Monday, May 22, 2006

Cold Start. Hot Stop

Nuclear weapons completely distort strategy in war. India is reacting to this new fact of life.

It seems like Americans are having trouble getting used to our new fact of life that there are no longer real external constraints to achieving total victory over enemies. During the Cold War, every crisis or war was a potential spark to trigger a general nuclear war between America and the Soviet Union. So the primary goal was always to end the conflict rather than press for victory. Few goals were worth risking nuclear war.

In Desert Storm, we still seemed to operate under the Cold War mindset and terminated that war after achieving the narrow goal of ejecting Saddam from Kuwait.

In 2001 and 2003, we pursued regime change freed from the external constraints once provided by the Soviet Union and the internal constraints bred from decades of living with the constraints provided by the Soviet Union.

So it is of interest to see India adapting to our old mindset:

The Indians have been doing a lot of investment in modernizing their command and control systems. They're working on what they call a "Cold Start" capability, that is, to be able to go to war immediately, with minimal preliminary fuss. At least one corps, II Corps, which is near the Pakistani border, is currently testing Cold Start capabilities in a major exercise.

The Pakistanis are nervous:

India going Cold Start makes its neighbor Pakistan nervous. The two nations are each others chief adversaries, most likely opponent in a future war, and both have nuclear weapons. Pakistan fears that India is preparing a first strike capability, a strategy that involves attempting to destroy Pakistan's nuclear forces before they can be used. Now, with Cold Start, the Indians could also rush in, defeat Pakistan's conventional forces, and settle half a century of disputes once and for all.

I think this conclusion is in error, though it is perhaps natural for the Pakistanis to worry about it. Cold Start is not, I think, a doctrine for conquering Pakistan. It is a doctrine designed to cope with the constraints against achieving victory that we faced during the long Cold War. It is designed to allow India to quickly gain a military advantage in a limited conflict before pressure to end the war out of fear of nuclear escalation kicks in.

Think Kargil in 1999. Pakistan's nuclear weapons capability kept India from escalating a localized battle into general war. And India was not, I think, happy with the situation that kept them battling on a narrow front without applying their full superior military capabilities. India in essence had to fight a Pakistani regiment that invaded Indian-claimed territory on terrain of Pakistan's choosing.

Still, India won that local fight and drove the Pakistanis back. Yet India lost over 500 troops dead in this short fight over a small chunk of real estate.

Indian naval actions threatened to choke off Pakistan's oil supplies, so the Pakistanis eventually accepted a local defeat at Kargil rather than escalate. A decision undoubtedly made more necessary by India's nuclear weapons, which made it too risky for Pakistan to escalate at this point.

India would rather be able to win these little battles quickly and at lower cost, and therefore deter them. I think this is what Cold Start is about--not conquering Pakistan and ending a half century of disputes once and for all.

UPDATE: Further thoughts on Cold Start. It is worse than even Strategypage describes it. This is totally screwed up strategic thinking by India.