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  • Hamsini Hariharan

The shape of India's security doctrine

This book review first appeared in The Business Standard on December 15, 2016 and can be accessed here.

The book covers a multitude of areas, both external and internal threats, in domains such as maritime, nuclear, space and cyber security.

The debate on devising a national security strategy has been raging for decades. The ambitiously titled The New Arthashastra: A Security Strategy for Indiaedited by Brigadier (retd.) Gurmeet Kanwal brings together well known strategists and academicians to brainstorm a possible security strategy. The book covers a multitude of areas, both external and internal threats, in domains such as maritime, nuclear, space and cybersecurity. It analyses defence budgets, R&D and even probes the idea of grand strategy to see how a national security strategy for India can be framed.

A national security strategy is the source of direction and coherence for a country’s policies to ensure its national security. It lists out the main threats and challenges and facilitates long term planning. It is an important signal to the rest of the world to indicate why a country is acting the way it is. It is not just a tool for justification of policies but also a tool to ensure accountability and prioritization of some policies over others. Whether India should have a publicly available national strategy has long been a subject of debate as several say that the ambiguity provided by the lack of the same is also important for India to exercise its strategic autonomy.

The edited volume looks at drawing up a national security strategy with respect to managing major threats and challenges. It aims at laying the groundwork for a national security strategy for policymakers and leaders. All the chapters in the book make a case for a national security strategy that would further allow for doctrines to be made for every organization. For example, there is no clear intent is to where the Indian government sees Jammu and Kashmir by 2025 or any clear time frame. Some smaller doctrines like the 2003 Nuclear Doctrine, 2004 Maritime Military Strategy, the 2013 National Cyber Security Policy have provided some organisations with directions, however these remain the exceptions rather than the rule.

Each author ties in the necessity of a national security strategy with innovative value additions. Amit Cowshish analyses budgetary allocation for defence over seven decades against the geopolitical context. He points out how financial long term planning is necessary so that defence spending can be efficiently utilized. Raja Mohan calls for wide ranging defence partnerships. Vikram Sood writes about the need to revamp security structures to prevent intelligence failure or major crises. Manpreet Sethi defends the essential components of the Nuclear Doctrine particularly the No First Use and Credible Minimum Deterrance. These are indeed issues of core national interest which will form essential components of a potential strategy. There is also cognizance of failings of the current security structures such as the focus on continental threats, and major disruptions so that there is a change in policy.

Through the book, each author has offered solutions to various issues across the board. However, the purpose of the a national security strategy is to primarily identify the problems and provide a framework for tackling them and not to provide solutions unto themselves. This would allow the various actors responsible for tackling the issue to formulate their own policies. Kanwal makes a good point when he calls for a National Security Commission to etch out the contours of India’s national security strategy. Whether it will be along the lines of his book, is yet to be seen. Political consensus is often cited as one of the roadblocks in the formulation of a national security strategy. But the book has not ventured to probe the lack of such a consensus. The inclusion of a politician’s view in the book would have added the perspective of an integral stakeholder to the debate. The volume generally treats the civilian in positions of political leadership, administration and bureaucracy as a black box of policymaking.

The book begs the question, what are India’s national interests? The prosperity of Indians is the foundation for India’s national interests however, this has been given little attention. China’s rise and Pakistan’s proxy wars have been given special significance; While these are indeed challenges, it is important to remember that these narratives just serve as lenses through which one can view China and Pakistan and there are other, opposing narratives. A worthwhile exercise to formulate national security strategy would be to analyse how India views China and Pakistan in a time frame of twenty, thirty or even fifty years.

The book does take into consideration the geopolitical environment but places most stress on China, Pakistan and the neighbourhood. If India is looking to be a great power, then its interests beyond South Asia have to be noted. A national security strategy needs to identify threats and challenges by geography or functionality. It also needs a prioritization of threats and challenges and needs to take cognizance of its strengths and opportunities. A national security strategy also needs to be time bound and reviewed periodically. Internal security extends beyond the land borders to issues including cleavages in society, religious extremism, economic inequality and urbanization. While the issues covered in the book are wideranging, Kanwal does take cognizance of the fact the twenty essays are not comprehensive.

Developing a be-all and end-all national security strategy is an impossible task. Similar to the formulation of the Constitution, it requires intensive debate and needs to be open to critique. Therefore, we cannot approach the formulation of a national security strategy as a one time exercise. With rapidly changing geopolitical environment, India needs to periodically review its objectives, threats and priorities. Proactivity is the new buzzword in the national security discourse. However, structural reforms rarely take place without a major disruption. A national security strategy will be released only when the need manifests into a direct threat or a looming weakness. Until that day comes, security strategies will continue to meander in the disparate fashion that it has since Independence

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