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New U.S. Cybersecurity Strategies

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The United States was one of the first countries to treat cybersecurity as a matter of strategic importance. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, as well as the growing threat to the economy, which was becoming increasingly dependent on ICT, forced the George W. Bush administration to reassess the task of securing critical infrastructure facilities. The required an integrated approach, which duly emerged with the publication of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace.

President Barack Obama announced cybersecurity as one of the most important tasks facing the U.S. government. Another task was to develop the new opportunities afforded by cyberspace and harness them for the purposes of serving national interests. The Cyber Space Policy Review was developed and presented in 2009. It contains an analysis of the existing cybersecurity system, as well as a plan for its transformation with a view to providing better cyber defence of the United States. In 2011, the United States published its International Strategy for Cyberspace, the goal of which is to create a unified platform for international cooperation in cyberspace on the basis of U.S. approaches to cybersecurity. The position of Senior Coordinator for Cyber Issues was created at the U.S. Department of State to promote the country’s cybersecurity policy. An interesting feature of the International Strategy for Cyberspace was the emphasis on so-called “capacity-building,” specifically on rendering assistance to developing countries through the provision of the necessary resources, knowledge and experts, including with a view to these countries developing their own national cybersecurity strategies.

In contrast to the George W. Bush era, U.S. representatives played an active role in preparing the report of the United Nations Groups of Governmental Experts in 2010. In 2011–2013, a number of summit-level bilateral negotiations on cybersecurity issues were held, primarily between Russia and China, during which there was an attempt to develop the “rules of the game” for leading powers in this new sphere of international relations. The high point in U.S.–Russia relations was the singing of the Joint Statement by the Presidents of the United States of America and the Russian Federation on a New Field of Cooperation in Confidence Building in 2013. The document also outlined cooperation measures in the protection of critical information systems and mechanisms for reducing cyberthreats. Unfortunately, all agreements were frozen following the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis. And they cannot be considered tenable under current conditions, as all attempts to bring them back to life have failed.

Donald Trump: America First

The new Strategy is a logical continuation of the policy of recent years and is now enshrined at the doctrinal level. As we have already mentioned, it resembles the policy of George W. Bush more than that of Barack Obama, although it does borrow from and refine some points of the latter’s strategy to meet current needs. The first thing that catches the eye about the new Cyber Strategy is that is forms an image of an external threat to freedom and democracy and focuses on ensuring peace through strength. The Strategy repeatedly mentions the main opponents – Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and international terrorism.

The policy outlined in the document is based on four pillars: protecting the American people, the homeland and the American way of life; promoting American prosperity; preserving peace through strength; and advancing American influence. In some areas, you can find specific examples of recent events that formed the basis of a new policy that could affect both U.S. policy and international relations in ICT security in general.

The main objective of the first pillar of the new Strategy is to manage cybersecurity risks in order to improve the reliability and sustainability of information systems, including critical facilities. One of the new elements of domestic policy is the development of a risk management system in the Federal supply chain that would include, among other things, determining clear authority to exclude (in individual cases) supposedly risky vendors, products and services. These actions will be combined with efforts to manage risks in supply chains connected with the country’s infrastructure. The level of risk associated with using a specific vendor’s product should be determined on a case-by-case basis. At the same time, examples of similar policies allow us to state with confidence that, as far as the United States is concerned, the main unreliable vendors are located in Russia and China. Given the growing trade and economic standoff between the United States and China, the next logical step could be a ban on the use of Chinese components in government agency servers, just like what happened with Kaspersky Lab. This may very well be followed by an embargo of Chinese components by major companies and at critical infrastructure facilities. At the same time, the United States will promote the development of the internet and an open, compatible, reliable and secure communications infrastructure that will increase the competitiveness of American companies and help them counter the economic interference of other countries in areas of strategic competition.

The new Strategy focuses on improving cybersecurity in the transport and maritime infrastructure, as well as in space. The modernization of these sectors makes them more vulnerable to cyberattacks. The safety of maritime transport is particular concern, as transport delays or cancellations could disrupt the economy at strategic and lower dependent levels. The NotPetya malware attack that cost the logistics company Maersk a total of $300 million in 2017 as a result of a violation of its operating activities drew attention to the problems in this area. In response, the United States plans to establish the necessary roles and areas of responsibility, promote improved mechanisms of international cooperation and information exchange and help create a next-generation maritime infrastructure that is resistant to cyberthreats. It is possible that the maritime infrastructure of other states that participate in international maritime trade may, under the pretext of noncompliance with American standards, be deemed “unsafe” (for example, liquified natural gas terminals or ports along the Northern Sea Route).

