Dimensions of national security

Published : Aug 09, 1997 00:00 IST

The defence forces have thus far given India reasonably effective security at reasonable costs: there is, however, no room for complacency.

FIFTY years after India became an independent sovereign nation is an appropriate milestone to reflect on the management of the country's security and to assess the cost-effectiveness of our security policy.

India has been extraordinarily restrained in allocating resources to its defence effort. In spite of perceived threats from two of its neighbours, the highest level of its defence burden as a proportion of gross domestic product was 3.84 per cent, in 1963-64. By all international norms the Indian defence effort is a modest one. Yet this country has fought major wars: in Kashmir (1947-48), on borders with China (1962), in Kashmir and on the western border (1965), and to assist in the liberation of Bangladesh (1971). Besides there was a mini-war in the Rann of Kutch in 1965, insurgencies in Nagaland, Mizoram, Punjab, Kashmir and Assam and involvement in peace-keeping in Sri Lanka.

Of these operations only one was a major failure: the defence against the Chinese attack in 1962. For reasons beyond its control, the peace-keeping task that the Indian Army undertook in Sri Lanka cannot be described a success. The only territory under its control that the Indian Army has lost is that in Ladakh, between October 20 and November 19, 1962. The territories occupied by Pakistan in the former princely state of Kashmir, and by China in Aksai Chin up to October 20, 1962 were never under India's control, though India may sustain a claim to them. This record of the Indian Army compares favourably with most other forces in the world, including those of advanced industrial powers. Therefore the Indian defence forces can justifiably claim that they have given the country reasonably effective security at very affordable costs. This is without taking into account the role they played in the integration of the Indian Union - in Junagarh, Kashmir and Hyderabad.

Not only have the financial costs of providing security been very modest and affordable, there has been no political cost at all. In spite of being called upon to play such a continuous and sustained role in ensuring Indian security, the Indian armed forces have been strictly apolitical, unlike in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia and China in our neighbourhood. Even at the time of Indira Gandhi's infamous Emergency, the armed forces were large enough to insulate India from external pressures and remained apolitical enough to allow the political forces to work out a democratic solution. That was a great contribution to domestic security at a particularly vulnerable period of time. Thus the Indian security establishment can legitimately claim that in overall terms security has been adequately taken care of in the last 50 years.

Troops of the Indian Peace Keeping Force disembarking from an Il-76 plane in Jaffna in October 1987.

The subject of the ongoing security debate in this country is whether the task could have been done more efficiently, whether the one failure (1962) and the non-success (the IPKF in Sri Lanka) could have been averted and whether the security management is geared adequately to take care of future challenges. Those raising these issues would argue that we have muddled through in providing adequate security to the country because of the follies of our adversaries, the performance of our forces in the field and the willingness of the country to accept casualties, not because of skills of management of national security by the Government of India.

There were sufficient warnings about the likelihood of a Chinese attack in the fall of 1962, but they were not assessed and the armed forces were not prepared to face the threat. In 1965, warnings on Pakistan raising a second armoured division were ignored and it was the ingenuity of our jawans and junior officers at the battle of Asal Uttar (Khemkaran) that saved India from an ignominious defeat. India had been in touch with Mujibur Rahman and his Awami League party well before the Pakistani crackdown on what was then East Pakistan in March 1971. There was no direction to the Army for contingent planning in advance. The result was 10 million refugees on Indian soil and the costs of sheltering and feeding them. The insurgencies in Punjab and Kashmir were exacerbated by porous borders, patronage to smuggling, the narcotics trade, and permissiveness in dealing with potential extremists based on political expediency - as happened with Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in Punjab, the Hizb-e-Islami in Kashmir, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) - and consequently raised the costs for the Indian people and the Army. These are nonquantifiable costs.

SECURITY has a much larger dimension than just territorial integrity. Our security lapses were exposed when tonnes of explosives landed on the western coast in 1993 and simultaneous explosions were set off in Mumbai in March 1993 and when arms were dropped over Purulia by a foreign aircraft. When armed militias fight it out in Bihar they too denote a significant diminution in our security. Every time the Army has to be called in to support the civil administration to restore law and order, the latter concedes it is unable to provide adequate security to the civilian population. The country does not have an adequate institutionalised machinery and processes to assess in time such threats to our security and initiate preventive measures to attenuate the impact of such developments on our security. There is not even sufficient awareness that such security threats will impede industrial investments both from indigenous and foreign sources.

Yet another security threat relating to our sovereignty, which has been there for decades and has come out into the open in the last few years, is the subversion of our political autonomy by covert foreign funds. It is now known that many leaders who used to talk of a "foreign hand" were recipients of funds from those very foreign sources. Arms deals are another way of acquiring large sums of money. The availability of such large sums of money in the hands of leaders and parties has tended to reinforce the money and muscle factors in our politics, particularly during elections. In the absence of detailed information, one can only speculate on the possible impact of such foreign funds on decision-making on crucial issues. The Indian armed forces cannot protect the country against this threat to our sovereignty.

It is widely recognised that in the future, threats to the security of a nation will be through terrorism, the infusion of sophisticated small arms, organised crime and money laundering, narcotics traffic and narcoterrorism, cyberwar and technology denial. Energy security will also be a major preoccupation of nations. Nuclear and missile hegemony may subject other unarmed nations to intimidation. Because Indian security has been managed at reasonable costs in the last 50 years, there is an enormous sense of complacency among our politicians, military and civil bureaucracy, academia and the media.

One need not get paranoid to understand that terrorism, narcotics, infusion of small arms, money laundering, technology denial, and foreign money inflow to our politicians are already posing threats to our security and exacting a high price from this nation. Energy security issues, nuclear and missile intimidation and cyberwar threats are just visible over the horizon.

While most of these threats need to be countered by dedicated instrumentalities and strategies, they have to be dealt with within the framework of broad-spectrum national security management. An armed force equipped with state-of-the-art equipment is needed as an insurance and back-up. So also missile, nuclear and satellite surveillance capabilities. The effort calls for an integrated and structured intelligence assessment and national security management. Only a national security council with specialist inputs can handle this kind of security management.

Some politicians and bureaucrats who benefit from covert money inflows have a vested interest in not having an integrated professional structure to monitor threats to national security in a comprehensive sense and initiate timely counteraction. The major shortfall in provisioning for India's security is in terms of intellectual inputs and decision-making structure and processes. The military leadership is more interested in making good the shortfalls in equipment and infrastructure to fight a conventional, high-intensity inter-state war. While such preparations are no doubt needed as an ultimate insurance, most of the threats the country is likely to face need a whole range of steps not taken into account by the three Services.

This lack of cerebration and anticipation of likely developments does not apply only to external threats but to domestic ones as well. The current decision-making culture only reacts to situations as they develop and does not carry out forward looking assessments and generate proactive policies for damage avoidance or limitation. This is our gravest weakness in national security management.

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