National Security Strategy: Its formulation is not an academic exercise

There is a spate of writings from former diplomats, bureaucrats and think-tank analysts insisting that India must announce its National Security Policy and the strategy of implementing it.

Security by definition entails evaluation of risks posed to the nation by external enemies, circumstances that threaten its economic well-being and factors that damage its internal cohesion.

National security demands protection against both an open attack from land, sea or air and a ‘covert’ attempt of the adversary to subvert the country from within. The strategy of safeguarding national security has to be comprehensive in terms of the contribution it would receive from all wings of the government and fail-safe arrangements that would be made for ensuring an integral response of implementation cutting across multiplicity of institutions, authorities and Centre-State delineations.

It would also rest on an assurance that the democratic polity would keep national security above party gains. Three contemporary trends have posed a challenge to the task of framing the national security strategy. A strategy, concept-wise, is a plan of action that presumes long-term application – unfortunately the life span of a strategy stands shortened today because of the frequency of change in the global or regional geo- politics.

A national security plan can at best be a mid-term thought. Secondly, a security strategy necessarily involves a reading of the arc of friends, enemies and potential adversaries but the challenge here is that the stability of this spectrum itself can not be presumed.

Consequently, ‘course correction’ would become an important contingency to be provided for and this would change the methodology that might have been adopted earlier for the exercise. Finally, it is rightly said that ‘security does not come cheap’ but even where the nation is willing to spend on it, the principle of security is that it should be cost-effective, free of bottlenecks in communication and totally clear as far as the accountability for action is concerned.

India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in a way revealed the framework of its national strategy. Development of bilateral relations that promoted mutual security and economic interests, total attention to measures – military, diplomatic and financial – designed to counter the moves of a defined adversary and firm commitment to world peace, stand out as the paradigms of the same and these are not kept hidden from the international community.

What certainly has to be kept from becoming public knowledge is the specificity of the steps that the nation would take to deal with a particular hostile country. The academics who claim to be in a position to underwrite India’s security strategy seem to forget that security assessments and responses are to be kept confidential on the principle that ‘secret knowledge is secret power’ and the advantage is lost if any side comes to know of the opponent’s capacity and plan of action.

Warnings to the adversary through diplomatic and other means are in order for conveying an intention and creating a possible deterrent but the details of what the actual response would be and how it would be executed, have to be kept under the wraps.

Foreign policy by definition is a product of the nation’s security and economic concerns and diplomacy is skilled in the art of sharing them with others – including friends and unfriendly rivals – in an appropriate manner.

Of course, any credible analysis of think-tanks and scholars can provide useful information inputs for those charged with the responsibility of drawing up national strategy on security but the actual components of it are not a matter of public discourse except in broad terms.

Some studies on what is known to have happened in the past can provide useful learning for the future but security strategy is basically about what lies ahead in regard to specific threats or the rising dangers on the horizon and their possible counter and this is of necessity a ‘protected’ information.

Within the announced part of the policy on national security, India’s reading of the current global geopolitics would certainly be made public as this helped to identify friends and potential opponents. India did not seek to hide its stand on Ukraine-Russia military conflict from world scrutiny – it rested on an untainted understanding of concerns on both sides and called for an immediate stoppage of military action in the larger interest of global stability.

Prime Minister Modi spoke to both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin for a ceasefire and peace negotiation at the beginning of the conflict itself. That India is able to hold on to its policy in multiple international fora is a commendation for the political will of Prime Minister Modi, as much as it is the victory of morality in international politics.

This is perhaps an upshot of India’s deep civilisational belief in a peaceful world and the everlasting Hindu doctrine of ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam’. Modi’s call of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ is in line with this wider thinking.

Notwithstanding the superficial theories of latter day social scientists that put a haze around the ‘idea of India’, it is good to see the Modi regime successfully articulating the Indian thought of universal relevance by fostering pride in our national identity, projecting our heritage and emphasising the keenness of India to remain in total consonance with the larger destiny of the world.

A prerequisite of the success of our national security strategy is that the leaders in public life in India must be totally free of corruption which meant they were not misusing authority for lining up their pockets. Initiatives of the Modi government to eradicate corruption in public life therefore are welcome- it does not matter who were brought up in the queue ahead of others.

