February 22, 2020
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Seaswept Wisdom

Of wars and naval manoeuvres

Seaswept Wisdom
Maritime Strategy And Continental Wars
By Raja Menon
Frank Cass Nor Mentioned
OUR post-Independence literature on strategic, security and military affairs can be divided into three categories. There are the personal memoirs of senior officers of our armed forces; there are books written on specific military campaigns or operations by our military commanders, academics and journalists; then there are general theoretical studies on broad aspects of our national security and strategy. I do not readily recall a structured, conceptionalised work on our strategic doctrine or security focused on specific and specialised issues. The focus has been mainly on land forces, their operations and on strategic and practical doctrines of land welfare. In many ways, rear admiral Raja Menon's book is unique and can claim a first in being a work offered by an Indian naval commander on international naval strategies.

The book, which is backed up by statistics and research tables, is a significant contribution to the military strategic literature. On hearing of the book, one presumed that it would be focused on India. This is not the case. Menon has undertaken a multi-dimensional and inter-disciplinary study on maritime strategy in the context of the experience of continental wars. He not only deals with war and strategy, but recalls doctrines and concepts on this strategy in contemporary literature. He assesses the relevance of doctrines and strategic orientations in the context of case histories of maritime strategy from the middle of the 19th century. He goes on to analyse the role of navies in war and of economics of regions involved in conflict situations.

Menon's survey of the role of the navy in Indo-Pakistan wars should be of particular interest to Indian leaders. He acknowledges the absence of naval action during the 1948 conflict and the comparatively marginal role the Indian navy played during the 1971 conflict. One, however, does not know why he has not made any reference to the role of the navy during the 1965 Indo-Pak war.

The chapters 'Battlespace Dominance and the Speed of Battle' and 'Towards a Useable Maritime Strategy' offer cogent terms of reference for the expansion of the Indian navy and its future strategic role as a factor ensuring national security. Brief chronicles of maritime strategy in continental wars not only provide an empirical historical perspective of naval warfare, but also emphasise the continuity of strategic doctrines governing naval conflict in geo-political terms.

The book was published before India con-firmed its nuclear weapons status. One is sanguine that admiral Menon would have touched upon the implications and potentialities of India's nuclear weapons capacity on its future maritime planning and strategy, had he been writing after the May 1998 tests. The virtues of this work are: its empirical approach, the historical perspective on maritime strategy which it provides, the recalling of the doctrines of maritime strategy, details of the economic and technological factors to the operational role of the navy, and the much-needed attention to the requirement of continental navies changing their mindset about the revolution in terms of technology and informatics.

I won't call them shortcomings, but omissions in Menon's book centre on the fact that it is not sufficiently Indocentric. India is potentially a major naval power. The author has not addressed the cogitations and controversies characterising the debate on the role of the Indian navy over the last 30 years. Even if India had not conducted the nuclear tests and confirmed its operational missile capacities when he wrote the book, he should have undertaken an analysis and assessment of how these capacities could impact India's maritime strategy. One would urge Menon to follow up this volume with another book on maritime strategy and Indian security.

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