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Updating Defence

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The ongoing war in Ukraine, whichever way it turns out, will drastically change the perceptions of security experts around the world. In many ways, it has ‘updated’ the manner in which conflict takes place, brought to light the limitations of past practices and the enormous role played by modern technology in altering existing dynamics. The two major powers that are on either side of the conflict – Russia and NATO – have not yet come to terms with the emerging reality and are behaving in ways more like the Cold War confrontations of the past. While Russian President Vladimir Putin is acting in a deluded manner, actually believing that the lies he is telling the world and his own people are being accepted, US President Joe Biden – going by his latest speech – seems entirely uninterested in providing space for the peace process to kick-in. Ukraine, which is caught in the middle, is rapidly turning into a laboratory for the new forms of war.

It must be noted that no amounts of help in the form of weaponry and money can provide muscle to a nation if patriotic will is lacking. The collapse of the Afghan regime is an example of this. On the other hand, it is the determination of the Ukrainians to fight on – inspired by a President who has risen courageously and magnificently to the occasion – that is making innovative use of hard and soft power to combat the Russians. This indicates that a society and its security environment can evolve to a point that the old parameters of military dominance do not apply. The videos of Russian tanks parked on the roads with seemingly nowhere to go are symbolic of these outmoded concepts of war.

The ongoing conflict also reveals the fundamental advantage democracies have over autocracies simply because they have willing participants to pit against the invaders. India, even as it strives to walk the neutral path, has many lessons to learn from the conflict. It has been under siege in an asymmetric conflict for many years and developed many capabilities that put it ahead of many others, but its strategists and generals need to carefully study the many new dimensions that the Ukraine crisis has revealed. Diplomatically, it must find better expression for its concerns and interests, instead of trying to adapt to others’ reality. And, at home, it must work to develop a class of citizenry that upskills the rather hackneyed understanding that exists, at present, of patriotic duty.