- Apr 14, 2021
- Myind Staff
The webinar on ‘Theatrisation of the Armed Forces – The Way Forward’ as part of The CASA Forum, threw up very interesting thoughts. The distinguished panel was pretty clear with their concept of theatrisation. The issues which came up need serious deliberation. I gave it a thought and am penning down major issues as I have perceived them. The webinar and views of the panel are available in the link here-THE RECORDING OF THE WEBINAR IS HERE WATCH IT FROM 6 MINS 25 SECONDS ONWARDS. You may consider this article as a consolidation of all the views which were expressed and duly modified with my own view thrown in. The main issue is that Theatrisation is an irreversible phenomenon whose time has come. However, we have to get the edifice right. If that does not happen, we will be better off without theatrisation. The next issue which came out loud and clear is that we are not discussing / debating this enough. There is a major requirement to think this through. While full confidence was expressed in the present leadership of the Armed Forces to do the right thing, they might be hamstrung due to the day-to-day pressures of running and looking after their organizations. Hence, there is good possibility that our structures might evolve on a wrong footing and grow accordingly. We need to get that right. Indian Armed Forces are capable enough to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation even without getting theatrised. That is a proven historical fact and does not change. However, theatrisation must improve the capability of the Armed Forces to deter our adversaries and defend the nation better at least cost – operationally and financially. Theatrisation must also enable India’s rise as a power of consequence consistent with its growth, interests and aspirations. India is destined for a global role and its place in the comity of nations. That role will not be fulfilled unless we have a fully ‘integrated’ and ‘joint’ military. Any form of theatrisation must address these two factors. Theatrisation of the Armed Forces is a national imperative. Hence political guidance and direction has to be hands-on. The guidance will be derived from a dynamic national strategy. In turn, this is dependent on a host of internal and external factors – constitutional, political, geopolitical and economic factors. Political guidance has to be indicated to the Armed Forces - formally or informally. The Political, Bureaucratic and Military hierarchies’ have to be pull their weight together. It reinforces the point I have oft made – necessity of a Politico- Military Fusion for a 'Future Ready' India. Are we ready for the challenges ahead? Theatrisation is a national reform with huge structural, financial and operational changes. Unless the bureaucracy is well informed and positively intentioned, the change will not be synchronous to emerging strategic or operational requirements. Procrastination and decision delays will not do. Mindsets at all levels need to change. The change in mindset in PLA is being driven ruthlessly by Xi Jinping in China by direct orders from the CMC. To get an idea of theartrisation in China, please read the White Paper on Defense -2019. In USA the change was driven by enacting theatrisation into law by the Nichols Goldwater Act. We are far behind the curve. Our concept and drive for theatrisation is inherent in the DMA and CDS combine. Clear cut authority or responsibility has not been vested in any appointment including the CDS who is only a recommending authority. We might be moving too fast without a clear idea where we are going. The expertise required for theatrisation, is available only within the Armed Forces fraternity – serving or retired. While the political and bureaucratic class can support theatrisation, the change will have to be driven by the Armed Forces leadership. Hence, a clear headed and determined military leadership will be the order of the day. Wisdom, clarity of thought, team spirit and cooperation are required between the CDS, the three Service Chiefs and their Principal Staff officers. They must give up the individual good for their services for the sake of the common good. Most of them did that, when they front rolled together as a team, in their teens, in NDA. The onus of leading the change wrests within the uniform. Lack of purpose or clarity within the Services will translate to political and bureaucratic delays or dilution of the outcomes if not abandonment of the whole exercise. Very luckily for us, the currently evolving global and national geostrategic environment provides us with a model, leeway and a driver to shape things properly. At the cost of repetition – Politico- Bureaucratic – Military equations need to be put in place. There is haziness on this front. Our military leadership needs to cut through the haze. A seeming dichotomy of threatrisation is that Armies and Air Forces operate across land borders whereas Navies operate in open seas in an international borderless environment. Hence there would be a disconnect between the maritime and continental orientations of each Service. Can the twain meet? That is a question which often comes up and came up during the webinar also. Theatrisation is precisely meant to overcome this contradiction. Theatres must necessarily be transnationally oriented beyond borders and seas in a seamless fashion. They provide the links between the continental and maritime strategies of a nation. Examine the Africa and Indo-Pacific commands of USA. Both have a mixture of the continental and maritime domains. Very clearly, all of us have to think differently to get suitable answers in our environment. Theatre Commands must be based on geography rather on tasks / domains. Task based commands can be part of a theatre and not vice versa. An air defense command has to function in a theatre. The maritime domain cannot