Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Winning hearts and minds

Many parts of the world are inflicted with insurgencies and militaries world over have been deployed in numerous counter-insurgency (CI) operations. Similarly, the Indian Army along with defending the borders continues to remain deployed in counter-insurgency operations ranging from the North-East to Jammu & Kashmir, for almost 60 years. Considering the importance of the civil population in CI Operations, the doctrine of sub-conventional warfare of the Indian Army released in January 2007 placed winning hearts and minds (WHAM) as a prerequisite in conducting successful counter-insurgency operations. Redefining the basic definition of the role, the CI strategies of the Indian Army aims at not only winning the war but also avoiding it all together.

A manifestation of this strategy can be best reflected through Operation Sadhbhavna. In 1998, The Northern Command of the Indian Army launched Operation Sadhbhavna (meaning goodwill) and expanded its mandate to rebuilding the socio-economic lives of the people affected by terrorism. The operation aims at winning over alienated sections of the society and promoting development activities that focus on the basic needs of the people. Post-Kargil, in 2000, the operation was extended to Ladakh and Kargil by Lt Gen Arjun Ray, the then commander of 14 Corps. The initial aim of the operation was to prevent the Kashmir insurgency from spreading to the Ladakh region. It focused on bringing development and dignity to the 109,500 people residing in the 190 villages close to the Line of Control.

From 1998 to 2008, a total of Rs. 276.08 crores were allocated by the Ministry of Defence (MoD and spent on numerous developmental activities under this operation. Throughout the operation, the villagers of the conflict zones were the focal point around which the development was planned. Acting as the facilitator between the state administration and the villagers, the Indian Army assisted in planning, providing technical solutions and supervision of the developmental projects. The focus areas of the operation have been education, women empowerment, health care, community development and development of infrastructure. Local labour, artists and material was used to pump in money into the local economy. A wide range of projects were undertaken ranging from building and renovating schools; establishing vocational and computer training centres; bridges, roads, providing free medical services etc.

The results of the operation have been phenomenal and were illustrative of the change that the operation had aimed to achieve. Developmental projects helped transform the lives in border villages of Kashmir and instilled in the villagers a sense of confidence towards the army personnel. The locals cooperated enthusiastically in the completion of the projects and more importantly, people who harboured militants earlier, were now actively engaged in removing them.

In the year 2000-2001 alone, the army contributed a total of Rs. 35.34 crores to the local economy. In Ladakh region, 13 Army Goodwill Schools, 11 Women empowerment centres, 6 medical complexes were created. Additional facilities also included 6 cooperative poultry farms, a boys’ hostel in Drass and an orphanage at Kargil. Along with providing 40 generators, a total of eight villages in the remote areas of the region have been electrified and the numbers continue to rise. Almost 1000 MHP are being constructed to meet the electricity demands and 283 MHPs have always been accomplished.

With regard to the success of Operation Sadbhavana, the case of Turtuk is worth a mention. Turtuk was part of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) until 1971 when India occupied it. In 1999, intrusion by Pakistani forces in the sector remained undetected because the locals did not inform the Indian Army, as it was viewed as an occupation force. The locals had refused to provide any logistical support to the Indian troops and reportedly even guided Pakistani shelling. After the launch of Operation Sadbhavana, the scene today is starkly different. The local population was the beneficiary of the army’s novel steps on border management and today the Indian army is considered as ‘apni fauj’ in the sector. Since Sadbhavana started, 80 men from the Turtuk area have joined the army and 32 the police.

Operation Sadbhavana since its inception has exemplified the Indian Army’s role in nation-building. The operation which continues to drive many developmental projects in border areas has positively impacted the lives of the populace and ameliorated the sufferings of those afflicted by militancy and insurgency. The operation in general created an urge among the local population to help themselves and become self-reliant. In the long run, it would be appropriate to transfer the projects to civil administration, which would best take the novel efforts of the Indian Army forward. The efforts by the army have also helped in projecting a positive image of the Indian government and civil administration. The strategy of WHAM has paid rich dividends and has also been an important factor in changing the perspectives of local populace towards the Army and has increased cooperation with the civil government.

