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Mobilization War Tactic in the Context of India and Pakistan

By Rameez Raja

In the strategic terms, mobilization is the redirection of national resources, both human and material, away from traditional civilian pursuits to support a greatly intensified defence effort. In simple terms, mobilization involves a rapid increase in force deployment and the large conversion of a nation’s economic, technological, and organizational resources into military power. In his book, Thinking about the Unthinkable, Harman Kahn championed the deterrence theory and also supported the Mobilization War in the context of the United States and former Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Mobilization war is a strategy to avoid immediate high-intensity violence with the help of ongoing military build-ups. However, if the mobilization war does not result in a resolution of the crisis, then adversaries will be prepared to fight a real war, as rightly argued by Kahn.

In the context of India and Pakistan, neither deterrence nor mobilization war tactic seems fruitful to resolve the unresolved conflicts. For instance, Kargil skirmish of 1999 happened under the nuclear umbrella between India and Pakistan. Moreover, qualitative and quantitative increase in nuclear arsenal is too problematic for both states because, due to protracted/extended crisis, enough national resources have been converted for defence purposes placing enormous strains on the Indo-Pak economic and political system, making the attainment of mobilisation goals more challenging.

All the nuclear states in South Asia including China are heading towards a nuclear triad capability for survival or remaining regional hegemon. In addition, the nuclear doctrines of all states are violent in nature as these antagonist states are talking about unacceptable damage to their foe, which denotes civilian areas rather than strategic areas or central nuclear war.

The military personnel think always in strategic terms. That is why Kahn supports nuclear war and is of the view that nuclear war will not end the history of mankind. Kahn talks about evacuation and shelters if nuclear war broke out in order to save the United States. I object to Kahn’s assessment on the basis of peace research and ethics because his argument is an effort to save the United States, instead of the whole of humanity.

Most of times, the international community directly or indirectly intervened to halt a direct war between India and Pakistan after their nuclear tests. However, I am worried that the unresolved and extended conflicts between two belligerent states might culminate into a nuclear winter. Since both states have firm belief in nukes as having a battle field role, some of nukes are positioned on high trigger alert. In fact, some 1800 nukes all over the world are positioned on high trigger alert and ready for use on short notice. Surprisingly, it has been estimated that during the Kargil skirmish, nuclear threats were exchanged thirteen times between India and Pakistan.

In the contemporary world, states focus on research and development for peace. However, it is also true that nuclear states keep on conducting rigorous research for arms build-up – for instance, testing and evaluation of new defence systems for peace and security or for strengthening mobilisation war tactic. However, it is very risky to find peace in strategic terms by building arms because there is always a chance of either rigid or reckless behaviour from the leaders in crisis situations that might result into a real war. The current US-North Korea nuclear crisis is a better example. Similarly, it is also expensive to spend countless money to make a bridge between the two rival states through arms competition.

What is a cheap alternative method to resolve the conflicts? It is vital that people should now think in terms of peace research rather than strategic studies. Due to the availability of thousands of nukes, “War” is now both incorrect and misleading. Nuclear war is a suicide and it is largely held that “nobody wins a suicide pact” because mutually assured destruction would definitely wipe out millions of innocent people. Who is rational and who is a irrational leader is difficult task to determine as deterrence theory mostly rests on “rational decision making.”

It was actually Hobbes’s State of Nature which undermined the good qualities of humans and claimed that life is nasty, brutish, and short. I agree that there are numerous poor judgements from the humans that eventually culminated into chaos and instability across the globe. However, people who belong to different faiths and regions have collectively worked together to unite the world for restoration of peace. Recently, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (IANS) won the Nobel Prize for Peace for sincerely trying to draw the attention of world towards the catastrophic nature of nuclear weapons and the immense benefits of abolishing them.

Who is the enemy? There are numerous territorial, ideological, and religious clashes that eventually culminated into disputes which resulted in conversion of national resources for military purposes. The problem is distrust and the poor assessment by some political scientists, realists, and neo-realists who championed the deterrence theory.

Research is crucial not for design of new weapons but for the restoration of peace through negotiation and dialogue. Unfortunately, missile defence systems (MDSs) and civil defence shelter programmes have been given much weightage today for peace and security. These defense systems would provoke nuclear states to opt nuclear war because of the advantage of the defence systems.

The deterrence theorists argued that nonmilitary defence is necessary for deterrence and MDS, along with employing lasers, particle beams, and other advanced techniques for boost-phase, midcourse, and terminal interception of enemy warheads, could, in principle, be procured under conditions of mobilization war.

The weapons industries get maximum benefit from the deterrence theory because nuclear states have roughly double the money for defence programmes. Interestingly, when crisis persists, weapons are sold. Alternatively, if crisis is solved, mobilization war tactic is no longer in need. Nuclear industry too had sold nuclear equipment to states which are even outside of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). The reason put forth is simple: in return the recipient states offered huge amount of money to suppliers.

