India-Pakistan war games, and Cold Start

April 9, 2010

gateShashank Joshi has a good piece up at RUSI explaining the limitations of India’s military ”Cold Start” doctrine, meant to allow the army to mobilise rapidly for war against Pakistan. The doctrine is intended to ensure Indian forces deploy faster than in 2001/2002 when India mobilised troops along the Pakistan border after an attack on its parliament blamed on Pakistan-based militants.  It would also aim to integrate army operations with those of the Indian Air Force and to a lesser extent its navy.

The doctrine has caused much alarm in Pakistan which sees it as evidence of a threat from its much bigger neighbour which it says forces it to keep the bulk of its army on its border with India rather than fighting militants on the Afghan border.

The problem is, as Joshi writes, Cold Start does not actually work — or at least has yet to be developed in ways which would make it effective in an environment where both countries have nuclear bombs.

The Indian National Interest website argues that by refusing to admit that Cold Start never really got off the drawing board, India does itself a disservice by giving Pakistan a reason to play up the threat from India.

“…the army’s armored units have continued to be focused on a doctrine that is unlikely to be employed in the event of even a limited war in a nuclear environment, in which air power is likely to play a greater role in any case. The army clinging to Cold Start is in many respects impractical, and diverts resources and attention from more meaningful and creative endeavours related to its military preparedness,” it says.

“Second, the political costs of leaving the doctrine announced but unexplained are not insignificant. As is its wont, Pakistan has framed Cold Start as evidence … of imminent Indian plans to initiate hostilities or invade. India also gets questioned unnecessarily by friendly powers for its apparent recklessness in contemplating limited warfare in a nuclear environment.”

“The responsibility lies with the Ministry of Defence and the national security apparatus, if not the Prime Minister himself, to affirm Cold Start as a work in progress or admit that it never left the drawing board. Either would render advantages—operational or political—that six years of ambiguity has not.”

With both India and Pakistan planning war games this month, there will be much attention on each country’s military capabilities. What is probably equally important is how each sees the other – Cold Start is seen as much more of a threat in Pakistan than in India, where it is regarded with scepticism.

The same was true with comments made in December by the Indian army chief, who was reported to have said India should be able to fight a war on two fronts with both Pakistan and China. Presented in India as an aspirational comment reflecting the reality of two disputed borders, the remarks — made at a closed door conference — were seen as a clear threat in Pakistan.

Both countries tend to think they know each other well,  and yet repeatedly see each other’s military intentions differently. That is not a good thing when over-confidence could one day lead them to misjudge the other’s red lines on the use of nuclear weapons.

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