<RT>EMERGING NATIONAL SECURITY SCENARIOS: POLICY PRESCRIPTIONS FOR INDIA
Lieutenant General Dushyant Singh* *PVSM, AVSM
Commandant, Army War College
1. Globally and regionally, the geo-political situation is becoming more and more complex and challenging.
2. Countries including major powers are employing proxy war, cyber war, and other grey zone activities to secure their national interests.
3. India needs to square up to the challenges of national security which calls for effectively dealing with the emerging security challenges through a “Whole of Government Approach”.
4. Pakistan should be engaged through diplomatic, economic, and non-contact warfare means, whilst keeping direct kinetic option as a last resort.
5. Engaging China needs nuanced tactics of war avoidance, minimum deterrence capability, calibrated nuclear policy, and competing actions on other fronts.
6. Terrorism must be dealt with all available means including building a counter-narrative and effective de-radicalisation programme.
There is no denying the fact that the world is becoming more and more turbulent. The great powers are blatantly indulging in proxy wars. The United States (US) is fighting for its interest through proxies in almost the entire Middle East (ME). It continues to remain involved in Afghanistan due to the increasing influence of Taliban over the Afghanistan territory and Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF). As regards Syria, it is a complex conundrum with the involvement of multiple players. Although the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is almost defeated, it has morphed into a devolved structure to avoid detection and destruction. It is also encouraging lone wolf and franchises to conduct terror attacks of the type it executed in Sri Lanka. Iran remains adamant and refuses to back down terming the US sanctions as unjustified. European countries have taken a differing stand over Iran and do not fully endorse the US approach. However, calling off the US strike in June 2019 by trump on Iran is a silver lining. It is indicative of a rational and well-considered decision. It also points towards the fact that great powers would like to avoid direct war as far as possible but such a position is tenable contingent to rational behaviour by the Iranian government and the stand taken by its Rahbar (Supreme Leader) Ali Khamenei. Further, Rebels of Houthi insurgency in Yemen sponsored by Iran as part of its ongoing traditional rivalry with Arab countries and the US sponsorship to these countries are likely to pose a serious threat in the Persian Gulf on the maritime assets. The number of attacks on oil tankers in June and July 2019 bears testimony to this inference.
In pursuance of its global power status, increasing forays by Chinese maritime forces into the Indo-Pacific especially in the South China Sea and Senkaku Island in the East China Sea opposite Japan, internal turmoil in Hong Kong, high handedness in Xinjiang and Tibet, does not augur well for the global security situation. Further, a series of tariff sanctions by the US on China has led to the weaponisation of global trade. The North and South Korean relationships remain under stress. North Korea continues to wage brinkmanship warfare to challenge the US.
<L1>Situation in the Neighbourhood
The situation in India’s neighbourhood is no better and continues to be a cause of concern. Pakistan is India’s major concern and immediate threat, but it is in no position to undertake the full-fledged conventional war. To impede the growth of India, it continues to wage a proxy war, enacting its infamous policy of “Bleeding India With Thousand Cuts.” This notwithstanding, Pakistan too is beset with terrorism and insurgencies along its Western Front. The country remains under the threat of Balkanisation with Pashtuns, Baluchis, Sindhis, and Punjabis deeply divided amongst each other. Economically also, it has grown weak. The Pakistani rupee has fallen to an all-time low of Rs 159. Its government debt liability has reached Rs 35.094 trillion which is 91.2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). To bail it out, the United Arab Emirates (the US $2 billion), Qatar (the US $3 billion), Saudi Arabia (the US $2 billion) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) (the US $6 billion) have extended over the US $11 billion aid. While an economically weak Pakistan may be a welcome development to some, it is also fraught with possible irrational steps by Pakistan as it is known to resort to major terror action which may hurl the two countries into war or a war-like situation. However, in the current security scenario, this is an ideal time to maintain non-kinetic pressure on Pakistan through economic means and diplomatic efforts. It must not be allowed to get away from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) sanctions unless it shows some concrete measures to curb terrorism especially directed at India. Evidence linking terror activity emanating from Pakistani soil must continue to be provided to the United Nation. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, the government is in control of only 50 percent of the country. The rest of the country is either firmly under the Taliban or being contested. With the US wanting to move out as early as possible, it has started negotiating with the Taliban. Pakistan is playing an important role in the ongoing talks. The US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is claiming to have made major progress on all fronts, i.e. counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, participation in intra-Afghan dialogue, negotiations, and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. While a peaceful solution is a welcome step, India’s position in the new arrangement as and when it emerges may become non-existent as we are not part of the ongoing parleys in the ongoing US-Taliban talks. This is strategically an undesirable development for India.
