War talk can cause miscalculation

War talk can cause miscalculation
Speaking at the 85th Air Force Day celebrations at the Hindon Air Base in Ghaziabad recently, Indian Air Force Chief B S Dhanoa said the forces are fully prepared to fight a full-fledged war at short notice. At another press conference, he said India was prepared to counter any threat from China and was also ready to face a two-front war against Pakistan and China. Three days earlier, he had taken the rhetoric a notch up, saying that the IAF had the capability to “locate, fix and strike targets” in Pakistan, including its nuclear weapons. Two months ago, army chief Bipin Rawat had shot off similarly, but that was during the Doklam stand-off with China and therefore understandable. But after the Modi government’s claim to have successfully stared down China and resolved the stand-off to India's advantage, there appears to be no provocation for such war walk. Therefore, the air chief’s repeated assertions of “ready for war” is inexplicable.

It is inarguable that India, like any country that values its sovereignty, should be always prepared to defend itself against any enemy or combination of enemies. But unnecessary war rhetoric does not necessarily signify strategic maturity of a responsible nation. Rather, it is liable to be seen by the international community as India deliberately adopting a hawkish position in an atmosphere of hyper-nationalism. Any war results in large-scale death and devastation and no country should welcome war or appear to be so enthusiastic about being ready for it, although its forces have to be ready at all times for any such eventuality. While politicians may be excused for stirring up a war psychosis to achieve their partisan ends, professional soldiers must show a calculated restraint while talking about war, because they know about it from closer quarters.

Those who lead our armed forces are not supposed to be swayed by political rhetoric of any political party, including the ruling one. They must realise that jingoistic assertions from responsible people do not reflect strategic preparedness. In fact, these can lead to diplomatic loss for a nation as they allow its adversaries to accuse it of war-mongering. No one doubts that if it does come to war, India’s forces are always ready to fight with whatever they have got. However, unwarranted pronouncements about the nation’s war preparedness will not deter its enemies, but will only work against Indian interests. In fact, the best policy to deter enemies is Teddy Roosevelt’s dictum to “speak softly and carry a big stick”. Unprovoked war rhetoric can sometimes be misinterpreted as a compensatory effort to disguise military incapability, something we recognise in Pakistan’s strategic behaviour. Paradoxically, it can lead to a fatal loss of deterrence.
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