MVI Debate: 21st Century Warfare & What India Needs To Do?

"Lets not confuse nuclear deterrence with conventional war fighting. As regards nuclear deterrence capability, no country on earth has a total defence against a nuclear strike.", opines Gen Rana Goswami, in this debate.

MVI Debate: 21st Century Warfare & What India Needs To Do?

Editor's Note: 'Meaning of War in the 21st Century ' by Thierry Meyssen has given a deep insight into the complexity of war in the present era with a thought provoking historical perspective to warfare as it evolved with times and advancement of science, technology and the changing human mind set. The article focuses on the present ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine with implications for the world. In the Indian context what lessons can we draw from this war?

Responses received from some of our learned veterans from the three services are reproduced below to collectively give the readers the overall general perception of our knowledgeable faujis and what they perceive and advocate for the well being of the armed forces and the country. The subject by itself is so vast, complex with rapidly changing situations, emerging uncertainities that this debate can go on endlessly! It is hoped that our debate triggers more responses and articles to enrich the minds and perceptions of readers.

Trigger: 'The Meaning of War in the 21st Century' by Thierry Meyssan, published at The Peninsula Foundation, on October 22, 2022.

Responses to the Article in the Indian Context

Brig Pradeep Sharma: Nuclear Defence

  1. We live in the middle of a nuclear environment. Both Pak and China have been acknowledged as nuclear states.
  2. Over decades the Indian Govts have made efforts to develop nuclear weapons/ delivery platforms to complete the triad for ground, sea and aerial delivery  However, little is heard of our defensive capability!
  3. Secrecy and Security of information of weapons and programs of such a serious strategic nature apart, many times making public announcement also sends the desired message to adversaries and to the citizens.
  4. Absence of Passive Defensive Measures. To the best of my knowledge there have been little or no effort at such measures which could include monitoring hostile nuclear weapon locations, movement deployment and launch based on which all defensive actions hinge.
  5. Town planing health care and civil defence are also under prepared.
    • No shelters
    • No personal protection equipment
    • No decontamination centers.
    • Even the armed forces do not have sufficient capacity to reduce the effect of a nuclear strike and enable continued operational ability in the face of a nuclear strike.
  6. Town planing and urban development need to take advice from the armed forces in this regard in order to make our cities safe. In the absence of such measures, we can be sure that the Govt, no matter which political party would have cold feet in the event of a war as demonstrated by the past.
Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

Gp Capt Johnson Chacko

During the cold war there were two nuclear doctrines that deterred first use and maintained nuclear peace. MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) and NUTS (Nuclear Utilisation and Targeting Strategy). I think that were the full forms. MAD vs NUTS was the debate. The premise is that if there were credible nuclear defences, it will create an imbalance.

It is almost impossible to create nuclear shelters for any country's population due to the high cost involved. It is restricted to key decision makers and the Armed Forces to fight in a radioactive environment. The rest are essential to maintain the balance of terror and thereby prevent a madman from pressing the nuclear button.

If India and Pak had a nuclear exchange half the Pak population would be wiped out, whereas India will lose only 5%. This is cold mathematical logic. So, should we call the bluff?

In any case MAD vs NUTS will leave us all dead.

Lt Col MK Gupta Ray

The holding of Nuclear Weapons in the world could not stop the aggressiveness of Putin, thus proving concepts of Nuclear Deterrence a thing of the past. The biggest fallout of the present Russia-Ukraine War will be the effort by all capable nations to procure Nuclear Weapon as fast as possible. Ukraine must be repenting its act of surrendering its Nuclear Weapons at the time of USSR disintegration!

In 1989 in the Ops Room of HQ 33 Corps, I tried to make a point that a part of Op works fund should be utilised in making nuclear defences at least in the forward locations for the soldiers to be able to fight with more safety and confidence. I was 'phoo-phooed' saying India Pakistan can never have nuclear weapons. Within few years we, as well as, Pakistan became nuclear!