The global security scenario facing India covers the threats it is exposed to as a leading country belonging to the democratic world, on account of the current geo-politics at large and also those that arose specifically for it from the hostile neighbours around.

India’s security strategy would therefore combine joining a multilateral effort to strengthen the stability of the democratic order at the global level and planning military, diplomatic and economic measures specifically to counter the identified adversaries.

Following the aggressive conduct of Chinese PLA at Galwan Valley in Eastern Ladakh in June 2020, India lost no time in speeding up its military build up on the LAC to deal with any Chinese misadventures and at the same time activating its association with Quad to signal its determination to thwart any aggressive designs of China in the Indian Ocean.

The threat of cross-border terrorism from Pakistan is specifically for India and the strategic response of this country is a combination of military and para military action against infiltration through POK, declaration of the policy that ‘talks and terror can not go together’ and successful mobilisation at all international platforms ranging from Quad to G7 to get joint declarations issued against terrorism as also against those who allowed terrorists to operate from their soil.

The strategy has proved its worth particularly after the take over of Afghanistan by Taliban Emirate with total connivance of Pakistan in August last year and has also helped to expose the Sino-Pak axis that was working not only against India but against the democratic world as a whole.

Notwithstanding the fact that US apparently has a comfort of distance in relation to Afghanistan after the withdrawal of American troops from there, a deepening Indo-US strategic friendship remains an important source of strength for India in countering the doings of these two hostile neighbours.

A significant aspect of security strategy of India that has acquired overriding importance pertains to the fact that external threats to our internal security have multiplied in a manner that is new. Most of these are traceable to the concerted attempts of Pakistan and China to fish in our troubled waters at home. Conflicts rooted in differences on caste, creed and region were not new in independent India but they were all gradually moderated over time by the assimilative process of a democratic system.

Communal divide in the country has lately become aggravated largely because of Pakistan’s determined bid to use Islamic militants for cross-border terrorism to get the better of India in Kashmir in pursuit of the communal approach of claiming the border territory as a Muslim majority state and also through the declaration by Pakistan in its recently announced National Security Policy (NSP) that India is its principal adversary.

Pakistan’s NSP also contended that the ‘Hindutva politics’ of Modi regime has put the security of Muslim minority here in jeopardy. The more recent episode of Pak ISI instigating murderous revenge of the alleged ‘insult’ to Prophet Mohammad caused by a former BJP spokesperson during a TV debate, which resulted in the brutal killing of targeted individual Hindus, has pushed Hindu-Muslim relations in India to a new low.

Pakistan even took up the issue with OIC and demanded ‘national apology’ from India for what was at best the doing of a ‘party functionary’.

Meanwhile, China is conniving with Pakistan in Afghanistan after the return of Taliban Emirate in Kabul and also aiding Pakistan by supplying drones for the latter’s covert operations against India. The security strategy of India needs to prioritise the task of briefing the US-led West against the faith-based terrorism of Islamic radicals that principally target the former, and making the American policy makers aware that Pakistan is no more an ally of the Cold War era – having turned into a foster parent of radical outfits.

Above all, the democratic world as a whole has to be made wiser about the threat it faces geopolitically from the unholy alliance of the Marxist dictatorship of China with the fundamentalist Islamic regime of Pakistan.

The National Security Strategy of a major country like India with an effective global role has to take into account the state of affairs in many other spheres that are relevant to making the nation strong.

It is now a universally acknowledged concept that ‘national security is inseparable from economic security’ and that an economically more developed and prosperous country can afford to have better security by spending more on its military and ensuring that health and education are within the reach of all citizens.

A country is strong if it is not dependant on others for its needs. Internal cohesion and a sound level of patriotism existing across the demographic spectrum is another key determinant of national security. National security is also ultimately linked to the environmental safety of the world.

And finally, a nation has to be strong enough to influence the geo-politics in favour of global peace and human well-being. It is a matter of great satisfaction that Prime Minister Modi is totally aware of both ‘hard core’ security issues and the ‘non-traditional’ components of national security that together must be built into the National Security Strategy.

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