Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Towards A National Security Doctrine 

Article No.:
Towards A National Security Doctrine
Ali Ahmed
A proto national security doctrine appears to be readily available in the speeches of the National Security Adviser (NSA). Since India has not put out an ‘official’ national strategy paper, his version therefore must suffice as the closest strategists in India and outside can get to India’s official strategic thinking. This article brings out his views on critical issues to suggest that since they naturally correspond to those of the government, they could serve as skeleton for a national security strategy document.
From his speeches, Shivshankar Menon comes across as an adherent of a liberal strategic culture. This is in sync with the government’s subscription of a neo-liberalism. He accurately translates the thinking on security of the centrist political dispensation. Menon helps set the compass in dwelling on the most important aspect, Vision. From the doings of the National Advisory Council it is apparent that this is shared by the government. The Vision, in his words, is:
Our primary task now and for the foreseeable future is to transform and improve the life of the unacceptably large number of our compatriots who live in poverty, with disease, hunger and illiteracy as their companions in life. This is our overriding priority, and must be the goal of our internal and external security policies. Our quest is the transformation of India, nothing less and nothing more.
Having got this right is relatively easy since there are less appealing contending visions such as self-aggrandisement by states. An aim to better the lot of Indian people commands a wide consensus. Its unambiguous articulation makes it is easier to arrive at and evaluate policy options towards this end. The ministries, institutions and agencies in the security sphere can then busy themselves with crafting respective strategies within the parameters set by the National Security Council.
For instance, the options in the defence sector range from defensive power through offensive capability to aggrandizement. With the aim settled, defence priorities are non-controversially arrived at. In Menon’s words these are: ‘We, therefore, need to work for a peaceful periphery. Our goal must be defence, not offense, unless offense is necessary for deterrence or to protect India's ability to continue its own transformation. We must develop the means to defend ourselves.’
This setting of the compass in this manner is an essential prerequisite. It helps limit the perception of threat and demands on how to combat these, that otherwise are in danger of being quite extensive. It also keeps India from being mistaken as a threat by others. This could create a security dilemma for neighbours, a possibility sensibly sensed by the NSA in his statement, ‘It is true that absolute security for one country means absolute insecurity for all others. That is why it is also necessary to look at the sort of world we are living in and at the reactions that our pursuits will provoke from others.’
However, the NSC system was created by an executive order of the cabinet secretariat. The NSA has an advisory responsibility and supplements the cabinet secretariat and the PMO coordination mandate. Its absence of statutory powers limits its capacity for the latter task since in a parliamentary system line ministries have authority, responsibility and power. In effect, the NSA’s articulation is in itself not quite binding and requires ownership by the government in its using the speeches as a base for its national security strategy document.
The NSA hints that absence of a written strategic doctrine may prove temporary, stating, ‘Government have recently established a Task Force to review and evaluate the effectiveness of our national security structures to see whether and how they could better serve our present needs. The Task Force will make its recommendations for the future soon, and I hope that it will enable us to move towards the holistic integration of the instruments of state power that is needed today to meet these challenges.’
That said an advantage of articulation is in the government’s position getting known. It helps in demanding accountability, in that the government cannot now be all things to all people at the same time. It helps persuade the electorate and skeptics of, firstly, the existence of a policy and, secondly, the appropriateness of resulting strategy.
For instance, in his Cariappa Memorial lecture last month the NSA outlined a preferred manner of managing force, embedding it in the wider orchestration of instruments of power, stating: ‘The expanded spectrum requires that we seek jointedness, that much used but less practiced word, not just between services but with the other instruments of state power.’
But the NSA’s speeches are no more than what they purport to be, speeches. The government must take ownership of the position by taking out a national strategy document. This is not a task that can be outsourced to the Naresh Chandra Task Force, currently reviewing national security structures and processes, nor one that needs await its recommendation. The next steps towards an Indian national strategy document are self-evident, given that the draft already exists.
This spelling out the contours is useful for citizens to know where the government stands, helps bring the disparate security agencies and institutions onto the same page and makes India predictable to its foreign interlocutors. The document could serve as focus of the debate between the competing schools of strategic culture – hyperrealist, liberal and neo-realist and ‘alternative’ strategic culture. Given that India is a subcontinent sized state, unnatural expectations of consensus cannot be entertained.
It would serve as a useful precedent by forcing succeeding governments to articulate their positions on security as is done in other mature democracies. The position on security by political parties must find mention in their manifestos, enabling exercise of democratic choice. This would ensure political India tunes into security and security acquires a wider audience than its current confines to attentive India.
Ali Ahmed is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA)

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