The notions of strategic depth

Drones and suicide bombers are the new facets of contemporary warfare, representing the concepts of ‘bomb without man’ and ‘man as a bomb’. Moreover, all nuclear States have a tendency to indulge in proxy wars through non-State actors and third-party intervention. These warfare related innovations have altered the conventional time-space calculus; thus, warranting a relook at the traditional concept of strategic depth.
This necessitates a paradigm shift in the way the national security problem is approached. Traditionally, Pakistan has been viewing its national security in a narrow perspective, confining it to “the integrity of the national territory and its institutions.” Now, there is a need to transcend to its wholesome rendition - Comprehensive Security - focusing at the “absence of threat to acquired values.”
There are two basic notions of strategic depth viz non-military and military adaptations. These two can be mixed in a number of combinations to create numerous models.
Turkey is following a non-military version. The Turkish doctrine of strategic depth was put forward by its Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in his book entitled Strategic Depth: Turkey’s International Position. It is a non-military model. Davutoglu identifies essential conditions for Turkey to succeed in its global strategic ambitions:
i    On the domestic front, resolve the Kurdish issue.
i    On the international front, resolve all the bilateral disputes to achieve “zero problems” with neighbours.
i    “De-securitisation” of foreign policy and transforming Turkey from a security-centred to an economic-oriented State.
i    Play the role of mediator in international conflicts.
i    Globalisation, nevertheless, has impacted the concept of sovereignty by bringing down the walls of inviolable borders. These days, sovereignty is circumscribed by the ratio of interdependencies and bilateral dependencies; and it functions within the constraints of a wholesome conglomerate of multilateral regimes. Every nation has to learn to live within the comity of nations, with a host of factors impacting them collectively and individually. Peace at home and peace abroad are a necessity; indeed, both are mutually harmonising. Isolationism is no longer an option!
The military notion of strategic depth refers to the distance between actual or potential frontlines and key centres of population, communication hubs, means of logistics, and industrial and military production facilities. It corresponds to a State’s ability to deal with an offensive through multi-layered defence, absorb the initial thrust, stretch the enemy forces, and inflict attrition on it through counterstrokes.
This time-distance calculus also takes into account the reach of enemy’s unmanned munitions and space required by the defensive structures to counter such weapons. A State facing ICBMS would require thousands of miles of early warning to counter an ultrafast, multi-warhead missile. This necessitates the placing of sensors in other countries. Hence, America is vying for placing its missile defence related structures in Eastern European countries. Its overseas stationing of military in nearly 150 countries, including deployment of tactical nuclear missiles in Western Europe, is based on the necessity of strategic depth.
Moreover, America’s naval and air lift capabilities have the capacity of rapidly relocating the military assets at continental ranges, hence creating varying envelops of strategic depth. One of the reasons given by Israel for not withdrawing from West Bank is its notion of strategic depth. Hence, it would be fair to assume that from militarily perspective, each country looks for strategic depth.
In the same context, Pakistan's geographic narrowness has perpetually haunted its military planners. It needs strategic depth to avoid a multi-front war. It is not confined to Afghanistan; it is applicable in case of China and Iran as well. However, because of exceptionally good relations, it is assumed that China and Iran would never pose such dilemmas to Pakistan, while Islamabad aims at elevating its relations with Kabul to a similar level.
The possibility of a friendly Afghanistan, providing requisite comfort in relation to India, propped up as a viable option in the post-Soviet era. Unfortunately, the concept attracted undue negative projection because it was taken in the raw military context. Even now, the recent spree of transborder attacks on Pakistan by miscreants using the Afghan soil reinforces the necessity of such cordiality with Kabul, so that any third country loses the option to use it against this country.
The induction of nuclear weapons in South Asia has added a new dimension to the concept. Pakistan’s military capability precludes any long thrust by India, threatening the strategic targets. Also, battlefield nuclear weapons reduce the need for strategic depth, but at the risk of expanded nuclear exchange.
Traditionally, Pakistan and Afghanistan have been the source of strategic depth for each other. During peace time, Pakistan takes care of the smooth flow for Afghan logistics and keeps its economy afloat by absorbing the effects of illicit trade. It facilitates ease of movement for Afghan nationals, at times, at the cost of its own internal security. During dire times of foreign invasions, Pakistan provides safe living places to millions of refugees alongside business opportunities. This amounts to doling out sustenance necessities to millions of Afghans out of own economic pie, which has telling effects on the prosperity of own people.
Occasionally, Pakistan has helped Afghanistan sustain its resistance against foreign occupation. Likewise, during 1965 and 1971 wars, Afghanistan informed Pakistan that it could take all its forces on Indian borders without fear of any mischief from Afghan side. Pakistan moved even the paramilitary forces from its western to eastern borders during both the wars. The ongoing process of strategic divergence between Pakistan and America, in the context of Afghanistan’s future and USA’s delusion that it could prop-up India as its regional proxy, has prompted Pakistan to revisit the concept of strategic depth, albeit in a new situation and with changed connotations.
In search of strategic depth, Pakistan is in the process of extending its outreach to all regional countries, like Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Central Asian Republics, China and even India. Projects, like IPI, TAPI and CASA 1000, indicate that it is looking for strategic depth through interdependencies, and not in the military sense of yesteryears. In contrast to military basing on foreign soil, Pakistan views SAARC, SCO and ECO as vital instruments for achieving its much wanted strategic depth.
The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.

Khalid Iqbal

The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.

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