Role of the military in the next century

Columnist SULTAN AHMED writes about the possible role of the military in the new millennium

George W. Bush, Republican candidate for next year's presidential elections in the US, was discussing foreign policy and defence issues with his top advisers, including former senior US officials. And he suddenly asked: 'what is the role of the military in the next century?'

There was stunned silence in the Governor's room in Houston, Texas, as no one had thought about it. Then a defence expert Richard Armitage stepped in, and came up with his vision of the role of the US Armed Forces in an uncertain and rapidly changing world.

This question has become important not only for the US and many other Western countries 10 years after the end of the cold war and break up of the Soviet Union but also to almost every other country in the world. Rapid changes in military technology, the larger role of missiles and the increasing reliance of the US, joined by other Western states on its Air Force primarily to fight small wars, as in Iraq and Kosovo, make it necessary for all countries to think of the role of the Armed Forces in the coming decades.

For the developing countries caught between hostile neighbours at one end and the inroads of globalization of the economy at the other, along with the need to keep sizeable forces to cope with internal uprisings, the role, size and shape of the Armed Forces and the strategy they opt for and its cost are very important.

The US talks of 're-inventing the military' and 'a new look army''. Many other modern states are doing likewise as they think large and prolonged wars are unlikely in the modern world where market share is far more important than more land space. But India, next door to us, is talking of its nuclear doctrine for a 'triad of aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-based assets.' It is talking of space-based weapons as well for early warning and communication. Simultaneously, it says it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons. And its Defence Minister George Fernandez says India has developed strategic plans to counter any possible nuclear strike by Pakistan. He adds India is prepared to counter 'a full scale nuclear strike' from across the borders.

And after spending Rs. 20 billion on the Kargil conflict, as admitted by Fernandez. India is to raise its defence spending far above the current 2.3 per cent of its GDP, which is 10 billion dollars.

Earlier sane elements like the former Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral had said India and Pakistan should agree on mutual defence cuts; but that is not what the BJP leaders are thinking of as they talk of their capacity to make neutron bombs and other mega weapons of mass destruction.

Earlier when the cold war ended Western leaders were talking of the 'peace dividend' in the form of more funds diverted from defence for development and social welfare. But within the last ten years so little of that peace dividend has become visible.

Nor has the developed countries which reduced their defence outlay diverted a part of that to help the developing countries so that globolization will not be in trade and services sectors alone, but will be a truly universal phenomenon in which the difference between the rich and poor is steadily reduced. Instead the naked marked economies of the rich countries have helped to make the rich richer and increased the extent of poverty in the rich states.

The West led by the US will also argue that the end of the cold war has not meant end of wars in the world, and it had to fight wars in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo on a limited scale.

Now what is going to be the role of the military in Pakistan in the next century? Admittedly the defence capability of a country which had to fight three wars with its far larger neighbour, and the Kargil conflict too was heading towards a full scale war before it was ended by the initiative of Nawaz Sharif and the intervention of President Clinton cannot be lowered. And yet Gen. Pervez Musharraf has reduced military expenditure by Rs. 7 billion out of the current defence budget of Rs. 142 billion after last year's budget had been reduced to Rs. 128 billion against the budgeted figure of Rs. 145 billion. The money saved is to be used to help the poorest of the poor in the country.

Of course, the defence capability of a country does not depend on the number of its soldiers and their quality and the equipment at their disposal alone. It also includes the strength of the economy, its industrial capacity, the morale of its masses and its advance in science and technology.

And it is not easy for a country like Pakistan which imports most of its sophisticated military equipment to withstand a country like India, which manufactures most of the military equipment it needs, while Russia is ready to supply most of the advanced arms India needs. The US on the other hand has placed a ban on arms sales to Pakistan.

Despite such handicaps the future role of the army in Pakistan depends on the future of the Armed Forces in South Asia, particularly in India. India shows no sign of bating the growth of its armed might and its hunger for developing and acquiring the most destructive weapons. And it is not ready to settle the basic political dispute with Pakistan. It avoids coming to grips with the Kashmir issue after it had agreed to do that through the Simla Pact and the recent Lahore Accord following Atal Bahari Vajpayees' Bus diplomacy. Or the understanding reached between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan in 1997. India now insists it would not resume discussions on Kashmir until Pakistan ceases its support for the freedom fighters in Kashmir. And Pakistan argues it cannot resume discussions with India fruitfully unless India abandons the excesses of its state-terrorism in that tormented state. So Kashmir remains the apple-of-discord between the two countries which keeps South Asia in state of turmoil and bars it from reducing its defence outlay and size of the Armed Forces.