As regards our other neighbours are concerned, Chinese interference through Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, China Study Centers, major infrastructure projects such as pipelines, beachheads, tourist resorts, hospitals, dams, economic aid, and sales of military hardware is a cause of worry. Its access to Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, when viewed with its presence in Myanmar, Indonesia, the Maldives, and Gwadar port in Pakistan does not augur well for India’s security situation. It may be noted that China has garnered a 99-year lease of Hambantota as Sri Lanka had fallen into the debt trap of China. Likewise, it has obtained possession of an uninhabited island taken on lease for 50 years at a price of around US $4 million in the Maldives. Only saving grace is that with a change in the government there is a pro-India dispensation in the Maldives. This has forced China to suggest that India and China must work together in the Maldives. We need to fully exploit such instances. There are some reports that China is virtually colonising Myanmar. Various Chinese companies have and are still undertaking projects such as Myanmar-China pipeline, beachhead at Kyaukhpyu on Rakhine coast North West of Rangoon, 5,000-acre resort-industrial zone-Las Vegas in the middle of a jungle on the Thai Border. It is also building six hydropower projects including the massive Myitsone dam. A silver lining from India’s perspective is that lately these projects are held up due to environmental issues. The story is similar in other neighbouring countries except possibly Bhutan which remains India’s all-weather friend although even Bhutan is under constant Chinese pressure due to unsettled boundary issues. There is a common perception that India’s neighbours are the ones approaching China. However, a dispassionate analysis will reveal that China is making inroads into our neighbouring countries not because our neighbours want it but because China wants to intervene in the region to contain and limit India’s influence. Also, Chinese attempts to increase geo-political influence, for purely economic reasons and safeguard its sea-lanes of communication.
India itself is heavily dependent on China for economic activities like China has the world’s largest rare earth material deposits. The lead established by China in 5G technology development is resulting in a technological cold war between the US and China. If India lags in the next technological revolution we will never be able to emerge as a significant world power, leave aside becoming a regional power. Therefore, we need to indigenise in the field of 5G and other emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Quantum computing and manufacturing, etc. China’s continued involvement in China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan is a threat to India’s security besides being a sovereignty issue.
How do we resolve our borders with China which probably is at the root of our complex relations with China? Our relative disparity in defence and economic power is the other area that is hampering the resolution of our relations. The gap between the Indian defence technologies and China’s defence technology is so huge that it is virtually impossible for us to catch up with China. The reason for this is our differential in GDP. As of 2018 according to the IMF, the Indian economy was valued at the US $2.7 trillion while China’s stood at the US $13.4 trillion. The other major reason is that our defence forces are a buyer of weapons and equipment, whereas Chinese are makers of their defence needs including high-end technology.
<L1>Other Issues of Concern
The US-Russia standoff and abrogation of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty does not augur well both for the world peace and the Indian security. India is following a policy of strategic autonomy and therefore, relying on the Western countries as well as Russia for its defence needs. In a situation where India may have to choose sides on international security issues, our position will come under scrutiny by both sides. The US is looking at us as a partner. Its interest has shifted from the Far East to the East of the Far East. This is reflected in the renaming of its focus area from Asia-Pacific to Indo-Pacific. What are the likely impact of a current tariff war and shifting stances by Trump on Kashmir? These throw an important question as to the contours of emerging new world order and what is India’s position in it? More importantly what are going to be our possible national interests in the economic and security domain?
