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Military diplomacy written by Lt Gen Aditya Singh

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Author: Lt Gen (Retd) Aditya Singh

Military diplomacy by India has hitherto been something of a curate’s egg—good in parts. A good example of what is bad is the treatment meted out by China to a very senior Indian General because he commands the defences of Jammu and Kashmir. Must we allow ourselves to be thus humiliated? Yet on the other end of the spectrum is the long-forgotten Somali experience where a coalition of armed personnel from many countries, including India, under the UN flag but overall American command, became targets of the local population for their generally uncouth behaviour. A US Blackhawk helicopter was shot down and its crew dragged around the streets of Mogadishu. When the time to withdraw came Indian troops were among the very few who were allowed to do so with all equipment intact and personnel safe - an example of the vast cache of goodwill India has, especially in the Indian Ocean Region.

India's growth has been acknowledged by the world as a peaceful development based on democratic institutions, a pluralist and tolerant polity that respects human rights and freedoms and is based on the rule of law. It is based on the principles of Panchsheel i.e., peaceful coexistence. India publicly acknowledges the need for a world free of nuclear weapons and secure for future generations.

Military diplomacyComplexities of the region and international relations however make progress a byzantine exercise which requires a mix of all elements of national power. Armies today have multiple roles including war prevention, hence diplomacy and defence the two established pillars of foreign policy, warrant reorientation with changing times.

Soft power projection
Historically, India has projected its interests through a process of soft power, based on trade and cultural ties. It does not covet any territory beyond its own and stirs no apprehension or animosity in the region. Its tradition of promoting peace and amity dates back more than a thousand years in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and South East (SE) Asia. Developments post- independence in the neighbourhood should therefore be seen as an aberration as long term interests of India can only be served by regional peace and stability. It is in this context that military diplomacy in particular the Army, can play an increasingly important role in the coming years.

Low-key interaction
Military diplomacy is not a new phenomenon, it has been practiced since independence, however its contribution has, in a manner been ‘low key’. This was possibly due to vision of our leaders at independence, the nascent democracy and the understandable anxiety of a military takeover in keeping with what happened in Pakistan. Engagement with ‘friendly foreign countries was mainly through training exchanges for all the three Services, with only the Navy so called 'showing the flag'. This interaction post 9/11 has increased, however, its potential is far from realisation. With maturity of the past sixty-three years and stable democratic institutions, it is now incumbent to use all elements of national power to promote India’s interests. Not doing so will be detrimental to growth specially, as military diplomacy is being extensively pursued by our neighbours. C. Raja Mohan writing in the Indian Express avers “While the civilian bureaucracy and the political leadership in our Ministry of Defence continue to constrain the Indian military’s engagement with the world, China is consciously promoting it”. In Pakistan’s case, the military has exploited its position to secure every perceived advantage for their nation and today greatly influences their foreign policy.

An asset
It must therefore be appreciated that if India is to grow to a great nation status, it must increasingly use military diplomacy as an element of confidence-building and power projection both within the region as also internationally. This has vast scope but requires a major reorientation in all the three Services. More so the Army, which so far has mainly seen its role as protection of the land borders.

Simply put, military diplomacy could be defined as using the resources of the armed forces of a nation to promote its national security interests. Similar to conventional diplomacy, this covers a whole range of activities from training, defence consultations, strategic interactions, protocols, military exchanges, planning for common threats, UN Peacekeeping missions, confidence building measures (CBMs) et al, to bring about amity and avoid conflict. With increased emphasis on conflict prevention, military diplomacy has acquired greater relevance in international relations.

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