Aditi Malhotra is an Associate Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi

Courtesy: The Indian Express, 15 January 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

India's Silence on Chinese Incursions

China continues to convince the world about its ‘peaceful rise’, a claim which gets periodically belied by Chinese actions and strategic developments. The New Year was greeted by the first flight of China’s fifth-generation stealth fighter aircraft Chengdu J-20 on January 4, 2011. The Chinese have regularly asserted that it is upgrading its military weapons for self-protection, which is normal for every country. Such assertions do not always seem to be realistic considering the massive military modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Additionally, on January 5, 2011, Kyodo News reported that the Chinese military’s newly released policy papers aver that the military would consider a pre-emptive nuclear strikes if faced with a critical situation in a war with another nuclear state. More specifically, the report highlighted that the Second Artillery Corps (Chinese military’s strategic missile forces) would ‘adjust’ its policy if another nuclear state undertakes air strikes against Chinese targets ‘with absolutely superior conventional weapons.’ Expectedly, the very next day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei strongly denied the reports and termed them as "totally false" and "made with ulterior motives."

Other issues of concern that best exemplify Chinese assertiveness is its offer to export one-Gigawatt (GW) nuclear plant along with the construction of two 300 MW reactors to Pakistan. Another example of China’s belligerence was the flare-up in the South China Sea in September 2010 due to a pair of Japanese Coast Guard vessels in disputed waters. While these developments are alarming, there are minimum traces of strong opposition from the world or an agreement on the way forward.

While it may seem that the world lacks a consensus about how to deal with the rising China, the claim is more realistic in case of India. The recent reports of Chinese incursions into Indian Territory in the Demchok area of Leh district on July 31, 2010 should not be a shocking revelation. It is just a small part of the numerous Chinese incursions that take place periodically, which sometimes remain unreported or at times are downplayed by the government. Following the media reports, the Centre termed the reports as "baseless" citing that perceptional differences exist between India and China with regard to where exactly the Line of Actual Control (LAC) runs on the ground.

As per an official report, these Chinese troops including motor-cycle borne personnel of the PLA, entered Gombir area in Demchok region and threatened the civilian workers to stop building the shed, the plan for which was cleared by the state rural development department. It should also be noted that in November 2009, a road project under Centrally-sponsored National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), was stopped after objections were raised by the Chinese Army. Such an act should have alarmed the government but the claim was denied by Union Minister Farooq Abdullah who stated that the work may have been stropped due to severe cold. The continuous game of denial played by the Indian side is a point of serious concern.

Quoting Leh deputy commissioner T Angchuk, a media report had said, "The Chinese troops objected to the construction work last October. The matter was brought before both the ITBP and Army, manning the border, but they directed us to stop construction work."

The rounds of Sino-India talks in territorial disputes can be traced back to almost thirty years but they have proved to be fruitless and futile. China periodically asserts its claim over Indian Territory through border violations, by issuing stapled visas to residents on Jammu and Kashmir and objecting to funding of projects in AP by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). As a result India dropped projects in AP to be funded by the ADB. While some view this move as an effort to reduce tensions between the India and China, one may also consider this as India’s reluctance to take on the Chinese. Even though India may try to pass strong messages by lobbying key members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to counter the Sino-Pak nuclear deals, it tends to nullify any such assertions by silencing itself in case of Sino intrusions in the Indian terrotory. India continues to appease Beijing fearing that any objection to their action may provoke an armed confrontation between the two sides.

Instead of articulating a strong policy towards China, the South Block remains unperturbed and practices the policy of denying any anomalies in the Sino-India border. If we go by history, in 1962, China brazenly flouted the Panchsheel principles and unleashed aggression on India. The history is something that does not seem to direct the Indian actions or concerns. While it is imprudent to ignore the inevitable need to formulate a policy for the rising China, India needs to first and foremost recognise the threat and shed off its reluctance to act against the same.

