When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, most of the world imagined that the end of an era of confrontation was upon us. That sentiment probably was also present when the Second World War ended in 1945.
However, each time, humanity was disappointed because these events led it from one era of turbulence to another. That is why nations pursue trends and ways they can maximise what is potentially available to their populations, in keeping with their value systems.
Obliquely, that is what national security is all about; the phenomenon by which nations retain their identity, values and the ability of their people to pursue a higher quality of life achieved through stability, security and prosperity.
Each year, we in India undertake this exercise to determine what would be the core concerns of national security. The current one is an effort to identify five such core areas and there is nothing sacrosanct about them.
First on the list is economics. Right from 1991, India has steadfastly pursued an economic policy for better growth, upliftment of a large segment of people from poverty, and improvement in the quality of life. It ensures better infrastructure, education and more equilibrium in society among many other pluses, which are indirect contributions to internal security.
The second domain of focus remains external security to include border security and the pursuance of such policies that it contributes to the stability of the borders and the neighbourhood.
The armed forces, in particular, also have to project deterrence and dissuasion. The foremost issue in this domain is the determination of threats, force structure to meet them and the optimum equipping and manning of the forces to ward off threats.
An allotment of 1.47 per cent of the GDP to defence in the current financial year, does not appear to be sync with the optimum needs of the armed forces and needs revision.
In addition, while there is a flurry of activity in the equipment domain with approvals by the Defence Acquisition Committee (DAC), their fructification appears tardy primarily due to antiquated procedures, which despite serious attempts by the government does not appear resolved.
The Make in India programme is conceptually the finest idea, but to make it happen is not easy in the absence of yielding of space to the private sector. With so much investment in DRDO, it’s a severe challenge to let go the strings from the public sector to enable an optimum entry by private players.
In external security, an area of concern remains insufficient resources available to the Indian Navy to meet its responsibilities for maritime security. With India’s expanded role in the Indo-Pacific, much more is required here. The Indian Air Force too is sub-optimally equipped and structured today, needing to expand and modernise.
The Indian Army is in a tenuous position, where its technological needs and manpower levels do not appear to be in conceptual sync. However, premature efforts at resource-based and budget-based restructuring are not going to pay a dividend. The domain of internal security comes next. As a large nation with a young population, India has the inherent disadvantage of being ethnically, regionally, socially and religiously diverse with far too many interest groups that compete for limited resources.
The resultant effect is turbulence in society, which has to be overcome through an efficient internal security system. Unfortunately, even with a large footprint of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), the optimisation of internal security is insufficient, necessitating the deployment of the army to meet the demands of stabilisation of the environment. Unfortunately, with hybrid conflict now more the norm than the exception, the early involvement of the Army and the persistent need for it to remain deployed in internal security prevents the emergence of its true potential for conventional defence, deterrence and dissuasion. J&K and the North Eastern states are classic examples.
However, it is also a truism that the presence of the Army in internal security of border states indirectly contributes to border security. In 2019, India’s concerns, besides J&K and the North East, will need to also remain focused on Punjab where an attempt is being made by Pakistan to revive by proxy, elements of separatism.
The fourth domain is the field of active diplomacy. India has an outstanding diplomatic corps, which has dutifully delivered. Yet, the challenges in diplomacy are growing as India’s reach and influence expands and the size of the diplomatic corps needs to grow with that.
An element of prudence appears to dictate India’s foreign policy in that its ardent efforts towards engagement across the international strategic divide, have been of a multilateral nature. While collusive threats from China and Pakistan persist, the decision to engage with China through various forums and the maintenance of robust trade with it (although skewed in its favour) has contributed towards lowering the temperature on the border.
Lastly, unconventional threats appear to be growing. Cybersecurity, information and psychological domain, space and ideological threats are included in this ambit. These are threats, which need to be studied closely and suitable security structures against them created.
The threat from radical ideology has been real and it is only through better cultural awareness across society that such threats will be neutralised. Divisive trends within the nation promoted by interest groups can grow to become existential threats.
The ever-growing social media space, a domain for disinformation and fake news, needs to be optimally monitored with minimal invasiveness on norms of privacy. This last domain, which includes modern technological threats is likely to emerge to higher levels of prominence unless countermeasures are developed in the near term.