The World at War: Challenges for India


Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Western world has been harbouring an elaborate fantasy that now seems to be unravelling. Democracy had won and communism and autocracy had been defeated. Russia was not a threat and China was just a trading partner. Europe focussed on welfare schemes and spending on the military declined. The US became the lead actor and the Western world assumed a supporting role. The danger of slipping into complacency were ignored. As perceived external threats receded, domestic issues took precedence and welfare measures took centre stage.

The foundations of this fantasy have now been shaken; the earlier crisis in the form of involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan were comparatively easy to deal with, as there was unanimity in approach and minimal interference from outside powers.

The first major setback was the Covid 19 pandemic and the resultant faltering of the global supply chain had a tailspin effect on global economy. It revealed the vulnerability and inter dependability of the global system of trade. The world went into lockdown and companies around the world discovered that after optimising for efficiency for decades, they no longer had the resilience needed to deal with the sudden shocks. The next was the disastrous pullout of the US from Afghanistan, and the return of the Taliban, literally turning the clock back by two decades in a country which has witnessed much suffering.

2022 saw the Ukrainian War erupt which was the first conflict in Europe post World War II and when the world’s attention was fully focussed there, the Hamas unleashed a vicious attack against Israel, which only reinforced the fact that the fairly-tale the West had been watching in multiple theatres across the globe had lulled them into a false sense of security.

The Ongoing Conflicts

The wars in Ethiopia and Ukraine resulted in at least 180,000 battle-related deaths in 2022. The fighting in Khartoum and the Darfur region resulted in approximately 10,000 deaths and over 4.8 million people being internally displaced while more than 1.3 million others fled the country as refugees. These are estimates, as information from these conflicts can rarely be accurate and are subject to extensive propaganda. If we take the data at face value, then more people died in these three conflicts in 2022, than in the whole world the year before.

In spite of various advances in war fighting technologies, fighting has been characterised by attrition. This type of warfare has contributed to the high casualty numbers. The nature of the adversaries has also varied with non-state actors taking centre stage in most conflicts. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 being an exception but, in that war too, we have seen a hybrid conflict with proxies coming into play. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, high-intensity conflict returned to Europe, which had previously enjoyed several decades of relative peace and stability.

Violent conflicts and confrontation are now raging in multiple parts of the world. Hamas’s 07 October attack on Israel, and the Israeli offensive on Gaza, has raised the spectre of an expanded conflict in the Middle East with Iran and its puppets the three H’s; Hezbollah, Hamas and Houthis. Ukraine, which was firmly in the arc lights for over eighteen months has suddenly found the spot light shifted though the conflict still carries on. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian counter attack lacked both tempo and bite and it seems to be an unwinnable scenario.

There has been a surge in violence across Syria, including a wave of armed drone attacks that threatened US troops stationed there. In the Caucasus in late September, Azerbaijan taking advantage of Russia’s preoccupation in Ukraine seized the disputed Enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh (forcing an estimated 150,000 ethnic Armenians to flee their historical home) and setting the stage for renewed fighting with Armenia.

In Africa, the civil war in Sudan rages on, conflict has returned to Ethiopia, and the military takeover of Niger in July was the ninth coup or attempted power grab in just over three years in West and Central Africa, a region that over the last decade had made strides to shed its reputation as a “coup belt”, only for persistent insecurity and corruption to open the door to military leaders.

There are now concerns that Hamas’s attack and the Israeli response in the Gaza Strip could provide a window of opportunity for the global jihadi movement to revive itself after years of decline. Al Qaeda and ISIS may now pose a fresh threat. FBI Director Christopher Wray told a United States Senate Committee that the terror threat has been raised to a “whole other level” because of ongoing conflict in the region.

The Uppsala Report

According to a report from Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) at Uppsala University, at least 2,37,000 people died in organised violence in 2022. This was a 97 per cent increase compared with the previous year, and the highest number since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

In fact, according to the study conducted by the Peace Research Institute Oslo, the number, intensity, and length of conflicts worldwide is at its highest level since before the end of the Cold War. They concluded that there were 55 active conflicts in 2022, with the average one lasting about eight to eleven years, a substantial increase from the thirty-three active conflicts lasting an average of seven years a decade earlier.

Alongside war has come record levels of human upheaval. In 2022, a quarter of the world’s population—two billion people—lived in conflict-affected areas. While the number of those forcibly displaced worldwide reached a record 108 million. These figures are all alarming to put it mildly.

Need to Address the Drivers of the Conflicts

Unfortunately, as fighting flares worldwide, the root causes of conflict remain unresolved and the focus seems to be only on the immediate cause. Simultaneously, positions are increasingly getting hardened and peace negotiations more difficult due to the inter-twining of interests of those in a position to broker peace. The result is that voices are getting shriller, societies are being divided and resources diverted from development to aid, refugees are displaced, and rules of conflict are increasingly being cast away, while innocents caught in the cross fire continue to suffer.

Wars which were once rare are now common and from being mainly binary in nature are now multi-party. There is also the changing nature of conflict. Wars now tend to be fought between states and armed groups committed to different causes with access to relatively advanced weaponry and other forms of technology, as well as money and material from other states who function on a principle of ‘plausible deniability.’ The norms that shaped many earlier wars no longer exist.

Defeating the Hamas militarily is achievable but more difficult than crushing it on the battlefield, is eliminating its radical ideology and narratives.

Globalisation of war has also led to greater complexities. Countries including US, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Qatar regularly become drawn in, whether indirectly or directly, as has been seen repeatedly in conflicts in the Middle East. Clausewitz had visualized the problems of waging war and had written in ‘On War’ that; “we must evaluate the political sympathies of other states and the effect the war may have on them.”

