The Indian Army’s new Chief General Bipin Rawat has stated that although the armed forces wanted to maintain peace and tranquility at the border, they will not “shy away from using power in any form”. The statement comes in the wake and context of prolonged albeit intermittent tension along the LoC. The statement, on the face of it, seems strong and bellicose but, in reality, falls flat and is more or less rhetorical. The reasons pertain to the very nature of power in the 21st century, its utility and constraints thereof. Power in the 21st century is multidimensional and multi faceted: there are variants of power and power does not merely mean hard power or military power. There is “soft power”, “smart power” and plain prosaic power or force. Moreover, there are constraints on power and force in the 21st century of sovereign nation states.
Given this variety of power and the limitations thereof, what does General Rawat’s statement mean? The statement appears to be directed at multiple audiences – the international community and Pakistan. General Rawat appears to be signaling to the world that the traditional constraints including doctrinal “holding back” India historically would not hold and India would unabashedly employ and instrumentalize power in pursuit of its security, defence and foreign policy.
In the final analysis, this assertion is more in the nature of a “feel good” factor than a sober reappraisal (or even statement of intent) of India’s various policies and politico-strategic and military doctrine(s). Key to our analysis here is the Generals concluding assertion, “use of power in ANY form”. This means and implies the use of nuclear weapons and perhaps even an offensive military posture employed as coercive tactic to alter the adversary’s behaviour or policy paradigms. But, in the 21st century, various constraints and limitations kick in to give short shrift to the use of power in “any” form.
A factual might illustrate this point. Nuclear power essentially is unusable power; these weapons are merely a deterrent (assuming state rationality). Moreover, if a pair of dyadic states (India and Pakistan), are both nuclear powers than this very fact cancels the potential of one using nuclear weapons against the other – except at the risk of mutual destruction. Moreover, even if, hypothetically speaking, India employs an unabashed hard power approach towards, say Pakistan, it will credibly upend the “responsible power” appellation” and self identity, that India has assiduously sought to cultivate. What then is the real import of the General’s statement? Nothing more than rhetorical signaling, and perhaps an attempt to merely differentiate himself from his predecessors.