Another important element of the policy outlined in the new Strategy is the modernization of legislation in electronic surveillance and computer crime. The United States is expected to update its legislation in these areas in order to expand the power of law enforcement agencies to legally collect evidence relating criminal activity and carry out further operational, investigative and judicial activities. Evidence may be collected outside the United States. In the past, these activities were carried out under so-called mutual legal assistance treaties, including the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime. However, the CLOUD Act adopted this year gives law enforcement agencies considerable powers to obtain information stored in the servers of U.S. companies operating outside the country. As a result, countries are no longer required to enter into mutual legal assistance treaties and inform other states that they are carrying out investigative activities in their territory. Interestingly, while the new Cyber Strategy contains statements about rejecting censorship on the internet and adhering to a free and open cyberspace, it also instructs law enforcement agencies to work with the private sector to overcome technological barriers, for example anonymization and encryption technologies, that are used to ensure this much-touted “freedom of the internet.”

The Strategy places considerable emphasis on actions aimed at expanding U.S. influence around the world. One of these areas is developing the capacities of partner countries to counter cybercrime. When U.S. law enforcement agencies issue a request for assistance, the country in question has to possess the appropriate technical capacity. Despite the fundamental problems of the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime (the lack of development and the threat of state sovereignty being violated), the U.S. Administration will work to increase the international consensus with regard to it. The UN draft resolution “On Cooperation in the Field of Countering Information Crime” put forward by Russia has not even been critically evaluated.

Peace through Strength

The United States is prepared to use all available tools of national power, including military force, to deter opponents from malicious acts in cyberspace that threaten its national interests, allies and partners.

The mechanism for determining the degree of “malicious intent” of actors in cyberspace will be based on the American interpretation of the provisions of international law and the voluntary non-binding norms of the responsible behaviour of states in cyberspace. These norms were developed by a UN Group of Governmental Experts in 2015 and were intended to define the limits of acceptable behaviour of all states and contribute to greater predictability and stability in cyberspace. The United States will encourage other countries to publicly adopt these principles and rules, which will form the basis for joint opposition to states that do not conform to them. In order to identify these states, the Executive Branch of the United States and the country’s key partners plan to share objective and relevant data obtained by their respective intelligence agencies. Obviously, in the context of the widespread use of public attribution, the unsubstantiated statements of a powerful state on the involvement of a given country in a cyber incident cannot lead to an escalation of tensions. There is no indication in any of the documents of the international legal mechanisms that may be created for the legitimate investigation and judicial examination of cyber incidents, including those that, in the opinion of the United States, may be considered an armed attack.

At the same time, work is under way on the establishment of possible consequences of irresponsible behaviour that causes damage to the United States and its partners. The United States expects to build strategic partner relations that will be crucial in terms of exerting influence on the “bad” actors in cyberspace. The Cyber Deterrence Initiative should be a key component of this: coordinating the general response of a broad coalition of likeminded states to serious malicious incidents in cyberspace, including through intelligence sharing, attribution, public statements of support and other joint actions. The United States Department of Defense will carry out similar work to consolidate and strengthen joint initiatives. In accordance with the Law on Budgetary Appropriations for National Defense, in 2018, the Department of Defense carried out a comprehensive review of military strategy in cyberspace and the possibilities for its implementation. The result was the publication of a new Department of Defense Cyber Strategy, many elements of which overlap with the National Cyber Strategy. In accordance with the provisions contained in the Department of Defense Cyber Strategy, the development of cyber capabilities intended for both military purposes and combatting malicious actors in cyberspace will be accelerated. The United States will be able to promote its interests through operations in cyberspace across the entire spectrum of conflict intensity, from daily operations to wartime, while cyber capabilities will be used proactively. This cannot but cause concern, especially considering the fact that Donald Trump has lifted many of the barriers to carrying out cyber operations and the Cyber Command has been given greater independence, becoming the Department of Defense’s 10th Unified Combatant Command

