1945 – the year when the whole world witnessed the catastrophe of nuclear weapon use, their indiscriminate effect and their immense destructive power, has altogether altered the course of warfare. Old warfare strategies became almost obsolete and new trends soon emerged at the limelight of global security structure. Traditionally, where the victory lied in winning a war suddenly transformed into avoiding it. As it became unthinkable to instigate an all out war in the presence of a devastating nuclear arsenal, states resorted to small scale wars and limited conflicts. Consequently prompted states to pursue there goals through means other than a total war. This changing nature of warfare led to a paradigm shift in international security domain where traditional Westphalian model of nation-state system has been seriously compromised. The shift from a state centered approach, brought to the centrestage the role of non-state actors. State’s sovereignty and it’s writ has been challenged as result of the emergence of new forms of conflicts following the cold war and the post cold war era. State vs non-state conflicts seemed to have dominated the battlefield.
Such a deviation from conventional approach has not only undermined the Westphalian notion of state system but has also incorporated new agents and structures, that paved a way for new forms of conflicts and warfare. Drifting from traditional notion of war and warfare, the battlefield in the post 1945 is dominated by cold wars, proxy wars, trade wars, psychological wars, cyber wars, informations wars and hybrid warfare. It implies that mostly such forms of warfare are characterised by an ever growing role and influence of non-state actors.
The paper is a critical analysis of deterrence theory and its marginalisation in terms of relevance in new wars. It provides a thorough understanding of evolving non-nuclear threats largely dominated by state vs. non-state conflicts, non-nuclear and hybrid warfare; and the diminishing utility of traditional deterrence approaches. Furthermore, it offers a new framework for advocating Modern Deterrence and Tailored Deterrence so as to establish a corelation between the emerging hybrid threats and deterrence.
The pioneer of nuclear deterrence strategy Bernard Brodie suggests ‘traditionally the sole purpose of military establishment was winning a war, from mow on its chief purpose must be to avert them.’This deterrent approach is likely to work in nuclear conflicts as the famous axiom states ‘Nuclear deters nuclear’. The said notion is quiet acceptable in nuclear context as no two-sided nuclear war has taken place and are successfully being averted. But in the context of non-nuclear threats, the said approach seemed to be irrelevant. Deterrence has failed to avert non-nuclear wars that have posed devastating challenges to the international security and stability.
The stability instability paradox substantiate this idea of limited, small scale, non-nuclear conflicts in the presence of nuclear weapons. While analysing nuclear deterrent capabilities it infers:
‘nuclear weapons confer large scale stability between nuclear weapon states, as in over 60 years none have engaged in large direct warfare due primarily to nuclear weapons deterrence capabilities, but instead are forced into pursuing political aims by military means in the form of comparatively smaller scale acts of instability, such as proxy wars and minor conflicts.’
Drawing upon this theoretical understanding, the omnipresence of non-nuclear conflicts seem to be inevitable. The mere presence of nuclear weapons and their immense destructive capability have prompted state as well as non-state actors to explore new avenues for the pursuit of their desired ends. But such deterrence failure at lower levels can exacerbate tensions at strategic level as even minor conflicts can spiral up into a major nuclear flashpoint given the ambiguity of intentions and rationality when non-state actors get involved.
Threshold theory also contributes to address the issues of deterrence failure in case of new wars. The major cause of such failure lies with not properly defining the red lines of non-nuclear threshold. Whilst the non-nuclear wars are waged without explicitly crossing the nuclear threshold, thereby easily bypassing the the notion of nuclear response. Even though if the states intend to lower their threshold to accommodate various non-nuclear strategic attacks, as some have already done; it becomes highly controversial. Besides, it become a subject to rational judgment that whether or not a non-nuclear (cyber) attack should be met with a nuclear retaliation.
Existing literature on deterrence has failed to comprehend the changing nature of warfare and as a result failed to adapt with the changing trends. Thus offering a fragile base on which to construct a complex hunch of the relevance of deterrence theory in the realm of new wars.
Emergence of New Wars and Deterrence Calculus
The nuclear revolution of 1945 has not only transformed the nature of war but has also revolutionised the international security construct. It has divided the world into the pre and post nuclear world thereby challenging the conventional security architecture largely dominated by states in international system. The post nuclear era has witnessed the grey zones of peace and war largely due to the encroachment of myriad non-state entities in global politics and security environment. The said developments heralded new wars and warfare domains:
State vs Non-State Conflicts
The ever growing role of non-state actors in warfare following the cold war and the post-cold war era, has fanned the flames of unpredictability and uncertainty in war. While the states are regarded as legitimate actors to wage a war, the non-state actors does not enjoy such perks of legitimacy under international law. Having said that it implies that states have an obligation to abide by the rules of international system while non-state actors are set free to do anything they desire.