be a theatre. This major dichotomy needs a revisit. In my opinion we need a theatre to our West to handle all Pakistan related issues and beyond including a maritime element in North Arabian Sea. Similarly, we need a theatre to the North to handle all China related issues which includes North Bay of Bengal. After all, China is showing interest to reach the Bay of Bengal through Myanmar. We also need a peninsular theatre to look after the vast expanse of the IOR and Island territories besides peninsular India. I think we are going fundamentally wrong in our initial formulation by announcing a maritime theatre command and air defence command. Further, there is already talk of having theatres which will be a combination of existing commands with fronts being split up. Strictly speaking, India as it exists today is one theatre. That has come out very clearly in the webinar. However, ‘Future Ready’ India will have to have three orientations based on challenges from Pakistan, China and IOR. Theatrisation must cater for this fundamentality without being split or diluted. The next question which merits deliberation is that what will be the equations between the Political hierarchy, national security apparatus, CDS, Service Chiefs and Theatre Commanders? Will a new Higher Defence Organisation evolve or will it be business as usual? At the military level, what will be the equation between the CDS, Service Chiefs and Theatre Commanders? If the Theatre Commanders are merely interposed as additional layers between the Service Chiefs and the existing operational commanders then this whole exercise will be in futility. Presently there is no clarity on the change in the organizational structure though it has been announced that the initial theatres will be instituted by June. The command and control aspects of theatrisation remain hazy. It appears from public pronouncements that IAF is being converted into a theatre through the proposed Air Defence Command. Success of theatrisation is dependent on the level of integration and jointness which can be instituted. ‘Integration’ and ‘Jointness’ are two different aspects which need to be understood. Integration is necessary between the Services and the Ministry of Defence. This has been a long pending deficiency of our system. A certain amount of 'Integration' has also to be carried out with the External Affairs and Home Ministries also. Otherwise, the entire concept of theaterisation will remain undermined and prone to subversion. On the other hand 'Jointness' is an Interservice phenomenon. Jointness should enable the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force to fight as a whole. It is not to duplicate, replace or replicate one by the other. ‘Theatrisation’ and ‘Jointness’ are a chicken and egg story. Which comes first? While that debate may continue, a certain amount of jointness is mandatory to affect theatrisation. Have we achieved it? Have we sown the seeds for the future through better training? Hence training at the DSSC, respective war colleges and the NDC need a serious relook. The DSSC and war colleges contribute to Jointness and inculcating understanding of Integration. On the other hand, National Defence college must be with base of Integration. Presently it is not so. Unless we improve the level of integration and jointness by a notch, theatrisation will come unstuck. The ‘Integration’ and ‘Jointness’ base on which theatrisation is to be built is a bit weak at present and there is no visibility in strengthening it. The decision on theatrisation has been taken. We should leave all our doubts behind and put our heart and soul into making it a success. The question henceforth should be, how to make it happen rather than why do we need it. The shape and level of theatrisation will be subject to financial constraints. Currently, we will be able to theatrise only to a certain extent. However, that should not deter us. We need to make adequate structures even if they are presently skeletal, so that they can be filled up in the future, as and when finances are made available, and capabilities are put in place. It is an evolutionary process. One must also remember that change is a 'constant' in life. We should adapt to this change. Our higher defence organization must evolve accordingly. We have to put in a lot of thought into this exercise since transition management will be a challenge. Lastly, theatrisation should enable us to defend India optimally at least cost in the short run. In the long run theatrisation should enable India rise as a power of reckoning. I would like to add that the webinar on ‘Theatrisation of Armed Forces – The Way Forward’ has thrown up a lot of questions for which there are no clear-cut answers either with the establishment or outside. It is therefore necessary that these issues be debated at length in public forums without diluting the security aspects. We must get more clarity on issues to evolve into a reasonably good system in future. To this end, The Casa Forum will shortly have another webinar with another set of wise people to take this agenda forward. We hope there is more public participation in this discussion. Other articles by the author can be accessed @- https://www.gunnersshot.com/ Title Image Source: Indian Defence Forum