The more parties that are involved in a conflict, the harder it is to end it. With little clarity on the perceived end state, wars are now getting difficult to end. General VN Sharma, the former Army Chief, while writing the foreword of Armour 71, had written that “it is easy to start a war, but once started, it is difficult to terminate hostilities on terms advantageous to oneself. A good General must plan for the termination of conflict before starting one. A good General must also attempt to achieve the national aim with minimum loss of men and material, both of oneself and of the enemy. To motivate troops in battle, ‘hating the enemy’ must be avoided as the aim is never to destroy masses of the human population or to cause total distress to the civil population by levelling cities and destroying families.” India achieved this in its decisive victory in 1971.

The Challenges for India

In our own neighbourhood, the pot is boiling. Afghanistan under Taliban can be termed ‘a terrorist state.’ There is a military junta in control in Myanmar. Pakistan believes in nurturing terrorists and sponsoring terrorism as a strategic tool of state policy. India has been a victim of cross-border terrorism, and cross LC firing, always originating from Pakistan. This is the reason that the Line of Control with Pakistan and Line of Actual Control with China continue to remain tense. During the Covid pandemic, India faced a stand-off with China in the remote rarified regions of Galwan. While this did bring to fore the realisation of the true face of China, the impact worldwide was not as apparent. China’s belligerence is raising the stakes both as far as our unresolved borders are concerned as well as in the Indian Ocean Region.

India’s longstanding border disputes with Pakistan and China remain a significant concern. The Kashmir issue with Pakistan and the Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh borders with China are potential flashpoints for military conflict. This is not all, as both are nuclear-armed nations, India faces the challenge of a nuclear conflict in the region from both Pakistan and China, individually and collectively.

Furthermore, regional instability, particularly in Afghanistan and Myanmar, impact India’s security. Every political development in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, and Bhutan has its own impact on India.

The global rise of extremist ideologies and the acceptance of these ideologies by an increasing segment of society as is being seen by the pro-Palestinian rallies in major Western cities is a matter of concern in India’s internal security matrix.

The non-traditional security threats include; Cybersecurity. With the rapid digitization of India’s economy and infrastructure, cybersecurity has emerged as a critical area of concern. India faces cyber-attacks, espionage, and data theft threats, which can have implications for national security.

Climate change poses a significant threat to India’s security. Natural disasters, water scarcity, and environmental degradation has the potential to lead to resource conflicts and mass migration, impacting social stability.

As a $ 4 trillion economy, India’s global economic integration makes it vulnerable to global economic fluctuations, trade wars, and energy security challenges. The impact of fluctuations of crude oil supplies and implementation of the IMEC trade corridor and the NSTC are all linked to the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.

Therefore, when we consider the prevalent security scenario at the international level and/or at the regional level, it can be described as anything but stable and peaceful. What are the present conflicts that we have witnessed and are currently witnessing telling us? These are uncertain times. One cannot predict which cross border incident with Pakistan or which Galwan with China will spin completely out of control. We are not war mongers, but as we have stated in an earlier article too, that to believe that there will be no war, or war can be averted, is a disastrous fallacy. The sun is bright, the grass is dry, the heat is blistering, all that is needed to start an inferno, is a small spark. Therefore, it is prudent to maintain vigil for the spark, and not be lulled into a false sense of complacency. The more alert we are, the safer is our nation and our people.


A new approach to reading, resolving, managing conflicts and their impact is therefore urgently needed. Debates at the United Nations seldom have outcomes. Deadlocks in the Security Council mean that the UN can neither offer solutions nor censure aggression. Negotiators instead of looking at the larger picture of stopping conflict and devising durable political solutions are congratulating themselves after plucking low hanging fruit such as export of grain through the Black Sea and permitting aid to reach Gaza. The unvarnished truth is that the UN is unfortunately increasingly lacking leverage and credibility with conflicting parties.

There has no doubt been an unprecedented churn in global violence that has shown no signs of abating and on the contrary the trajectory seems heading upwards. Unfortunately, the United Nations by the very structure of its Security Council is unable to arrest this trend.

Sadly, the world is increasingly being overwhelmed by a series of global crises as violence grinds on unabated, while the shadow of an aggressive China is only getting darker. Unfortunately, we seem to be wishing the inevitable away. Gaza has given us a clear signal, that though technology is important, it should be used as assistance not replacement. Our military resolve needs to be backed by a strong deterrence of our Armed Forces in terms of their capabilities, training, doctrines, equipment, technology, manufacturing, and military cooperation with other nations. Through such resolve and alertness, we will achieve the deterrence that is required at this date and time.


Maj Gen VK Singh, VSM was commissioned into The Scinde Horse in Dec 1983. The officer has commanded an Independent Recce Sqn in the desert sector, and has the distinction of being the first Armoured Corps Officer to command an Assam Rifles Battalion in Counter Insurgency Operations in Manipur and Nagaland, as well as the first General Cadre Officer to command a Strategic Forces Brigade. He then commanded 12 Infantry Division (RAPID) in Western Sector. The General is a fourth generation army officer.

Major General Jagatbir Singh was commissioned into 18 Cavalry in December 1981. During his 38 years of service in the Army he has held various command, staff and instructional appointments and served in varied terrains in the country. He has served in a United Nations Peace Keeping Mission as a Military Observer in Iraq and Kuwait.  He has been an instructor to Indian Military Academy and the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. He is  a prolific writer in defence & national security and adept at public speaking.

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