But India already started procuring controversial anti missile weapon S-400 Missile System from Russia with target detection at the range of 600 miles with 17,000 kmph speed, 14 Mach, which for sometime deteriorated Indo-US relationship. But lots really needs to be done starting with making of antinuclear shelter from the front line to rear areas for civilians.

In Europe, most of the underground metros, are side by side, being modified to provide anti nuclear shade for civilians.

Incidentally India is having near parity in all other military branches except for Missile where India is behind in range and number. As India is fast developing its Missile System, it will not take much time to catch up with China.

What we need is: Political Stability, Wise and Learned Politicians, National Long Term Strategic Aim well articulated / documented in a White Paper, Sustainable Economy, Good Foreign Policy, Industrial Policy. Whole world, no doubt,is  looking up to India. 109 years ago an Admiral said that with India's Geopolitical position, good army ready to fight, teeming population, natural barrier along national boundaries and natural resources, no one can ignore India or words to that effect.

The Himalayas were and are working as a big natural protective barrier till date and will remain so in future too.

China will never be able to deploy mass enemy in the Himalayas which will be restricted to the limited deployability of passes in the Himalayas.

Publish your book with Frontier India 

Lt Col MK Gupta Ray (Cont.)

As per statistics if we divide the entire nuclear stock of the world by the population, it is believed that there will be 6 tons of TNT per individual which is enough to crush a person, what to talk about explosion effect. It is said that consequent to nuclear war there would be so much of dust kicked up that sun would be covered for 6 months thus creating 'nuclear winter' frigging people to death besides being radio activated. Of course blast and fire in the world would have scored its damage, balance world would be big 'Zero'. On top, there is chemical and biological weapons. Despite knowing this, political leaders are still trading for this MDW (mass destructive weapons)!

However, the discussion was pivoting around India's preparation for making interception capabilities and physical shelter against nuclear strike.

Yes, in nuclear warfare small countries will be wiped out and big countries will bear massive damage. Even conventional weapons are rapidly getting awfully precisioned and destructive. Death is assured. As per information till a few months ago 16 Russian generals were killed by precision shooting with the help of drones.

It's said that after the invention of Nuclear Weapon, there is no generalship or mass manoeuvre, but wanton destruction with irretrievable damage!

However, there are systems of target acquisition, first strike, second strike concepts. Survival, if any will depend upon capabilities of numbers of retaliatory strikes capabilities. Warring countries will sit upon a heap of dead bodies and rubble.

Let the wisdom prevail!

Brig Sanjay Sangwan

The best way to win a war is to avert or deter it and there are multiple tools for it.

Deploying a missile shield for a huge country like India is a humongous task at tremendous cost without adequate gains.

Our priority has to be economic strength first and then opt for such expensive systems.

Till then we have to rely on other means to avert a war and the govt seems to be following the right priorities.

Solution doesn't have to be in hardware systems though they too are desired. Diplomatic solutions are the best and govt seems confident of it.

Lt Gen Harbhajan Singh

In India, the Army including the Chief, has been kept out of nuclear discourse. The result is that one wonders if there is even any discussion during JC, SC, DSSC, HC Courses.

I have spoken with a number of senior Veterans. Moment one mentions this topic or Missiles, the stock answer is The Strategic Comd deals with it!


This again is a subject which is Taboo for Indian Army.

Pak Army has put so much caution on us by strategising use of TNWs if we cross various Red Lines.

It is my belief that we must signal use of TNWs like Pakistan has done, for our Northen and Western Borders. That is the only way we can place required caution on China  in particular.

But for us existing Nuclear Doctrine from Gen Sunderji's days ie replying with full spectrum of Nuclear Weapons even if a small yield weapon is used is sacrosanct!

It is not a realistic policy to put up a shield against nuckear attack. Even USA has not done it.


However, since use of TNWs is now being talked about as Putin has done, we should examine protection for some entities in the battle area.

Publish your book with Pentagon Press 

Neil John

Best way to win a war is not fight it. Diplomacy works.

But if you have to fight a war and win it, then ensure you have all the tools in the bag. War isn’t fought by the military alone. Military is only an instrument of war.

