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Why India needs a national security strategy

By Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal
June 17, 2016 12:18 IST
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'Ensuring through diplomatic means and in conjunction with strategic partners that India will not be required to fight a simultaneous two-front war with China and Pakistan.'
Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd) lists what India must have in its national security strategy.

Indian soldiers at the Line of Control in Jammu. Photograph: Rajesh Karkera/

IMAGE: Indian soldiers at the Line of Control in Jammu. Photograph: Rajesh Karkera/


Unlike other democracies, India does not have a formally declared national security strategy. The threats and challenges to a country's national interests in the prevailing geo-strategic and regional security environment guide its national security objectives and these, in turn, help to formulate a comprehensive national security strategy.

Hence, the primacy of national interests in the formulation of national security strategy is unquestionable.

According to Hans Morgenthau, 'The meaning of national interest is survival -- the protection of physical, political and cultural identity against encroachments by other nation-States.' National interests may be defined as 'the claims, objectives, goals, demands and interests which a nation always tries to preserve, protect, defend and secure in relations with other nations.' These are classified as vital or survival interests and other interests.

The US defines 'vital' interests as 'those of broad, overriding importance to the survival, safety and vitality of our nation. Among these are the physical security of our territory and that of our allies, the safety of our citizens, the economic well-being of our society, and the protection of our critical infrastructures… We will do what we must to defend these interests, including, when necessary and appropriate, using our military might unilaterally and decisively.'

Clearly, vital national interests must by definition be defended by applying military force if it becomes necessary. India's vital national interests would include the following: The security of Indian territory on land and sea and that of Indian airspace; the protection of Indian citizens; the security of India's energy sources, refining facilities and merchant vessels engaged in transporting oil and gas and trade; a peaceful and stable internal and external security environment for unhindered socio-economic development; and, the protection of critical infrastructure against physical disruption and cyber-attack.

Other major national interests comprise the following: An egalitarian world order that is rules-based and promotes free trade and security of the global commons through international cooperation; and, the promotion of democracy and respect for universal values at home and around the world.

The national security objectives must be carefully drawn up if the national security strategy is to be achievable. As a country's national security objectives are normally derived directly from its national interests, India's major national security objectives should comprise the following:

  • Maintaining the territorial integrity of India's borders on land, sea and air, as defined by law and enshrined in the Constitution, including the defence of India's island territories.
  • Defending India's coastline against aggression and infiltration; and, ensuring the security of Indian personnel and assets such as ships and oil rigs operating in the Exclusive Economic Zone.
  • Resolving the territorial and boundary disputes with China and Pakistan on favourable terms through negotiations in an early time frame. (In this context, as the territory occupied by the Chinese on the Aksai Chin Plateau in Ladakh and by the Pakistanis in Pakistan occupied Kashmir is required to be regained in accordance with two separate parliamentary resolutions, building a national consensus to resolve both territorial disputes through a negotiated settlement should be an important political objective.)
  • Protecting the lives and property of India's citizens, including during insurgencies and against acts of terrorism.
  • Maintaining effective nuclear deterrence against the use or the threat of use of nuclear weapons against India.
  • Protecting critical infrastructure and military command and control systems against cyber-attack from State and non-State actors and developing offensive cyber operations capabilities to deter such attacks.
  • Ensuring the security of India's energy sources, refining facilities and modes of transportation, especially the security of oil and gas fields, ships transporting oil and gas and, where necessary, oil and gas pipelines within India and abroad.
  • Undermining the China-Pakistan nexus and reducing the salience of the Pakistan army in the country's polity.
  • Ensuring through diplomatic means and in conjunction with strategic partners that India will not be required to fight a simultaneous two-front war with China and Pakistan.
  • Providing a stable and peaceful external security environment in India's area of strategic interest to facilitate unimpeded socio-economic development and the free flow of trade. (This may involve military intervention, singly or in conjunction with strategic partners, when India's vital national interests are threatened.)
  • Creating and sustaining an effective capability for out-of-area contingency operations through military intervention, when necessary, to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and the security of the global commons (freedom of navigation in the sea lanes of communication, air space, cyber space and outer space).
  • Being prepared to provide security and other assistance to the Indian Diaspora, especially in West Asia and on the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Acting vigorously against narcotics traffickers and small arms smugglers and disrupting their linkages with terrorist organisations.
  • Bringing to speedy justice both overseas and local perpetrators of terrorist strikes in India and against Indian assets anywhere.
  • Preventing the destabilisation of friendly countries in India's area of strategic interest extending from the South China Sea in the east to the Horn of Africa in the west, and providing military and other assistance when requested by them. (In this context, stability in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, is a major national interest.)
  • Developing balanced relationships with strategic partners, including through defence cooperation, to deter conflict and manage crises, and engaging with organisations such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to launch cooperative security initiatives, while preserving India's strategic autonomy.
  • Promoting cooperation and understanding with neighbouring countries and implementing mutually agreed confidence-building measures to prevent crises through miscalculation.
  • Pursuing security and strategic dialogues to address key challenges before the international community.
  • Following a consistent and principled policy on nuclear disarmament and international security issues based on universality, non-discrimination and equal security for all.
  • Working dynamically to achieve the goal of self-reliance (70 per cent indigenous content) in defence procurement by 2025. (The indigenous manufacture of microchips, the basic building block of ICT products, must be a national priority.)
  • Investing appropriately in the development of high-end defence technologies in conjunction with strategic partners to gain an edge in combat capabilities over military adversaries.
  • Developing a pro-active strategic culture by exposing all students in schools and colleges to understanding basic threats and challenges to national security and the measures necessary to overcome these. (All government training institutions must also educate their trainees about national security issues by devoting a portion of the syllabus to the subject.)

The government should appoint a study group to deliberate over the important issues of national interests and national security objectives and recommend a national security strategy for consideration by the Cabinet Committee on Security. The exercise should be steered by the National Security Advisor.

Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd) is Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

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