How Does India View its Security Threats?

This reading list assesses India’s current national security paradigm. 

How does India view its security threats? National security advisor Ajit Doval is known for his hard-line views on dealing with Pakistan. Further, a report suggests that Doval was a part of the team that negotiated the procurement of Rafale fighter jets despite having no legal sanction, which raises questions about the transparency of the intergovernmental deal.  

What are the consequences to India’s security policy if decisions are taken by people whose track record with democratic processes has not been encouraging?

This reading list looks at India’s security strategy and foreign policy objectives from the turn of the century to those followed by the current government. It analyses the effects that  the BJP’s ad–hoc decision-making has on India’s national security. 

How Can We Build a “Strong” Nation?

Writing in 2002, Sanjaya Baru’s article refers to a 4–D challenge to ensure national security: development, defence, diplomacy and the diaspora. Baru writes that India’s strategic capability would be impaired by illiteracy and economic backwardness. This, he argues, would affect diplomacy which relies on international  trade and thus, India’s ability to grow and compete in a globalised world. 

"It is India’s economic performance which will shape the manner in which each of these strategic assets can be deployed in the projection of Indian power and influence worldwide. The sustained, if gradual, acceleration of economic growth and its translation in to all-round development, defence capability, diplomatic influence and the process of globalisation, mediated by the Diaspora, will shape the nature and extent of India’s strategic capability."

What Comprises a Comprehensive Foreign Policy? 

Should India seek a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council? S Faizi argues that till date, India’s foreign policy strategy has been erroneously directed by aspirations for said position. Calling it a self–defeating notion, Faizi argues that in the absence of reform, joining an undemocratic organisation such as the UNSC goes against the country’s traditional values. Instead, Faizi advocates following a foreign policy that seeks to establish a participatory global order.

"Foreign policy should be radically shaken to incorporate a range of existing and emerging global issues. Debt relief, global denuclearisation, unsustainable consumption patterns, fair trade, environmental issues, civil society engagement, etc, should be firmly on the agenda of the foreign ministry, without compromising the traditional tracks of bilateral relations. Prime minister Manmohan Singh’s promise to participate in the structuring of a ‘just and dynamic world order’ made in his maiden address to the UN, will simply be taken as an act of self-deception if the country fails to make the necessary reforms in its foreign policy to be able to seriously pursue the goals we share with the greater part of humanity."    

Do Aggressive Policies Draw in Votes?

It should not be surprising that the BJP–led NDA installed Ajit Doval as National Security Advisor, writes Ali Ahmed. As the founding head of the Vivekananda International Foundation, a think tank, Doval led Delhi’s strategic community against the UPA’s attempts to seek rapprochement with Pakistan. The “Doval doctrine”, writes Ahmed, which includes quick military response in the national security field, has been appreciated by the ruling party which uses these responses for political profit. 

"Internal security initiatives have also been taken with an eye for votes. In Kashmir, Operation All-Out over the past two years has led to the killing of some 275 alleged terrorists in operations reminiscent of the 1990s (Kashmir Times 2018) ... India could well have arrived at the possibility of peace without having gone down the route of confrontation over the last four years …  Since national security has been allowed to be usurped for political and ideological ends, Doval is answerable."

Who Makes the Defence Decisions?

Gautam Navlakha writes that the ruling party announces policies without due diligence. Modi’s “bold” decision–making, he states, is often a half–measure. Writing on the Rafale deal, Navlakha criticises the decision to scrap the previous government’s agreement to buy the jets, saying that a meticulous negotiation process has been abandoned for a “new deal”, one that has escalating costs and favours select corporate houses.

"Contract negotiations continue to remain in “rough weather” over Dassault’s Rafale jets. Two issues have been flagged: the liability clause and the price issue. Reportedly the union law ministry red-flagged the liability clause and the lack of a sovereign guarantee, when the contract requires huge payouts in advance without actual delivery. A senior unnamed officer told the Indian Express (Chibber 2016), “[in] our opinion the two documents (draft Inter-Governmental Agreement and Draft Supply Protocols) were not drafted with the interest of Government of India in mind.”"

Are ‘Strongmen’ the Need of the Hour? 

As Ali Ahmed argues, Modi’s ability to fend off Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s efforts to oust him from chief ministership after the 2002 riots, coupled with three successive electoral victories in his home state, have left him with significant authoritarian traits.

"The initial promise from a nuclear doctrinal review having found mention in the manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party was dashed with Modi silencing any talk of change, claiming nuclear weapons were a “cultural inheritance” (Reuters 2014). As a result, over the past four years, there have only been hints of possible change, such as in his defence minister making a personal observation in public on whether the no first use (NFU) policy tied down India’s hands (Kanwal 2017: 33–35). Consequently, the official doctrine, predicated on NFU and “massive” retaliation (MEA 2003), remains unchanged." 

Further, Ahmed writes that the strongman image being purported by both Modi and Ajit Doval could lead to them needing to safeguard their “reputations,” resulting in an unnecessarily harsh reaction to a Pakistani misdemeanour. 

"Lest the walkthrough appears speculative, a look at nuclear developments might strengthen the case on nuclear dangers. Commentary on the Rafale controversy has it that the change was possibly necessitated by India needing a nuclear weapons air-delivery system. The India-specific enhancements that have apparently shot up its cost and necessitating secrecy may have been to the nuclear avionics of the Rafale (Mitra-Iyer 2018)."  


Read More:

Domestic Politics and National Security. Ashwini K Ray, 1998
Political Economy of National Security. Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha, 2002
National Security: Prisoners of Rhetoric. Gautam Navlakha, 2003

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