Last year I had written that the Corona was the Chinese Chernobyl. It was emotive, struck a chord and appropriate then. Now? People will think I am under the influence of alcohol. In Alaska, Wang Jiechi berated everyone for 17 minutes on the superiority of Chinese form of government. China is set to be an undisputed global leader. Every day one reads about some new Chinese wonder or its digital currency moves or its soaring economy or its gray zone activities in South China Sea or warning nations with retribution. Where am I thinking of Chernobyl and China when we are seeing the emergence of an Orwellian Big Brother? I almost gave up…. till I chanced to read the Ernest Hemingway’s classic quote “How do you go bankrupt?”….. “Two ways”…..“Gradually, then suddenly”….then the thought occurred…is something happening “Gradually”? Chernobyl As per Mikhail Gorbachev, the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 led to the collapse of USSR in 1991 - five years later. The disaster was a turning point. The accident was not reported. The clean-up was furtive and botched. Chernobyl was the result of subverting truth and propagation of organised lies with impunity. The broken and distorted Soviet system, built on lies, patronage and a totalitarian ideology couldn’t continue. USSR was not unstable then. No mass protests. ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’ forced an internal churn to trigger the collapse. The absurd monopoly of the Communist party on power and information and its overbearing centrality went belly up. Nothing has changed with the CCP - organised lies, patronage, totalitarian ideology, monopoly on power and information, botched clean-up or lying with impunity. Xi Jinping and the CCP are going for broke to ensure that Chernobyl is not repeated with the Wuhan Virus. The rich and well-oiled CCP state machinery, has got going. Any vestige of introspection/ criticism/ dissent is being stamped out ruthlessly. Undiluted propaganda to glorify China and CCP is at work. The regime is thinking bigger – world domination. Some chutzpah! Chernobyl and the Wuhan virus are not the only disasters that have happened. Fukushima and Bhopal also happened. However, democratic escape valves allowed steam to escape. Autocracies and totalitarian regimes are pressure cookers without escape valves. In any case, the scale and effect of the Wuhan Virus is global. It has touched every household on planet earth. No escape valves. Outcomes will be vastly different. What is more. The virus is democratic with a mind and life of its own. It will catch you one way or the other. If one form does not…its mutant will. Further, it is not going away in a hurry. Two years hence we will be still fighting it. That is the least if not more. In the past one year so much has changed. Much more will change immediately ahead…and will compound later. The Chernobyl time line might have already begun. When I searched Chinese vaccines, guns, belts, decoupling and babies…I felt that the “gradually” has commenced…I do not know if and when “suddenly” will happen. Babies China’s one-child policy is an imploding population bomb. Skewed gender ratio. Increasing divorce rates. Late marriages. Fertility rates below replacement levels. Shrinking workforce. Increased longevity. Increasing aged dependents. In 1978, China had nine workers per retiree. Down to five in 2020. Will dip to three by 2040. Relatively more old people. Japan got rich before it aged. China will be old before it grows rich. China will age in 22 years what Western nations aged in 60-70 years - with lower per capita incomes and an under developed social security system . No social security net, no family security and a pension crisis. China’s state pension funds might run out of money by 2035. A shrinking and aged population will adversely impact mega projects like “Belt and Road,” as also its military capability. A compounding belief is that Chinese figures are cooked up. Their population might already be shrinking. It is estimated to be 115 million less than the official 1.4 billion. Technological advances and productivity increases can offset aging - partially. Chinese economic dynamism and growth potential will dip. All this is public knowledge. What is new now? 2016- 17.86 million births. 2017 - 17.2 million births. 2018 - 15.2 million births. 2019 -14.65 million births. 2020-10.03 million births! Babies were unaffordable in the ‘Year of The Virus’. As the virus situation endures so will the declining trend. The demographic demise is being classified as a “gray rhino event,” a highly probable, high-impact, yet neglected threat looming on the horizon. China has no solutions. It explains the Chinese hurry to be numero uno. “1.4 billion people in China sounds like a lot, but I think in the next 20 years, we will see this bring big trouble to China, and the population decreasing. The speed of population decreasing is going to speed up. Now you called it a collapse. I agree with that" Jack Ma said. No wonder he is locked up somewhere. Gradually…? Belts The BRI was an instrument for China’s rise. By 2019, BRI was already slowing down. Hype declined and funding went southwards. There were issues of unviability, corruption, opacity, debt traps, negative social and environmental impacts. Lot of second thoughts. Projects were scaled down or being reviewed. Then came the Wuhan Virus and global economic disruption. Countries closed borders. Mobility and travel restrictions were imposed. Movement of Chinese workers and construction supplies - restricted. Political risks increased. Funding decreased. Clarion calls for roll over/ renegotiation of loans precluded new loans. China itself admitted that up to 60% projects were impacted. Must be more. Affected countries included Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Indonesia Tanzania, Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan, Australia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Maldives, Angola and more. There is growing public unease in China itself about BRI. China might recover economically and virus wise. Recipient countries will not. Pakistan is expected to take a decade to inoculate 75% of its population. Its economy is in a basket. Where will CPEC, the flagship of BRI go? Extend this scary logic conservatively to others. Low-income countries face a debt crunch. Chinese lenders will have to take enormous losses. Most low-income countries do not have vaccines. They cannot afford overpriced