According to Sun Tzu, the Chinese military thinker, “…supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting”. Judging by india’s intaction, it would seem that the Chinese have succeeded. The need of the hour is to upgrade the military infrastructure and logistics on the border and direct efforts towards military preparedness, so that India can tackle any Chinese aggression (in any) and rightfully preserve the borders and its territory, the least we can do.

Aditi Malhotra, Associate Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS).

Source:Indian Defence Review


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Thinking the unthinkable: US Foreign Policy and Think Tanks

The foreign policy of the USA moulds events in almost all corners of the world. It is difficult to understand contemporary international politics without considering the dynamics of US foreign policy. In order to understand the decisions taken by US internationally, it is important to assess the features of its foreign policy-making process. Notably, the process of policymaking involves numerous actors, activities and functions, making it a complex affair. The US foreign policy-making process is influenced by many domestic entities to a large extent. Each entity bears its own sphere of influence, moulding the final product of process.

Out of multiple domestic actors involved, the essay will focus on the importance of ‘think tanks’ in the policy-making process. Think tanks have essentially been an important part of the US foreign policy-making process. Interestingly, as compared to other western democracies, there are comparatively higher numbers of think tanks in US and are relatively more influential in the policymaking process. Hence, it is important to trace the importance, role and reasons for influence of these entities in the American political set-up.

In simple terms, a ‘think tanks’ can be defined as “public policy research, analysis and engagement institutions that generate policy-oriented research, analysis and advice on domestic and international issues that enables policymakers and the public to make informed decisions about public policy issues.”

The advent of modern think tanks in the USA was at a time when it assumed worldwide leadership. The role of these ‘thinking cells’ was to provide the government with impartial advice on policy related matters. Institute for Government Research, the precursor of Brookings Institution (1927) was one of the earliest think tanks. The end of World War I and II marked the period of America’s vital involvement in world politics, escalating the importance of independent foreign policy advice. The pressures of establishing itself as a hegemonic power in a bipolar world made it essential for the government to consider expert advice on foreign policy and national security. By 1948, RAND Corporation was created to develop and protect the American security interests in a nuclear era.

American history is dotted with instances that evidently reflect the influence of think tanks on US’s foreign policy. One such illustration was after the end of World War II. Council on Foreign Relations published an article “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” written by U.S diplomat George Kennan. This article created the base for the containment policy, which was relentlessly employed by the US till the end of Cold War.

During the 1990’s, U.S think tanks highlighted their informal yet central role in foreign policy formulation. Ironing out the differences between diplomats, they were seen as an unbiased third party in political discussions. An example of this was the debate of NATO enlargement. The conflict between the diplomats was minimised by the involvement of think tanks, thus building support for NATO enlargement. The NATO enlargement debate was imperative to surpass the Cold War’s divide and build a peaceful Europe.

As mentioned before, the degree of influence enjoyed by think tanks is limited to the American system of governance. The political landscape of USA is different from conventional political models and relatively far more decentralised. This primarily provides an environment where think tanks thrive. US governance possesses some attributes that remain exclusive to its domain. These attributes makes it easier for think tanks to influence the policy-making procedure through various techniques. The following segment will address some prominent characteristics of the American system and how think tanks utilise it to their advantage.

The most distinguishing is the clear division between legislative and executive sectors of the government. This implies that the powers of the President and the Congress are divided, allowing room for other actors to influence. Congress remains a very strong force in American politics and is also subject to external influences. As noted by Peter Gowan, Congress holds an extraordinary power over the US foreign policy. This tendency still prevails despite continuous efforts of the executive to affirm institutionalised control over the external policy (since 1945).The Congress remains sensitive to external forces like business corporations and think tanks.
Secondly, weak and reasonably non-ideological political parties are instrumental in further augmenting the role of think tanks. Parties do not get involved in the major part of policymaking by creating policy research branches of their own. Conversely, they rely on think tanks to fill this gap thus providing them a reasonable degree of power in the policymaking process. Think tanks continuously generate innovative ideas, evaluate government programmes and analyse policies. At times, experts provide immediate policy consultations to the government on policy problems and issues of pressing concern. In times of conflict between parties, these institutions act as a third party mediator and help break deadlocks and facilitate a comprehensive dialogue between them.