On the whole, the new cyber strategies are aimed at strengthening the power, increasing the influence and promoting the interests in the United States on the international stage. At the same time, Donald Trump’s pre-election campaign slogan of “America First” is being implemented on completely different levels – the promotion of American know-how and technologies and the rallying of allies and partners. Meanwhile, U.S. markets are closing themselves off under the pretext of national security to goods and services provided by companies from “unreliable” states. Similar steps by other states – for example, the requirement that personal information be stored on servers inside the country – are declared to be undermining the competitiveness of American companies.

As for the norms of behaviour in cyberspace developed by the UN Group of Governmental Experts, the United States will promote them and use them to its advantage. This will probably be done through public attribution without any serious evidence, which seems to be par for the course these days. This mechanism of marginalization will not lead to an increase in stability and security, given that it involves a coordinated response from the United States, not only by means of attribution, but also through (proactive) military action.

The Strategy does not outline plans for the creation of international legal mechanisms that could independently, objectively and with due competence carry out a legitimate investigation and make a court decision with regard to malicious acts in ICT. This means that the suspects are already known and there is no doubt as to their identity – Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and international terrorism. At the same time, the Strategy does not say anything about how we might overcome the current crisis situation. Instead, there is a clear signal that no mutually beneficial or mutually essential official contacts on information and cyber security have been planned for the near future. This means that the schism between the American and Russian–Chinese visions of the future ICT environment is only growing, which could lead to the eventual fragmentation of the ICT environment and the internet. Having said that, Russia and China do not want the situation to unfold in this way. This much is clear from the resolution submitted for consideration by the UN General Assembly entitled “Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security.” Traditionally, these resolutions serve to highlight current events in international information security and do not contain any significant declarations. However, this particular resolution calls on all states to follow the norms, rules and principles developed in 2015 and convene a meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts to address the issue of how to implement these norms.

Active work at the unofficial level (namely, track one and a half diplomacy) at various international forums and other platforms could also help overcome the current crisis. Restoring relations should start with steps to re-establish mutual trust, perhaps through participation in projects involving a number of international players. Moreover, given the political will, the sides could focus on solving problems in a manner that is in the interests of both states.

First published in our partner RIAC

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Why the “Coronavirus Ceasefire” Never Happened

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

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Six months ago, when COVID-19 had just moved beyond the borders of China and embarked upon its triumphant march across Europe and North America, politicians and foreign affairs experts started discussing what will happen after the virus is vanquished. The debate that ensued balanced the fears and concerns of pessimists with the hopes and expectations of optimists, with the latter believing that the pandemic and the global recession that followed would inevitably force humankind to put its differences aside and finally unite in the face of common challenges.

Six months later, we can say without any doubt that, unfortunately, the optimists were wrong. The pandemic did not bring about the changes in world politics they had been hoping for, even with the ensuing recession making things worse. And we are unlikely to see any such changes in the near future. Sadly, COVID-19 did not turn out to be a cure-all for regional conflicts, arms races, the geopolitical competition and the countless ailments of humankind today.

These persisting ailments are more than evident in relations between Russia and the West. No positive steps have been made in the past six months in any of the areas where the positions of the two sides differ significantly, be it the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the unrest in Syria, the political instability in Venezuela or the war in Libya. The fate of the New START and the nuclear nonproliferation regime remains unclear. Moscow continues to be the target of new economic and political sanctions. Russia and the West are locked in an intense information war. There are no signs of a “coronavirus ceasefire,” let alone a full-fledged peace agreement, on the horizon.

Of course, Moscow has placed the blame for the lack of progress squarely on the shoulders of its western partners. While this may indeed be true in many respects, we must admit that the Kremlin has hardly been overflowing with ideas and proposals over the past six months. Even if Moscow did want to reverse the current negative trends in global politics, it has not taken any steps on its own to do so. Nor has it proposed any large-scale international projects, or even tried to temper its usual foreign policy rhetoric and propaganda.