The surfacing of state vs. non-state conflicts also reflect the drawbacks of deterrence theory. One of the core assumptions of nuclear deterrence theory i.e. “Deterrence works among rational actors”, also seems futile in this context. Since non-state actors are regarded as irrational, hence the probable patterns of deterrence become hard to calculate. Modern wars being overwhelmed by asymmetry, ethnic conflicts, irregularity, insurgencies and terrorism; are some of the domains where traditional notion of deterrence appears trivial.
Psychological Operations, Information and Cyber Warfare
Use of propaganda to psychologically manipulate the perceptions of adversary dates back to the ancient era. It has been successfully employed by Cyrus-The Great, Genghez Khan and German and Allied forces in WW2, to name but a few. In modern warfare psy-ops is usually executed using a more subtle and sophisticated medium i.e. information domain, either to ‘win hearts and minds’ of the population or to ‘demoralise the enemy’. Psy-ops when accompanied with information warfare not only has the potential to manipulate the information in oder to gain information superiority but rather makes a complex web of misinformation aimed at generating desired response from the targeted audience and mobilizing support for the perpetrator’s agenda.
Likewise, cyber warfare is also evolving and poses a great challenge to the national and global security. Cyber attacks are becoming more and more threatening to the critical infrastructure and the information and operational technology with high levels of sophistication. In todays information age, a fierce cyber attack can be easily mounted on an adversary with the aim of manipulating data so as to incur massive disruption and destruction to the recipient’s critical infrastructure. The most severe form of cyber attack can have a decapitating effect on the adversary; whereby its ability to respond to a threat is hampered and paralysed. The spillover effect of digital attacks can also cause physical damage as well.
In nuclear domain where threshold of nuclear use has been defined adequately, no serious effort has been made in defining the same in case of these emerging threats. There are no clear red lines and norms in cyber and information domain on which to devise a deterrence strategy in order to prevent a cyber attack. Furthermore, deterring such an adversary whom one cannot see, neither can one identify, nor can one communicate the credibility of the threat; makes a case where the very essence of deterrence strategy is expected to be challenged.
Hybrid warfare refers to the integration of different forms of warfare commonly referred as ‘multi-domain warfighting approach’ intended to inflict massive damage upon the opponent.
‘Hybrid warfare capabilities include the movement of conventional forces equipped with smarter technologies; nuclear force intimidation, trade wars, economic manipulation, energy coercion; propaganda and disinformation, use of proxies and insurgencies, diplomatic pressure and cyber disruption that are being employed through direct or covert means.’
The pervasiveness of hybrid threats and associated risks cannot be ignored. The notion of ‘existential deterrence’ that states ‘the mere presence of nuclear weapons capability can deter an adversary from taking aggressive actions that could possibly lead towards escalation’, also appears irrelevant since the mere presence of nuclear weapons did not prevent terrorists from attacking world trade centre on september 11, 2001. Likewise, strategic deterrence has lost its credibility in deterring hybrid attacks because the dynamics of these threats vary considerably from that of the cold war era.
Strategic Deterrence Failures
Legacies of the cold war ‘strategic nuclear deterrence’ still remain. But when viewed in line with the changing nature of new wars, it seems less flexible and hardly relevant. As a courtesy of strategic deterrence, a nuclear war has been successfully averted but that does not seem to have a case as far as new wars are concerned. The success of deterrence in the cold war era does not imply that the same would also work in the post cold war era. That is to say ‘there is no one size fits all’ in deterrence. Unlike the deterrence patterns of cold war whereby primary focus was on deterring nuclear aggression from states, the current deterrence strategies are assessed with regard to the changing trends of new wars.
Thus the foundation of deterrence theory based on cold war security construct is deemed to fail when applied to the new forms of warfare that are non-nuclear in nature. The deterrence 3C’s approach i.e. Capability, Credibility and communication shall be utilized to assess its relevance in current era.
New wars have witnessed the enhanced role of non-state actors inflicting major damage to the state’s security and infrastructure by the employment of various non-conventional methodologies. These actors have so little to loose as compared to the benefits they reap from such adventures. The relative power of these actors is less than that of a state but their behavior is not constrained by the international system, whereby they can threaten even the superpowers. Thus the capability to deter such an aggression remains questionable as the states have not yet been able to deny such acts of aggression by these actors. The primary reason might be the states’s reluctance to carry out punitive actions against an adversary who is irrational and also due to the threat of escalation. Thus the capability of even a nuclear state is essentially been compromised in the face of new threats. Deterrence cannot work unless the opponent is psychologically motivated that his actions would be met with dire consequences and in case where the adversary is not a rational actor and is ready to risk everything, the notion of deterring such an adversary seems futile. Likewise, the unbeatable nuclear and conventional deterrent capabilities that state’s now a days possess had done no good in averting these challenges.