Another special attribute of the US political system is the selection of cabinet ministers. Contrary to conventional parliamentary system practices, cabinet ministers are not selected solely from parliamentary factions, and senior officials not primarily chosen from the public service. There are multiple ways of coming to such positions. With a change in administration, people hailing from various spheres are chosen through different means. This offers a level of permeability, giving opportunities to outside actors in the process.

The most exclusive function enjoyed only in the American system is the ‘revolving door’. This refers to the arrangement of supplying experts for new administrations and becoming centres for retiring officials who do not want to get divorced from foreign affairs. This helps the researchers to experience the real world politics and apply the theoretical models to practical situations. Furthermore, think tanks offer places for ex-administration officials who can share their experiences and remain involved with the domain of global affairs. This facilitates entities like think tanks to be continuously engaged in the policy processes.

This practice is liberally applied by many governments who have appointed researchers/experts for governmental positions. Additionally, retiring government officials enjoy opportunities of employment in renowned think tanks. The ‘revolving door’ clearly blurs the distinction between government official and external analysts. For example, the previous Bush administration gave several positions to experts in foreign policy affairs. Following is a list of the officials.

Besides this, think tanks are extremely active during the campaigning periods and transitional phases of governments. These opportunities are best utilised for setting foreign policy agendas. The first and probably most influential channel think tanks use play out in presidential elections. Candidates usually approve a 'blueprint' on internal and external policies and are greatly influenced by them or sometimes simply use it as their own. As Martin Anderson of the Hoover Institution explains, “It is during these times that presidential candidates solicit the advice of a vast number of intellectuals in order to establish policy positions on a host of domestic and foreign policy issues. Candidates test these issues on the campaign trail. It's like a national test marketing strategy.” Besides hardcore political involvement, think tanks are instrumental in enhancing public understanding by interpreting complex policies and gaining support for policy initiatives. This is done through electronic and print media. Simultaneously, they publish books; arrange seminars, rotary meetings for public and government officials.

Additionally, supplementary aspects exist that are equally instrumental in establishing the highly influential role of think tanks. The capabilities of US think tanks to contribute directly or indirectly and, the eagerness of diplomats to consider their advice are significant. It is believed that US being a superpower owes responsibility to the international arena and has a range of challenges of various degrees. In order to undertake these responsibilities and combat challenges, think tanks are important to assist the policymakers with expert advice and long-term schemes.

Apart from the political angle, the social system supports this kind of arrangement. The traditions of philanthropy, corporate or individual funding helps think tanks to sustain. It is important to note that the above mentioned reasons are not solely responsible for enhancing the role of think tanks, but it is their confluence that makes it them prominent.

In statistical terms, a research was conducted by Lawrence and Benjamin on "epistemic communities". The work highlights that the rising complexities and improbability of international problems has "led policy makers to turn to new and different channels of advice" and particularly to innovative "networks of knowledge-based experts" in think tanks with the aim of articulating the objective causes of international issues, the "real" risks or security of regions affected by those problems, and appropriate policy remedies. Calculations reflect that experts are the second most influential entities in the policymaking process, business corporations preceding them.

Undoubtedly, it is important to appreciate the role of think tanks in the foreign-policy making process. Keeping this in mind, it is also essential to see the other side of the coin. Primarily, the main goal of these institutions is to influence government policy and public opinion. While in the process, they employ numerous that attract criticism in various degrees.