On the contrary, the various troubles that have befallen Russia in the “coronavirus era” – from the public unrest in Belarus to the unfortunate poisoning of Alexei Navalny – are explained away as the malicious intrigues of Russia’s geopolitical opponents. For all intents and purposes, the Kremlin is in the same position now, in September 2020, that it was in back in March. The chances of another “reset” or at least a “timeout” in relations have disappeared completely, if they ever existed in the first place.

So, why did the “coronavirus ceasefire” never happen? Without absolving the West of its share of responsibility, let us try to outline the obstacles that Russia has put in the way of progress.

First, in an environment of unprecedented shocks and cataclysms, there is always the hope that your opponent will eventually suffer more as a result than you will. Many in Russia see the 2020 crisis as the final damning indictment of the West and even an inglorious end to the market economy and political liberalism in general.

The recent statement by Aide to the President of the Russian Federation Maxim Oreshkin that Russia is poised to become one of the top five economies in the world this year is particularly noteworthy. Not because the country is experiencing rapid economic growth, but because the German economy is set to fall further than the Russian economy. If you are certain that time is on your side and that you will emerge from the crisis in better shape than your opponents, then the incentives to work towards some kind of agreement hic et nunc are, of course, reduced.

Second, the current Russian leadership is convinced that any unilateral steps on its part, any shifts in Moscow’s foreign policy, will be perceived in the West as a sign of weakness. And this will open the door for increased pressure on Moscow. Not that this logic is entirely unfounded, as history has shown. But it is precisely this logic that prevents Russian leaders from admitting their past foreign policy mistakes and miscalculations, no matter how obvious they may have been. This, in turn, makes it extremely difficult to change the current foreign policy and develop alternative routes for the future. In fact, what we are seeing is a game to preserve the status quo, in the hope that history will ultimately be on Moscow’s side, rather than that of its opponents (see the first point).

Third, six and a half years after the crisis in Ukraine broke out, we are essentially left with a frozen conflict. Turning the large and unwieldy state machine around, rewiring the somewhat heavy-handed state propaganda machine, and changing the policies that determine the everyday actions of the army of “deep state” officials is tantamount to changing the trajectory of a supertanker carrying a load of hundreds of thousands of tonnes. It is perhaps even more difficult, however, to change the opinion that has taken shape in Russian society in recent years about the modern world and Russia’s place in it. Just because the Russian people are tired of foreign politics, this does not mean that they will enthusiastically support an updated version of Mikhail Gorbachev’s “new thinking” of the second half of the 1980s or the ideological principles of Boris Yeltsin and Andrei Kozyrev’s foreign policy of the early 1990s.

Fourth, the balance of power between the agencies involved in the development and practical implementation of Russia’s foreign policy has changed significantly in recent years. The role of the security forces has been growing in all its aspects since at least the beginning of 2014. Conversely, the role of diplomats, as well as that of the technocrats in the economic structures of the Russian government, has been dwindling with each passing year. It is the security forces that are the main “stakeholders” in Donbass, Syria, Libya and even Belarus today. It would be fair to say that they have had a controlling interest in Russia’s foreign policy. The oft-quoted words of Emperor Alexander III that Russia has only two allies, its army and its navy, perfectly reflect the shift that has taken place in the balance of powers between these agencies. We should add that this shift was largely welcomed and even supported by a significant part of Russian society (see the third point). Of course, the siloviki are, due to the specifics of their work, less inclined to compromise, concessions and basic human empathy than diplomats, economists and technocrats.

All these factors preventing the conceptual renewal of Russia’s foreign policy can equally be applied to its geopolitical opponents. Politicians in the West are also hoping that time is on their side, that Moscow will emerge from the crisis weaker and more vulnerable, and thus more malleable than it was before. They also believe that any unilateral steps, any demonstration of flexibility in relations with the Kremlin, will be met with an even tougher and more aggressive policy. Negative ideas about Russia have also taken root in the minds of people in the West, and foreign policy is being “militarized” there just as much as it is in Russia.

Thus, neither the coronavirus nor the economic recession will automatically lead to a détente, let alone a reset in relations between Russia and the West. We are, in fact, moving in the opposite direction, once again running the risk of an uncontrolled confrontation. However, this unfortunate situation is no reason to give up on the possibility of signing new agreements, even if COVID-19 will no longer be in our corner moving forward.