State’s credibility of deterrence has also been challenged. The inability of state to respond effectively to the emerging threats merely due to the difficulty in locating a non-state adversary, or due to the threat of escalation or as a rational choice, undermines the deterrence in the eyes of the perpetrator. It further conforms to the opponents belief that the state is unwilling to take retaliatory actions thereby prompting them to take risks and undermine the state’s credibility. Furthermore, the state’s failure in following up on the threats also attract these actors to continuously inflict damage and challenge deterrence credibility. Perception of the adversary regarding the credibility of threat of retaliation is a dominant factor in determining the deterrence success or failure.
The communication of the threat to the adversary forms the basis of deterrence. The capability and the credibility of any state become effective only when they are being conveyed to the opponent. In the context of new wars the inability of states to effectively communicate their deterrence capabilities and credibility to the opponents, constitutes the major part of the problem. The traditional notion of threat communication became almost obsolete as the world today has numerous entities other than states that can act as potential aggressor. Thus, explicitly communicating deterrent threat among those entities presents a grave challenge for the states.
Rethinking the Traditional Deterrence Approaches
As the famous proverb goes ‘modern problems requires modern solutions’, the emergence of hybrid threats and new wars also requires modern deterrence approaches. The referent object of traditional deterrent approaches must be replaced i.e. a shift from state-centric nuclear deterrence to non-state centric non-nuclear deterrence.
Punishment vs denial deterrence
The two fundamental approaches of deterrence theory can provide a framework for understanding the contours of non-nuclear conflicts. Although their utility so far in deterring such conflicts has been questionable, they still can serve as the basis for the modern deterrence theory.
‘Deterrence by denial strategies seek to deter an action by making it infeasible or unlikely to succeed, thus denying a potential aggressor confidence in attaining its objectives. Deterrence by punishment, on the other hand, threatens severe penalties, such as nuclear escalation or severe economic sanctions, if an attack occurs. The focus of deterrence by punishment is not the direct defense of the contested commitment but rather threats of wider punishment that would raise the cost of an attack.’
The aforementioned approaches need to be customized according to the requirement of the emerging threats. The primary focus of these deterrence approaches was to avert a nuclear conflict, but in the current era of non-nuclear conflicts these approaches can be moulded so as to ensure the same in non-nuclear domain as well.
Modern deterrence theory just like that of nuclear deterrence aims at ‘dissuading the adversary from taking aggressive actions by persuading that actor that the costs would outweigh potential gains.’ As nuclear deterrence failed to deter non-nuclear or hybrid wars, in order to prevent the aggressor from initiating a non-nuclear attack, several deterrence strategies have been proposed by Centre for Strategic and International Studies which specify:
- Establishing norms of behavior
- Tailoring deterrence threats to individual actors
- Adopting an all of government and society response
- Building credibility with adversaries, such as by always following through on threats
The modern deterrence project has been initiated by RUSI focusing on ‘blending of traditional deterrence and societal resilience against emerging forms of warfare.’ The project is aimed at integrating military, government, the civil society and the business community so as to build a resilient deterrence against the hybrid threats. The initiatives like these can contribute a lot in framing effective modern deterrence theories.
The concept been proposed by Dr. Barry Schnieder suggests that new threats requires tailored deterrence and that the traditional concepts of cold war deterrence might not work for modern challenges. According to his theory,
‘Deterrence must be tailored to
- specific adversary leaders,
- in specific scenarios,
- utilizing a range of verbal and non-verbal communications, and
- cognizant of the balance of military, economic and political power between the parties.’
Fundamentally, it proposes the investigation into opponents decision making process, leadership profiles, willingness to take risks and the susceptibility towards the deterrent threats. Although this theoretical approach is state-centric, it is flexible enough to accommodate non-state threats of twenty-first century.
The post-nuclear era has witnessed the dawn of non-nuclear conflicts largely dominated by hybrid and non-state threats which has added uncertainty and unpredictability to an already complex nature of warfare. The asymmetric nature of new wars and the hybrid tactics they employ has raised serious concerns about the relevance of the existing discourse of deterrence. The credibility of deterrent capabilities has been vaining since the rise of new actors in the arena of global politics. Unlike nuclear deterrence which was aimed at few nuclear weapons states with known capabilities and intentions, the contemporary enemy is the one that is not visible with hidden capabilities and intentions. Thus making it even more difficult to exercise deterrence.
The traditional model of strategic deterrence needs reevaluation and adaptation to cope up with the emerging non-traditional challenges of the twenty-first century. The expansion of the narrow conception of deterrence is required so as to broaden the realm in order to integrate non-nuclear factors.
