New Delhi: The media has speculated delay in naming the new Indian Army and Air Force chiefs owing to the possibility of a prior appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). This writer will not add to the speculation in any manner but simply point to the urgent necessity to take another important decision. And this is to initiate the process for India to formulate a grand strategy. Formulating the strategy will take some while. The appointment of CDS and grand strategy formulation would nicely complement one another. Without a grand strategy, of course, India would be seriously misled in the quest for a Great Power position.

India lost its political independence in the middle of the Modern age of history and recovered it when the world had entered the nuclear age. Nations usually cannot adjust to such upheavals, and this proved the case with one of its neighbours, which underwent a second partition of territory, and has never since come to terms with its nationhood. India survived by the miracle of its democracy and due to the innate moderation and pacifism of its people. The impetus provided by independence floated the country just about barely for some further decades, but when the nuclear age itself underwent transformation with the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, India felt at times being without a guiding hand at the helm and sans a compass to chart the way ahead. It faced intolerable assaults to its territorial integrity at the same time which some deft political leadership saved from worsening. Its economy also underwent long-delayed and much-needed restructuring and the process continues.

An objective outsider would not fail to appreciate that the changes India brought to itself were forced by external circumstances. This has not been unknown to other nations and in more calamitous phases of history. The changes that are forced in consequence in usually all these cases are tactical in nature and survive the trials of some further decades but never more. The longevity of grand strategy, soundly formulated, and by the best and wisest minds, in contrast, is infinitely greater, and makes the difference of life and death for a nation.

Grand strategy, fundamentally, derives from a nation’s unique geographical situation. An island nation, for example, demands a different grand strategy from one hemmed within a vast continent. One nation’s grand strategy cannot be supplanted on another, not certainly if their geographical features are not very akin. The aptness and brilliance of a nation’s grand strategy derives from its capacity to use to great advantage both the nations assets and liabilities in the widespread domains of geography, politics, economics, society, and military. Take the example of Great Britain. Given its tininess and island character, it emphasized on naval power, and made up for deficiencies of a large land force by employing balance-of-power strategies in addressing crises on the European continent. Without naval power, Great Britain could not have become a colonial power, which in turn reinforced its imperial supremacy.

The United States was founded on still more vigorous and resilient grand strategical principles. The vast ocean separating the American mainland from fractious Europe provided the US much needed peace and isolation to craft a highly unique foreign policy. Like Russia, it is vast. It expanded to the west while Russia did so to the east. Russia, however, expanded by fits and starts, the passion of its expansionary culture compensating the flaws in strategy. Its size has often saved Russia, but an absent grand strategy has rather more regularly convulsed and threatened Russian Great Power status. In comparison, the American decline has never been abrupt or permanent, and it has had the longest tenure as an unremitting Great Power in the Modern age. Size also benefits China though its totalitarianism frequently undercuts its greatness and durability.

India alone has size and democracy to rival in the future America’s permanence as a Great Power. What it lacks is grand strategy. Indian grand strategy has to be formulated at the political level where the military component will be only one of several others. As always, an Indian grand strategy must commence from India’s unique geographical location, and its Great Power ambitions must organically derive and grow from strategies based on this foundation. Once a grand strategy is in place, matters such as foreign policy, military force structures and acquisitions, higher defence management, and so forth, will become issues of detail. To be sure, the details will change as grand strategy evolves and adapts to new threats and situations. But the change will be manageable.

For far too long, India has carried on by accident and default. That luxury is no longer available in a post-Cold War world challenged by unprecedented strategic competition and upheaval. India has to chart the future by seizing the present. A CDS and a well-considered grand strategy are overdue.

Editor’s Note: 1. Is it necessary to spell out that Agni V will reach northern China? Why can’t we permit our capabilities to speak for themselves? Why do Indians feel this compulsive necessity to brag?

2. The huge haul of unaccounted new currency notes in IT raids itself justifies demonetization. Except the crooks, nobody fears the taxman.