The US, for example, now prefers expanding its Air Force and the range of its missiles to hit targets in a conflict rather than use its ground forces. It has by now a strong aversion to using its soldiers and losing American lives, except where real American interests are at stake directly. Once it wanted military and naval bases around the world; but now it prefers to use missiles, as in Iraq and Yugoslavia.

Pakistan has limited options of this kind on a war because of the kind of adversary it faces. India believes in keeping a large land army to fight Pakistan on the plains of the Punjab and the desert areas of Sindh. It believes in having a large Navy to bottle up Pakistan in case of a military conflict, particularly to cut off Karachi Port from the rest of the world. So it is acquiring a nuclear submarine from Russia. It also wants a large Air Force to command the skies between India and Pakistan. And it has a nuclear arsenal which keeps on expanding, and it tries to put spy satellites in space to observe military movements in Pakistan, as Fernandez has said.

It is not possible for Pakistan to match India at all these levels with a military budget of 2.4 billion dollars compared to India's military budget of 10 billion dollars which it intends to raise to 12 billion dollars or more. And India is able to get sophisticated weapons from Russia at a far lower price than Pakistan has to pay to obtain such arms from other countries.

Normally nuclear powers do not go to war with each other. They are usually aware of the hazards of going to war between each other which could ultimately result in the use of nuclear weapons. But India, which exploded its second series of nuclear devices in May last year, forcing Pakistan to do likewise, is not restrained by such considerations. Hence it used its Air Force in a big way in Kargil despite its reduced efficacy in a terrain like that.

Pakistan has hence to be ready to face India at all levels. And once India had developed a strategy to counter all nuclear strikes from outside it can become too cocky and less agreeable to negotiated settlements.

While India expands its armed might, and its nuclear arsenal, it either openly says and hints it is doing that to protect itself against China. But the fact is that China had a conflict with India only for three days on the Himalayas or on a kind of no man's land, and then withdrew its forces. But India had fought three wars with Pakistan, and in the 1971 Pakistan lost half its territories following Indian military intervention. And it has fought two lesser wars in the Rann of Kutch and Kargil. So Pakistan cannot take the increasing armed might of India lightly.

In fact, Indian military strategist like K. Subramaniyam wants India to spend far more on defence and thereby force Pakistan do likewise and go bust in the process, as the Soviet Union did following the heavy US military spending.

But there is the possibility that if India embarks on such reckless military spending it could go broke politically. In a country in which 40 per cent of the people are living below the poverty line and the poor are getting poorer, such mindless military spending is hazardous. The people cannot live by the nuclear bomb or missiles alone. They need food, employment, social well-being, more so when the under-class of India is asserting itself more and more politically, while the upper caste leaders go under in large parts of India.

Abject poverty and the resolve of their people to assert themselves to get more and more for themselves can be a factor that impels the leaders of India and Pakistan to come close and look for solutions to their disputes. There is real awareness in much of South Asia their leaders have not served them well, and instead had resorted to corruption of a lasting kind to fatten themselves.

In such an unfortunate environment it is not easy for Pakistan to talk of 'reinventing the army' or developing a 'new look army'. South Asia has got locked up in its own internal conflicts and has largely wasted half a century as far as the masses are concerned.

Yet Pakistan is on the right track. It is trying to reduce its military spending without lowering its defence capability or its fire power. And it is doing well to acquire submarines like the Agosta B-90 from France to combat the Indian Navy instead of opting for aircraft carriers or other costly naval ships.

Cost efficiency should be the over-riding motto for the Armed Forces of a country facing a larger army of a more resourceful neighbour. We have to make the best use of the money to match the larger armed might of India with our own resistance strategy. The current efforts in that direction are laudable and must be sustained resolutely.

The Indian leadership should become wiser than it is and think of their long range gains in coming to a fair settlement with Pakistan, beginning with the core issue of Kashmir. Until India does that we have to be on guard, and at a reasonable cost through unconventional means.