On the Universality of the “Logic of Strategy” and Beyond
Just like several other scholars, military strategist Edward Luttwak argues that “the universal logic of strategy applies in perfect equality to every culture in every age”.[i] This implies that there is indeed one logic inherent to strategic thought, which, according to Luttwak, “cannot be circumvented […] and must be obeyed”.[ii]Mahnken further underpins the idea of the universality of the logic of strategy with the argument that war is a human activity and human nature has not changed throughout time.[iii]When considering Colin Gray stating that “there is an essential unity to all strategic experience in all periods of history because nothing vital to the nature and function of war and strategy changes”, it seems rather natural to accept a certain inevitability of strategic conclusions.[iv]
It is therefore necessary to pose the question which implications the existence of a universal logic of strategy might entail. If such a universally valid logic is assumed to exist, those who understand – or rather master – it best and manage to uncover its underlying cognitive mechanisms will be the most successful actors within the international system as they will be more able to foresee and therefore counter the strategies of possible opponents.
Additionally, to investigate the notion of a logic of strategy is particularly relevant considering the prospect of future wars. If there is a logic of strategy, which is further universally valid, then neither the scenario of a militarized outer space, nor the invention of highly lethal, insuperable biological weapons or the increasing development of and reliance on artificial intelligence will have any substantial, altering effect on it. This thought is congruent with Colin Gray, who claims that it would be a major fallacy to fall prey to the assumption that the invention of ever more modern weapon systems might change the presumed continuity inherent to strategy.[v] In this respect, it must also be emphasized that a certain trust in a universally valid logic of strategy must be handled carefully and must not confine strategic thinking. Hence, the notion of a logic of strategy hints towards the very practice of strategy.[vi]
The term “strategy” itself evolved over time and certainly captured a different meaning before World War One than it does today. This caesura was introduced by Freedman, who argues that this experience led to a widening of the concept “strategy” and to several attempts of redefinition, thus diverging from earlier notions of the concept as provided by von Clausewitz and others.[vii] However, Whetham points out that the notion of strategy and its inherent logic already permeated pre-modern eras, even if it was not yet considered or referred to as such by the respective protagonists.[viii]Approaching the term from a contemporary perspective, Gray very prominently defines strategy as “the bridge that relates military power to political purpose”.[ix]Angstrom and Widen engage with the term similarly when they write that strategy must be viewed as a rationalist process that reconciles “the political aims of war and the military aims in war”.[x] The notion of strategy can therefore be boiled down to the combination of means, ways and aims.
The term “logic” shall in this essay be understood as a rational process of reasoning that is based on various premises and finally leads to the acceptance of a valid conclusion.[xi]Considering that the sub-discipline of strategic studies was traditionally occupied with the question whether and to what extent strategic action is subject to historical, economic, social and technological regularities and patterns – thus whether certain premises indeed necessarily lead to specific strategic conclusions – the assumption of a specific “logic of strategy” does not seem far-fetched. Therefore, this essay argues that indeed a universally valid logic inherent to strategy can be identified, having overcome the constraints of time and space. However, this logic is not the only one. Strategy further operates along the lines of a time- and space-bound, actor-specific logic, which is why strategy must be perceived through a multidimensional lens – and which finally makes strategy so difficult.
On the logic of strategy
When approaching the notion of a logic of strategy, it is necessary to emphasize two preconditions. Firstly, the utility of the use of military force as an important tool of statecraft must be acknowledged.[xii] Secondly, one has to consider the general overarching perception of international politics that widely underlies the field of strategic studies, namely the notion of an anarchic self-help system with independent states at its center, which are all armed to a certain extent and therefore find themselves in security dilemmas.[xiii] Within this framework we will now consider what might constitute the logic of strategy.
When elaborating on the question whether there exist “guidelines” that inform strategic thinking, Gaddis concludes that the fact that strategists do not always have to start from square one increases the likeliness of a certain logic of strategy.[xiv] According to Angstrom and Wilden, the logic of strategy unfolds as its design necessarily bases on three core pillars.[xv]Firstly, military and political ends are perceived as two distinct aspects that need to be put into accordance, the application of military means serving the political ends. Moreover, the actor being concerned with strategy does not have unlimited resources at his/her disposal. Therefore, the aspect of the scarcity of resources is to be viewed as a cornerstone or fixed determinant of the underlying logic of strategy. This is a crucial factor because, as Gray points out, examples like Imperial France, Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union all demonstrate that the pursuit of political ends beyond one’s means is bound to fail.[xvi]Thirdly, Angstrom and Widen emphasize that the logic of strategy builds on the confrontation of opposing wills, which accounts for strategy’s interactive and consequently dynamic nature.[xvii] This component might be captured best by Beaufre, who approaches strategy as “the art of the dialectic of two opposing wills using force to resolve their dispute”.[xviii] It is crucial to highlight that the “opposing will” belongs to an intelligent, capable opponent. These three elements that define the logic of strategy are further interlinked, leading to repercussions among them.