Unlike business corporations, a think tank’s success is gauged by the influence is has on the public and the policymakers (not in monetary terms, because the instituted are non-profit organizations). Also, when formulating policies, policymakers consider many aspects including public opinion. Majorly, perceptions of policymakers and public opinion are shaped by news and broadcast media. Therefore, influencing the media becomes increasingly important for think tanks.

Think tanks today operate in a market of heavy competition, where it is important for each to gain media attention in order to gain publicity. Think tanks experts disseminate their ideas and views through interviews, public briefings, opinion articles in newspapers, scholastic journals for academicians etc. For example, Brookings went to the extent of building its own TV and radio to facilitate media interviews. This makes it clear that think tanks extensively exercise marketing techniques to direct the content and direction of policies. This practice thus eventually places them in the same category as interest/pressure groups and other NGO’s. Albeit distinct differences, the distinctions between interest groups and think tanks is getting blurred.

These blurring distinctions have further heightened with the advent of advocacy think tanks. Advocacy think tanks establish strong policies reflecting a particular ideology and mix them with extensive marketing to manipulate policy debates. As observed by Richard Fly, some of the institutions like heritage Foundation are highly driven by ideology, while some like AARP, Public Policy Institute and the Economic Policy Institute are funded by an association of labor unions. Another technique of ensuring influence is to establish close ties with particular agency. This is reflected particularly in the case of RAND Corporation, which is a contractual research for the Depart of Defense.

Think tanks as registered under Non-profitable organizations rely on endowment and donations from organizations and individuals. AEI raises almost between $20 million to $25 million a year. At times, the sources of funding are not revealed. Most of the donors include huge business and financial corporations. As simple as it may seem, these donations are instrumental in directing the content of the research undertaken by these ‘idea brokers’.

Not surprisingly, the policymakers get influenced by the agenda-driven think tanks. This gives rise to domination of a particular ideology which gets reflected in American foreign policies. US has almost twice conservative think tanks than liberal ones. The elite theory holds that “the political system is dominated by select group of individuals and organizations with common goals like an interventionist foreign policy”. Even the media citations enjoyed by conservatives is higher that the centrists or leftists. This is visible in the following figure.

Some think tanks attempt to stretch their ideological sphere to other countries by establishing overseas affiliations, namely, The Urban Institute, Carnegie Endowment. Even though some regard this as a step to enhance policy analysis abroad, it can also be criticised for endorsing ideologies to countries where the think tank sector is at an infant stage. This also shows that more and more think tanks use the media to propagate their ideas and perspectives.

The ‘revolving door’ no matter how useful can be viewed as a negative aspect of the American foreign policy process. After every change in the government, there are a high number of government positions. In order to fill that void, think tanks offer experts. Even though, this gives an opportunity for experts to offer researched opinions, this practice easily opens door for think tanks to embed their ideological stance in actually policies. The main goal of these ‘idea brokers’ is to influence the government, but the ‘revolving door’ gives them direct access to the government. Also, there are times when the experts do not get places in areas of their expertise. Thus, such experts often have inadequate knowledge about the program assigned. Some have also criticised this practice by terming it as “government in exile”. The Center for Strategic and International Studies, for example, has so many top ex-government officials that it has gained the nickname "National Security Advisors Stud Farm. Consequently, the whole network of think tanks is not just a simple arena of scholarly research to enhance understanding, as it may seem.

To sum up, US foreign policy is not purely a creation of the executive and legislative branches of the government, but external actors. As noted above, think tanks thrive due to the setting offered by the political system making it exclusively an American affair. The reliance of policymakers on think tanks for advice on foreign policy marks the importance of external actors and public in the process.

Nevertheless, it is also important to realise that extreme reliance on private entities for foreign policymaking may result in policies that are lopsided and bias. Private entities like think tanks may possess ulterior motives and may even be sensitive to other actors like business corporations and lobbyists. A foreign policy of a country reflects it domestic political landscape and perceptions. Privatising the policymaking process is not wise decision, especially when the foreign policy of a powerful country like US shapes the affairs of the globe today.


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Aditi Malhotra is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)

Source: Eurasia Review