Matters have been made more complicated with Russia getting close to China. Where do we stand, especially, vis-à-vis, the US on issues such as INF or Iran? While taking a stand we also need to be cognizant of the fact that we are still an emerging power, unlike China and Russia. Although Russia may still be economically lagging, it is a formidable military power to reckon with. Due to the emerging triangular relationship of competition and the supposed cold war between the US-China and the US-Russia, a possible arms race may ensue and any arms race by our northern adversary China will impact India. Are we prepared for such a situation? Do we need to take firm sides given our shortfall in hard power, vis-à-vis, China? Although, the situation seems challenging but a careful consideration will reveal that it may not be so grave, at least in the short-term time horizon of 8 to 10 years. Reasons for such a conclusion are based on the following factors:
- India is no pushover and cannot be dealt with in the manner it was treated in 1962. The Doklam incident is a strong pointer.
- While we are technologically far behind, India has embarked on some niche technology development which has given it the required minimum edge such as the anti-satellite and missile technologies.
- India does possess reasonable triad capability, which can assure realistic deterrence.
- China under Xi Jinping is striving to emerge as a global power for which it has laid down a road map. While any large-scale conflict between China and India seems unlikely in the interests of both the nations; however, the occurrence of localised conflict cannot be ruled out.
- We also need to be cognisant of the fact that India is beset with the problems of terrorism/extremism in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), north-east (NE), and central Indian states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Do we have any plans for de-radicalisation or will we continue to rely only on kinetic power to resolve internal security problems? (Terrorism affected areas of the country are shown in Map 1.)
Map 1 States Effected with Terrorism/Naxalism
<L1>National Security Structures
Any country to execute its security measures needs a well-considered National Security Strategy. While we have a National Security Architecture in place, it needs to be refined for quick and optimal responses. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has integrated the Armed Forces in its fold, but a complete amalgamation is yet to fructify. The Indian Armed Forces have achieved a fair level of jointmanship within; however, integration remains a distance away. Appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in January 2020, along with a separate department and mandate is a positive step in the direction; however, its successful and uninterrupted functioning needs to be watched. Likewise, our intelligence-gathering effort has improved manifold with the creation of the Joint Intelligence Cell (JIC), but the pragmatic mechanism for real-time sharing of operational intelligence remains an issue. The earlier we address these issues the better it will be for India’s security.
<L1>Policy Prescriptions at the National Level
Various facets of security interests which India is currently grappling with in a highly vulnerable, uncertain, complex and ambiguous global and regional security environment qualifies to be truly termed as wicked problem defying easy solutions. It needs a whole of government approach while addressing the various security problems discussed in the earlier section of the paper. Accordingly, a broad suggested security policy prescriptions in tackling Pakistan, China, Terrorism, National Security Structures including Higher Defence Organisation, ways to deal with gray zone warfare and technological challenges are dealt with below
At the top of the agenda remains the engagement of Pakistan. Some strategists suggest peaceful coexistence as a rational mechanism to deal with Pakistan. Use of force in a calibrated manner, if required, should remain an option. Abrogation of articles 370 and 35 A is a huge initiative by the government in the right direction. However, the Valley needs delicate handling. At this stage, the solution lies in the security domain and curbs can only be lifted once the situation is under control. Pakistan’s interference cannot be ignored and in this matter, our response should be realistic and proactive. The impact of any action by Pakistan will have an impact on the domestic policy, so our technological and human intelligence mechanisms have to be robust.
Balakot has rightly surprised the Pakistanis, who initially believed that Indians cannot take any aggressive action. Even in the Balakot strike, Pakistan created a perception that it came off better than India, especially in the battle of narratives. We need to learn our lessons and focus on Non-Contact Warfare aspects of the security strategy. Introduction of professional Information Warriors to address the emerging threats posed by adversary’s Information Warfare is the need of the hour. Creation of a Director General Media (DG Media) directly under the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), with the clear-cut mandate of sending strategic military messaging in times of conflict, with the help of available media experts in the field will ensure that we remain a mile ahead in the perception domain. The institutions of Defence Public Relation Officers (PROs) needs to be placed under the DG Media. Additional Directorate General Public Information (ADG PI) of the Indian Army and equivalent directorates of other services must also be upgraded and empowered accordingly. There also exists a remote possibility that the US might need Pakistan (as is happening in Afghanistan) in the future to deal with Russia or China
We need to diplomatically continue to deny such a position. However, to do this we must strengthen our diplomatic cadre which is just over 1,200 officers, vis-à-vis, China which is over 7,500. Otherwise, incidents such as the US’s move to declare Baluchistan’s Liberation Army (BLA) as a terrorist organization will continue to surprise us. We must realise that it is a setback to the Baluch Freedom movement and boost to Pakistan.
