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A National Security Strategy Document for India

Dr. Arvind Gupta was Director General at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • October 20, 2011


    The Indian National Security Council (NSC) has been in existence since 1999. Yet, the government has not put out an official document outlining a National Security Strategy for India. This is despite the fact that India faces numerous formidable challenges to its national security. The earlier attempts to set up the NSC, notably in 1990, proved short-lived. Why is it that India could not set up a NSC earlier and why is it that India does not have a well articulated National Security Strategy document? There is after all an active debate on national security issues in the media, think-tanks and numerous fora. The leaders make statements on national security inside and outside the Parliament quite regularly, but the government hesitates from spelling out a national security strategy.

    Two reasons can be adduced for this state of affairs.

    First, there is no political consensus in the country on national security issues. For instance, there is no consensus on how to treat challenges from Pakistan and China. The government’s policies on these issues have fluctuated. To give another example, there is little agreement on how to deal with Maoism. Similarly, the views of political parties on Kashmir and insurgencies in the North East differ widely.

    In the aftermath of Mumbai terror attacks there was acute debate on how India should have responded to the attacks. The government used restraint. Many appreciated the restraint while others saw the government’s response as weak. Even today, there is no clarity how the government will deal with such terror attacks in the future.

    Secondly, the government has not been able to address the crucial issue of coordination required to formulate and address the issues of national security. The NSC has been a useful invention but it is anaemic in terms of resources. More important, it lacks powers to enforce anything. The departmental interests are very strong and it becomes difficult to synchronise them. There is no common understanding among various segments of the government of what national security constitutes.

    Yet, India needs a National Security Strategy urgently. The world is changing very fast. New security challenges have arisen. In the absence of a coherent strategy, the government’s responses will remain ad hoc and partial. This may prove costly.

    There is urgent need to build a broad political consensus on national security issues. An official National Security Strategy document, for the next 10 years, is urgently needed. This will help clarify confusion over national security matters and consolidate government’s responses. More important, it will generate informed debate which may help build consensus.

    Suggested outline of a National Security Strategy document

    A National Security Strategy document should have, at the minimum, the following elements:

    • a working definition of national security and national security objectives;
    • an appreciation of the emerging security environment taking into account the geopolitical changes in the world;
    • an assessment of the national strengths and weaknesses of the country in dealing with the challenges;
    • identification of the military, economic, diplomatic resources needed to meet the challenges.

    The National Security Strategy should also pay serious attention to coordination among different segments of the government.

    A draft National Security Strategy document for the next 10 years may consist of:

    a) Definition of national security and political security objectives

    The document must define national security in broad terms including military as well as non-military dimensions of security. It must clearly state the objectives of National Security Strategy. These might be: protecting and defending the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of the country; protecting the core values of the nation as enshrined in the Indian Constitution; ensuring socio-economic development of the country must also be an objective of National Security Strategy because human security is an important component of comprehensive national security. India’s goal should be to play a positive and effective role in global and regional affairs.

    b) Appreciation of the geopolitical environment

    The document should describe the geopolitical environment and how it has affected India. These include the transition in the international system to multipolarity; the rise of China and its intense drive for military modernisation, the growing dysfunctionality of Pakistani state; the impending withdrawal of US and ISAF troops from Afghanistan; the implications of the Arab spring; the developments in Indian ocean region; the growth of Africa and Latin America; the discovery of energy resources in the Arctic Ocean and the economic uncertainty in the US and Europe.

    In addition, there are non-territorial challenges too with which India will have to cope up with. These are no less important than the hard security challenges. These include the increasing threat of piracy in high seas, maritime security, increasing militarization of space, threats from cyber space and intensification of competition for scarce resources like energy and strategic minerals. The implications of climate change for India’s security must also be spelt out.

    The strategy document must identify the growing challenge of terrorism and asymmetric warfare for Indian security. The threat of WMD proliferation and issues concerning nuclear security must be underlined as growing challenges. A broad counter-terrorism strategy must be identified and implemented.

    c) Challenges from the Neighbourhood

    The document may pay special attention to the neighbourhood – the neighbouring countries, the extended neighbourhood and Indian Ocean. Instability in these regions will cause instability in India. India must prepare itself to face the backlash if some states in the region fail. At the same time, India should be prepared to contribute towards stability through bilateral and regional cooperation.

    d) Coping up with the challenges

    Having defined the challenges in a clear and unambiguous manner, the strategy document may pay focussed attention to how India will cope with these challenges.

