India's National Security Challenges launched recently at the India International Center is a book that strikes an important conversation regarding the national security reforms and the pressing need for a comprehensive national security strategy.
At the launch of the book- India’s National Security Challenges edited by N.N. Vohra, the former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon was precise in saying that India’s National Security needs to be looked at from a wider perspective. The book, launched on the 25th of October 2023 at the India International Center, is a collection of essays penned down by prominent practitioners in the field of defense and security policy and makes a very cogent point - the creation of a holistic national security policy.
1. Shivshankar Menon, known for his meticulous analysis of India’s internal and foreign policy aspects, delineates that the book goes beyond just listing the national security threats and providing theoretical solutions. It goes beyond to assess the need for reforms in the current conditions of defense and security outlook of India. The idea was not just to identify the present threats that face our national security but to also form a holistic approach that would lead to the creation of a national security policy.
2. Menon outlines that one of the limitations to the development of a national security policy is perhaps the resistance to be tied down to a doctrine that would mark the actions towards national security threats, either internal or external. A national security strategy would create an objective outlook toward addressing the security concerns of the country and for this to happen, the decision-makers must take into account the aspirations, experiences and viewpoints of not just the political class but also the people who have been active practitioners in the field of defense and strategy. This would include the intellectuals and analysts as well as the veterans of the Indian armed forces. The book presses on the need to develop such a document that brings together these diverse viewpoints and creates a strategy that would include a comprehensive way forward for India’s security policy.
3. The management of defense is perhaps the most crucial question when it comes to outlining the national security policy, as all the authors of the book seemed to be in agreement. The defense management would include a fundamental question of clarifying the chain of command when it comes to the defense forces while also clearly charting the role of the Chief of Defense Staff. The permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, the office of the Chief of Defense Staff is bestowed with the responsibility of integrating the armed forces to develop joint theatre commands for the Army, Navy and Air Force.
4. In order to develop a security strategy, it is also important to outline the responsibilities of the Chief of Defense Staff and address the question of jointness of the armed forces. The charter of the Chief of Defense Staff at present delineates his responsibilities as the principal military advisor while also being given the responsibilities to drive the military reforms. Shivshankar Menon attempts to stress the fact that while the office of the Chief of Defense Staff is relatively new, it holds a strong power over the functioning of the defense policies and hence there needs to be significant clarity in the operational role of the Chief of Defense Staff. A clear conception of the role would determine the degree to which the responsibilities are supposed to be operational or advisory.
5. What sets this book apart is the emphasis on the need to chart out the coordination between the different structures of defense policy. As Menon notes, there is a need to figure out how the National Security Council, the National Security Council Secretariat and the National Security Advisor come together operationally in the command and control chain of the defense policy. The book follows the idea that for us to first respond comprehensively to the national security threats that face us, there is a significant need to bring about reforms within the security and defense infrastructure and that primarily includes the clarity in the chain of command for the defense forces.
6. The security policy reforms, as the book entails, need to be looked at on three different levels - the directional level, the procedural level and the executive level. The directional level will determine the flow of the strategic guidance, ideally from the highest governing authority to the security practitioners as well as the public; the procedural level would require the creation of a dynamic system that would work actively to identify, review and address the national security challenges and the executive level would include a carefully integrated system of the military, paramilitary, police, cyber and intelligence agencies that are equipped with the necessary resources to carry out actions in the protection of national security.
7. The book also highlights a very pertinent aspect of our national security and that is, internal security. The country has dealt with numerous insurgency movements and even though, as Ajay Sahni, in his essay notes- the instances of active insurgency movements have significantly reduced over the past years, there still remains a need to develop a strategy to highlight how to deal with such insurgencies without the interventions of armed forces. The solution is to strengthen the state security infrastructure and invest more in the state police, to equip them with the resources to deal with the adversaries within their region. This would also further point to the need to develop the relationship between the national and state-level security infrastructure.
8. Apart from the internal security threats, India’s national security policy would also be contingent upon the external threats facing the country. Two of the most significant challenges to India’s security come from its immediate neighbors- Pakistan and China. The fundamental question that the boo poses in this regard is about identifying the security objectives in relation to these two adversaries. While India has border disputes with both China and Pakistan, the threats may extend beyond just the border question and may permeate into the question of international influence and regional security, especially in the case of China. This is a very significant question because it will then allow the decision-makers to create a comprehensive strategy for dealing with both China and Pakistan. All of these questions, regarding internal security as well as regional and external security boil down to the development of a National Security Policy.
9. Perhaps one of the most critical features of this book is its emphasis on broadening the definition of national security to include non-traditional security threats as well. The collective experiences of the people in terms of the global health crisis posed by the pandemic, and the threats posed by global warming and climate change have created a vast need to address the non-traditional security challenges as a priority to enhance national and human security. The idea is rooted in the belief that increased human security contributes to the overall national security of the country.
10. Considering the plurality of the threats that face us as a nation, that not only extend beyond our borders but also exist within the nation as well, the development of an all-encompassing national security strategy would be a mammoth task in itself. Apart from the ‘threats’ to national and internal security, the absence of a national security policy does pose a challenge to the country’s national security too. It prevents the decision-makers from forming an objective set of approaches to deal with the variety of challenges to the national security of the country. In this regard, the book- India’s National Security Challenges highlights a very pertinent step in building a robust security infrastructure.