reader to themes like "intervention". This all seems about as impressive as a sound and light in the diwan-e-khas in Lal Qila - a caricature of the power of the Mughal Empire - a sophisticated insult to the military genius of Aurangzeb and the social brilliance of Shahenshah Akbar.

I suppose that such a shift could be useful - provided the people that it is used to convey meaningful and accurate information regarding the views of our national security people. If however the imagery is used solely to provide a platform for ill informed speculation about the Government of India's intentions, then I fear we are being led down the path to perdition.

The "defense enthusiast" techie is psychologically vulernable to notions of inferiority based on India's apparent lack of military technology. To him or her the blind pursuit of such technology is an acceptable goal of national policy. This (hitherto uniquely Pakistani) tendency of turning ploughshares into swords is now gaining ground among the techies of India.

I am writing this because I have become pained after a very distrubing conversation with an Indian chap called Mr. Ved, who seems to be convinced that India is somehow intent on turning PSLV technology into an ICBM. All his views seem very similar to the views of Arun Sharma and Sanjay Badri Maharaj, both respected defense commentators who engaged in a speculative exercise on the possibe design for an Indian ICBM. My current sparring partner Mr. Ved, does not understand that the speculative analysis of these non-governmental experts does not reflect GoI thinking on the issue in any manner or form. This is simply some out of the box thinking by people who are familiar with such systems.

India does not seek to build an ICBM. In the light of the advances in IMINT, SATINT, and MASINT the ICBM platform is not longer as survivable as it once was. This does not rule out the development of an ICBM. It is possible to pursue an ICBM program for purely industrial reasons - a large production run involving the building of a hundred ICBMs in India could possibly sustain a very large industrial sector, however an equally large sector could be sustained by active participation in the commerical satellite launch market and through new economies generated by an unrestricted regime of trade in high-tech items.

While a few defence enthusiasts in India may think that is a great idea to build a hundred ICBMs! - the Government of India has to face the fact that an economy based on a trade in high-tech items will be more robust and sustainable than an economy based on building thing that you bury into the ground and hope are never discovered. The Government of India cannot afford the same level of irresponsibility and misplaced imagination that some tech-junkie can have.

Yes it is a free country - but there is such a thing as talking too much nonsense. This PSLV-to-ICBM idea is totally absurd - regardless of who it comes from.


At 10:16 PM, Blogger Nitin said...


First of all, thanks for the kind words.

One of the greatest challenges for strategic commentators who have no access to primary sources of information is the assessment of the credibility of information available in the public domain. This applies to both what comes out from well-known academics/analysts (who presumably have access to the inside) and to writers on the internet (whose credibility is even harder to tell). The scene is fuzzy even for keen observers (and I guess utterly incomprehensible for ordinary citizens).

So personal judgement of the commentator plays a big role in this. Individuals would base their judgements based on their own belief systems, biases, hopes, fears etc. The six blind men, if you recall, were from Hindustan :-)

What will be interesting to explore is what tactics the other side(s) employ to sift through this fuzz. There's probably similar fuzz coming our way from the other side as well. Can 'exhibitional deterrence' be part of a rational security calculus?

At 7:21 AM, Blogger maverick said...


Even when someone confers with friends in the Government, they do not know whether they are being told the truth or a simply well planned lie.

This lends itself to two kinds of responses:

The first response places their personal judgement or bias over the information that is specifically released to them and then that colours the way they transmit it. A sizable portion of the so-called analytical community does this.

The second type of response treats everything the government tells you as a lie and does its own analysis based on things deemed facts. The information is passed along with a large dose of cynicism. A larger portion of the journalistic fraternity subscribes to this.

It is difficult to digest information released from government sources. Most intelligence agencies have to systematize the intelligence process and hence as described by B. Raman in his book, use large teams of analysts to dissect government opinion.

The problem at the very least for serious commentators from India, is that they do not have the resources of the foreign intelligence agencies. They make the call based on what they remember from history they know and they routinely use a sense of intuition that comes from "being Indian". Based on these two things they make a guess as to what is going on.

The more skilled ones, in my opinion are able to place themselves into the heart and mind of government itself and think about the world from their shoes.

I have often felt that whatever the government decides to do, it is seldom divorced from the reality of the land. We in India have several major problems, which cannot be hidden or wished away. For example, our lack of industrialization, or the underdeveloped nature of our economy and the tortured cash flows in our society, or our lack of adequate energy and health-care. To some extent these problems are hidden from view because people choose to focus elsewhere but at the end of the day, GoI cannot look away - it has to confront this reality and devise strategies to deal with this.

In the past the GoI has seldom confronted problems head on. The illusions of a direct confrontation has been held out prior to elections, but the approach has always been systematic, deliberate and painstakingly slow.

With this in mind, I don't find it hard to hazard a guess at what the GoI is doing. As long as the fundamentals are clear, there is some chance of getting the right answer, perhaps even of having an interesting debate.

I would like to answer your question about exhibitional deterrence as a form of national security calculus in a seperate posting later today.

At 5:42 PM, Blogger Nitin said...

Hey, you mentioned B Raman's book? I must confess I've not come across it - which one is that?

Perhaps we can communicate by email on off-topic issues?

At 4:17 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hello Nitin,

B Raman's book is easily available. I will email you the link today using the email on your website.

You can use my reply address for future correspondence.


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