As strategy describes the use of military means for the achievement of political ends, several authors have thus attempted to categorize the possible ways to use force. For instance, Robert Art distinguishes four functions of the use of force: defense, deterrence, compellence and swaggering.[xix] Why is this categorization important when reflecting on the logic of strategy? This is because the possible ways to use force (independently of which form the specific “force” takes) are not time-bound. When for example thinking of deterrence, one might be tempted to assume that this specific way to use force is inextricably linked to the deterrence function of nuclear arms in combination with the principle of mutually assured destruction (MAD). However, as Lonsdale vividly illustrates, Alexander the Great already mastered the interplay of military power and psychological effects and made use of coercion and deterrence in order to expand and sustain the newly shaping borders of his empire.[xx] This demonstrates that the logic of strategy operates on the basis of a certain toolkit of ways to use force, which have persisted over time.
Another aspect which could be interpreted as part of a universal logic of strategy might be its inherent paradoxicality. This feature is above all emphasized by Edward Luttwak, who postulates that the whole strategic sphere is permeated with a paradoxical logic deviating from day-to-day life’s ordinary “linear” logic.[xxi] He underpins this notion by referring to the proverb “Si vis pacem, para bellum”, the idea of nuclear deterrence (thus the interpretation of one’s readiness to attack retaliatory as genuinely peaceful intent) or by providing specific examples.[xxii] In this sense he draws attention to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and claims that the Japanese were able to create a momentum of surprise only by neglecting crucial preparations.[xxiii] This means that within the realm of strategy, Luttwak’s paradoxical logic finds thorough application as the straightforward “linear” logic is viewed rather predictable and is therefore more likely to be punished.
In sum, the aspects outlined above could be perceived as being universally valid, throughout time and space. However, as will be argued, there is more to the logic of strategy that must be considered.
Going Beyond Strategy’s Universal Logic
In the following, the attempt should be undertaken to challenge the notion that there is indeed only a logic of strategy. One could firstly argue that strategy, bridging between military means and political objectives, is not only grounded in the specific universal logic as outlined before but that strategy is also always a choice among several available options. Then the question follows, if all options available would theoretically all be equally feasible, require the same resources and are similar in terms of effectiveness, which strategy would be adopted? One could argue that this depends on the involved actors, which, even if acting under the premise of rationality, are rooted in their specific historical, social and political contexts.
Strategy is therefore clearly not designed within a vacuum. The contents of strategy do not only derive from what was described above as composing the universally valid logic of strategy. If we return to the definition of “logic”, the term was understood as a process of thought, which leads from several given premises to a valid conclusion under the condition of rationality. Therefore, also the given time- and space-bound circumstances under which a certain strategy is formulated could be considered as forming their own logic. Angstrom and Widen summarize these circumstances as strategic context, which unfolds along the lines of six dimensions of politics (without claiming to be exhaustive): geography, history, ideology, economy, technology and the political system.[xxiv] Instead of treating them as mere contextual factors, it is important to consider the respective as constituting their own logic, along which strategy is aligned. However, Angstrom and Widen emphasize that these actor-specific factors only bear limited explanatory power and that it is difficult to assess to what extent these factors influence the design of strategies.[xxv] This, nevertheless, does not invalidate the notion that these actor-, time- and space-specific circumstances should be considered as another logic by itself. Acknowledging the existence of more than one logic of strategy penetrating the realm of strategy would further emphasize the importance of the specific embeddedness of strategy – without undermining the significance of the above identified universally valid logic of strategy. One would consequently accept that when it comes to strategy, one encounters several logics in action.
When returning to the initial question, which implications the existence of a logic of strategy would have, specifically regarding the prospect of success, it is worthwhile to consult Richard Betts, who asks “Is Strategy an Illusion?”.[xxvi] He argues that effective strategy is often impossible due to the unpredictability and complexity of the gap between the use of force and the aspired political ends.[xxvii] However, it is indeed because of this overwhelming complexity in which strategy operates that its underlying logics should be reflected upon. Gaddis refers to the universally valid features of the logic of strategy as a “checklist”, which shall be considered to contribute to the design of a successful, effective strategy.[xxviii] As was demonstrated above, it is nevertheless also crucial to consider the additional specific time-and space-bound logic of strategy. To understand the strategy of potential opponents, it makes sense to deconstruct its logical foundation, to consider the universally valid logic of strategy but also the respective underlying actor-specific logic. Strategy thus operates along a multidimensional logic, both universally valid and time- and space-bound. This is what makes strategy difficult but acknowledging this conceptual aspect might notwithstanding contribute to its further mastery.
[i]Luttwak, Edward N., The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2012), vii.
[iii]Mahnken, Thomas G., The Evolution of Strategy… But What About Policy? Journal of Strategic Studies 34 no. 4 (2016), 52.
[iv]Gray, Colin S.,Modern Strategy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 1.
[v]Gray Colin S., Why Strategy Is Difficult. JFQ (1999), 8.
