The number of seminars, webinars and knowledge programmes on the theme ‘Securing India at 75’ that I have attended in the last fortnight has actually been exhausting. Yet, it signals a new interest among Indian citizens of all age groups. Many people at these events have listened with rapt attention and thrown in some comments and an odd question too.
Many have discovered a latent interest in national security as a theme for further study. The positive here is that it’s not in Delhi alone that this interest has awakened but in cities beyond, often rudely referred to as Tier 2 cities. Is this Indian strategic culture waking up to the need of the hour?
The understanding of the finer nuances of national security may still be eluding many of those present, yet there is a newfound inquisitiveness which has been in the making for the last couple of years. People are watching television, viewing world events and looking at short video clips which throng their ‘mobile space’. Most people can understand many of today’s events but find it difficult to join the dots of yesterday’s happenings. The flurry of events related to ‘Securing India at 75’ is helping achieve this.
National security is such a vast subject that many well-educated people and even scholars may be ignorant about what goes into making a nation secure. So, while we look at India at 75, what are the things that people should be progressively aware of if they wish to follow this interesting theme relating to India’s security imperatives? Outlined here is a set of parameters and domains which should interest any Indian citizen, especially the younger ones who must emerge as the generation that will enrich India’s strategic culture.
Before delving into those domains, it is good to remember that the security of a nation essentially translates into the freedom to pursue the nation’s aspirations and to neutralise and ward off any obstacle in the way of achieving them. The obstacles which come in the way are referred to in security terms as threats. Two very basic needs to keep any nation secure in the modern world remain a resilient economy and energy security, both bottom line needs.
The domains and nuances I list below are without much explanation, touching just the periphery and mostly relate to military security needs. They are the vistas which need to be examined and followed to get a measure of India’s national security.
Let me commence with my highest priority and there will be different perceptions about the order one follows or priority that one accords. For me, political stability at the Centre is the most important requirement for a nation’s security. A stable government can make quicker decisions. Speed of decision-making often contributes to security especially when it comes to budgeting, prioritising or simply responding to opportunities or threats. Securing a national political consensus on security-related issues would always be a boon.
Taking this ahead, I then accord the nation’s nuclear weapon policy the next priority. It may be time we reviewed the declared ‘No First Use’ subset of our nuclear doctrine. A review does not necessarily mean outright change; it could be just a tweak. I peg internal security (IS) very high, through societal strength, intelligence, counter-intelligence and the continued targeting of networks of ideologies and other enablers, even as we counter existing threats and examine fresh ones, such as in Punjab.
While a nation is internally secure, its armed forces and government can focus on force structuring and modernisation, with minimal military footprint involved in IS situations. Considering the nature of collusive external threat from China and Pakistan, it would only be prudent to accord the highest status to force enhancement where warranted, induction of warfighting platforms and cutting-edge technologies.
China’s biggest worry remains the maritime domain notwithstanding its recent demonstration of naval muscle in the Taiwan waters. From the Malacca Straits to the Persian Gulf and Suez Canal, China has questionable means of supporting its maritime forces in a major showdown with any maritime power of substance. Enhancing the stakes here will be an adequate response to China’s bluff and continued baiting along the northern border belt in the Himalayan region.
Our airpower too needs massive investments and unfortunately has been at the receiving end of endless debates and resource crunch in the context of the induction of various new platforms. The myth of the 45-squadron force remains just that—a myth. It needs to be pursued relentlessly for delivery.
Without the skies being secure, the freedom to operate on ground or water seldom exists; that is a phenomenon all soldiers and sailors will agree with. Resource enhancement will also release the IAF from the challenges of distribution of air resources between theatre commands, the prime reason why it does not favour adoption of the theatre commands concept.
What the Indian Armed Forces need is not just restructuring to theatre concept and greater integration but a common understanding on the need for cutting-edge technology. Atmanirbharta in the defence sector strives for self-reliance in defence manufacturing and is the best way forward. Prudent financial and resource management and a balance between local acquisitions and imports may have to be established for some time to ensure that cutting-edge technologies in the armed forces do not regress. In this connection, the cyber and information domains need priority along with infusion of artificial intelligence.
While cyber continues to be accorded a fair focus, it is information or cognitive warfare which needs a grand review, including the induction of civilian content into this domain as is the practice the world over. A national body too may be needed separately to provide guidance and supervise the development of guidelines, concepts and doctrines for information warfare.
I have not relegated the Army’s needs; these remain paramount and cannot be subsumed under relative prioritisation. Here the need is almost immediate. The equipment of almost every domain of warfighting needs upgrade—to include, armour, artillery, aviation and air defence.
The recent coordination and cooperation between the IAF and the Army led to the express induction of men and materials into Ladakh to mirror the PLA deployment. On the practical side, what the armed forces desperately need is a separate arm for rocket and missile forces to match the adversary resources. Our force survivability too needs enhancement through better research on permanent defence works. This is not by any means an exhaustive list. The list of domains will continue to be identified and analysed.
The author is former Commander, 15 Corps, J&K. Now Chancellor, Central University. This article was
first published in the Indian Express, 10 August 2022.