From our partner RIAC

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India’s strategies short of war against a hostile China

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Since India’s independence several peace and border cooperation agreements were signed between the India and China. Prominent among them was the Panchsheel Agreement signed in 1954. A majority of the agreements were signed between 1993 and 2013. Recently genuine efforts were made by PM Narendra Modi by engaging Xi Jinping at the Wuhan and Chennai summits. But China is nowhere near to settling the border dispute despite various agreements and talks at the military and civilian levels.

After the 1962 war peace was largely maintained on the Indo China border. During the Mao and Deng era consensus building was the norm in the communist party. XiJinping appointed himself as chairman of the communist party for life. Today power is centralized with XiJinping and his cabal. Through Doklam and Galwan incidents Xi Jinpinghas disowned the peaceful principles laid down by his predecessors. China’s strategy is to keep India engaged in South Asia as it doesn’t want India to emerge as a super power. After solving a crisis on the border China will create another crisis. Beijing has declining interest in the niceties of diplomacy. Under Xi Jinping China has become more hostile.

China has been infringing on India’s sovereignty through salami tactics by changing the status quo and attempting to own the border territory. At Galwan on Xi Jinping’s birthday the PLA demonstrated hooliganism by assaulting Indian border positions. China violated the 1996 and 2005 bilateral agreements which states that both armies should not carry weapons within 1.24 miles on either side of the border. India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar mentioned that the standoff situation with China in Galwan Valley of eastern Ladakh is “surely the most serious situation after 1962.”China is constructing infrastructure, increasing forces and deploying weapon systems on the border.

Options for India

India led by PM Narendra Modi has implemented a realist foreign policy and a muscular military policy.India ended the age of strategic restraint by launching special operations and air strikes in Pakistan. Since the Galwan incident India has increased the military, diplomatic and economic deterrence against China. India is constructing military infrastructure and deploying weapon systems like SU 30 MKI and T 90 tanks in Ladakh. India banned a total of 224 Chinese apps, barred Chinese companies from government contracts and is on the verge of banning Huawei. Other measures include excluding Chinese companies from private Indian telecommunications networks. Chinese mobile manufacturers can be banned from selling goods in India.

India should offer a grand strategy to China. India has a plethora of options short of war. Future talks should involve an integrated strategy to solve all the bilateral issues and not just an isolated resolution of a localized border incident. All instruments of military and economic power and coercive diplomacy should be on the table.

Foreign Policy

China expects other nations to follow bilateral agreements and international treaties while it conveniently violates them. India should abrogate the Panscheel agreement given China’s intransigence and hostility. China claims 35,000 square miles of territory in India’s northeast, including the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. China occupies 15,000 square miles of India’s territory in the Aksai Chin Plateau in the Himalayas. India’s primary objective is to take back territories like Aksai Chin. While the secondary issue is the resolution of the border issue and China’s support to Pakistan. India can leverage the contemporary geopolitical climate to settle all issues. India can target China’s soft underbelly characterized by issues like Taiwan, Xinjiang and the economy. China raises the Kashmir issue at international organizations. As a countervailing measure India can raise Xinjiang at international organizations and conferences.

China has been militarily and diplomatically supporting Pakistan against India. Pakistan is a rentier and a broken state that sponsors terrorism. India can establish bilateral relations with Taiwan thus superseding China’s reunification sensitivities. China has territorial disputes with 18 countries including Taiwan and Japan. India can hedge against China by establishing strategic partnerships with US, Australia, Japanand Vietnam.

Military policy

An overwhelming military is a deterrence for China’s belligerent foreign and military policy. The 1990Gulf War demonstrated the capabilities of high technology weapon systems. As compared to China’s rudimentary weapons systems India has inducted 4th and 5th generation weapons like the SU 30 MKI, AH 64 Apache and T 90 tanks. The deterrence capacity of fighter aircrafts is reduced as they cannot target China’s coastlines due to their restricted range. Full deterrence can be achieved by ICBMs and nuclear powered submarines. With these weapons India can target centers of gravity like Shanghai and Shenzhen.