[vi] Cf. Lonsdale, David J. and Colin S. Gray (eds.), The Practice of Strategy: From Alexander the Great to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2011).
[vii]Freedman, Lawrence. The Meaning of Strategy: Part I: The Origin Story. Texas National Security Review 1 no. 1 (2007), 90-105.
[viii]Whetham, David, The Practice of Strategy: From Alexander the Great to the Present. Edited by John Andreas Olsen and Colin S. Gray. War in History 21 no. 2 (2014), 252.
[ix] Gray, Modern Strategy,17.
[x]Armstrong, Jan and J. J. Widen,Contemporary Military Theory. The Dynamics of War (New York: Routledge, 2015), 33. Original emphasis.
[xii]Art, Robert J., To What Ends Military Power? International Security 4 no. 4 (1980), 35.
[xiii]Gilpin, Robert G., No one Loves a Political Realist. Security Studies 5 no. 3(1996), 26.
[xiv]Gaddis, John Lewis, Containment and the Logic of Strategy. The National Interest 8 no. 10 (1987), 29.
[xv] Armstrong and Widen, Contemporary Military Theory, 46.
[xvi]Gray, Why Strategy Is Difficult, 10.
[xvii] Cf. Armstrong and Widen, Contemporary Military Theory.
[xviii]Beaufre, André, An Introduction to Strategy (London: Faber and Faber, 1965), 22.
[xix] Cf. Art, To What Ends Military Power?
[xx]Lonsdale, David J., The Campaigns of Alexander the Great. In: John A. Olsen; Colin S. Gray (eds.). The Practice of Strategy: From Alexander the Great to the Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2011)33.
[xxi]Luttwak, Edward N., Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2001), 2.
[xxiii] Ibid., 6.
[xxiv] Cf. Armstrong and Widen, Contemporary Military Theory, 36-43.
[xxv] Ibid., 42-43.
[xxvi] Cf. Betts, Richard K., Is Strategy an Illusion? International Security 25 no. 2 (2000), 5-50.
[xxviii] Gaddis, Containment and the Logic of Strategy, 38.
Biden, Modi and the Malabar Exercise 2020
So lastly, the reluctant President Donald Trump, keeping the value of the verdict, allows the GSA to begin the transition under the Presidential Transition Act 1963, on November 23, 2020 making the post-election resources and services available to assist in the event of presidential transition. This facilitates the formal transfer of power and helps the new President adjust his vision and the assessment of the world. Joe Biden has his own view of the burning issues around of which the expanding China, Taiwan, South China Sea, Iran, South Asia and Indo-Pacific constitute important fragments. Now since India is engaged in almost all these issues directly or indirectly and happens to be a long term strategic ally of US the talk between Biden and Modi carries several messages. In the meantime, the conduct of Malabar exercise, that formally involves all the QUAD members (India, Japan, the US and Australia) institutionalizes the strategic relationship in the region and promises more stability and peace.
Prime Minister Narender Modi, just like the heads of Canada, UK, and Australia congratulated the new elect on November 17, 2020. The President-elect Joe Biden, in turn, called him back for thanks and reaffirmation of many things suspected to be under shadow by many. The president-elect noted that he looks forward to working closely with the prime minister on shared global challenges, including containing COVID-19 and defending against future health crises, tackling the threat of climate change, launching the global economic recovery, strengthening democracy at home and abroad, and maintaining a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region (The Week). Mr. Biden expressed his desire to carry forward the strong ties between the two states and strengthen and expand the US-India strategic partnership alongside the first Vice President of South Asian descent Kamla Harris. His election policy papers also held that no important global challenge could be solved without the Indo-US partnership.
Besides crafting a greater Indian role in world politics, Biden’s reference to challenges of climate change, the Covid 19 pandemic and global economic recovery, the stress on democracy and peaceful and prosperous Indo-pacific sketch some significant flashes of the coming times. ‘Democracy Assistance’ has been an important objective of US foreign policy since beginning but India has a mercurial stance over the goal as it has succumbed to the exigencies of national interest and security thus playing safe with the undemocratic neighbours. Therefore the US reference brings the dictatorial and nondemocratic regimes into discussion that it aims to size.
