15 January 2015

India’s security apparatus far from satisfactory

Satish Chandra
Jan 15 2015 

The concept of national security is often defined in excessively narrow terms and taken to simply connote the preservation of territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state. Accordingly, the safeguarding of national security is felt to be largely dependent upon the state's military capabilities, the efficacy of its internal security system and its ability to forge effective diplomatic alliances designed to keep foes in check.

Such a limited construct of national security is clearly inadequate. It neither takes into account the innumerable additional factors impinging on national security, nor the new challenges of the 21st century such as globalisation, climate change, terrorism, cyber crime, proliferation, pandemics, etc.

Indeed, in a paper entitled “Redefining Security”, Richard H Ullman compellingly argues that defining national security primarily in military terms is dangerous as it causes states to “concentrate on military threats and ignore other, perhaps even more harmful, dangers. Thus, it reduces their total security”. A good example of the dangers of overly focusing on military muscle, at the cost of other aspects of nation building, is the breakup of the Soviet Union, which can, in part, be attributed to its huge defence spending during the Cold War. An even better example, closer home, is Pakistan’s single-minded focus on its military, to the neglect of other sectors of national life with obvious disastrous consequences.

One of the important additional factors critical to the preservation of national security is economic strength. This is essential not only for maintaining the coercive institutions of the state, but also the basic infrastructure such as roads, railways, telecommunications, energy and industrial systems, which constitute their backbone. It also enables the state to enhance its influence abroad.

Another critical component of a country’s national security is the well-being of its people. Taken in its broadest sense, well-being constitutes a powerful and effective vaccine against disaffection as well as a propellant for development and economic growth. Such well-being not only demands the availability of all basic economic requirements of life for the common man, but also that of good education, healthcare and employment in an environment conducive to the liberty of thought and expression, with the state ensuring the rule of law and good governance.
Clearly, national security — in our complex and interdependent world — must necessarily be viewed in a holistic and an all-encompassing manner. It requires the preservation of the independence, integrity and sovereignty of the state against external and internal adversaries; promotion of economic growth with equity, ensuring food, energy and water security, besides human development with particular emphasis on education, health, housing and sanitation; creation of a knowledge-based society with a focus on science and technology; deft management of multifaceted challenges like terrorism, proliferation and climate change, which are a feature of globalisation; provision of good governance, where the rule of law and the efficient delivery of services is assured in a non-discriminatory fashion; and effective institutional mechanisms to manage national security. In short, there is no facet of national life that does not impinge on national security. Underperformance in any area of national life inevitably impinges adversely on national security.

Such a holistic view of national security recognises that the determinant of security is not just the coercive elements in a state’s armoury, but its comprehensive national power. The latter is a composite of capabilities in many areas such as coercive institutions, science and technology, economy, manpower (both in terms of size and quality), infrastructure, governance, leadership, etc.

National security index

In order to assess how well-secured a nation is, as compared to its peers, it is necessary to develop a national security index that evaluates its comprehensive national power. In fact, such an exercise was undertaken in a preliminary fashion by the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) in 2001. The factors included for the assessment of comprehensive national power are size and intrinsic resources, human capital, scientific and technological capabilities, economic strength, military power and leadership quality. The results are not particularly flattering to India. It ranks 23rd among 30 countries. The top five countries are the US, Australia, China, Canada and Japan.

The holistic nature of national security demands that appropriate structures are in place for its oversight and for providing direction. Such structures were created in India in 1999 by way of the National Security Council system, comprising the National Security Council and other appropriate adjuncts by way of the National Security Adviser, NSCS, National Security Advisory Board and Strategic Policy Group.

It is unfortunate that though all adjuncts of the NSC, in particular the NSCS, exist solely for enhancing India's national security, and, indeed, dream, think and breathe security, the nation's performance in this area remains far from satisfactory. This may be attributed to apex-level lack of sensitivity to security, both in the political class and bureaucracy. This is reflected in the non-implementation of many recommendations contained in the Group of Ministers’ report on “Reforming the National Security System” that had been accepted by the Cabinet Committee of Security in May 2001, and the more recent recommendations on security-related issues by the Naresh Chandra Committee in 2012. It is also borne out by the fact that the NSCS — far from having been nurtured and strengthened as it was in the first few years of its existence — was allowed to atrophy inter alia through the introduction of multiple chains of command and a hiving off of some functions, resulting in severe staff depletion and loss in efficacy. Clearly, if we are serious about making India secure, the NSC system must be reinvigorated because it alone is specifically mandated to think holistically about national security and is equipped to provide across-the-board oversight in this regard.

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