January 09, 2012

US Strategic Guidance 2012: An Indian Perspective


The issue of Strategic Guidance by the United States Department of Defense colloquially known as the Pentagon under directions of President Barack Obama in the beginning of the new year (2012) was anticipated. Given structural changes in the international security environment, it was inevitable that the primary global power of the 20th Century should focus on the Asia Pacific. At the same time importance of West Asia has not diminished nor have vectors for violence, global terrorism and maritime piracy that emerge from this as well as neighbouring South West Asia gone away.

Geographically India is the median point between West and East Asia. Great Britain recognized the importance and held a land bridge with Kolkata as their capital for much of the 19th Century. The United States having ignored India for most of the 20th Century has discovered it in the first decade of the 21st. That India is being wooed with focus which only US strategist can accord to their infatuations is evident with a mention of the country in a number of US documents recently from the National Security Strategy to the Strategic Guidance. A brief review of the latter from an Indian perspective may therefore be in order.

In times of economic and political flux demonstrating US leadership remains relevant for Washington, thus the Strategic Guidance is appropriately titled, “Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defence,” and is principally intended to provide a framework for shaping the Joint Force 2020. While, budgetary constraints is a sub theme this is understated for obvious reasons and the Guidance outlines the global security environment, identifies the primary armed forces missions and principles for capacity building of the Joint Force 2020.

The arc influencing US strategic interests is identified as that, “from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia_.” Pacific and the Indian Ocean are major water bodies and India and China major land mass straddling this region. China is the second largest economy of the World and peer competitor of America; India continues to remain a potentially rising economy and thus a hedging power. Other key states in the region, Japan, South Korea and Australia are treaty allies of the United States. Thailand in the ASEAN block is another ally while others are favourably inclined for engagement. With China seen as a potential competitor thus, it was but natural that the Strategic Guidance underlines a long partnership with India.

At the other end of the arc of influence is the Gulf and uncertainty with reference to Iran and commitment to Israel finds due reference. The primary partners herein would be the Gulf countries. Recent US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates go on to strengthen this relationship. India’s significance virtually at the mouth of the Persian Gulf once again underlines the importance to overall US strategy in West Asia. Counter terrorism is another vector with the current base in West and South West Asia for increased security engagement between the US and India in the future. In terms of the global commons, freedom of the seas, space and cyber space again call for a joint approach.

Set against this backdrop 10 primary missions for the Joint Force has been envisaged. Most importantly the first one remains, “Counter Terrorism and Irregular Warfare,” with preventing Afghanistan falling to a safe haven for terrorists in the future continuing to be a prime goal. This sets the stage for a semi permanent presence of US forces in that country and a strategic agreement to that effect is being worked out as is indicative from reports in the recent past.

The other active capabilities include, “Deter and Defeat Aggression,” and power projection. In the first dimension US forces are proposed to be designed to deter and defeat an adversary in one region even when committed to a large scale operation elsewhere. Thus a two front potential could be envisaged in the Joint Force, the width and expanse of which could be across the Asia Pacific rather than across the Atlantic or West and South Asia as in the past. Application of the same in multiple domains, land, air, maritime, space and cyber space is also underlined. An intervention capability for, “transition to stable governance,” is also contained in this paradigm.

Of the other active capability of power projection against anti access/area denial or A2/AD, reference of asymmetric capabilities by China and Iran has expectedly raised the ire of Chinese analysts. But more importantly, the type of potential to be developed for power projection undersea and space with a new stealth bomber should be highlighted.

Other capabilities in the non kinetic domain include those related to countering weapons of mass destruction and maintaining an effective nuclear deterrent, defense of the homeland, operations through cyber space and space, stabilization through basing, counter insurgency and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The import of these is necessity to spread US defense presence across the World

Shaping a force with global ambitions under a constrained defense budget is a key challenge and the principles outlined for Joint Force development underline these concerns. Broad spectrum of capabilities with potential for regeneration and deep, “reversibility,” is considered important. Dimensions of reversibility include industry, people and force structuring in terms of active and reserve components. The latter has been emphasized as a separate principle as well. Readiness of force being fielded is also underlined. Maintaining large industrial base and research and development capabilities is also considered important.

Given that a strategic guidance is a broad statement of intent, there is a gap evident in the expansive, “primary missions,” identified for the armed forces and implementing principles for fielding a force to achieve the same. There may be too many missions as well as too many constraints in fielding a force to effectively conduct the same. Here strategic partnerships and role of countries as India along with other US allies will come into play.

In case the US does intend to successfully carry out missions envisaged networking with key partners would be necessary. In the arc of influence, India appears to be a key state which has the potential to assist in the goals envisaged. Yet India may find itself challenged to perform such a role given compulsions of maintaining balance with proximate neighbor and largest trading partner China and energy as well as civilisational relationship with Iran.

While India may perform the role of a lurking elephant in the Chinese backyard, it is unlikely to undertake any aggressive moves to demonstrate affiliation with an alliance posing a challenge to China. In case Beijing adopts a belligerent course however India may not hesitate to asserting its growing military capability. Thus India’s effectiveness as a strategic partner may be dictated by its own security interests and may not transcend to that of the United States in the larger context. This incongruence would imply the United States having to invest far more energy and resources to engage India in its ambit or the Chinese take up an adversarial position against its largest regional neighbor to drive India into American orbit as it happened post 1962.

The importance of the Indo US strategic partnership as envisaged in the Strategic Guidance would be in combating challenges to the global commons emanating from non state actors in multiple domains manifesting across the arc of influence. Greater investments in counter terrorism cooperation, space and cyber space and maritime cooperation with assistance to India in capacity building would be the key vectors for an Indo US partnership in the future de-hyphenating it from China and Iran. The underlying difference being while India sees these states from a cooperative perspective the US has assumed a realist tint, will it therefore be keen to construct a non quid pro quo engagement with India in the long run remains to be seen?

For India a study of the Strategic Guidance brings out the necessity to expand defence capability on land and particularly in the Indian Ocean regardless of the nature of partnership with the United States. This comes at a time when India’s economy is under a squeeze of sorts thus substantial accretion to the defence budget may not be forthcoming howsoever hoarse the strategic community may cry. Efficiencies to create capabilities, economy through jointness and synergy, adopting fast track acquisition of core assets and developing long term indigenous capacities have been long established as a sine qua nan by defence planners in New Delhi. Implementation however remains challenged and if that be so, than a stronger defence partnership with the United States in the long term may be inevitable

No comments: