- New Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, aknowledged the existence of the army’s Cold Start strategy
- Many defence analysts presumed the army had abandoned this limited war concept altogether
- Either Gen. Rawat has simply referred to these “proactive strategy options” by their more common nomenclature, Cold Start, or,
- The Indian Army has been quietly reorganising its limited war concept along more aggressive, and offensive, lines with little fanfare
Pakistan-centric retaliatory option:
- The perceived failure to mobilise the army’s Strike Corps in a timely fashion after the December 2001 attacks on Parliament was the impetus for Cold Start
- Its official status has been the subject of extensive debate and controversy since it was first discussed in 2004
Cold Start has significantly shaped security dynamics on the subcontinent:
- After 2008 Mumbai attacks, the “threat” posed by Cold Start has been repeatedly cited by Pakistani authorities as proof of India’s hostile intentions and hegemonic designs
- This, in turn, has provided a justification for Pakistan to build up, and build out, its nuclear forces
- It is increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal,
- And developing lower-yield nuclear warheads and short range missiles, so-called tactical nuclear weapons, which are aimed at deterring a limited Indian military incursion
Can India pull it off?
- The army simply lacks the materiel and organisation to implement the more aggressive versions of Cold Start
- It is not at all clear, for example, that the Indian Army at present possesses sufficient superiority in numbers of troops and armoured vehicles in the vicinity of the International Border to be able to overcome the Pakistan Army’s defensive and geographic advantages in a short conflict
- Indeed, the large number of obsolete tanks and artillery pieces, not to mention critical shortages of ammunition and air-defence assets raises serious questions about the army’s ability to implement a Cold Start-style operation at all
- Furthermore, sustaining offensive operations in Pakistan requires joint operations with the air force
- Not only does the Indian Air Force lack the kind of close air support capability Cold Start would require, but army-air force cooperation is also beset by inter-service dysfunction
Effect of the term “Cold Start”:
- The term “Cold Start” has thus become one of the Indian Army’s biggest liabilities
- The perception that its most aggressive form exists is the gift that keeps on giving to the Pakistan Army, which uses it to justify a rapid expansion of its conventional and nuclear forces
History is littered with tragic examples where discrepancies between perceived doctrine and actual doctrine have caused minor skirmishes to escalate into major wars. The continued loose talk of the so-called Cold Start doctrine puts South Asia in the unfortunate situation.
Be careful in citing such policies in security or international relations related questions. Be careful, but not averse!
What is Cold Start?
It is part of the army’s attempt to develop a useable, conventional retaliatory option that punishes Pakistan for terrorist attacks against India without triggering wider conventional or nuclear escalation. In its more aggressive formulations, it was believed the aim was to create division-sized formations that could rapidly mobilise and carry out short-notice, retaliatory offensives of limited duration to quickly seize and hold Pakistani territory, while simultaneously pursuing narrow enough objectives to deny Islamabad a justification to escalate the conflict by opening additional conventional fronts or to employ nuclear weapons.