It’s a nation that goes to war. It’s about economics, about sustainability about national interests.

A nation needs to have an effective and modern army, so that it is not cowed down by bullies. The military is the deterrent, within that deterrence is the application of military power, comprising of well trained men, dynamic leadership, modern technology and a knowledge of the enemy enabling war winning. Like tanks, artillery and the airforce are integral to front line war fighting in a land battle, so is the nuclear arsenal as a deterrent to war mongers.

It’s all inclusive, the tank will get hit, it’s meant to take away the focus from the infantry. The nukes are meant to put that dilemma into the enemies mind on own threshold levels.

Can’t justify one and negate one. It’s a all of nation approach, everyone has a role.

We as the military can’t even preempt war. It is not for us to decide when and why. We can be part of the how and where.

A Serving Colonel

Employment of TNWs is by itself a major escalation, hence rightly a taboo, as the General says. Employment of Nuclear weapons is a political mandate, we are only the operators of the medium, hence it will not be on any courses of instruction.

Lt Gen Rakesh Sharma

TNWs have been spoken off by Pakistan as part of conventional war fighting. We in uniform tend to negate it as only a threat and the ‘massive retaliation’ that our doctrine talks off will be great deterrent.

As men in uniform, we must examine use of TNWs, the effect the threat has our political masters to allow execution of our war fighting plans. We must not push the discussion away just because it ties down our existing options. We must plan alternative options in prosecution of plans. Easiest way out is to be an ostrich!

Cdr Mukund Yeolekar

Today's wars are all pervasive, encompassing all aspect of life - that include economic warfare, cyber, information, network-centric, besides threat of nukes, chemical and biological warfare. It has been observed how a smaller power like Ukraine has held on with sheer grit, determination and technology. It is not the size of Armed forces or country that matters but use of cutting edge technology at the right place and time that matters. An example of this is sinking of Russian flag ship in Black Sea by defiant Ukraine which was a blow to Russian  morale and also loss of face.

Another aspect which has assumed importance is Underwater Domain Awareness. This not only covers capacity and capability for UW surveillance and interdiction but it also shapes a nations maritime policy and environmental issues. The fact that 70% of the earth is covered by sea the Blue Economy is playing a major role in economic interdependence of nations which influences security of resources and deters conflicts. Putin's non-use of nukes stems from such economic considerations too besides strategic reasons.

With a long coastline of 7500 km and being on major trade routes, India plays a very important role in IOR. Having developed nuclear triad capability India's adversaries would not risk use of TNW in any conflict.

Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

Maj Gen Rana Goswami

Let's not confuse nuclear deterrence with conventional war fighting. Nuclear deterrence involves creating a capability wherein the country/countries involved possesses nuclear weapons, i.e. the necessary warhead as well as the means of delivery, in the form of SRBMs, MRBMs, ICBMs , etc., which can be delivered from land, sea, air or all of them, composing a nuclear triad. This capability creates a fear in the mind of the adversary against the very thought of using a nuclear weapon against you, for fear of retaliation. It doesn't mean that a conventional war cannot or will not be fought for fear of a nuclear nation employing a nuclear weapon. In the Indian context, it is well known that we possess all the above capabilities other than ICBMs thus far, as we do not in reality need it. We also possess a triad, with second strike capability. These are all in the public domain.                  

As regards nuclear defence capability, no country on earth has a total defence against a nuclear strike. Some have measures against ballistic missile attacks, but no one, not even the best are completely fool proof and like it or not, some can and will get through. No number of underground bunkers with months of good supply, water, et al, will help in the long term, once a nuclear exchange has begun. Hence, let me reiterate that nuclear weapons are weapons of deterrence, not of use, as once used, retaliation and counter retaliation will result in a situation where the entire planet is likely to get destroyed, due to the effects of multiple use of these weapons causing a nuclear winter lasting a hundred years or more, which no living being can survive. It is this knowledge that has ensured that no nuclear weapon has ever been used since August 1945.                                                  

