Thursday, May 22, 2014

What’s Wrong with our National Security Policy?

by Lt Gen S. S. Mehta

SIXTYSEVEN years into Independence and despite four wars, including a humiliating defeat in 1962; matched by a consummate victory over Pakistan in 1971; the Kargil intrusion, the Mumbai terrorist attack, scores of insurgent and internal security movements, India remains cocooned in a yawning void between promise and delivery. If one thought India has had enough time to put the building blocks for a sound national security policy into place, one would be disappointed. On this critical issue, we remain vague and incongruous. On the contrary, it would seem that there is an inexplicable disconnect in policy makers’ minds about the linkages between National Security and National Defence.

National security is an inclusive concept. It demands political savvy, economic security, soft and hard power, focused development and growth of human and material resources and public understanding and support. In contrast, national defence has a narrower meaning. Defence relates to sovereignty, territorial integrity, capability to contain internal disorder, respond to man-made and natural calamities, and have the synergised political will and broad-spectrum capability to undertake multifarious international obligations; even the odd intervention if that becomes necessary in supreme national interest.

Security vs Defence

Security and defence are therefore not interchangeable. Security incorporates defence. Collectively they stand for National Security and both must co-exist. Kautilya in his seminal treatise on statecraft — Arthashastra, warned us around 2,000 years ago that national security challenges to a state demand of it both expertise and force development to successfully face the threats that it may be subjected to. He identified four such threats: The external threat externally abetted, the external threat internally abetted, the internal threat externally abetted and the internal threat internally abetted. Today we face all of them in varying degrees. Yet, a Comprehensive National Security Policy has not been articulated. Even if it does exist in some form, its application on ground is incoherent if not headless. It appears after each episodic disaster we face as a nation that we have learnt no lessons from the past, nor is there continuity of responses that could mitigate the sufferings that follow from such events.

Using the Kautilya analogy, it is instructive to identify the current threats to our security. First, the external threats: Afghanistan and Pakistan are the globally recognised epicentres of terrorism. A spillover to Jammu & Kashmir is a natural fallout and we are in its throes. With China, the International Border and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) are still not settled and what has happened in the recent past is a source of concern. In the South, Sri Lanka is reneging on its commitments towards its Tamil citizens and Tamil Nadu is in ferment. Even Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar make no bones about their problems with India and some have equidistanced themselves from their large neighbours. Maldives is in turmoil and is a deepening source of concern for us. The internal threats are no less worrying. Maoism/Naxalism, with its “Red” corridor spanning half a dozen states, besides interstate spats over water sharing are now routine and are increasingly vociferous. Thus, in today’s India, land, water, migration and energy creation, distribution and sharing are all sources of concern. All these can be categorised within the Kautilyan framework of threats and puerile political explanations do nothing to mitigate their wholly deleterious impact on national security.

Non-traditional threats

We also have to face the reality that there are at least six non-traditional threats that negatively impinge on our national security: Water, healthhttp://cdncache-a.akamaihd.net/items/it/img/arrow-10x10.png and the increasing possibility of pandemics, a debilitating energy crunch, stand-alone education not networked to employability resulting in spiralling levels of unemployment and underemployment, rapidly degrading environment, and not the least, abysmal levels of deployable technology — both indigenous and imported — complete the dismal round up. Manufacturing is now only 16 per cent of our GDP. Even in the much-touted services sector, discerning analysts call us the “labourers of the world”. Clearly we need to transit from a “labour arbitrage” economy to a “knowledge arbitrage” economy. How that is possible is another story but needs to be told —perhaps on a later occasion.

What then are the indicators of a truant National Security Policy? Firstly, is it there at all? If so, where is it? Who makes it? Who disseminates it? Who is calling the shots on Security Policy? What inputs are required to make one, and who provides them? Secondly, if there is one, does Parliament, and through it the common man need to know? If not, why not?

Let us, for a moment, assume there is one. The question that then begs answering is, as to why so many reports written by successive committees under different governments are lying in cold storage? These reports deal with urgent national issues of water sharing, defence, defence production, health, labour, environment, innovation, research and development etc.

Some allied questions also need to be raised. Where is the priority for operational readiness? If push comes to shove who will be held accountable? The Rules of Business suggest it ought to be the Defence Secretary but we all know the grim reality. These rules have never been applied so far. Why are we net importers of security equipment? What happened to the Scientific Adviser’s assertion in 2002 of a 70:30 ratio of indigenous to imported security equipment delivery schedule? It was then, as it is now, a pious statement devoid of a blueprint to execute it. We cannot in any case procure because the loser of a contract bid starts complaining anonymously and the process collapses.

Lack of accountability

Who monitors the National Technology Base? Where are we in the Human Resource Development, innovation, healthhttp://cdncache-a.akamaihd.net/items/it/img/arrow-10x10.png, farming and agriculture practices’ indices? These are sample questions but serve to amplify a lassitude; that has consumed, like a cancer, our core understanding of what makes a nation work towards taking its place among the hierarchy of effective and powerful nations. The question that nevertheless begs an answer is why do successive governments relegate the demands of National Security to ridiculous levels of apathy?

Glaring shortcomings

An objective scan shows that the current arrangement has glaring shortcomings; some inbuilt, some contrived, some personality and mindset led and some a fallout of inadequate experience, lack of exposure and an inability to “think through” by our apex-level decision makers. The problem gets exacerbated by a near-total lack of a world-class work ethic, including networking among key advisers, staff and concerned ministries that allows for structured as opposed to “gut level” thereby subjective formulation of a focused “India First” national security policy. Consequently, the list of knee-jerk policy responses that we keep making are legion. The key take-home is stark and uncompromising: strategy and policy are two sides of the same coin and a truant national security policy and therefore an absent national security strategy has perversely scarred India’s strategic decision-making matrix.

Look at the tell-tale signs. Around 1.25 billion Indians with a lion’s share of the youngest male and female population in the world; young people with a creativity index better than most nations; people with energy, verve and an infectious we-can-and-we-will:just-give-us-a-chance attitude today find themselves eminently unemployable. A country that has a stunning array of nature’s bounty in perennial snow-fed and peninsular rivers is today faced with rapidly depleting water resources because we are hidebound and sadly dated in rain water/aquifer water harvesting and conservation techniques. The agricultural sector has been in stasis and has witnessed a sharp rise in farmer suicides. Our health, women and child welfare, our basic hygiene and environment conservation standards are at low levels; amongst the lowest in the world and, pretty unsurprisingly, we have a GDP that is declining and dismissive of the benefits emerging from new technology/new methods of wealth creation.

Shortchanging citizens

Although all this might look disconnected, look at the image this has created. Culpable Italian Marines have to be let off, Ms. Khobragade strip-searched, former Presidents frisked, bank accounts of proclaimed cheats released, our fishermen jailed, our prisoners in neighbouring countries beaten to death, soldiers’ throats slit. Armed patrols of neighbours walk in and out, migrants are here to stay, and the haves/have-nots’ divide has become uglier.

Isn't it the first call of a democratically elected, legally constituted government to ensure the security of its citizens? Why is the citizen; the basic building-block of the nation repeatedly and mindlessly shortchanged in all aspects of his/her life and living? It is time that the new political dispensation that comes into power by end May 2014 takes stock and draws a comprehensive, unique, well-thought-through and synergised blueprint to address these deep and abiding concerns. Partisan debates of blame game are now passé. The citizens deserve an appropriate response and it can no longer be left to fate and providence to resolve. 

The writer retired as the Western Army Commander. Post retirement, he has served as DG CII and as a member of the National Security Advisory Board.

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