China is not a signatory to arms limitations treaties like Start I and Start II. China continues to expand its nuclear weapons stockpile and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) like DF 21 and DF-26B which are banned by the INF Treaty. India is a law abiding stable democracy in an unstable region with two hostile nations on its flanks. US and Russia can relax the arms control mechanism considering India’s’ impeccable record on peace and non proliferation. This will allow India to buy Russian weapon systems like Zircon and Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, Topol and Bulava ICBMs and Yasen and Borey class SSBN submarines. While US can sell SSBN submarines and C4ISR gathering platforms like RC 135 and RQ 4 Global Hawk.

China remains a security threat for Asia. As China foments instability the APAC region from South Asia to South China Sea remains volatile. The Quad can be expanded to include Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, South Korea and Indonesia and multinational naval exercises can conducted in the South China Sea.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. China fought small wars with India, Vietnam and Soviet Union. Vietnam defeated the PLA at Lang Son in 1979 with advanced weapon systems and guerilla warfare. India can increase militarily cooperation with Vietnam. China attacked the Soviet Union on the Ussuri river leading to heavy PLA casualties. Historically relations between Russia and India have been close. As a result of the Indo Soviet Friendship Treaty China did not support Pakistan during the 1971 war. India can enhance its military and diplomatic ties with Russia to the next level.

Strategic partnership with US

Its time for a partnership between the world’s largest and the world’s biggest democracies. India and the US have a common objective to preserve peace, maintain stability and enhance security in Asia. India’s reiteration at leaders’ level and international forums that both countries see each other as allies for stability in the APAC region is not enough. India has to go beyond the clichés of the need for closer ties.

Due to the China threat the US is shifting its military from Europe and Middle East to the APAC region.US and India can establish an Asian equivalent of NATO as China’s destructive policy frameworks and threatening postures remain a strategic threat. India should enhance and deepen cooperation with the US intelligence community in the fields of MASINT, SIGINT, GEOINT, TECHINT and CYBINT. Both countries can form an alliance of democracies. If China militarily or economically targets one of the member country then the alliance can retaliate under a framework similar to Article 5 of NATO. Thus power will be distributed in the APAC region instead of being concentrated with China. A scorpion strategy will ensure that China does not harass its neighbors. The strategy involves a military pincer movement by India from the west and US from the East against a hostile China. India can conduct joint military exercises with the US in Ladakh. China cannot challenge Japan and Taiwan due to the US security agreements with these countries.

Conclusion

The world has entered the age of instability and uncertainty. The 21st century is characterized by hybrid warfare through military and coercive diplomacy. South Asia is not a friendly neighborhood where peaceful overtures lead to harmonious relations. China is a threat to India even in the context of a friendly relationship. Diplomatic niceties have no place in India’s relations with China. India can impose costs on China which can be more than the benefits offered by normalizing relations. The application of measures short of war without engaging the PLA will reap benefits. India can fulfill its national security requirements and global responsibilities through a grand strategy.

A policy of engagement and deterrence is crucial against an antagonistic China. While India attempts to develop cooperative ties with China it will need to continue to enhance and implement its military and coercive diplomatic strategies. China does not represent a direct military threat to India but at the same time one cannot deny that challenges remain.

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COVID-19 and Challenges to the Indian Defence Establishment

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The COVID-19 pandemic has created an uncertain situation all over the world. It is defined as the greatest challenge faced by the world since World War II. At a certain point, the pandemic had forced world governments to announce lockdowns in their respective countries that led to more than half of the human population being home quarantined. Since then, social distancing, travel bans, and cancellation of international summits have become a routine exercise. Most sectors such as agriculture, health, education, economy, manufacturing have been severely hit across the globe. One such sector which is vital to national security that has been impacted due to the pandemic is defence.

The effect of influenza and pneumonia during WWI on the US military was huge. The necessity to mobilise troops across the Atlantic made it even ideal for the diseases to spread rapidly among the defence personnel and civilians. Between mid-1917 and 1919, the fatalities were more so due to the disease than getting killed in action. Due to COVID-19, there have been many implications within the defence sector. Amid the ongoing transgressions in Ladakh, it becomes imperative to analyse the preparedness of the Indian defence establishment to tackle the challenges at hand.

