Unlocking the Secrets of Strategic Depth: How Nations Gain the Upper Hand in Times of Crisis!

Strategic depth, whether it exists or not, plays a pivotal role in shaping a nation’s National Security Strategy. It denotes the geographical and logistical distance that separates the front lines, often referred to as the Tactical Battle Area (TBA), from the homeland, where the military derives its strength in terms of personnel, resources, and materials. The area in between, traversed by roadways and railways that connect these two points and are vital for communication, is known as the Communications Zone or Comn Z. Within this zone lie the intermediate logistical and administrative elements that sustain troops in the TBA, including urban centers. The extent of this zone, along with the strategic objectives encompassed by it, can determine whether a country can employ a strategy of “exchanging space for time” when faced with adverse circumstances.

The Importance of Strategic Depth During World War II, as Germany initiated Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 against the Soviet Union, the Russians capitalized on their strategic depth to respond to the swift advances of the German forces. Forced into a retreat, the Russians adopted a “scorched earth” policy, destroying everything of military value, such as crops, livestock, machinery, and infrastructure, effectively depriving the Germans of sustenance within the Comn Z. Consequently, the German lines of communication extending back to their base in the German heartland grew increasingly long and unsustainable, ultimately succumbing to the harsh Russian winter. This approach of “exchanging space for time” allowed the Russians to regroup, rejuvenate their industrial production, and launch a counter-offensive when fully prepared.

Creating Strategic Depth However, what can a nation do when its territory does not offer sufficient strategic depth? In such instances, countries may need to look beyond their borders and artificially create this depth within neighboring countries or kingdoms. The illustrious Maratha warrior, Chhatrapati Shivaji, pioneered this strategy, possibly even before it was formally articulated. When faced with the overwhelming might of the Mughal armies, Shivaji refrained from engaging in unfavorable battles and instead retreated to the territory of neighboring Bijapur while continuing to employ guerrilla tactics to harass the enemy.

Starting in the early 1980s, Pakistan began exploring Afghanistan as a potential source of strategic depth concerning India. This concept was initially articulated in Pakistan’s National Defence University in Islamabad. Their goal was to establish a friendly regime in Kabul, with the intention of using Afghanistan as a buffer. However, this plan has not yielded the desired results, as their western border with Afghanistan remains volatile, and the Taliban have proven to be independent actors. Nevertheless, this remains a part of Pakistan’s strategic calculations.

The Lack of Strategic Depth What transpires when a nation lacks both the luxury of natural strategic depth and a friendly neighbor to rely on? In such circumstances, strategic depth must be artificially created by occupying territories beyond one’s own borders. Israel provides a notable example of this strategy. Following the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel continued to occupy the Sinai Peninsula, as it provided them with the necessary depth against potential surprise offensives from Egypt in the south. This occupation proved invaluable during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, as Israeli forces successfully held off Egyptian advances at the Mitla and Gidi passes within the Sinai. This occupation persisted until 1982, when Israel relinquished control of the Sinai as part of the conditions outlined in the Egypt-Israel Peace Accord of 1979. Similarly, Israel maintains control over the Golan Heights to the north, which were captured from Syria during the Six-Day War. Additionally, Israel continues to occupy the West Bank of the Jordan River, an area spanning approximately 5,800 square kilometers, affording them the essential depth, particularly at its narrowest point, where it measures a mere 15 kilometers wide from east to west.

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