Why New Delhi needs a national security strategy - Hindustan Times
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Why New Delhi needs a national security strategy

Jun 25, 2024 09:08 PM IST

What’s holding New Delhi back from promulgating a National Security Strategy that would streamline such decision-making and help its aatmanirbharta campaign in defence?

Every organisation of repute has a macro plan to guide and synchronise the activities of its sub-elements to achieve organisational goals. There are two parts to this endeavour — the determination of the organisational aim and guidance for each sub-group to work in unison to achieve it. This becomes an inescapable imperative when considering something as vital as a nation’s security, with each element of national power — economy, industry, commerce, taxation, justice, foreign policy, internal security, and defence — working in unison for ensuring an inviolate security cocoon. To ensure the required unison from each element, a National Security Strategy (NSS) is necessary to guide policy- and strategy-making. Unfortunately, India lacks one and a recent statement of the chief of defence staff suggests that New Delhi doesn’t require one. The new government needs to urgently address this issue.

National security is just not about defence but is a whole-of-government approach that needs orchestration by the political executive head, not by the defence minister. (Photo by Rakesh BAKSHI / AFP) (AFP)
National security is just not about defence but is a whole-of-government approach that needs orchestration by the political executive head, not by the defence minister. (Photo by Rakesh BAKSHI / AFP) (AFP)

How do nations that wield power of consequence plan their security? The American NSS states that, “We will... galvanise collective action on global challenges, and shape the rules of the road for technology, cybersecurity, and trade and economics…. Our approach encompasses all elements of national power — diplomacy, development cooperation, industrial strategy, economic statecraft, intelligence, and defence”. The road map is, thus, clearly spelt out for all arms of the government.

The French NSS lists out 10 priority areas that include Euro-Atlantic relationship and capacity to defend and act in hybrid fields. The NSS of the United Kingdom states that, “the stability and resilience of our economy and society is a precondition of our security… we must preserve the huge benefits that stem from our openness while ensuring that we are protected from the worst effects of global disruption, transnational challenges, or to hostile interference. That means improving our economic, health and energy security” The Russian NSS, similarly, reinforces the common theme of every NSS that, “the strategy is founded on the inseparable interconnection and mutual dependence of the national security of the Russian Federation and the socio-economic development of the country.”

All NSSs are signed by the executive heads of government, ensuring that all arms of the government are, by law, on the same page on national security. The rationale behind the endorsement at the highest level is pertinent: National security is just not about defence but is a whole-of-government approach that needs orchestration by the political executive head, not by the defence minister.

What has been happening in India?

“The defence minister’s op directive conveys the government’s intention, and that suffices”, goes a refrain. “We have won four wars without a written NSS, so what’s the need for one,” goes another. One has lately heard that “Israel doesn’t have one, despite its challenging security environment,” missing the point that Israeli society and institutions are militarised whereas all Indian institutions, other than the armed forces, are civilianised.

A decade ago, I was looking after procurement plans in HQ Integrated Defence Staff. The 15-year tri-services long-term integrated perspective plan (LTIPP) for the acquisition of capital equipment, duly passed by the Defence Acquisition Council (headed by the defence minister), was forwarded to the finance ministry; it also carried an estimated costing, and hence the budgeting that was required. The LTIPP, however, lacked a macro-level government policy statement to support it and hence was just a defence ministry wish list flying on hope. One wonders whether this has changed for the better with some surety of the defence acquisition plan having “government” acceptance. However, the despatch of empowered teams abroad for emergency armament purchases after recent border crises makes one wonder whether a duly published NSS would have avoided the haphazard costly purchases — as the output of other relevant government arms would have been synchronised with the duties of the defence ministry.

So, while there is a huge furore about the delay in establishing theatre commands, the Agnipath scheme and whether the Navy needs another aircraft carrier, what’s holding New Delhi back from promulgating an NSS that would streamline such decision-making and help its aatmanirbharta campaign in defence? Is it that, being a formal written commitment of resources and political will to national security, the executive would be held accountable? It is time the new government grabs the proverbial bull by the horns and promulgates its NSS.

Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd) is the former addl director general, Centre for Air Power Studies. The views expressed are personal

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