Army desperately needs an intellectual transformation
AThe writer is a research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi
t the end of the First World War, the three major military powers in Europe—the British, French and Germans—faced the problem of preparing for future uncertainties. These three militaries imagined war differently and trained, planned and equipped accordingly. In May 1940, the Germans defeated the French and British forces in continental Europe in six devastating weeks and changed the face of warfare. Unlike what is commonly believed, there was nothing inevitable about their victory as the Allied Forces enjoyed material superiority—in tanks, artillery and infantry. The Germans won mainly due to the superiority of their imagination and the victory was, according to famous historian and resistance hero March Bloch, essentially a “triumph of the intellect”. While history is an inexact science, it might be instructive for Indian military leaders, confronting strategic uncertainties of their own, to study this period and internalise the need for an intellectual transformation. The Indian military rightly appears to be on course for a hardware transformation to prepare for eventualities arising from challenges such as the rise of Chinese military power, a relative decline, real and perceptual, in US and NATO power, an unpredictable, apparently irreconcilable Pakistan and seemingly prolonged instability in Afghanistan. However, even more important is the need for an intellectual transformation, the evidence for which is spotty at best.
One of the biggest obstacles to the intellectual development of Indian military officers is their inability to learn from the past—a prerequisite for strategic thinking. Military leaders will be unable to name one book on the post-independence military that relies on official documents. Instead, in the absence of a declassification procedure, all we have is either self-exculpatory autobiographies or hagiographies. The import of this fact is significant: this is a military that can’t honestly analyse its past.
There are at least three other factors that hinder the intellectual development of the Indian officer corps. First, there is almost no civilian involvement in professional military education. As a result, instruction at military academies usually ends up perpetuating convenient organisational myths. Second, there is an overemphasis on regimental spirit that results in a desire to cover up and disallows self-criticism. Finally, there is almost no career incentive for intellectual study, publishing in journals or encouraging study leave to enhance skill-sets. Unlike other militaries, the concept of scholarwarrior is not emphasised.
Ultimately, an intellectual transformation can only be realised with the active encouragement of senior military leaders. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them are satisfied with the status quo. While there are reports about transformation studies in the military, senior officers must realise that fundamental transformation begins when we think differently. This can happen only if the three Service chiefs along with other senior officers identify this as a priority. Discussing all these issues at the next Combined Commanders’ Conference, to be held in 2012, might be the best place to start.