A well-thought-through response combining intelligence, the internal security apparatus and mature political initiatives are called for. The design and execution of a response that is successful will need to ensure that the response itself does not exacerbate the problem, as would appear to be the case so far. Use of a sledge hammer either leaves a crater or results in diffusion and dispersion even more difficult to address”, says the author.
Adecisive electoral mandate provides just the opportunity required for a comprehensive review of the national security architecture long overdue. It gives the Prime Minister the freedom and authority to evaluate existing systems. Considered judgment will be needed on the efficacy of existing systems and structures, particularly of their cohesiveness and efficient functioning. Should the “review” so warrant, new systems capable of assessing threats and delivering appropriate responses to challenges to the nation’s security will need to be put in place early before existing systems are tested.
The nature of threats to national security is fast altering. These emerge inter alia from the changing nature of violence in troubled hotspots like Afghanistan, Yemen, from Syria and Iraq where there are deepening and exploding sectarian fault lines, from transnational organized crime like piracy and terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, cyber security and from instability in fragile states and cities. The BJP’s election manifesto acknowledges the comprehensive canvas of national security to include military security, economic security, cyber security, energy, food, water and health security and social cohesion and harmony.
In the BJP’s view, the lack of strong and visionary leadership over the past decade, coupled with multiple power centers, has led to a chaotic situation. Clarity is required on the factors that have led to this. Revisiting the genesis of the national security architecture as it has evolved, including prior to 1998 when the first National Security Advisor (NSA), Brajesh Mishra assumed office is instructive. It was clear all along that crafting a national security architecture on a Cabinet Parliamentary model would pose difficulties.
Members of the Cabinet, entrusted with responsibility for defense, external affairs, home and finance invariably are senior political figures. As members of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), given their seniority and influence, there was anticipation they could operate as independent silos. Experience has shown there are in-built institutional constraints to correctly assess emerging threats in an evolving and fastchanging strategic landscape by functionaries within a silo. The institution of a National Security Adviser (NSA) has worked best in a Presidential system, such as in the United States, where the NSA draws authority from the President as the chief executive.
This apprehension has been validated over the past decade and a half, variations in the personality of individuals notwithstanding. The strategic community, both within the country and outside has looked to the NSA to obtain the government’s line on issues central to the nation’s security. The ability to respond quickly, appropriately and, if necessary, decisively to threats to national security, imminent and real is of vital essence. This has, however, not always been the case.
The “review” being proposed could catalogue the challenges to national security over the past decade and a half and critically examine them as case studies to evaluate the efficacy of our response. Caution needs to be exercised. Not always is the failure to respond appropriately due to institutional constraints. Weak political leadership in the past has also been an important factor.
The attack by the Haqqani network on our Embassy in Kabul was anticipated by the CIA but could not be prevented. By the time its deputy director reached Islamabad, the terror machine had struck. No self-respecting nation can allow itself to be repeatedly wounded. Unless retribution is demonstrated, further attacks will follow.
Bifurcation of two jobs
The first NSA’s success was partly due to the fact that he doubled up as the Principal Secretary and was known to enjoy the full confidence of the Prime Minister. Healthy disagreements between the first NSA and the then External Affairs Minister, in spite of both being familiar with issues relating to defense, intelligence and diplomacy, the three components of national security, viewed holistically, was, however, an early pointer of the shape of things to come. The decision to bifurcate the two jobs for a short period under UPA-I is well documented for its shortcomings. Even Mani Dixit, the tallest professional of his generation, could not manage the pressures from the EAM and turf battles within the PMO.
The performance of successors largely content “to push files”, succeeded or failed depending on how weak or strong the silos were in defense, external affairs and home. The NSA’s influence fluctuated particularly in relation to the incumbent in the Home Ministry. In the absence of full play in the areas of defense and home, even a talented professional ended up as no more than a foreign policy advisor. The portfolios of home, defense, finance and external affairs now have incumbents who, in terms of seniority within the BJP, have the benefit of several decades of association with the Prime Minister.