Disrupting the Status Quo

Many personnel in the Indian armed forces have been tested positive for COVID-19. This puts the operational capabilities at risk. In one isolated incident, 26 personnel of the Navy had been placed in quarantine after being tested positive for COVID-19. The French and the Americans had a great challenge ahead of them as hundreds of soldiers were getting infected onboard their Naval vessels. Furthermore, the Army saw some cases being tested positive as well. In one such incident, the headquarters of the Indian Army had to be temporarily shut down because of a soldier contracting the virus. These uncalled disruptions are very dangerous for our armed forces. These disruptions challenge the recruitment process and training exercises.

Since the Indian Army has been involved in quarantining tasks, this exposes the personnel to the virus. As a result of this, the first soldier was tested positive on March 20 in Leh. Among them, those who work as medical personnel are even more exposed to the virus. In order to enforce damage control to the operational capabilities, the Army made sure that the non-essential training, travel, and attending conferences remained cancelled. They called off any foreign assignments and postings for the time being. The Army also made it a point to extend leaves for that personnel who were already on absence. This was a major preventive measure adopted to prevent further infection.

As a result of the lockdown that had been imposed nationwide, the defence services were forced to temporarily stall all the activities that relate to soldiering during peacetime. These activities include training, pursuing professional qualification, fitness tests and regimes, equipment maintenance such as unit assets and stores, up-gradation of the cadres among others. Since the Indian Army boasts of a force that has signed up voluntarily to guard the borders, most of the troops are away from their families, which makes it even more difficult during the times of crises. The mega biennial naval exercises scheduled to be held in Vizag were cancelled due to COVID-19. A total of 41 navies were planned to be a part of the joint exercises called MILAN. The Service Selection Board (SSB) training and the recruitment process have been put to a halt as well. This will severely impact the intake process for this year.

Handling Biohazards

The Army’s capable of operating in a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) environment and has sufficient equipment like infantry vehicles, helicopters and tanks which can operate without any hassles. Since instances of chemical warfare have been witnessed in West Asia and other regions in the last two decades, the focus of the Army has been on that and not on biological warfare. Most Armies believe that bio-weaponry is still fictional and won’t come into play any time soon. Naturally, due to this mindset, most Armies are not capable of handling biohazards. This is a major setback in the time of COVID-19 and has to be addressed.

Riding Down the Slope

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Indian economy has been nose-diving day by day. This is some bad news for the defence sector since the military spending will possibly be reduced as a result of the slowdown. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India’s GDP will grow at 1.9 per cent. This is one of the lowest in the history of post-independent India. Allocations and spendings will naturally take a hit and will take a long time to revive again. Defence manufacturing will also face a setback and discourage indigenous players who are looking at getting involved in the manufacturing and innovation sector. MoD has already received the Ministry of Finance’s circular that called for the defence spending to be limited to 15-20 per cent of the total amount allocated. This will ensure that the defence budget is not the priority for the finance ministry. A gap of Rs. 1,03,000 crore has been highlighted between the requirement and the allocated money. More than 60 per cent of this allocated amount anyway goes towards paying salaries and pensions. This means that the modernisation efforts will face a major slowdown in the next two years. Defence procurement is already difficult due to the bureaucratic hurdles, now the monetary crunch only adds more woes.

Moreover, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had announced earlier that more than 9,000 posts belonging to the Military Engineering Services (MES) will be abolished in the said industrial division. The reason cited was that this would bring about a balance to the expenditure. Due to the lockdown, the military development has taken a hit and has seen a decline in the production of freights. As of now, there is no manufacturing that is ongoing as far as fighter planes or aircraft, in general, is concerned. Some of the signed defence deals and contracts are said to be reviewed due to the financial crunch. India’s defence budget is expected to see some cuts due to the economy slowing down. The pandemic has worsened this even further. There is already an existing order to cap the spending for the first quarter of this fiscal year. Most of the payments that are being disbursed is largely that of paying for the existing contracts. This will diminish any scope for procurement of newer defence equipment that helps in modernising the armed forces in the long run. According to a report, it says that the Ministry of Defence is looking at a savings of anywhere between Rs. 400 and 800 billion in the 2020-21 financial year. To quote Yuval Noah Harari from his recent article in the Financial Times would seem relevant in this case, “Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours.”  India has displayed the significant political will to make impactful decisions during the pandemic. The question is, how far and how soon can we push ourselves to be prepared on all fronts?

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