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How to keep the Republic secure

January 25, 2016 15:48 IST

Army tanks roll out during the rehearsal for Republic Day 2016. Photograph: Shahbaz Khan/PTI

IMAGE: Army tanks roll out at a rehearsal for Republic Day. Photograph: Shahbaz Khan/PTI

'Even if the national security framework is to be threat-based, then the division of security threats between Pakistan and China is absurd. The two threats are one,' says Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

Greetings to all fellow Indians on the happy occasion of Republic Day.

Republic Day and Independence Day are occasions not just for celebration, but also introspection. As India celebrates its 67th Republic Day, concerns over security of the country are uppermost in everyone's mind.

For the last several years, the occasion has been marked by heightened security. The whole nation heaves a collective sigh of relief once the day passes off peacefully.

India's security problem is institutional, ideological and managerial. We can certainly do with a dose of realism, which has been lacking in the national psyche of Indians.

Republic Day is an occasion when our armed forces showcase their might in a spectacular parade every year. One rather dismaying feature of this parade has been the fact that more than 70 per cent of our critical armaments on display are imported. The roots of this go back to the 1920s and 1930s, the formative years of our first post-Independence leadership.

Most historians agree that the First World War was a seminal conflict. It was the first world conflagration post the Industrial Revolution. The Second World War is seen mostly as an extension of the First World War, often called the Great War.

WWI was often called the war to end all wars and the hope of 'peace in our times' was the dominant theme of intellectual debates of the period as the world was horrified at the human slaughter.

Peace researchers in Europe and America found that a nexus of arms manufacturers and banks had fuelled the war and prolonged it. Companies like Vickers-Armstrong and Krupps were found to have been supplying armaments to both sides through their global linkages.

Many came to the conclusion that the war was deliberately provoked by private industries for the sake of profit. A worldwide movement started to wrest the control of the arms industry from private hands.

President Dwight D Eisenhower, himself a distinguished soldier, gave further impetus to this unease in his final presidential address in 1960 when he warned Americans of the dangers of the military industrial complex. I quote: 'In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.'

It was therefore no wonder that the Indian post-Independence leadership, pacifist in nature, decided to keep the entire gamut of defence-related industry in government hands.

Thus, we created a public sector monopoly in defence. Like all monopolies, this suffered from inefficiency and cost overruns since it was a virtual 'holy cow' and unaccountable. The Indian public sector defence industry consistently failed to provide the requisite armaments in a timely manner.

In 1962, we paid a heavy price for our lack of preparedness and modern arms. In subsequent years the defence needs came to be met by the import of arms and ammunition.

We compounded the folly by creating a separate and isolated Leviathan in shape of the Defence Research and Development Organisation. Thus, we not only separated other industry from defence, we also created another apartheid of 'defence research.'

The result of this misguided ideological hang-up was that India is critically dependent on the import of vital arms and equipment. Instead of our defence being hostage to our own private industry (over which we can at least exercise some control) we are today held to ransom by international private companies like Boeing, Westinghouse etc.

It is actually our inability to come to terms with past history and its baggage. We have indeed began to take first baby steps towards introducing competition and the entry of private players in the production of armaments.

The process needs to be not only strengthened, but accelerated notwithstanding the vocal leftist and trade union lobbies.

The artificial distinction between defence and other research needs to end soonest and defence should be a national endeavour and not a DRDO monopoly.

Today it is not defence research that drives technology, but civilian research in diverse fields that finds applications in the defence field. The world over, the automobile industry has metamorphosed into aviation and space. It is time India's large auto industry is similarly given a chance to grow into other fields.

But all the armaments and even nuclear weapons cannot secure India unless we clear the ideological fog that clouds our thinking.

Indian national security planning is trapped in twin mindsets. The very nomenclature 'defence ministry' presupposes a defensive approach and mentality. Defence is just one operation of war with offence being another. It is also a truism that no victory can ever be achieved by purely defensive operations.

It is time to consider a change of nomenclature to the ministry of national security or war ministry instead of the defence ministry. The wider definition also takes care of the fact that increasingly internal security has become as important as external security. The armed forces have a legitimate role and responsibility in matters of internal security.

Secondly, the Indian thinking is still stuck in the bygone Cold War era simplistic binary with India playing a role of 'balancer.' This ignores the reality that 21st century India is on the verge of becoming an economic superpower and a major regional military power.

The global role for India is not an option, but a compulsion based on its size and economic prowess.

The policy framework of national security must deal with 'coercive threats to national interests' in order to maintain focus.

If the framework is based only on 'threats', it ignores the opportunities of use of coercive force to achieve national objectives.

It is concentration on 'threats' in 1971 that deprived us of a golden opportunity to acquire territory in Jammu and Kashmir to strengthen our hold there. The decision at Simla to keep territory acquired in war in J&K was an afterthought and no planning towards this took place before the conflict with the aim limited to solving the Bangladesh crisis.

Even the solution of the Bangladesh crisis was possible only because of 'surplus of power' available to us, thanks to a military build-up post 1962. It was that power which could be used against Pakistan since diplomacy had neutralised China -- with the Soviets massing 44 divisions on the Amur river border.

Even if the national security framework is to be threat-based, then the division of security threats between Pakistan and China is absurd. The two threats are one.

China has outsourced conventional and sub-conventional threats to Pakistan and even a Pakistan first strike strategy is part of China's overall strategy against India.

It should not be forgotten that China has done permanent damage to the subcontinent by helping Pakistan acquire nuclear weapons.

A better alternative in national security planning is to have a broad framework defined as 'acquisition of coercive force capability to prevent, pre-empt and neutralise coercive threats to national interests.'

Our national security framework ought to be an independent and autonomous power drive commensurate with potential rather than based on threats.

India can only be secure once we discard our ideological and managerial baggage of history.

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) is a military historian and strategic thinker.

Colonel (retd) Anil Athale