The art of war

We need to think creatively about the proposed defence university

Written by Harsh V. Pant | Published:August 19, 2016 12:06 am
Kaskmir Youth inducted in Army, Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, Jammu and Kashmir, Jammu and KAshmir news, Kashmiris admitted in the Indian Army, Kashmir violence news, Violence in Kashmir, latest neww, India news, national news Indian Army soldiers display their skills as they take part in a combat demonstration. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

With the draft bill for the proposed Indian National Defence University (INDU) now in public domain, this is perhaps the right time for Indian defence intellectuals to start thinking creatively about the proposed institution. It was in 2013 that then prime minister, Manmohan Singh, had laid the foundation for the nation’s first defence university at Binola in Gurgaon with the hope that when completed, INDU “will become [a] world class institution of higher defence studies in which we will be able to take justifiable pride”. Given the dismal state of other institutions of higher learning in India, this might be a tall order but at least a first step has been taken towards establishing INDU, a project that has been part of the national discourse for decades now. Though various committees had recommended the setting up of a national defence university, the government had been dragging its feet on the project. Things are finally moving now.

The nature of the challenges facing defence in the 21st century emphasises the vital requirement of education in a military officer’s career. While a key strength of the military organisation is its cohesiveness, it is also true that the challenges posed by the use of military force in the world today require officers who can think and act independently of formulaic guidelines. These challenges flow from changes in the strategic environment driven by social, economic and political factors which in turn affect the character of warfare and security as a whole. As a consequence, there is a need to focus on enhancing the level of professional military education (PME) in India.

The aims of modern PME should be to develop the military officers’ understanding of defence in the modern world; demand critical engagement with current research on defence and its relationship with the fields of international relations, security studies, military history, war studies and operational experience; encourage a systematic and reflective understanding of contemporary conflicts; promote initiative, creativity and independence of thought in identifying, researching, judging and solving fundamental intellectual problems and develop relevant, transferable skills, especially communication, use of information technology and organisation and management of the learning process. Indian PME lacks every single one of these dimensions.

A key point to note about the development and application of knowledge in the military context is it is generally considered an “art” rather than a “science” because warfare is essentially a human and social activity. Some debate on the issue notwithstanding, the overwhelming consensus is that the analytical tools and assumptions for theory-building in the military setting should be derived from the social rather than the natural sciences. As a military professional, the quality of abstract and theoretical analysis will increasingly underpin the utility and value of the armed forces to its clients (government and society). And here PME in India continues to lag behind. This needs to be rectified if India wants to produce officers who are capable of operating in a complex security environment.

If we want peace, we need to be prepared for war. And in order to be best prepared for it, we first need to understand it well. In the emerging strategic environment, understanding the knowledge terrain will be as important as knowing the geography or topology of the battlefield was in the past.
The Indian military must evolve a culture of independent strategic thinking that allows its soldiers to comprehend national security in all its various dimensions. If led and structured professionally, INDU can help in achieving this goal. The government needs to move beyond the usual military-bureaucratic apparatus and reach out to the best in the wider academic community if INDU is to become an institution which can sharpen the intellectual underpinnings of Indian statecraft. Excessive political interference, bureaucratic inertia and inter-services rivalry could reduce it to a substandard institution. That would be a real tragedy because, as Thucydides once suggested, “the nation that makes great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools”.

The writer is professor of International Studies, Department of Defence Studies, King’s College, London

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  1. K
    Aug 19, 2016 at 2:13 pm
    Defence university should educate about ' rares of the rarest' use of one
  2. A
    Aug 19, 2016 at 11:42 am
    Ant scope for civilians to join it and get jobs in the mid of their career?
  3. D
    Aug 21, 2016 at 9:27 pm
    Ancient history, learnt under the Baniyan Tree, in "my opinion" is CriticaL ThinkinG. History, it self, is a Primary, as in Major subject, for military studies. It is history and doctrine, that molds a NatioN and its People. It is the sacred texts that the people refer to as their Sea or Fountain head of knowledge. Bharat is blessed, more so than AnY other nation on the planet, inspite of the horrific destruction of the ancient universities and sacred texts. Was it not Sun Tzu who stated, if you want peace? Prepare for war. Prepare for the opposite outcome. The communist Chinese wanted to buy the Panama Canal, which is Far from China, USA blocked the purchase and control of the canal; if China had succeeded, it would have brought the control of the Panama Canal, Near the seat of communist power. These 2 examples also explain/applicable to China's Road and Belt, through PoK and South Asia Sea(south china sea). In fact, China has used these to ancient proverbs/constants/theories to expand their economic empire, through a web of strategic acquisitions in different sectors of economies, to build a web of economic/geopolitical power. These acquisitions bring what is far, near to Beijing, in so doing transforming China from weak to strong and from subserviant to dominating
  4. D
    Aug 21, 2016 at 9:38 pm
    In general, countries Act within "their" historical pattern, given reoccurring situations they confront, that are external.
  5. D
    Dinesh Sampat
    Aug 19, 2016 at 1:29 am
    Agree with the author....the modern and future war, peace, and reconstruction strategies, management, and execution efforts will require cross-sectional education and leadership skills spanning across pure sciences, various social sciences, management, logistics, economics, and supply chain tools, as well as deep understanding of the geography, environment, historical as well as ethno-cultural issues. Such leadership skills will remain critical at all stage of the officer career and thus would require constant;br/gt;lt;br/gt;There is an area that is about to undergo radical transformation and that is in the arena of tactical warfare and even to some extent strategic war planning purview.... and that is in the field of Artificial Intelligence. AI in combination with algorithmic tools and high speed computing power, many of the what-if scenarios can and will be accomplished in a fraction of time and;br/gt;lt;br/gt;What is important, however, is to develop and execute a very dynamic education/training that invites and imbibes a truly cross sectional training and expertise skills toward state of the art leadership roles duly supported by continues training and educational efforts to all the Army as well ancilliary support system personnel
  6. T
    T P
    Aug 19, 2016 at 4:05 pm
    Are people going to face such situation or ARMED FORCES than why the hail you should be taught that doctrine .After all none of you going to allow any of your kids to join that DANGEROUS profession,all politicians included.
  7. T
    T P
    Aug 19, 2016 at 3:59 pm
    Who will head and run such UNIVERSUTY,an IAS/IPS or a constable ,since MODIJEE has developed lot of love and admiration for CONSTABLES og all ranks including IPS,the proven DOGS which he has learnt from his GUJARAT days..NARENDRA BHAI ,a soft warning for you ,do not become another NEHRU,who was taken around garden path by B N Mullick and you are being lead by .....I do not want to name but please do not get counted along NEHRU.
  8. I
    Aug 19, 2016 at 5:49 am
    National Security is becoming complex by the hour, and is much more than the military. It encompes cyber, economic, diplomatic, cultural and other such relationships. A holistic approach is essential for security.
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