National security needs a structured and professional approach and cannot be left to the bureaucracy at the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and part time political heads.
Issues existing at national security system –
- India has not put in place a functional Higher Defence Organisation (HDO) that can deal with issues of national security in a structured manner. Thus voids exist in policy formations related to national security, capability building, defence reforms, defence planning process and robust border defence.
- There is no military advisor integral to Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), NSC, and even National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS). As a result the decisions on defence related issues are taken through inputs received from MOD which at times may not be in consonance with the Services Headquarters.
- India has handled short term threats and crisis reasonably well. What has been the biggest problem is the capability building to deal with long term threats. The NSC has fallen short of expectations to identify the capabilities required for building threat cum capability based force for predictable and unpredictable external and internal threats.
- National security is one of the most vital function of the government. It needs political direction, professional inputs and a regular reviews. Whereas in the Indian context it is left to the military to manage with whatever budget is left over from the other priorities of the government to meet the external and internal challenges. National security calls for professional integrity and transparent and frank audit of military capabilities and what the armed forces can do within the budget constraint. The political leadership and nation should know about the capabilities so that nation does not live on a false hope.
- Border defence is split between Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and MOD. Border management forces look at borders from police perspective whereas Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Line of Control (LoC) require military approach given the sensitive nature of the unresolved border disputes. Border management forces should ideally be equipped and trained for defending the borders during war because primary objective of deployment of these forces along LAC/ LoC is to seize initiative from adversary if situation so warrant.
- Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and military should be in sync with the emerging threats to national security. The current interaction is cosmetic in nature and except occasional briefings by operational directorates, exchange of views and intimate interaction is minimal. Whereas diplomats serving in missions abroad should have intimate knowledge about the ground situation and existing military capabilities, or else how can they leverage national power to protect vital national interests.
Way Forward –
The way forward to bridge the fault lines are as under –
- HDO is an apex body responsible for the security of the nation and to guide the national security strategy. It can minimise the danger of misjudgment, miscalculation, escalation and unintended consequences in modern warfare.
- Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) must be carried out once in every five years and NSC should review it annually to carryout course corrections in defence planning process and prioritisation of capability building.
- There should be a system of debate on risk assessment before adoption of a strategy that has impact on national security. It must lay down military, political and diplomatic impact before a major military posturing or manoeuvre is undertaken.
- There is a need for deeper coordination between MEA and Services Headquarters. Indication of development of capabilities required for future challenges should come from the diplomats deployed in missions abroad.
- Fragmented approach and divided command of border defence is an artificially created fault line. Current system of border management of unsettled borders is flawed that needs to be junked and the capabilities should be upgraded to border defence; there should be unity of command and homogeneity in training, equipment and ethos.
Prevailing international security scenario is extremely complex and vulnerabilities to the national security is no more restricted to geographical proximity nor purely military in nature. Contemporary and future wars are unrestricted in space, duration, resources and tools. Preparation for war under such scenario is the responsibility of political leadership because they have to dictate as to what capabilities are required to meet national security objectives.
The current Doklam stand-off is an opportunity to integrate political and military leadership and to set a foundation for structured response to crises in future. If a nation desires that it must retain ability to dominate and control situations, it must develop capabilities that give it strength to negotiate, from not under fear or coercion, but from position of strength.