New Delhi: If and when Prime Minister Narendra Modi appoints a fulltime defence minister, he must charge him with certain special responsibilities and priorities. There can never be a greater Union home minister than Sardar Patel. There is no comparable role model for Union defence minister. Y.B.Chavan was forceful starting from a blank slate after the 1962 debacle; he gave the army whatever he could for the 1965 war. But those times were different. India needs a dynamic and thinking defence minister now. The name of Manohar Parrikar is doing the rounds. This writer is no judge of his competence. But it cannot be business-as-usual for whoever heads the Ministry of Defence; Narendra Modi cannot repeat the fiasco of Arun Jaitley.

India needs a thinking defence minister because the country’s political-military paradigm has to be reimagined and reconceptualised before it rearms itself with speed and expands force strengths. The defence minister cannot disrupt ongoing dynamics related to day-to-day work, operations, planning, procurement, and so forth. But in parallel, he must commence conceptualizing a new strategic paradigm that addresses the ever-changing challenges and threats to the country. This piece will not take up foreign policy reconstruction that must accompany strategic military reset because it will come later and may separately be dealt with. Once India organically manages the military transformation, the rest will follow.

India faces external threats broadly and in the main on six fronts. These are nuclear, China, Pakistan, terrorism, the Indian Ocean, and informational. There is considerable interplay and overlap of these threats which add other dimensions. For example, in addition to the threat of a two-front war with China and Pakistan, India must also factor for Chinese capability to encircle it from the sea. There are many other possibilities. India’s redesigned strategic military doctrine, therefore, must begin by addressing the principal threats first and then seeking complementarities among them. It is no-gainsaid that the armed forces must be restructured and seamlessly jointed to fit the redesigned doctrine.

An important part of this exercise is to assign weightings to the threats faced by India and to focus attention and determine financial allocations to them on that basis. The threat to India from Pakistan, capability-wise, is many orders less compared to that from China; yet the Indian Army continues to remain Pakistan-centric. The new defence minister would have to change this mindset. War-fighting with Pakistan and China would demand different capabilities; anyone can see that war in the plains and deserts of Punjab and Rajasthan would be poles opposite to fighting in the snowy plateau of Tibet. Are the Indian armed forces totally prepared for these different types of wars? Is it time to create two armies, one for the front with Pakistan and the other for Tibet? The new defence minister has to decide on these questions. And this is not all. What weighting must be assigned to Indian Ocean dominance, on which India’s economic rise rides? How far should the country go on the nuclear front? Once the broad threats are assessed and weighed, work must begin on the specific threats, and so on down the line.

This is a bird’s-eye view of the tasks and responsibilities awaiting whoever takes charge of defence. This sort of grand strategizing has never been done before; India does not have a grand strategy. It is incredible, for instance, that this nation has neglected the navy in all these decades when it is the navy which has proved decisive in winning the major wars from the early Modern period. The two world wars and the long Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars right back to the fall of Constantinople showcased the special significance of the navy. The might of the British Empire rested not so much on its land forces which lagged behind most of the great powers of the time as on its navy. The new defence minister must have the intellectual heft to understand and assimilate all this and overhaul the country’s strategic military paradigm. Prime Minister Modi must look for intellectual and management rigour in who he chooses to make his defence minister.

India’s rise critically depends on his abilities.