In a conventional war scenario, there are what are commonly known as nuclear 'thresholds', which are often debated and discussed during war games. However, in reality, no one on both sides, especially the attacker, really knows as to what situation or event will cause this 'threshold' to be crossed. It is a line that cannot be predicted. Also, will the nuclear weapon be used in a counter force role vis a vis a counter value one, that too of what capacity? It is at the discretion of the country employing them, with an aim or goal known only to them. Will it be in the sub KT, the standard 20 KT or in the MT range? There are too many inconsistencies, as well as ifs and buts involved. Hence the necessity of a clear nuclear deterrence with a triad having second strike capability which will prevent any nation from employing them.                                                

In the context of the Russo-Ukraine war, despite the intense provocation from the USA and NATO in assisting Ukraine with hi tech weapon systems as well as mercenaries to employ them causing heavy losses to Russian manpower and equipment, Russia has desisted from employing nuclear weapons and is continuing with conventional weapon systems, as the ramifications of going nuclear are well known to them. However, what could or will happen in the future, is a big question!?

Lt Col MK Gupta Ray: The Way Ahead?

While the entire spectrum of points mentioned in the responses to the article titled "The Meaning of War in the 21st Century" are taken to be right, the mind of the person at the helm  of affairs, like Putin of Russia, who has been the cause of death of thousands of people for nothing and constantly threatening with the employment of Nuclear weapons, can't be chartered. Like him many high headed, ambitious persons may hold the power in future with irrational consequences.

War starts first in the mind of the leader, later translated into action in the battle field.

The evils started with the invention of bow and arrow, sword and today's devastating weapons. Trillions are being spent to kill human beings but not a single penny is spent to feed a single human being!

While total 'nuclear shield' is not possible to be created but reasonable shelter must be created both for soldiers in front and citizens at the back who are going to sustain soldiers in front.

Though personally I think days of Sun Tzu and Clauswitz are gone, it will generate lots of comments, but SunTzu said that the best general wins the battle without fighting. What does it mean? It perhaps means that the country and its defence forces should be so strong that other countries should not dare to attack it. America and now China, may have achieved such ability that no one would dare attack them.

Today this is applicable to India. She must grow and make herself strong all-round and become a Super Power. That itself will act as a deterent for India against other aggressive countries and also become or act like a protective shield!

World has survived thousands of years and will survive another thousands of years but war will remain a part of it.

'Mahabharata' indicates that after 17 days of war almost all men folks were wiped out, but creation remained/continued.

Let's hope for the best.

Gp Capt Johnson Chacko: The Last Word

Wars will be there as long as there is thievery.

To have deterrence we need to be at the top technologically, militarily and economically. A thousand  years ago we were at the forefront of these except for the military as we were not united in the sub continent. Tipu Sultan used the first ever missile battery militarily against the British.

US is at the forefront of all three. China is trying to catch up. Even if they catch up militarily and technologically the contest will be of economies. 45 Trillion  vs 25 Trillion. China is no match. Russia is strong militarily and technologically. The involvement in Ukraine has brought down their economy. They are not considered a threat anymore. China is next on line to be reduced so that US continues to tell all others as to what they should do or perpetuate the hegemony. India is harping on multipolarity so that population of the world has a say in their future.

Russian concerns were extermination of people of Russian origin in the east of Ukraine (so, denazification) and military strength of Ukràine supported by NATO countries clandestinely now (demilitarisation of Ukraine). For the US it is more profits from arms sales to Ukraine and European countries...doesn't matter if Ukraine gets destroyed in the process as long as the Russian military strength is reduced. Putin is aware of this, hence the nuclear sword rattling. If we discount the IW beamed at US, I feel that cause for this conflict is US trying to expand NATO with Ukraine as a member. Since Warsaw Pact is dismantled NATO does not have a reason to exist.

A wedge between Europe and Russia on the energy front benefits US as the economic progress of Europe can be slowed and US companies can sell energy to Europe.

A very complex situation indeed!

(Views expressed are the respondent's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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