India’s National Security – A Panoramic View

“You must not depend on any foreign help. Nations, like individuals, must help themselves. This is real patriotism. If a nation cannot do that, its time has not yet come. It must wait”. (V.108). – Swami Vivekanand

The desire to remain safe and secure is one of the most fundamental demands of any living being. This aspect of security is so palpable that one can find the desire for security as the primary need to sustain a smooth life. Empowered with the supreme faculty of ‘consciousness’, which makes human life complex, ever-evolving and unique when compared with other living beings, the desire and need for security will also, as a result, have the same characteristics. This idea gets further consolidated when we don’t perceive individuals in silos but gradually bind them in families, communities and finally, in the form of a nation-state, which is the highest expression of a society. Therefore, the security of a State should be a domain of great importance.

The first major challenge we encounter while understanding national security is defining its ambit by asking the most basic question, What is National Security? A traditional view of this question largely finds its answers in the realm of border security and protecting the sovereignty and integrity of a state. In the realist and neo-realist schools of thought, Kenneth Waltz, in particular, adds another conceptual layer under the theory of Defensive Realism, where he subscribes to the idea of the state pursuing the approach of security maximization.

But, this traditional notion of security needs further enhancement due to the evolving nature of the state as a highly organic and all-encompassing entity. Due to this factor, a security dimension can be dovetailed with most functions of the state, if not all. Therefore, the security angle of any issue needs due consideration by the policymakers before formulating a policy to have an inclusive approach. The issue of data security is an emblematic example.

India is a civilizational state empowered with a rich history of over 5000 years. The sheer magnitude of this time period portrays the various security challenges faced by India as a civilization state. These were mainly in the areas pertaining to geography, the political structure, invasion from west Asia and central Asia and the advent of Europeans.

The idea of a sovereign and independent India viewed from the modern, and rather a European lens of the Westphalian nation-state system came into being only in 1947. On the one hand, suffering from the horrors and devastations of partition, India gained independence from the shackles of the British empire. But on the other hand, it also carried the baggage of history, which she could never undo till date.

The primary and immediate security threat India faced after independence was the border disputes with Pakistan and China. The unsettled agreements have resulted in permanent causes of conflict that hampers the peace and stability of India. Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee once said that you can change your friends but not your neighbours. A logical analogy of this statement also guides us to the fact that the security issues derived from these neighbours also cannot be changed or placed on the back burner.

Wars have played a fundamental role in shaping the security apparatus of India, and history has witnessed the most difficult battles fought on Indian soil. This includes the 1947-1948 India- Pakistan war on the issue of Kashmir, the 1962 Indo-China war, the 1965 India-Pakistan war, the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, Kargil war of 1999. The period of 1998-1999 can be considered an inflexion point in the security architecture of India.

On 19th November 1998, India established the much-needed National Security Council to take an inclusive and holistic view of India’s national security. Brijesh Mishra was appointed as the first NSA to then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Also, in the year 1999, just three days after the end of the Kargil War, the Kargil Review Committee was established to take a panoramic view of the challenges that India faced, the lacunas that existed in the present security setup and future recommendations that could benefit India to help the nation overcome the security challenges.

The two immediate hostile and nuclear-armed neighbours of India, i.e. China and Pakistan, are a major threat to India’s national security. The roots of the rift between India and Pakistan can be traced back to 1906 with the formation of the Muslim League. The devastation caused by the partition of India and unsettled territorial boundaries found expression in the Kashmir issue. Even after developing nuclear capabilities, which found an expression as an Islamic Bomb under the guidance of AQ Khan, Pakistan was well cognizant of the fact that it could never match the comprehensive national power of India. After analysing this fact, Pakistan came up with the idea of ‘Bleeding India through a thousand cuts’. This proved to be a cost-effective way for Pakistan to keep India perpetually disturbed by using terrorism as an instrument of state policy.

China is another area of grave concern that inflicts multiple security challenges for India. After gaining Independence in 1949, China was highly focused on growth and development. Under the then leadership of PM Pandit J.L. Nehru, India perceived China as a friendly state. The much-celebrated slogan of ‘Hindi-Chini bhai bhai’ was put to question by China’s gradually increasingly hostile nature. Even the UNSC membership, which was hitherto offered to India, was given to China. The relationship reached its lowest ebb during the 1962 Indo-China war, which became a significant lesson for India. Gradually, the increasing security challenges with China found expression in multiple domains, like the border issues pertaining to LAC. China encircled India in the Indian Ocean region through the strings of pearls strategy, increasing cyber-attacks on the Indian network, the attack on AIIMS Delhi being the latest example. The riparian relationship with regard to the Yarlung Zangbo/

Brahmaputra river and the perpetual tactics of psychological warfare that China has often used are some of the major security challenges faced by China.

One of the latest emerging threats that demand strategic thinking is the domain of technology. This includes artificial intelligence, which can have multiple uses; gene editing techniques by the application of CRISPR Cas- 9, the fourth industrial revolution; and cyber security, space technology. Cutting-edge technology is the means through which states maintain their hegemony. The application of technology has changed the nature of warfare, gradually moving towards the 5th generation warfare, making it the latest security challenge for India.

One can rightly perceive the fact that technology will be emerging of geopolitics, which, for sure, will have multiple security implications for India. In the democratic political framework on which India as a state functions, it is essential that the three fundamental pillars of its democracy are very well in synchronisation with the strategic and security implications of technology to keep itself abreast of the challenges.

It can be observed that national security as a concept is highly diverse because anything and everything can be securitised and have a security implication. Therefore, highly inclusive strategic thinking is needed that helps us to view security issues from an interdisciplinary perspective and not in silos. Swami Vivekanand mentions the need to develop indigenous strength and not depend on foreign help. It’s time for India to build its own strength in the security domain for a safe and secure future.

Abhishek Kumar
Abhishek Kumar
Abhishek Kumar, pursuing a Master's In Politics and International Relations (Department of Politics and International Relations, Pondicherry University Areas of Interest - Geopolitics of technology and Security Issues)