This gives them clout which no civil servant can ever hope to acquire. Battles for turf are central to the functioning of any democracy. Weak political leadership in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) over the last decade, in spite of a first-rate Foreign Service has led to the relative weakening of the MEA. This weakness has been most manifest in relation to the conduct of our bilateral relationships in our immediate neighborhood which are in varying degrees of disrepair, as are our relations with China and the United States.
The policy of acquiescence with China will need to be shed at the earliest and more clinical and realistic assessments put in place. Deep incursions into our territory cannot continue to be explained away in terms of an un-demarcated border. With the United States, the transactional nature of the relationship resulting from absence or insufficient attention in Washington has been more than matched by our own shortsightedness. It will be easier to deal with China, if our relations with the United States are perceived to be on the upswing.
Focusing on Japan alone will place us in an untenable situation. The game changer will be the twin focus on US and China. In terms of military strength, there has been lack of clarity in what capability we are seeking. Most war games and doctrines are still addressing either 1971- type scenarios or a tactical nuclear weapons exchange. It is a sad reflection on the state of play that we are the biggest importers of conventional armaments, even after acquiring strategic capability.
Rationalization of armed forces
Every other country, including China and now the United States have “rationalized” their Armed Forces, a euphemism for reducing. On the other hand, we are seeking creation of three more Commands – Special Forces, Aerospace and Cyberspace. The Central Army and Southern Air force Commands have limited roles yet, we keep increasing our “tails and turf”. There is an urgent need to rationalize our defense thinking and structures as part of an overall national security review.
In 1965, the Government of India had commissioned Arthur D. Little, an American consultancy firm to make recommendations on defense production in India. Many of their recommendations, including on the involvement of the Indian private sector, are still valid. It should not be difficult given the visible and available political will to break through the dependence on imports to modernize our own defense production structures using FDI and an infusion of technology. The present system is unsustainable.
Resources are not only limited but the evolving situation in Iraq could place us in dire straits. Every dollar increase in the benchmark price of brent crude results in an additional liability of Rs 3,000 to 5,000 crore. The producers of oil are salivating at the prospect of oil prices touching new highs. This could spell gloom and even doom for importing countries, particularly those heavily dependent on imports, the price having gone up from $106 to $115 in just five days.
Shoring up security
● In 1965, the Government of India had commissioned Arthur D. Little, an American consultancy firm to make recommendations on defense production in India. Many of their recommendations, including on the involvement of the Indian private sector, are still valid.
● Given the political will, it will be easy to break through the dependence on imports to modernize our own defense production structures using FDI and an infusion of technology.
● Along with an evaluation of existing systems, a comprehensive review of all security challenges emanating from developments outside our borders is imperative.
● We are the biggest importers of conventional armaments, even after acquiring strategic capability. Every other country, including China and now the United States have “rationalized” their Armed Forces The attack by the Haqqani network on our Embassy in Kabul was anticipated by the CIA but could not be prevented. Along with an evaluation of existing systems, a comprehensive review of all security challenges emanating from developments outside our borders is imperative.
Entities known to be inimical to India’s interests, particularly those enjoying some form of support from agencies of the state, if not outright patronage, in a few countries in our immediate neighborhood would readily suggest themselves and constitute the relatively easier part of this exercise. The ability of these entities to make common cause with sections of our own population whose alienation quotient has been enhanced by internal mismanagement is easy to identify if not easy to counter.
A well-thought-through response combining intelligence, the internal security apparatus and mature political initiatives are called for. The design and execution of a response that is successful will need to ensure that the response itself does not exacerbate the problem, as would appear to be the case so far. Use of a sledge hammer either leaves a crater or results in diffusion and dispersion even more difficult to address. The BJP’s election manifesto separately calls for a study of India’s nuclear doctrine and its updating to make it relevant to current challenges.
(The author, a retired diplomat, was till early 2013 India’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. He is presently Non- Resident Senior Adviser, International Peace Institute, New York. He has recently joined the BJP).