It is recommended that Pakistan should be dealt in a manner that it behaves, as far as possible through diplomatic, economic, and Non-Contact Warfare means, whilst keeping direct kinetic option as a last resort. Pakistan is already facing immense economic challenges. We could undertake additional proactive measures to aggravate the crisis through economic warfare. Sun Tzu’s suggestion of defeating the enemy without physically fighting must be the way ahead.
As highlighted earlier, China is a real challenge. It needs to be managed carefully till we build our defence capabilities and attain reasonable economic strength. We also need to consider that India-China relations are defined by the simultaneous interplay of competition, conflict, and cooperation. We need to be prepared for all possible contingencies such as cooperation in the sphere of economic activities and competition in the extension of influence in the region including in the maritime domain through alliances and partnerships. We also need to continuously prepare for a full-fledged conflict with Pakistani collusivity built into our response strategy in the long term. In the short and medium terms, maintain the capability to deal with localised conflict. War avoidance must remain the preferred option. Minimum deterrence capability should remain in place. Our nuclear card needs to be played carefully. It may be time now to relook at our no first use policy and articulate a more ambiguous policy.
China is currently generating a large political traction due to its BRI and Silk Route Initiative. However, we need to internationally highlight its possible failure due to countries falling into the debt trap and getting virtually colonised. Sri Lanka is a live example. Similarly, its real intentions in Myanmar, Africa, etc., need to be highlighted in bilateral closed-door parleys and discussions with countries such as Indonesia which is China’s largest investor in BRI with an investment of the US $2.37 billion in 2019, in approximately over 1,562 projects. Given a fresh set of investment deals signed in the recent past it will soon become the largest investor in Indonesia. This has serious security ramifications for India for if China gets hold of Indonesian facilities then it will virtually control the Malacca Straits. (Map 2).It will also be within a striking distance of India given its presence in Gwadar, Hambantota, and Indonesia as and when it gets control in Indonesia.
Map 2: Strait of Malacca
<L1>Dealing with Terrorism
The world is feeling the impact of terrorism. The enormity of the problem can be seen from the terrorism threat Map 3. We must utilise non-kinetic measures besides hard power to deal with radical ideologies, especially radical Islamic Jihadi. All available means must be used such as building a counter-narrative and effective de-radicalisation programme through Information Operations and Psychological Warfare. A genuine action plan must be undertaken to curb terror financing by attacking the Hawala trail. The over ground supporters should be dealt through talks, money, and force. Foreign flow of terrorists and funding including propaganda needs to be blocked. Positive stories of locals standing-up for national cause must be continuously highlighted. Some specific steps to deal with terrorism are as follows:
- The anti-infiltration grid has been strengthened; however, in view of the terrain and weather challenges, we need to optimise the grid with the use of smart technology, effective intelligence at the ground level, and better human resource management between the various stakeholders manning the same.
- Choke foreign funding and Hawala trails using all internal and international mechanisms such as Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and Interpol.
- Delegitimise and disempower overground leaders (OGWs) by highlighting their weaknesses in the public through sustained Information Operations. Utilise professionals for the job, in addition to the security forces. Recent measures by the government post-abrogation of Article 370 seem to be proving effective in managing this problem; however, the long-term viability needs to be watched.
- Delegitimise radical jihadi ideologies and encourage alternate voices. These initiatives must emerge from the Islamic community. There are several soft voices in the Islamic community which actively oppose radical Islamic Jihadi groups. We must co-opt them in our response mechanism.
- Educating the players involved in dealing with counter-terrorism from falling prey to “us versus them” thinking. Also, take measures to promote a just cause strategy of the government. Covertly, government-sponsored psychological campaign should focus on the “just cause.” However, for undertaking the offensive psychological campaign, we should promote it through non-government organisations (NGOs). Events such as the Fatwa issued by over 5,000 clerics of the Deobandi sect, in India decrying terrorist acts and calling upon the Muslim populations to oppose terrorism need to become the centrepiece of such information and psychological campaigns worldwide.
