India’s Military Diplomacy and the Way Forward

Session Report
Ananya Anand

Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute organized a One-Month Immersive Online Certificate Training Course on Diplomacy and Foreign Policy. On day 5 of the course Major Gen. (Dr) P K Chakravorty, VSM (Retd), a Strategic Thinker on Security Issues gave his presentation on India’s Military Diplomacy and the Way Forward.

Major Gen. (Dr) P K Chakravorty pointed that Military diplomacy is a practice that has been ongoing for ages; even Shri Krishna can be considered a military diplomat who attempted to prevent the Mahabharata. While military diplomacy has a long history, a relatively new term, defense diplomacy, has emerged. The distinction between the two is subtle, and the terms are often interchanged. However, broadly, defense and diplomacy encompass the entire security field and extend beyond the armed forces.

Even after World War II, during the Cold War era, and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union, the world faced challenges. With the emergence of China as a major player, global dynamics underwent significant changes, causing turbulence both for China and the world.

Chakravorty in his presentation examined issues that affected India post-World War II and provided insights into military diplomacy. The Korean War is an example of India’s involvement. India sent a medical team from 1950 to 1954. The team, including the Parfield Ambulance, played a crucial role in peace missions. Subsequently, the Indochina War from 1954 to 1970 involved India as part of the International Control Commission, showcasing the diplomatic aspects inherent in such missions.

India also actively participated in numerous UN peacekeeping missions, becoming a leading contributor globally. Additionally, Bangladesh has also emerged as a major provider of peacekeepers. Military diplomacy is closely linked to the Ministry of External Affairs, as armed forces play a pivotal role in shaping foreign policy. Instances like the proactive assistance to the Maldives in 1988 demonstrate the significance of military involvement, according to Chakravorty.

Beyond pure military assistance, India engages in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) globally. The Indian Armed Forces are recognized for their exemplary contributions in providing aid during crises, whether in Southern Sudan or other regions.

India’s military diplomacy involves contributing to the United Nations, providing humanitarian assistance, conducting joint exercises with various countries, and actively participating in peacekeeping operations. The relationship between the military and the Ministry of External Affairs is crucial in shaping India’s foreign policy initiatives.

Chakravorty also provided a global context, and stated how countries like the United States and China extensively utilize military diplomacy. India’s relationship with the United States is on the rise, with technical cooperation in defense technology being a key aspect. China, on the other hand, places significant importance on defense diplomacy, deploying defense diplomats and establishing large embassies.

Chakravorty also noted that while military diplomacy serves various aims, including building trust, strengthening ties, and establishing spheres of influence, it also plays a crucial role in shaping weapon and military technology strategies. Military attaches contribute to advancing defense technology and facilitating training for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR). Participation in UN peacekeeping operations remains a significant aspect of military diplomacy, dispelling hostilities and fostering everyday goodwill.

Aims of Military Diplomacy were elucidated by Chakravorty-

  • Building and Maintaining Trust Between Nations: The primary aim of military diplomacy is to foster trust between nations. This foundational element serves as a cornerstone for international relations.
  • Strengthening Ties: Enhancing connections between nations is imperative. Military diplomacy plays a crucial role in reinforcing diplomatic ties through various covert actions and strategic engagements.
  • Covert Actions and Media Presence: Notably, actions of military diplomats are often covert and do not receive widespread attention in social media or mainstream media establishments.
  • Influence of Military Presence: The strategic importance of military presence is in influencing activities globally. There is also a necessity for a physical presence in specific locations for effective issue management.

State of Weapons and Military Technology

  • Need for State-of-the-Art Weapons: Undoubtedly, military forces require state-of-the-art weapons to maintain a technological edge and is significant in determining the nation’s position in military technology.
  • Government Initiative and Defense Attaches: Nirmala Sitharaman’s role as Defense Minister is commendable especially the initiation of the program involving defense attaches to improve manufacturing and research in defense technology.
  • Movement Towards Self-Reliance (Atma Nirbhar):There is a  need for self-reliance in defense especially for defense attaches posted outside the country in providing essential military technology inputs.

Training for HADR and Military Assistance

  • Importance of Training:nTraining for providing Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) is crucial. The role of military diplomacy is in developing responsible, competent, and accountable forces in host countries.
  • Military Assistance to Other Countries: Providing military assistance is a key aspect for India’s global standing. India’s active participation in interventions, peace missions, and UN peacekeeping operations, has earned global appreciation.

Dispelling Hostility and International Borders

  • Dispelling Hostility: The role of military diplomacy in dispelling hostility is crucial, given India’s unique position with physically occupied borders with Pakistan and the need for regular communication to maintain positive relations.
  • Challenges with China: There is a need for readiness given challenges on the Line of Actual Control. At the same time, India has positive relations with Nepal and collaborative efforts in Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives.

Classification of Military Diplomacy

  • Defense Agreements: Defense agreements that shape strategic partnerships.
  • Military Exchanges: Military exchanges, involving staff-level talks, expert interactions, and technology exchanges, are deemed crucial for fostering collaboration.
  • Education and Training: Military education and training as pivotal for fostering relations. India’s role in offering courses and hosting military personnel from other countries is highlighted.

Operations and Assistance: The collaborative operations and assistance as a means to enhance interoperability and improve global security.

Posted by Reet Lath, a Research Intern at IMPRI.

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