Talking points of a presentation made by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director VIF at National Security Planning on 23 September 2022

(The following are talking points of a presentation made by Director, VIF at the National Defence College on 23 Sept 2022)

India does not have a publicly articulated holistic national security strategy document.
  • The goal to make India a developed country in the next 25 years now defines a clear vision. In the Amrut Kaal, which is a mere 25 years, India has the ambition of becoming a developed country and a Vishwaguru. By 2047 India will free its people from poverty, emerge as a global leader and bring about a rule-based, safe, secure and open world.
  • What we require is a clear strategy and roadmap to the 2047 goal. Development and security are the two sides of the same coin. We need to pay equal attention to both. We need a clear comprehensive national security strategy.
  • India does not have one. Many attempts have been made in the past but to no avail. We need one urgently as we see new challenges emerging. The new challenges are truly humongous. Covid, Russia Ukraine war, climate change, food security, energy security, health security, supply chain disruptions, migrations, anarchy in global commons, terrorism, economic fragility in the world, space and cyber make the task of drafting National Security Strategy (NSS) different. They need to be comprehended and comprehensive, and the whole of society approach needs to be thought about. An NSS would help.
  • NSS should define the national security environment, (global, regional and internal)identify threats, and outline a strategy to deal with them. Indicate institutions, resources, methodologies, priorities etc. It should be follow up with focussed white papers on defence, energy etc. This will help in national security planning. This will generate debate which is so necessary for the functioning of an open, democratic society.
  • Why does India not have NSS? This is a difficult question to answer. One explanation is that India is shy of clearly defining its threats. That could impact its relations with other countries. India does not usually take sides on contentions issues. Once goals are defined in black and white, the government would be accountable.
  • Second, there is a culture of utmost secrecy in national security matters. Everything is secret. The Official Secrecy Act hinders informed discussion and debate. National security issues are seldom discussed even in the parliament. Parliament questions are usually vague and skirt the real issues. This mindset is difficult to change.
  • Having said that, there is no denying that there is debate and discussion within the government on national security issues. But this is often done in compartments and silos. Comprehensive picture is not drawn. This results in suboptimal planning.
National security cannot be seen in fragments. A comprehensive approach to national security is needed.
  • National security goes beyond the use of force or military or defence. Non-military factors are equally important. Covid, Climate change and Russia Ukraine war have reinforced this view. For example, the UNSG in his opening remarks at the 77thspoke of a “raging cost-of-living crisis”, the “crumbling” trust, and “exploding inequalities”. All this, he said, would lead to a ‘winter of discontent”.
  • Coming from UNSG, we need to take these warnings seriously. The world order is changing. Multilateralism is ineffective in resolving new crises. The Russia-Ukraine war is in its seven month. New friction points would emerge. Autonomous technologies are changing the way wars are being fought. Prolonged wars are being fought. Nuclear blackmail is becoming common. Cold wars are erupting. The twenties and thirties of the last century were dangerous moments for theworld. The second world war happened as global systems failed. We have to be extremely careful that we do not mess up the world.
It is in this backstop that India needs to approach its national security challenges. For this, national security planning is imperative.
  • We must make a correct assessment of the threats challenges and opportunities. Modern planning tools must be employed. A holistic picture of traditional and non-traditional security threats must be built.
  • Realistic goals must be defined, taking into account risks and uncertainties. Roadmaps should be defined, and motoring and supervision must be ensured. Priorities must be defined as clearly as possible. But flexibility should also be provided.
  • We must have an assessment of the institutions, personnel and resources needed to meet the goals. Education, skills, training and retraining must be emphasised. Professionalism must be built.
  • Planning must be holistic, targets must flow from key objectives.
  • Benchmarks, standards, and accountability must be defined.

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