- Exercise a certain amount of control over communication, in extreme contingencies, to stifle the hard-core actors of the system such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), local militant groups, Hurriyat leaders, and other trouble makers party to the conflict in Kashmir.
Map 3: World Terror Threat Map
<L1>Higher Defence Structures
Defence reforms are needed in India in the domain of formulation of the strategy, as also in the refinement of national security structures. The National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) have been reformed and re-strengthened. The formation of the Defense Planning Group has also added to better resolution of national security measures. However, there is more that needs to be done. The creation of a separate Department of Military Affairs (DMA), headed by CDS, under the Raksha Mantri (Defence Minister), with the clear-cut mandate and business rules is a giant leap in that direction. The three service headquarters under the CDS now need to evolve joint structures in areas common to war fighting such as Air Defence, Aviation, Cyberspace, Information Warfare, Intelligence, Special Forces, and Space. Theatre commands on the lines of the Chinese Theatre Commands have to come in sooner or later. Intelligence sharing needs to be fully enmeshed with each other including the Intelligence Bureau and Research and Analysis Wing at the national level. The concept of Multi Agency Centre (MAC) and State Multi Agency Centre (SMAC) needs to be exploited further as a platform for timely and effective intelligence sharing.
Likewise, Research and Development have to be given full focus if India wants to become a self-reliant Armed Forces. We must cut down our defence expenditure on the revenue side and enhance capital high-tech procurements. Technology has to become the bedrock of future warfare with a focus on niche technology through “Make in India” initiatives. In this regard, privatisation and involvement of foreign collaboration are essential.
<L1>Alliances and Balancing
India under the present government is moving away from the shadows and evolving a robust foreign policy. An aggressive alliance with Vietnam and Indonesia would enhance our reach for deterrence against China. We need to scale-up our strategic and economic engagements, keeping it just below the Chinese sensitivities.
Internationally we should be aiming to balance our equations with the US, Russia, and China. There is an urgent need to recalibrate our engagement with Iran, with our specific energy needs, which requires diversification. Nations with unstable regimes in South Africa and South America, also need to be tapped for energy needs, thereby ensuring that our national interests are met at all times.
We are living in the time of a technological tsunami. The revolution has now transformed into disruption in this field. Our adversary, especially China, has taken a huge stride in this domain and we would fail in the catch-up game. We need to change our approach and focus on developing niche capabilities, viz., Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, Drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Hypersonic, Block Chain, etc. There is an urgent need to skip a sequential phase and jump to the next level in the technology development game to ensure national security.
<L1>Grey Zone Capabilities
Nation states are no more operating in a clear domain. The activities tend to be in the grey zone while engaging each other. Countries like the US, Russia, and China are the emerging players in this field. India could also look at enhancing its grey zone capabilities, keeping in view our national character and objectives.
India is faced with three major security problems—Pakistan, China, and terrorism. In dealing with these issues several other areas come into play such as diplomacy, economic measures besides the security forces and civil administration. Therefore, for such actions to succeed a “whole of government” approach is mandatory. Without a holistic approach, we are unlikely to successfully tackle the national security situation. China needs to be dealt with in the overarching matrix of cooperation, competition, and conflict being the cornerstones of the policy. As far as Pakistan is concerned, it needs to be dealt with strongly but war should not be the primary aim. The effort should be to corner it on terrorism using all available means at the disposal of the country. As far as possible we need to avoid covert means but as we know the nature of Pakistani state, which is a deep state run mostly by the ISI, we need not hesitate in using all means at our disposal including covert. Finally, we need to believe in the saying of Chanakya, “Security, Wealth, and Prestige are the cornerstone of any grand strategy for National Security.” while formulating our way ahead.
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LT GEN DUSHYANT SINGH, PVSM, AVSM
COMDT, ARMY WAR COLLEGE
Lieutenant General Dushyant Singh, PVSM, AVSM, Commandant Army War College was commissioned into the “Infantry” in 1981. He is an alumnus of the National Defence College and Naval Post Graduate School, Monterey California (USA). He has extensive command and staff experience in varied theatres of operations, which include Command of Corps and a Division along the Western borders in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. Before relinquishing his service he headed the prestigious Army War College. Officer has published several articles in leading professional journals including two Chapters on “Terrorism” in Books by SAGE Publication.
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