The Indian National Security Council (NSC) has been in existence since 1999. Yet despite being more than a decade old, the government hasn’t put out an official document outlining a National Security Strategy for India.
Earlier attempts to set up the NSC, notably in 1990, proved short-lived. Still, there has been an active debate on national security issues in the media, think tanks and numerous forums. Leaders make statements on national security inside and outside the Parliament quite regularly, but the government has hesitated to spell out a national security strategy. Why?
There are two likely reasons.
First, there’s no political consensus in the country on national security issues. For instance, there’s no consensus on how to treat the challenges from Pakistan and China, and the government’s policies on these issues have fluctuated.
In the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks there was intense debate over how India should have responded to the attacks. The government was restrained, but while many approved of this approach, many others saw the response as simply weak. Even today, there’s no clarity on how the government will deal with such terror attacks in the future.
Second, the government hasn’t been able to address the crucial issue of coordination over the formulation of national security. The NSC has been a useful invention, but it’s anaemic in terms of resources. More important, it lacks powers to enforce anything. The departmental interests are extremely strong, and it has become difficult to synchronise them. There’s no common understanding among various segments of the government of what national security constitutes.
Despite these complications, though, India urgently needs a national security strategy. The world is changing fast, and in the absence of a coherent strategy, the government’s responses will remain ad hoc and partial. This could prove costly. It’s clear that the government needs to formulate an official National Security Strategy document for the next 10 years. This will help address confusion over national security matters and consolidate the government’s responses. More important, it will generate informed debate that may help build consensus.
A Suggested Outline
A National Security Strategy document should have, at the minimum, the following elements:
- a working definition of national security and national security objectives;
- an appreciation of the emerging security environment taking into account the geopolitical changes in the world;
- an assessment of the national strengths and weaknesses of the country in dealing with the challenges;
- identification of the military, economic, diplomatic resources needed to meet the challenges.
The National Security Strategy should also pay serious attention to coordination among different segments of the government.
A draft document for the next 10 years could consist of:
Definition of National Security
The document must define national security in broad terms, including military and non-military dimensions of security. It must also clearly state the objectives of the strategy. These might be: protecting and defending the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of the country; protecting the core values of the nation as enshrined in the Indian Constitution; and ensuring the socio-economic development of the country. India’s goal should be to play a positive and effective role in global and regional affairs.
Appreciation of Geopolitical Environment
The document should describe the geopolitical environment and how it has affected India. This should include the transition in the international system to multipolarity; the rise of China and its intense drive for military modernisation, the growing dysfunctionality of Pakistani state; the impending withdrawal of US and ISAF troops from Afghanistan; the implications of the Arab spring; developments in the Indian ocean region; the growth of Africa and Latin America; the discovery of energy resources in the Arctic Ocean and the economic uncertainty in the United States and Europe.
In addition, there are non-territorial challenges that India will have to cope with. These include the increasing threat of piracy on the high seas; maritime security; increasing militarization of space; threats from cyber space and the intensification of competition for scarce resources like energy and strategic minerals. Also, the threat of WMD proliferation and issues concerning nuclear security must be highlighted as growing challenges. A broad counter-terrorism strategy should identified and implemented.
Challenges from the Neighbourhood
The document could pay special attention to neighbouring countries, the extended neighbourhood and the Indian Ocean. Instability in these regions will cause instability in India. India must therefore prepare itself for a backlash if some states in the region fail. At the same time, India should be prepared to contribute towards stability through bilateral and regional cooperation.
Coping With the Challenges
Having defined the challenges in a clear and unambiguous manner, the strategy document should focus attention on how India will cope with these challenges.
For a realistic National Security Strategy, there must be an appreciation of both the ends and means. The ultimate objective is to secure India’s security, but the means must preserve the freedoms and rights of the individuals as enshrined in the Constitution. Thus, for example, a counter-terrorism strategy is needed, but it should have enough safeguards to protect individual rights and freedoms. Permanent membership of the UN Security Council should also be aspired to.
The document will need to give urgent attention to internal security issues, including left wing extremism, Jammu and Kashmir, the northeast of the country, communalism, corruption, religious fundamentalism and extremism, regional and socio-economic inequalities. These issues will have to be dealt with within the democratic framework of the Constitution.
An effective counter-terrorism strategy encompassing intelligence reforms, police reforms, legal reforms and involving clear rules of engagement with insurgents, militants and terrorists should be adopted. Similarly, a counter insurgency strategy aimed at firmly dealing with insurgents, while addressing the grievances of the alienated groups, should be put in place.
Border management, a neglected area, should be given high priority. An effectively regulated border that discourages illegal movement, but which facilitates people-to-people contacts is necessary. Modern border management practices should be adopted. Visa regime and immigration policies should be overhauled. The link between internal security issues and external factors, e.g. externally sponsored terrorism, fake Indian currency, drugs etc, may also be specified.
Resources and Capabilities
Making India secure will require building diverse capabilities – economic, diplomatic, military, human resources, governance reforms – and creating synergy between them.
A strong economy and inclusive growth should form the basis of the National Security Strategy as maintaining strong economic growth will give India huge strategic advantages, including allowing it to strengthen its hard and soft power.
Meanwhile, our diplomatic resources will need to be expanded and strengthened. More diplomats, more training, and more synergy with resources outside the government will be needed. Diplomacy will need to include diverse interests. Public diplomacy will be an integral component of diplomacy.
Technology will underpin many of our strengths. Thus, India will need to build capacities in research and development in diverse fields to help socio-economic economic development and self-reliance in strategic sectors including space, defence technologies, agriculture, manufacturing, information technology, clean and green technologies etc. The country’s advances in science and technology should be utilized to create a highly skilled workforce. The education system will need to be overhauled. Young people must have the opportunity to pursue high quality education, if need be through state subsidies. Suitable policy measures must be adopted to take advantage of the country’s demographic dividend.
While military modernisation is necessary, the need for military reform is even more acute. The institution of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) should be created, and necessary changes in defence structures should be implemented. Civil-military relations should be carried out in a harmonious way. Command and control systems for strategic systems must be made robust. Information warfare and cyber security issues will also need to be given due attention.
For effective implementation of a National Security Strategy, a wide range of governance reforms will be needed. Governance can be overhauled only through thorough reform of the electoral system, the criminal justice system, etc.
There’s also a strong need to focus on the material and non-material needs of young people. Their needs in education, skill development, employment, family, mobility, etc should be addressed. This will make them feel proud to be Indian, while they retain and enjoy their multiple identities and freedoms.
Onefinal thought. The National Security Strategy document needs to be succinct, yet still flag all major issues concerning a security strategy, as well as provide guidelines to concerned departments to pre-frame suitable action plans. Since the global and regional situation is dynamic, the National Security Strategy document should be revised periodically.
Ultimately, the National Security Strategy document should be realistic and balanced. While recognizing the challenges, it should also underline the opportunities. After all, a successful national security strategy can give a fillip to our national consciousness, economy and socio-economic development, therefore creating a calmer environment conducive for national development.
Arvind Gupta holds the Lal Bahadur Shastri Chair at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) in New Delhi. This is an edited and abridged version of an article that was originally published here.