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National security challenges in the decade ahead

  • Security
  • 1 Years ago
  • 4 min read
India,  national security,  challenges


Manoj Naravane
Manoj Naravane - Former Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army

If you do not read your scriptures, you will lose your culture; but if you do not pick up your weapons, you will lose your Nation.

When one thinks of National Security, the first thought that comes to mind is the Armed Forces and conjures up images of tanks, military equipment and soldiers in their ceremonial uniforms. However, National Security is not military security alone i.e., safeguarding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation, but has many other dimensions, including, energy security, food and water security, cyber-security and even health security. National security also extends to trans-national crimes by state and non-state actors e.g., drug-running, that affects the very fabric of our Nation.

It is necessary, therefore, to adopt a Whole-of-Nation Approach to the issue of National Security, which is the primary duty of the Government. In this, the Diplomacy-Information-Military-Economic (DIME) concept leveraging all instruments of national power to ensure comprehensive National Security, is essential. Moreover, all four facets have to be complementary to each other in pursuance of a common defined aim. For example, on the one hand, it has been stated in a number of fora that relations with China cannot be normalised unless the border imbroglio is resolved. On the other hand, trade with China continues apace, and volumes have only increased post the 2020 stand-off in Eastern Ladakh. This sends mixed signals to the country, the global community, but most importantly to China, for whom resolution of the border issue becomes inconsequential, as long as trade is flourishing.

There is no getting away from the fact that India has un-settled borders, in the West with Pakistan and to the North and East with the Tibet region of China, which will always be at the forefront of our national security calculus. Pakistan has a GDP of barely US $0.34 trillion, that is about one tenth of India’s at about US $3.3 trillion, which is about one-fifth of China’s at US $17.7 trillion, which in turn is little more than half that of the United States at US $23.0 trillion. Yet in this equation, China sees itself as a competitor to the United States, and challenges it at every forum, and Pakistan continues to be a thorn in our side. So, while the Markhor heckles the Elephant, the Elephant is strangely silent before the Dragon. The difference is that both these countries, China and Pakistan, are able to drive a Whole of Nation Approach using all the instruments of national power, overt and covert.

 "It is necessary to adopt a Whole-of-Nation Approach to the issue of National Security, which is the primary duty of the Government."

In the DIME paradigm, Diplomacy and Economy are perhaps being used effectively. If India is falling short, it is in the other two factors, of Information (Warfare) and Military. Much can be done in the Military sphere, but first and foremost, the Armed Forces have to be made part of the decision-making process, right from the policy level. A most welcome step has been the creation of the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff and the Department of Military Affairs. Yet it falls short, as the CDS is equal in status to the Service Chiefs, a primus inter pares, and not elevated to five-star level, and not even a permanent member of the Cabinet Committee on Security. Unless this hesitation to take the Armed Forces fully on board, borne out of experiences of militaries in our neighbourhood is overcome, India can never hope to fully realise its potential in the global arena.

Within the military domain, there is much that can and needs to be done. The first is to realise that we are preparing for the wars of tomorrow and we have to look at National Security challenges likely to arise over the next twenty to thirty years. Accordingly, we have to invest more in high technology and move from being a manpower intensive to a technologically empowered Army. But in doing so, the ground realities of un-settled borders and requirement of ‘boots on ground’ cannot be ignored. Finding the right balance between the two is the greatest challenge, for territory lost is lost. For this, we have to focus on niche and emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, Block Chains, Internet of Things, etc.  to name a few. We have to identify what is going to be the proverbial ‘high ground’ in future conflicts. Will it shift from mastery over the air to control of space, or maybe in the cyber warfare domain? Or both? Identifying this military ‘Centre of Gravity’, developing competencies therein, and then using it to its own advantage, while at the same time denying its use to our possible adversaries, will decide the course of future wars.

The next major shift that has to be contemplated is that of Unmanned Systems. These systems are becoming increasingly autonomous, with the integration of Artificial Intelligence, potentially making human intervention redundant. Will piloted aircraft become a thing of the past? Yet this also raises some ethical issues. A first step in this direction could be through Manned and Unmanned Teaming (MAUT), where a human operated system controls several similar unmanned systems. These  perform their tasks autonomously but with a human oversight and an ability to abort function. This would then bring in a measure of accountability. This is an aspect that must be addressed urgently as investing in platforms and weapons systems relevant in the past are unlikely to meet the requirements of the future battlefield. This would result in wasting critical resources at a time of budgetary constraints.

"There is an urgent need for a ‘Revolution in Bureaucratic Affairs’. Existing procedures are archaic and need to be updated to keep pace with rapid technological advancements as systems are becoming obsolete at a faster rate."

Finally, there is an urgent need for a ‘Revolution in Bureaucratic Affairs’. Existing procedures are archaic and need to be updated to keep pace with rapid technological advancements as systems are becoming obsolete at a faster rate.  If red-tapism delays the acquisition and induction process, the ‘new’ system may already be obsolete by the time it is put into use. This is particularly true for Electronic Warfare systems where technological developments are exponential. That bureaucratic hurdles are a serious issue can be gauged from the fact that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a National Conference of all Chief Secretaries held at New Delhi on 7 Jan, 2023, called upon the Chief Secretaries to “focus on ending mindless compliances and outdated laws and rules…. [He said] …in a time when India is initiating unparalleled reforms, there is no scope for over regulation and mindless restrictions”. The focus has to be on the product and not the process.

The conflict in Ukraine has amply highlighted that conventional wars are neither passé, nor likely to be short and swift. The only way to prevent war is to be prepared for it, for which a careful analysis of threats, their relative priorities and desired (futuristic) capabilities is essential. It is well known that Intention and Capabilities are two sides of the same coin and that while intentions can change overnight, capabilities take decades to develop. The time to act is now.

(Exclusive to NatStrat)


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