National Security – India Looks Ahead

PC: Daniele Fantin. Source:

Many of us think of national security as protection against external military aggression and therefore, synonymous with ‘defence’. National security, in fact, refers to the security of a nation-state, its sovereignty, and territorial integrity. It encompasses processes, systems and activities to ensure that the nation is free from dangers or threats to its citizens, economy, assets,  institutions and even its socio-cultural heritage and values. 

National security has both military and non-military dimensions. The military dimension is fairly easy to perceive, yet that too is undergoing major changes because of the changing nature of warfare. The non-military dimension includes, inter alia, economic security, energy security, food and water security, cyber security, and security of the environment. 

Governments rely on political leverage, economic strength and diplomacy to prosecute and ensure national security. They may also build or join regional and/or international security arrangements and try to minimise transnational causes such as climate change, economic inequality, political exclusion, and nuclear proliferation.

Most nations prefer to employ soft power to enhance national security. Soft power is defined as a persuasive approach to international relations, typically involving the use of economic or cultural influence. India is the prime example of a nation that has historically practiced using soft power and this is evident from its cultural influence in countries from West Asia to South-East Asia. On the contrary, hard power involves coercive approach to international political relations, especially one that could envisage the use of military power. It is, therefore, employed with great discretion by most countries. 

Of late the term ‘smart power’ has gained currency. As defined by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, it is “an approach that underscores the necessity of a strong military, but also invests heavily in alliances, partnerships, and institutions of all levels to expand one’s influence and establish legitimacy of one’s action.”  This concept is no news for Indians;  it was first articulated by Kautilya (Chanakya) in his treatise ‘Arthashastra’. 

Governments that are adept at using smart power are, in my view, smart governments. Genius and finesse of statesmanship lie in employing the right mix of hard and soft power.

In the current context, there are many existential and potential threats to India’s security. 

Conventional wisdom and the generally accepted belief are that terrorism, China and Pakistan are our main threats, perhaps because they are most manifest to our thinking. I, however, rate threat to the internal cohesion of our society as the most ominous and dangerous portent. Narrow vested interests within us are creating fissures in our social fabric along ethnic, religious, caste and communal lines, typically for short term gains. State-sponsored terrorism is being conducted through violent non-state actors, militant organisations and even through organised crime and drug cartels. Economic arm-twisting can be done through multinational corporations. Climate change and natural disasters (not only within the country but also elsewhere) can also impact national security in some ways.

Combined with growing socio-economic inequality and unemployment, such factors threaten internal security as they make weaker sections of the society more vulnerable to the machinations of anti-social and anti-national elements. Terrorist organisations and left-wing extremists (like Naxals) find it easy to penetrate such vulnerable sections for recruitment and for building support bases among dissatisfied elements of the society. Erosion of social unity will make us hollow from within, and an easy prey for our adversaries.

Power-hungry politicians can exploit emotive issues (such as sharing of rivers) to create major inter-state friction and rising internal instability. Drug cartels and underworld mafia also can (and do) act as hostile non-state actors; they owe allegiance to only themselves. Their collusion with white collar crime and cybercrime can multiply the threat by several times. They too, therefore, are a significant challenge to national security. 

The likes of ISIS (Daesh) and Al Qaida have spread their tentacles across the globe to spread their insidious ideologies either directly or through their subsidiaries. Indigenous terror groups try to get support and global recognition by associating with them. Terrorist organisations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, sponsored and abetted by Pakistan, are still active against India’s security forces as well as civilians. As long as Pakistan continues to employ terrorism as an instrument of policy, it will continue to be a major threat to our security.

Other threats to India come from the rise of China. Its military power has grown considerably, especially in the past two decades. Development of comprehensive infrastructure such as roads, railway and airfields and establishing large garrisons of troops in Tibet have exponentially increased China’s capability for military aggression along our Northern borders. Its nexus with Pakistan, close relations with the Pakistani military, and support to them in the form of supply of military hardware has enhanced the possibility of a two-front war against India.

China has also followed a policy of surrounding India with its string of bases. Its deepening defence cooperation with Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal, with Sri Lanka and Maldives in the Indian Ocean, a military base in Djibouti (in the Horn of Africa), and another in the Pakistani port of Gwadar, not far from the mouth of the Persian Gulf, bears testimony to its design of strategic encirclement of India. China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) policy is almost a clandestine attempt to ensure and expand its presence and economic dominance. 

Elsewhere in the world too, there are potential sources of threat arising out of instability in international relations. Worsening nuclear and missile proliferation, economic decline of the European Union, ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen, tension in the Persian Gulf and war-torn Afghanistan are few examples of how global security environment remains unpredictable with high risk of escalation.

Our security and intelligence apparatus against potential threats seems to be adequate for now. That should not, however, lull us into a sense of complacency regarding national security. Impact of China’s external policies on our security will need close monitoring. Additionally, we should also keep a watch on the activities of terrorist organisations worldwide. Growth of radicalisation (particularly, of the youth) in J&K is largely due to the influence of the ideology being spread by ISIS. It is a growing trend which terrorist groups, presently on the backfoot, are trying to capitalise on; hence it is an incipient threat.

The scenario, however, is not altogether dismal. Security environment is better than what it was a few years back. The strength of terrorists in J&K has reduced by over 80 per cent, and so have their activities. Though their attacks are getting more lethal, the retribution is also fast and furious, as we can see in the case of the air strikes on Balakot. Our foreign policy appears to be more assertive than before despite what its detractors have us believe. Relations with neighbours are now more convivial. Though social media is increasingly manipulated to spread misinformation and innuendos, it is equally used to spread accounts of the good work being done by dedicated individuals and organisations. As users of social media become more discerning, they will be able to sift grain from the chaff. 

National security is an entity that percolates into every facet of our lives. The onus of making our nation secure is not upon just the government but on each one of us; let us remain vigilant.   

Lt Gen Vinayak Patankar

Lt Gen (Retd.) Vinayak Gopal Patankar, PVSM, VYSM, has served the Indian Army for 40 years. He has held several important command and staff appointments, including commander of a Mountain Brigade in the north-east and an Infantry Division along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir; as well as Director, Military Operations Directorate.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.


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