Indo-Pacific and the Malabar I&II
The Indo-Pacific and the QUAD have gained prominence in recent past on account of heat generated in the South China Sea and China’s OBOR project affecting the trade interests of ASEAN members, India and the US in the Indian Ocean region. In the October 7, 2020 QUAD members meet at Tokyo the issues of collaboration among the democratic states and challenge to world peace, primarily from China, was discussed seriously. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for the democracies to work together to protect people and partners from the Communist Party of China’s exploitation, corruption and coercion. He referred to the Chinese provocations in the East China Sea, the Mekong, the Himalayas, and the Taiwan Straits (Joshi October 7, 2020). The Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar also called for likeminded countries to coordinate responses. Mr. Jaishanker held that we remain committed to upholding the rules-based international order, underpinned by the rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international sea, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes (The Quint, October 7, 2020). However, a strong commitment lacked on the part of India which was met later during the Malabar exercise. India has a clear Indo-Pacific policy as articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018, which aims at protecting Indian interests in the Indian ocean region against China’s OBOR and SOP (String of Pearl). Peace and security in the region are high up on India’s list of priorities. As first and foremost, India’s economic interests in the region requires peace and convivial environment. At the same time, India has acknowledged rising China’s threats to its vital national interests in the region. Therefore, India’s strategy must be seen against the background of the interplay between India’s economic interests and national security (Purayil 2019).
The latest 24th edition of Malabar exercises have, however, put all the skeptics aside as India invited Australia also this time for the naval exercises and all the four QUAD members (India, US and Japan) have participated with great zeal. The more interesting thing is that the exercises take place at a time when the world is down with pandemic and the conflicting situations are flaring up in the Middle-East, Central Asia, Caucasus, South Asia and Far East. India is locked up in a border issue at Ladakh with China for over six months and South China Sea simmers under the fire of war threat. India’s tough times with its smaller neighbours also make the possibility of the institutionalization of QUAD and Indo-Pacific of immense importance.
The first phase of the exercise was held in the Bay of Bengal from November 3-6, and the second phase was conducted in the Arabian Sea from November 17-20. The navies of India, the US, Australia and Japan concluded the second phase of the Malabar naval exercise in the Arabian Sea that involved two aircraft carriers and a number of frontline warships, submarines and maritime aircraft (Mint. November 20, 2020). The major highlight of the exercise was participation of Indian Navy’s Vikramaditya carrier battle group and the Nimitz strike group of the US Navy.
The more significant outcome of the exercise appears to be the proposal of a new fleet by US. On November 17, 2020 speaking at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium, the outgoing U.S. Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite suggested the creation of a new fleet within the Indo-Pacific theater, which will take some load off the U.S. Seventh Fleet stationed near Japan. The fleet is to be placed in the crossroads between the Indian and the Pacific oceans, and going to have an Indo-PACOM footprint (Military Men. November 19, 2020). The region already has a Command known as U.S. Indo-Pacific Command found on 30 May 2018 and converted from United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) first found in 1947.
Initially, the Chinese response was balanced, stating that it has noticed the development and believes that military cooperation between countries should be conducive to regional peace and stability. But after the proposed fleet and the President-elect Joe Biden’s presumptive nominee for the secretary of defense position, Michele Flournoy, who is also seen as a China hawk in favor of a robust stance against the People’s Liberation Army, Navy, the idea of the First Fleet may very well carry forward to the next administration (Rej).
Since China had reacted sharply at the inclusion of Japan at the Malabar exercises in 2018 the inclusion of Australia this times irks it more as the idea of QUAD gets more institutionalized and the Indo-Pacific mapping further crystallized. The Biden’s quest for a stronger strategic partnership with India and support for Indian claim to permanent membership of the United Nations and the unflinching support for India against its security issues have raised eyebrows in Beijing. At one stage, the US presence in Diageo Garcia irked India but in the changed scenario the increased US presence in Indian Ocean doesn’t alarm it much, even though it curtails the Indian prominence. In view of OBOR project and the Chinese aggressiveness in the region, India has reconciled to the situation and even the US-Maldives agreement of September goes well with it. However, in the long run it is faced with a double challenge of plugging the Chinese dominance and saving its prominence and at the same time reconcile with a friendly ally in the US. Meanwhile, China, being the largest trade partner of Australia may hurt it economically and rake up heat at the Nine- dash line, Ladakh and Taiwan.
- Joshi, Manoj. October 7, 2020. “The Quad and the Indo-Pacific.” https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/quad-indo-pacific/
- Military Men. November 19, 2020. https://militarymen.in/us-navy-secretary-proposes-new-indo-pacific-fleet-the-diplomat/
- Mint. November 20, 2020. https://www.livemint.com/news/india/phase-2-of-malabar-2020-exercise-concludes-in-arabian-sea-11605889757803.html
- Purayil, Muhsin Puthan 2019. Geopolitics. “The 2019 Shangri La Dialogue and Reflections on India’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.” https://thegeopolitics.com/the-2019-shangri-la-dialogue-and-reflections-on-indias-indo-pacific-strategy/.