    For a realistic National Security Strategy, there must be an appreciation of the ends and means. The end objective is to secure India’s security but the means to be adopted to do so must preserve the freedoms and rights of the individuals as enshrined in the Constitution. Thus, for example, a counter-terrorism strategy is needed but it should have enough safeguards to protect individual rights and freedoms.

    India should seek a prominent role for itself in the international community without being hegemonistic or threatening. International cooperation; regional and sub-regional cooperation should be given high priority. Permanent membership of the UN Security Council should be aspired for.

    e) Internal Security

    The document will need to give urgent attention to internal security issues including left wing extremism, Jammu and Kashmir, the North East, communalism, corruption, religious fundamentalism and extremism, regional and socio-economic inequalities. These issues will have to be dealt with within the democratic framework of the Indian Constitution. Adequate sensitivity to people’s aspirations will need to be paid.

    An effective counter-terrorism strategy encompassing intelligence reforms, police reforms, legal reforms and involving clear rules of engagement with insurgents, militants and terrorists should be adopted. Similarly, a counter insurgency strategy aimed at firmly dealing with insurgents while addressing the grievances of the alienated groups within the Indian Constitution should be put in place.

    Border management, a neglected area should be given high priority. An effectively regulated border which discourages illegal movement but facilitates people-to-people contacts is necessary. Modern border management practices should be adopted. Visa regime and immigration policies should be overhauled. The link between internal security issues and external factors, e.g. externally sponsored terrorism, fake Indian currency, drugs etc, may also be specified.

    f) Resources and Capabilities

    Making India secure will require building diverse capabilities – economic, diplomatic, military, human resources, governance reforms - and creating synergy between them.

    A strong economy and inclusive growth should form the basis of the National Security Strategy, maintaining strong economic growth will give India huge strategic advantage as it will strengthen its hard and soft power and increase governments’ policy options. Without sustained and sustainable economic growth, Indian National Security Strategy will come to a naught.

    Our diplomatic resources will need to be expanded and strengthened. More diplomats, more training, and more synergy with resources outside the government will be needed. Diplomacy will need to include diverse interests. Public diplomacy will be an integral component of diplomacy.

    Technology will underpin many of our strengths. Thus, India will need to build capacities in research and development (R&D) in diverse fields to help socio-economic economic development, and self reliance in strategic sectors including space, defence technologies, agriculture, manufacturing, information technology, clean and green technologies etc. India’s defence offsets policy is expected to bring in large investments in the high-tech defence sector. Imaginatively used, offsets programmes can help to establish a vibrant defence R&D and manufacturing sector in the country. India’s three-stage nuclear energy programme and various national missions under the climate change adaptation programme can provide major opportunities to reform the economy, create employment, strengthening R&D in the universities, build national strengths and position India high in the global order. The advances in science and technology should aim at creating highly skilled human resources in the country. The education system will need to be overhauled. Young people must have the opportunity to pursue high quality education if need be through state subsidies. Suitable policy measures must be adopted to take advantage of the demographic dividend.

    While military modernisation is necessary, the need for military reform is even more acute. The institution of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) should be created and necessary changes in defence structures should be brought about. Civil-military relations should be carried out in a harmonious way. Command and control systems for strategic systems must be made robust.

    Information warfare and cyber security issues will need to be given due attention. Critical infrastructure potential should assume high priority. The government needs to come out with a comprehensive cyber security policy in this regard.

    The county should create high quality of analytical skills for understanding and interpreting the ongoing changes and their implications for India. Universities and thinktanks should be strengthened. Historical research and methodologies to build scenarios for the future should be encouraged. Archival material should be made available to researchers.

    For an effective implementation of National Security Strategy, a wide range of governance reforms will be needed. Governance can be overhauled only through a thoroughgoing reform of the electoral system, the criminal justice system, etc.

    There is strong need to focus on the material and non-material needs of the youth. Their needs of education, skill development, employment, family, mobility, etc should be addressed. This will make them feel proud to be Indian, while they retain and enjoy their multiple identities and freedoms.


    The National Security Strategy document needs to be succinct yet it should flag all major issues concerning a security strategy and provide guidelines to concerned departments to pre-frame suitable action plans. Since the global and regional situation is dynamic, the National Security Strategy document should be revised periodically.

    It is important to underline that a National Security Strategy document should be realistic and balanced. While recognizing the challenges, it should also underline the opportunities. For, a successful national security strategy can give a fillip to our national consciousness, economy and socio-economic development, thus creating a calmer environment conducive for national development.

    The author holds the Lal Bahadur Shastri Chair at the IDSA. The views expressed are personal. This paper has been written to initiate a debate on the possible contours of a National Security Strategy document.