and inefficient Chinese vaccines. The virus will endure. It will incapacitate the BRI softly, over a long time. The BRI won’t vanish nor will it succeed. However, as revival or survival costs increase, politicians/governments will change. Gradually…? Virus and Vaccines Last year, China launched a massive campaign to combat the Virus and anti-China sentiment – masks, PPE, wolf warriors, vaccine research et al. Strict measures contained the virus and effected economic recovery. China’s propaganda was presented as saving humanity. However, Chinese culpability of the outbreak or spread of the Virus remains unshaken. Military assertiveness compounded this belief. China’s rise was aided by a favourable international environment. Its behaviour successfully destroyed international goodwill and generated antibodies in major nations. It created strategic divergence in its maritime environment. USA, UK, EU, India, Australia and Japan are now more competitive with China than cooperative. Its Vaccine Diplomacy conjures negative visions of wariness, scepticism, poor distribution, ineffectiveness, lack of data, overpriced, potential strings attached, political retribution, coercion, delayed delivery and lack of capacity. Overall – overhyped. Some outcomes are in the graphic. Last year, the USA appeared pitiable and China was invincible. Today USA is averaging 2.5 million jabs daily. It will reach herd immunity faster than China or any other large country. The tone and tenor in USA have changed off late. American resilience is back in action. China’s population, may not be vaccinated until mid-2022. Chinese advantage of controlling the virus will henceforth become a disadvantage. “China is at a very critical moment,” Zhong Nanshan, the top respiratory disease expert, said in a recent interview . “When other countries have been very well vaccinated, and China still lacks immunity, then that will be very dangerous.” China is ramping up its vaccination drive to achieve herd immunity. People are being forced to get shots. Population is reluctant to be vaccinated. Urgency to get vaccinated is missing due to reduced prevalence. China’s history of vaccine-related scandals and lack of transparency compounds the situation. Many feel that China is exporting more vaccines abroad, instead of using them domestically since they are not confident of efficacy. People are being offered freebies for vaccination! Imagine. The vaccine war is slipping. It is not about influence but about economics. India, Russia, USA, QUAD and GAVI are cutting in heavily in vaccine sales internationally and damaging the ‘Health Silk Road’. Domestically, China remains vulnerable without herd immunity, which is a political and economic risk. Decoupling When an US president says to his public that ‘China is having our lunch’, he has drawn battle lines. Decoupling on the whole was wishy washy since the countries dependant on Chinese imports were reeling under the pandemic. That is changing, as vaccinations are taking effect. US-China economic decoupling is now ‘inevitable’. Tech decoupling is underway. The Supply Chain Resilience Initiative is active through the QUAD platform with industry associations commencing dialogue. Atmanirbharta will yield results in time. Xinjiang issue will swing EU back to USA. Pessimism in doing business with China is growing. Simultaneously, China is facing rising unemployment, dropping household incomes and low internal consumption. These are synchronous. In my opinion any decoupling 10-15% will start a cascade. 2021-24 will be critical. In any case, the world is clear that it cannot be held to ransom by China. Things will change…Gradually… Guns China is attempting to build the greatest and modern military on earth at breakneck speed due to the geostrategic compulsions of the post pandemic world. Guns and wars are expensive hobbies. Military modernisation is a costly toy game. Capital investment goes up by about 100-150%. Day to day revenue expenditure goes up by 50% at least. Electronic obsolescence is a slippery fast track in a battlefield tending towards disruptive technologies. War waging trends are diversifying. From the indications so far, China is unwilling to headbutt major powers in traditional warfare. Expeditionary capability is over the horizon. Power might not exactly flow from their barrels but into them. The QUAD enables taking on China at a low cost. Costs will escalate for China. In my personal opinion, China’s military modernisation, time lines, and plans seems to be like pouring water into a desert. The economics of an unusable and huge military are gargantuan. It will have an impact…Gradually… Gradually to Suddenly At this point of time when everyone is down with the Wuhan Virus, China is flying high like Icarus. However, like Chernobyl, the Virus will extract its pound of flesh as time evolves. China has skipped the direct impact now. The indirect impact, is already in motion. Gradually, the belt is going loose, without babies the workforce shrinks and the military is getting costly. The (ineffective) vaccines might not protect, or accrue economic or diplomatic bounty. Decoupling is happening. Goodwill has vanished and competition has set in. Many more issues will prop up. All thanks to the Virus’ Chernobyl effect. The time line of the ‘gradually’ has commenced. Will the suddenly happen? Might or might not. However, the Chinese Icarus will not be able to get too close to the sun lest its wings melt. The Chinese Virus will have the last laugh.…it will do things in the long term…. Lastly. Autocracies are first half players. Aggressive. Early leaders. Always attempting to be start to finish winners. Democracies are second half players. Apparently lazy and disorganised. Greater stamina. They counter punch. Late finishers….Understand this and everything falls in place. 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