A strong economy and technology are very important factors for deterrence and power. However, both India and Pakistan’s GDP are quite low, compared to that of the US and Russia. How would they survive while adopting the mobilization war tactic? The answer to the question has been given by neo-realist, John Mearsheimer, who in his best piece, “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics” talks about Offensive Realism and Back Passing. Back Passing means the distribution of power when facing a dangerous rival – for instance, Indo-US relationship to counter China or China-Pakistan relationship to counter India. The alliances and financial assistance from wealthy and super power states helped the low GDP states to adopt mobilization war tactic.

This is simply a strategy of the United States to get close to become a world hegemon and Mearsheimer helped the US for this purpose. Interestingly, both India and Pakistan will hardly surpass the United States both in military and economic terms as their GDP is low as compared to the US. Their engagement in extended conflicts hardly guides them to become a superpower or even regional hegemon. Due to the persistence of crisis in South Asia, weapons industries reaped benefits by supplying expensive weapons to both states.

Furthermore, it is very important to have an ideal position for becoming hegemon or regional hegemon. In South Asia, three nuclear states are battling to become a regional hegemon by upgrading strategic nuclear force or military build-up. However, all the three states have unresolved territorial disputes with close borders that might culminate into a real war, as rightly argued by Mearsheimer. Mearsheimer is of the view that the larger distances like oceans between the belligerent states are big hindrance for invading a foe because land power such as the army is the main element for victory, rather than navy and strategic air power. However, the case is dissimilar with India, Pakistan, and China, which are vulnerable to each other due to extended crisis with close borders.

Nuclear weapons have been tested in the past and are tested by computer simulations currently. This is a clear indication that nukes will be used in a battle field. The missile defence systems will create more instability due to its advantage to destroy the incoming missiles that will end with nuclear exchanges.

How much nuclear force is enough for deterrence? It is simply a blind journey with a blind hope to build-up a strong strategic nuclear force for deterrence. Kahn and Mearsheimer are not actually supporting deterrence theory but a massive strategic nuclear force for the US to destroy its foes like former Soviet Union. Kahn writes about shelters and evacuations, in simple terms a nuclear omnicide. For becoming a global hegemon, Mearsheimer posits that one has to pursue nuclear superiority, along with strong economy, mighty conventional force, and a unique strategy to win wars.

Kahn even did not support arms control. He is of the view that arms control will be destructive for the US because the Soviet Union cannot be trusted for the same. That is why Kahn is more confident with civil defence rather than arms control.

The mobilisation war tactic is a dangerous game particularly due to emergence of missile defence systems, shelters, and evacuations. The great threat to world peace are nukes themselves that cannot be dis-invented because nuclear states do not trust each other.

I conclude that nuclear weapons have not been manufactured for deterrence. Rather, they are manufactured to help states remain regional hegemons in order to fulfil their interests at the international as well as at the regional level with the support of massive strategic nuclear force to eliminate foes. Kahn supports mobilisation war tactic because it is only super powers like the US which can extend its nuclear force and arms build-up better than others due to its strong economy, technology, ideal position, and large population that can be easily utilised if deterrence fails in future.

The “Bait and Bleed” is a strategy that involves two rival states to engage in a protracted war, so that they bleed each other, while the baiter remains on the side-line. For instance, the United States, which believed and practiced the strategy of hyphenation, de-hyphenation and dual-hyphenation in the context of India and Pakistan, gives a clear indication that both antagonist states would hardly be successful to settle their unresolved disputes.

Currently, great powers seek nuclear advantage over its rival to win a war under the nuclear shadow – for instance, the US and Russia have relentlessly increased their strategic nuclear force for “massive pre-emption” rather than “massive retaliation”. The Cold Start doctrine and Surgical Strikes, which India claimed to be suitable option to fight a limited war against Pakistan under a nuclear umbrella, is a poor decision from the policy makers. Although conventionally less powerful, Pakistan fought four wars with India and its nuclear weapons capability like Nasr Missile (tactical nuclear weapon) has been made especially for India’s limited war doctrine against Pakistan.

The mobilisation war tactic between India and Pakistan is dangerous because both states might not handle the nuclear arsenal reasonably due to their blurry nuclear doctrines and extended conflicts. In addition, both states have fought four conventional wars with each other, including the Kargil skirmish in 1999 under the nuclear umbrella. In addition, numerous crises such as Brasstacks, Kashmir Uprisings in 1989, and Operation Parakram between two belligerent states give a clear indication that these crises might have resulted in a deadly war, if the international community had not intervened.

Therefore, it is better to settle the unresolved disputes permanently through negotiation, dialogue, and build down in strategic nuclear weapons, deep reductions in missiles, and build trust with each other, rather than on missile defence systems, shelters and evacuations. Nevertheless, a limited war doctrine seems unproductive for both nuclear states. The zeal for nuclear superiority would exacerbate the tensions between India and Pakistan that might change into a nuclear winter because both states always look for opportunities to target each other and someday nuclear exchange might happen due to trust deficit, religious dichotomy, and protracted conflicts, especially because of the unresolved Kashmir dispute.

Rameez Raja
is pursuing Ph.D. at the Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He specializes in India’s nuclear policy. His writings have previously appeared in Rising Kashmir, Café Dissensus Everyday, Kafila, Foreign Policy News, Pakistan Observer, Kashmir Observer, and Kashmir Monitor. Email:


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