Thanks to Mark Safranski, I read Indian LTG Prakosh Katosh’s essay “Optimizing the Potential of Special Forces.” It is, Mark implies, a tour-de-horizon of a defense policy that has failed to protect the Indian state. He paints a dire picture of Pakistani Interservices Intelligence (ISI) operatives wreaking havoc on India’s homefront through Maoist proxies and heaps scorn on India for relying on nuclear weapons and a conventional defense force to secure the state. Some of it seems exaggerated, particularly the sections in which Katosh talks of the US special operations community’s forward role in tones befitting the monster-fighting giant robots in Pacific Rim.
But in general, when reading Katosh’s military jeremiad one inevitably feels a strong sense of deja vu. For example, see this:
In India, irregular forces have been confronting the security sector. In
a rogue neighbour like Pakistan, the term ‘non-state actors’ is a
misnomer. The notorious exploits of the ISI have led the Deputy NSA to
call upon the international community to label it a ‘terrorist
Operation ‘Parakaram’ should have been proof enough that conventional
power by itself is no panacea to irregular threats. During Parakram,
Musharraf kept taunting India to cross the LoC and upped his nuclear
sabre rattling. India’s inability to establish an irregular deterrent
has led Pakistan to high levels of arrogance and obduracy in continuing
terrorist attacks in India. During live TV debates in the aftermath of
the recent grotesque incident of the beheading of an Indian soldier and
the blasts in Hyderabad some former Pakistani military officers
displayed conceit – even challenging India to launch its Strike Corps.
Why deja vu? Before the Snowden saga sucked all of the air out of the national security scene, we had been gripped by nearly two years of an analytical jihad against the intelligence community, special operations forces, and even the very tools covert entities deploy (drones). Instead of targeting the faulty policies that put these personnel and tools to the wrong ends, many critiques seemed fixated on the very legitimacy of maintaining strong paramilitary capabilities capable of covert operations. As Dan Trombly noted, much of these critiques also fundamentally mistaked the result of a permissive international environment for a sign of an endogenously generated political dysfunction.
The drive to defang SOF and make the Central Intelligence Agency forget Wild Bill Donovan and focus on spying also comes at a time in which nation-states continue to heavily utilize covert arms of national power to accomplish international goals. Indeed, in some states such entities are not just “arms” of power but also also play a key role in maintaining political order. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and North Korea’s Bureau 39 are crucial elements that strive to guarantee regime stability in the security and economic realms.
Katosh’s essay is ultimately a warning about what happens to states that rely solely on conventional and nuclear deterrence to defend themselves. It is also a bitter commentary about falling for the old trick of believing that the insurgents laying the roadside bombs are “non-state” actors. In particular, Katosh’s sections about India’s failures to meaningfully curb Pakistan’s actions bring to mind moments in the last few years watching in frustration while US security officials vented impotently off the record about Pakistani outrages while feeding the Pakistani state more and more of the aid that keeps its economy from completely capsizing.
Thankfully, the US strategic position is infinitely better than India’s. But we should not be so parochial that we cannot recognize some insight in what Katosh has written about his own country’s challenges responding to irregular threats and developing appropriate tools of national power to counter them.