Evidently America's National Intelligence Council - a body mandated to consolidate inputs of the intelligence community in an unbiased National Intelligence Estimate – has benefited from the advice of Martin van Creveld, a leading thinker on military affairs: "probably the best way of looking at conventional war is to realize the fact that it is declining, and draw the necessary consequences from this fact. Fail to do this, and the only certain winner will be the national debt." The US administration, of course, blithely neglected a lot of serious inputs before its war in Iraq. Leaving George Bush for Americans to decide upon in November, it is worth taking a look at whether India is willing to benefit from van Creveld's advice solicited by the National Intelligence Council – for its project on the nature of war in 2020.

The emerging consensus among strategists is that Asymmetric War is the face of the future, and current armaments, organization, doctrine and culture in the military are eminently unsuited to this reality. Asymmetric War refers to encounters in which a much weaker side plays on the vulnerabilities of its stronger enemy in its attempt to prevail. A good example of this is found in the predicament today of the US military that won Iraq War II handily against Saddam's Republican Guard, but is at its wits end against Moqtada Sadr's fighters barely a year later.

The Indian approach to low intensity conflict is by far superior, and relies on the strength of its mass army, whereby it is able to flood a disturbed area with troops based on a 'grid', whence troops conduct manpower-intensive operations. This doctrine is evolving into being a 'people friendly' one, despite (or perhaps because of) aberrations as the Manorama Devi killing. However, in the calculations of the noted critic, Gautam Naulakha, that appear in his recent article "Securing India" in the Economic and Political Weekly, the Indian military is cornering up to 22% of this year's government expenditure. Sensibly, to the acknowledged budget of the MOD he adds the expenditure on forces under the Home Ministry and a proportion of that spent on the atomic and space programs to arrive at this figure.

From the bunkers that dot Srinagar, it is self-evident that this money is not being spent on keeping troops on the frontline grid in good health and cheer. Naulakha estimates that Rs. 15,100 crores of Rs. 101,128 crores to be spent on the military this year will be for enabling it to fight the country's internal wars. The remainder is instead being spent on additional Hawks, the Gorshkov, Phalcon system, additional 155s of Kargil fame, and systems in the pipeline to include Agni III and unknown quantities and types of nuclear warheads. The logic is to have 'across the spectrum capabilities'. While we are fed with data that India's defense budget is far below that of our neighbours and the magic figure of 3% of the GDP that our homegrown chicken-hawks settle for, Naulakha's figures paint a different and more credible picture.

Which brings me back to van Creveld. The only certain winner in all this is the national debt; we are preparing for the wrong war.

The military is cornering up to 22% of this year's government expenditure. This is not the acknowledged budget of the MOD, but the more sensible figures one gets by adding the expenditure on forces under the Home Ministry and a proportion of that spent on the atomic and space programs.
 •  Missing the security target
Conventional wars are passé. Military wherewithal to fight these has admittedly been revolutionized by the advent of information technology, accompanied by the appalling cost of armaments and their destructiveness. Factor in opportunity costs, the nuclear aspect, the costs of reconstruction, environmental damage, the possibility of losing the peace, the impossibility of controlling occupied lands, and - in US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's phrase - "unknown unknowns", etc. and the case against preparing for conflict in the tradition of wars of the last century is unassailable.

This is particularly so when analysts predict any future war to be an Asymmetric War, of the kind that India has been familiar with since the Naga uprising coinciding with independence. India has preferred military means thus far to address its 'million mutinies'. The chief limitation of this approach is that it can only contain, and not resolve them. While resolution can only come about politically, arming for conventional wars as India evidently is, does not enhance its security today, leave alone preserve it for the future. The UN Commission on Human Security, which included India's Amartya Sen along with the UN's former High Commissioner for Refugees Mrs Sadako Ogata, has fleshed out an alternative approach with the best potential to preclude Asymmetric Wars.

The report of the Commission proposes a new framework — a human security framework. Human security is "people-centered". By placing people at the center, the human security approach calls for enhancing and redirecting policies and institutions. The Commission proposed the placing of human security at the top of local, national, regional and global agendas with goals being: "To prevent conflict and advance human rights and development; to protect and empower people and their communities; to deepen democratic principles and practices; and all to promote a human security culture and framework."

There are 650 million small arms in circulation that account for over 5 lakh lives each year the world over. Already a proportion of these have found their way onto India's periphery – with the Maoists in Nepal and the Tamil Tigers. Given this, a scenario in which the subcontinent becomes an Asymmetric War battlefield is not hard to conjure up, particularly since our flagship, Information Technology, lays no potatoes – as a poster-boy Chief Minister found to his electoral discomfiture recently. These problems are already transnational, or South Asian. These are only compounded when the regional forum, SAARC, instead of discussing them in their complexity, is considered a success when the two antagonist states, India and Pakistan, manage to meet on the sidelines of its annual Summit. Nor are these problems amenable to a 'military solution' as presently configured. The answer, therefore, lies in a paradigm shift towards 'human security' and 'cooperative security'.

Preparations that are underway for fighting conventional limited wars, wars in a nuclear backdrop, or a limited nuclear war, must end. The peace dividend lies in channeling the military budget today into alleviating the human condition and thereby securing the subcontinent. The words of Norman Angell, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1930 partially on the strength of his book The Great Illusion written prior to the 'Great War to end all wars', serve as an apt reminder: "War has no longer the justification that it makes for the survival of the fittest; it involves the survival of the less fit… The warlike nations do not inherit the earth; they represent the decaying human element ... Are we ... enslaved by the old catchwords and that curious indolence which makes the revision of old ideas unpleasant?"

I hope not. Preparing for the wrong war usually makes victory impossible.