- Rej, Abhijnan. The Diplomat. November 18, 2020. https://thediplomat.com/2020/11/us-navy-secretary-proposes-new-indo-pacific-fleet/
- The Quint. October 7, 2020). https://www.thequint.com/news/india/we-will-work-together-s-jaishankar-meets-mike-pompeo-in-tokyo
- The Week. https://www.theweek.in/wire-updates/international/2020/11/18/fgn2-us-biden-modi.html
The imperative of a military QUAD
After dithering for a while, India has chosen to make the Malabar naval exercise a quadrilateral one by inviting Australia to join the US and Japan. The exercise this year was held in the Bay of Bengal in the first week of November. This is the second time the four navies have come together for a naval exercise in the Indian Ocean, after 2007 when China objected to it, calling it the Asian NATO. Since then India has been careful not to antagonise China until this year when hostilities broke out along the Sino-Indian border. The exercises are not formally linked to the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) forum but the participation of Australia will definitely provide a military dimension for the Quad, which was formed in 2017 aimed at establishing ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific. Though the Quad is currently only a mechanism of official ‘gathering and discussions’ concerning the security issues, it has the potential to become a security forum.
This time, China had a muted response compared with 2007, but it warned against any regional groupings in which the US, a formidable countervailing power against the Chinese military, is a member.
The latest Malabar assumes greater significance as it is conducted amidst Chinese expansionism. China has already achieved its ‘consolidation’ in the South China Sea, has taken control of few strategic locations in the Himalayas, and is upping the ante against the US. Its naval strategy has also been expanded from ‘offshore defence’ to ‘open seas protection’, expanding its wings to the larger Pacific and the Indian Ocean region. With this, the Indo-Pacific is virtually the area of operations for the PLA Navy. However, the absence of a concrete security forum to ‘discuss and act’ has left the region vulnerable to security competition and hegemonistic politics.
In every region, the responsibility to maintain order and peace rests on major powers. When they act in concert with smaller countries, by protecting smaller one’s interests, a region-wide peace and stability is ensured. Since the US’s capacity to secure security for allies in Asia, let alone preserve the regional order, is in question, the major powers of the region such as India, Japan and Australia must work closely to prevent China’s ambition of pre-eminence in the Indo-Pacific.
Up until now, these regional heavyweights have conspicuously taken a policy of ‘not antagonising’ China and have also resisted to endorse a US-led balancing against China. This has emboldened China in converting its ‘peaceful rise’ image into an assertive military power, and has derived the premium in changing the status quo both in the South China Sea (SCS) as well as now in the Himalayas.
So far, China has not employed its military force in its expansionist actions in the maritime domain. In the SCS, frequent Chinese intrusions into the disputed area have been done with maritime militias, to scare away the fishermen of other countries. However, with using of a regular military force to change the status quo in the Galwan valley in the Himalayas, where Indian and Chinese military clashed and twenty Indian soldiers and a number of ‘unaccounted’ Chinese soldiers were died, China has demonstrated that it is not hesitant to employ the PLA to settle scores with the opponents.
An assertive power needs to be checkmated militarily, otherwise, it will become more revisionist. So far none of the regional countries have had the wherewithal to take on China individually, or no regional mechanisms such as ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), or any other existing regional groupings, could mount pressure on China. All of them follow a ‘consensus and compromise’ approach based on ASEAN way of conflict resolution mechanism.
However, the Quad doesn’t need a formal military coalition mechanism modelled on NATO. Formal military coalition follows collective security principles that take the security of the one is security of all. Though it ensures security guarantee of smaller states, it is mostly driven by the choices and preferences of the powerful ones who set the agendas and interests. A military Quad can work without following the collective security principles but can pursue a consensus and norms based approach.
It is necessary for a consensus approach because all four member countries have varied security interests and concerns, and also different approaches and priorities in dealing with China. Compared with the US and Australia, India and Japan are neighbours of China and have territorial disputes with it, so they face direct security threat from China. Similarly, except India, the other three are mutually entangled security partners under the US, so New Delhi stands out from the alliance system, and has no intention to join in it whatsoever. In this respect, the Quad must first formulate agendas based on consensus and norms, and see how it can act upon it.
In the military Quad, the US has to be a facilitator, not a lead balancer, to promote it as an acceptable grouping across the region. For the US, the Indo-Pacific is one of many security concerns, while for other members it is their own region. India could take up more of a leadership role in the Indian Ocean region, while Japan and Australia can do so in their own areas. Since this is not a formal military arrangement they don’t need to follow the alliance principles, but at the same time they need an institutionalised military arrangement.
Given the context of China’s frequent military provocations against potential rivals to test their resolve as to how they respond to a Chinese aggression, a military Quad is necessary. Chinese domination in the maritime domain is shaping along with its modernised navy, supported by its economic growth. Undoubtedly, China sends out a message to the regional states that if anyone seeks to challenge China then it will be prohibitively expensive for them. So only a joint mechanism would be able to counter the Chinese aggression in the ocean in future. The Indo-Pacific region requires different layers of organisations and the Quad can be a true military organisation of powerful countries. In this respect, a military Quad is imperative and must take more responsibility individually as well as collectively.
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