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Title: An Assessment of Capability Gaps that Contribute to Fighting Below the Threshold of War
Date Originally Written: August 9, 2021.
Date Originally Published: August 30, 2021.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The article analyses a current situation playing out in a very important part of the world which is a nuclear flashpoint as well. While the reader can likely guess which countries the author is referring to, indirect references are used to appeal to the audiences living this situation day-to-day.
Summary: Fighting below the threshold of war happens only due to inadequacies of the stronger power. These inadequacies may be based in law, policy, doctrine, political preferences, and corruption. Unless these inadequacies are addressed, stronger powers will dilute their true combat capability by acting as police forces either locally, regionally, or globally.
Text: The countries of IN and PK have over seven decades of animosity between them. In the 1970s, PK was comprehensively defeated during a war with IN and in the process, lost almost half of its territory. Thereafter, based on experience PK gained as Country UA’s proxy in the fight against Country RU in Country AF, PK realised in its fight against IN, direct war is not the way ahead. This realisation started something different in which PK waged a conflict below the threshold of war against Country IN by simply harboring, arming, and supporting terrorists. PK, where the military is the de-facto ruler, acts as a client state of Country CN, another adversary of IN, and all three possess nuclear weapons.
It is now three decades since PK began to carry out nefarious activities against IN. In other words, PK prevails over IN below the threshold of war and keeps IN tied down through a low cost and low risk method. This success is despite the fact that IN is larger than PK in every possible metric – economy, territory, armed forces, population etc. PK is taking advantage of some inherent weaknesses and capability gaps of IN and is prevailing.
IN’s capability gaps begin with it still believing in outdated definitions of war, and therefore believing that only armed forces fight wars, and is waiting for PK’s Armed Forces to start one. PK is not obliging IN, knowing well that PK cannot win. IN, not wanting to be labeled as an aggressor, is not waging war on PK, little realizing that IN has been under attack for many decades. A doctrinal change by IN could perhaps settle matters regarding what constitutes aggression and what will be IN’s response. This doctrinal change would amply warn PK and, if PK did not change its behavior, the change would give IN the required casus belli. Threshold of war is not something that has been defined by nature as each country decides according to each unique circumstance. In 1914, assassination of a sovereign led to the First World War. Without an adjustment to current below threshold realities, IN will not get the better of PK.
IN’s armed forces have been engaged in counterinsurgency operations against PK sponsored terrorists for several decades. This fight without end continues due to an undefined military end-state. The armed forces of a country is it’s last resort and therefore it should not be distracted from it’s main role of war-fighting. PK understands this well and therefore does everything possible to tie down IN’s armed forces in operations below the threshold of war, which are essentially policing duties. Establishing an end state allowing the military to exit counterinsurgency operations and return to preparing for war is perhaps the only thing that will deter PK from continuing what it does below the threshold of war. Many in IN’s armed forces talk about the United States’ two decade long engagement in Afghanistan to justify IN’s continued presence in counterinsurgency operations. It is worth noting that the United States sent in its armed forces to Afghanistan because its police, perhaps as potent as some armies, have no global mandate. Moreover, while the US always had the luxury of pulling out, as it subsequently did, IN doesn’t.
IN is also ineffective below the threshold of war because fighting below the threshold is a comfortable place to be in- no national mobilization, limited death and destruction, life and fighting goes on hand in hand. There would always be many interest groups apart from the IN Armed Forces that have a stake in the fight. While the IN Armed Forces get brass, budget allocations, and a disproportionate say in matters otherwise in the realm of governance, others who benefit include the Military Industrial Complex (about whom U.S. President Eisenhower had warned five decades ago), war contractors and also politicians, most of whom thrive on divisive agendas. History illustrates that whenever a country has resolved to finish a fight, it happened – Sri Lanka being the best example. So next time when any country thinks of finishing the fight, it is good to know who are directly and indirectly benefiting from the fight continuing.
Sun Tzu has said that, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Present day militaries have wrapped this very thought in many definitions and names to include grey zone warfare, hybrid warfare etc. However, war is war. PK added its own touch by trying to subdue IN, taking advantage of IN’s inhibitions, and some weaknesses, by fighting, albeit below the threshold of war. Until IN wakes up to PK, and demonstrates that IN is ready for a major war with PK, IN will continue to be stuck in the quagmire of fighting below the threshold of war.
 Greenspan, J. (2014, June 26). The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. History.com. https://www.history.com/news/the-assassination-of-archduke-franz-ferdinand
 The United States Government. (2021, July 8). Remarks by President Biden on the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The White House. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/07/08/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-drawdown-of-u-s-forces-in-afghanistan/
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