The Cold Start Doctrine

“No plan survives contact with the enemy”, Von Moltke.

War has adorned the annals of history more than any other phenomenon. In all earnestness war has been a veritable tool to advance, project and protect interests, no matter how they are defined. In his seminal work titled “On War”, the celebrated military theorist Carl von Clausewitz referred to war as an “act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will”. This treatise is a complete guide and a must read for practitioners and scholars alike. Indeed, war is devastating and hence is used as a mean to thwart actual and potential threats.

Wars and rivalries are intrinsically related; acrimony is festered by using war as an instrument of state policy. This is not a mere assertion but a reality in the conduct of Indo-Pak ties over the last 7 decades. Both India and Pakistan physically locked horns; all-out wars and some epic battles have prominently featured in the engagements between the two. Enemies imposing war on each other is not anomaly; it is a given and a constant occurrence. War always has a casus belli. In this South Asian showdown, the reasons of animosity are well-documented. In a nutshell, it has been a war between a revisionist and a status-quo state.

History has been bitter and seemingly the future doesn’t look one where this dispute will fade away. There are many reasons to believe that the temperatures may rise in the region. One of them is India’s will and the resolve to “teach Pakistan a lesson”.

India perceives Pakistan to be a rogue state; one that is “exporting terrorism”. India also blames Pakistan of being behind terrorist attacks in India to include the 26/11 carnage in Mumbai. The aim of India is to “compel” and “deter”.

The options at India’s disposal, if used have the ingredients to “raise the Armageddon”.  The idea is to use a credible military threat to encourage Pakistan to change its course: A linchpin to achieve Compellance. The Indian political and military leadership have expressed their intention and resolve to carry out airstrikes and invoke the Cold Start Doctrine. For the consumption of this piece, we look at Cold Start Doctrine and its dangerous implications.

Two factors compelled the Indian military to shift away from the Sundarji Doctrine towards a proactive doctrine of limited war: one was the overt nuclearization of India and Pakistan and the other was the abysmally slow mobilization during Operation Parakram. Much to the chagrin, the slow mobilization in the operation launched after the Delhi attacks allowed not only Pakistan to counter mobilize but also invoke international pressure. The feeling was that Pakistan was not taught a lesson and went “scot free “.

The idea was to militarily respond to Pakistan due to its alleged involvement in a major terrorist attack in India. The aim was to punish Pakistan before international pressure could avert an armed confrontation.

With briskness lying at its heart, Cold Start called for a reorganization of the old Holding and Strike corps. The former would create shallow bridgeheads into Pakistani territory. It would be followed by Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) attacking along various axes to further ingress inside Pakistan. Thereafter, in conjunction with air succor the 3-strike corps would concentrate firepower. In order to avoid a nuclear retaliation, forces will bite and hold territory up to 25 kilometers inside Pakistan.

There are tactical and operational challenges in carrying out Cold Start which are baulked the Indian Army to operationalize this doctrine. A thorough assessment of exercises that were conducted to test the concept revealed that synergy was not achieved. This was the reason why the military leadership in India discarded it long ago. However, the resolve and the desire to invoke the doctrine was reiterated in the Army Day address by the Indian Army Chief, General Rawat. What could this doctrine achieve is a matter of introspection.

India wants to compel Pakistan to rein-in so-called inimical forces. Thomas Schelling coined the term “compellance” alluding to threats to make the adversary do something. It is often said that it is harder to compel than to deter. This becomes all the more difficult and obfuscating when the conflict spectrum and the escalation ladder has a nuclear rung in it. How could a limited war proactive strategy colloquially known as Cold Start compel Pakistan to act in-line with India’s accord?  What could be the implications on escalation of hostilities.

Compellance hooks upon a credible military option which would encourage the enemy to take a different course. Under the nuclear shadow, it is rather difficult to punish and frighten without aggravating the engagement to the highest end of the conflict spectrum. Given the aims of Cold Start, holding territory is a compellant threat. However, the efficacy of this in compelling Pakistan is less. One that it could do exactly the opposite: Indian invasion may very well be repelled by the Pakistani military and alleged militants in unison. Besides, it will give credence to Pakistan’s long-held views about India being the aggressor. Major Pakistani cities like Lahore and Sialkot are well within 25 kilometers’ distance mandated in the proactive strategy. Indian annexation of these cities would exert pressure on the escalation ladder and hence compellance would not be achieved. The second threat is drawn from Clausewitzian theory, for he also focused on impeding the enemy’s war waging capabilities. Attrition through escalation may actually be a dent to Indian compellance drive. A potentially weakened army will be supported forcefully   by the highly-touted irregulars. It could invoke a “nation in arms“ response. Even otherwise an enfeebled military will then have no means to rein in anti-Indian elements and sentiments. If India manages to achieve this objective, it is logical to assume that Pakistan have to take punitive retaliatory action to wrest back control. India would have the encouragement to press on but if they are unable to breakthrough they would direct more firepower which would cause escalatory pressure. Pakistan may invoke their tactical nuclear weapons and shift the burden of escalation on India as Indian inroads would not be deemed of as limited. Hence, Indian decision-makers will raise the Armageddon while promulgating this proactive war strategy.

It is befitting to argue that if the Cold Start is launched, the conflict will not remain limited and the region could be in for an all-out war with a high degree of nuclear undertones.

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