India should issue a ‘National Security Policy’ Document by Dr Namrata Goswami, Senior Analyst and Minerva Grantee.
The idea behind a National Security Policy (NSP) document is to inform one’s own citizens about the directions that the democratic state is undertaking with regard to its national security and foreign policy. The essence of such a document is an informed citizenry, including those citizens who serve in the bureaucracy and the military. Given all those who find their place in the national and state legislatures in India are elected by the people, it is only fitting that those who represent them are transparent with regard to their official undertakings. It can never be forgotten that people elect leaders to act on their behalf, and should be kept informed from time to time, about what their leaders pursue as a national security vision. Moreover, a NSP is a signal to allies and partners in the foreign policy arena as to the goals India sets for itself on its path to preferred end-states, and the strategy it adopts to get there.
For now, as it stands, most of us citizens, and others, trying to make sense of Indian national security priority and goals are left contending, trying to find some discernible patterns in speeches given by Indian Prime Ministers and Presidents, or its External Affairs Minister, or from the debates that take place in parliament, as to the directions of Indian national security policy and goals. As a consequence, this results in faulty interpretations, as well as overt bureaucratization, secrecy, and lack of transparency, which goes against the idea of an informed citizenry specifically within the Indian democratic context. This opaqueness further hinders ‘cutting edge’ ground-breaking national security research, by independent scholars, who could offer valuable insights to forward national security innovations and interests. Given India’s economic growth and growing influence on the world stage, it is only pertinent that a NSP should be issued, similar in tenor and spirit to the excellent Indian Navy’s Maritime Security Strategy published in 2015. For example, at the World Economic Forum (WEF) held in Davos, Switzerland, Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted India’s support for democratization, globalization, and its commitment to address climate change during his address. He spoke out against protectionist measures stating, “instead of globalization, the power of protectionism is putting its head up…their wish is not only to save themselves from globalization, but to change the natural flow of globalization”. I believe such speeches should be backed by a NSP, registering Indian inter-agency institutional backing to policy speeches, adding weight and depth to Indian commitments towards international security. If as Modi asserted at Davos, that India could show the way in dealing with the three challenges he highlighted (terrorism, protectionism, and climate change), that leadership role should be highlighted in the NSP.
The preamble to the Indian Constitution, clearly states ‘we, the people of India, have solemnly resolved to constitute India, into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic’. This makes it clear that the representatives of India are its citizens, no matter what positions they hold in life and that all are equal before law. It is appropriate that citizens be informed about the general directions, without revealing classified details, of India’s national security undertakings thereby strengthening India’s democratic ethos. The task of writing a NSP should be undertaken by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), along with the National Security Council (NSC), spearheaded by his National Security Advisor (NSA). This document should be released at the beginning of every year, so that citizens are informed about what their representatives envision as India’s national security priorities.
Recommendation: What could be India’s stated National Security Priorities?
There are three core national security priorities for India. First is to maintain the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India. Second is to ensure India’s economic growth and military modernization. Third is to promote peace and security in its strategic neighborhood.
1) Maintaining India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty
Policy: Some might argue that this is stating the obvious. But most government documents are about stating the obvious, as a way of reminding the citizens they serve as to what governments are there for: public service. Such a documental reassurance is especially critical for areas in India that face pervasive violence from non-state actors demanding secession, to include the Northeast of India and Kashmir, as well as a state like Arunachal Pradesh that recently witnessed Chinese road-building activities. This took place in the aftermath of the 2017 Doklam crisis in which Indian and Chinese troops faced-off each other for more than a month in Bhutan, leading to heightened global speculations of conflict escalation in a nuclearized environment. China claims the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh as its territory and will utilize such road-building activities to highlight its claim and threaten India. Consequently, the Indian NSP should clearly name China as a ‘territorial aggressor’ and a revisionist power, while at the same-time reassuring its citizens in Arunachal Pradesh that the Indian military will secure and protect their ancestral land.For instance, on December 26, 2017, Chinese civilian track construction company crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Tuting area of Arunachal Pradesh with their road-building equipment. Indian official statements asserting that this is due to differing perceptions of the LAC is not enough to assuage entrenched local sentiments and fears of Chinese encroachment. Moreover, both China and India have, time and again, committed via written agreements to honor the LAC; surely, there has to be some common understanding of the LAC. Otherwise, why sign these agreements on behalf of the citizens of India, especially those in Arunachal Pradesh, who are directly impacted, if there is no assurance from China that it would not constantly take advantage of this ‘differing perception’ of LAC argument to cross it and then have it justified on the ‘differing perceptions” rationale. It only works to China’s advantage. While rhetorically committing to maintain ‘status quo’, China aims at territorial revision by stating, ‘actually, our understanding of LAC status-quo is wildly different’. The NSP should make it clear that India will not tolerate any threat to its citizens from either Pakistan or China, especially via cross-border terrorism from Pakistan and transgression by the Chinese PLA to the Indian side of the LAC thereby creating a fear psychosis for Indian citizens. During my field visits to the border areas of Arunachal Pradesh, in interviews with local people living there, I got the sense that they perceived that somehow the national government in Delhi did not really care about their fears, in its attempts to downplay Chinese aggressions across the border. The NSP should address these local fears. Recently, China sold to Pakistan, the Wing Loong I, a large combat drone, which is a medium-altitude long-endurance drone built by the Chinese firm Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). This drone was sighted via satellite images at the Alam Air Base in Mianwali, Pakistan.
An NSP document should also ideally include reassurance for areas like Jammu and Kashmir where peace is routinely disturbed by cross-border terrorism. India witness violence in several of its Naxal or left-wing extremism affected states, propelled by an ideology of an alternative state system to be achieved through People’s war. This, the Naxals aim to achieve, by their People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) with an armed strength between 8, 000 to 10, 000 cadres. The NSP must outline how the state aims to tackle such non-state armed violence, especially in areas it governs.
Strategy: The Indian state’s national security strategy to deal with Chinese aggression or cross-border insurgency/terrorism, for instance by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) or NSCN-K in 2015, or by Pakistan based terrorist groups, has been to challenge such aggression by visible demonstration of military power as well as destroy terrorist camps by special forces units. This occurred both with regard to NSCN-K camps in the Indo-Myanmar border and the terrorist camps in the Indo-Pakistan border. With regard to left wing extremism, India has utilized law enforcement and special police forces. This strategy should be clearly articulated in the NSP document, aimed at providing much required coordination amongst federal and state agencies on the line. The NSP should coherently state India’s willingness to pursue and negate threats to its territorial integrity and sovereignty from external agencies and groups. While understood orally, it is more effective to have it stated in a written document.
2) Economic Growth and Military Modernization
Policy: India’s viability as a robust democracy is dependent on economic growth and a military capable of defending its borders. India ranked 40th out of 137 countries on the WEF’s list of being globally competitive, and its infrastructure and institutions are not yet robust. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to spend USD 60 billion in Indian infrastructure, that would depend on tax generation and a healthy economic growth  India’s ranking in the global corruption index by Transparency International was low, with it being designated the most corrupt country in the Asia-Pacific. A Forbes study found that corruption is rampant in education, health, and other public services. Consequently, 73 per cent of bribes are paid in India for work in the public sector in order to procure identification documents, police reports, mandatory for getting passports, or ration cards for social benefits. Sadly, people most affected by these corrupt practices, are devastatingly poor, and view themselves as disempowered citizens with little or no influence, their lives ruled by fear of those in power. The NSP document should establish Indian citizens’ entitlement to their social benefits as a matter of national security and make it a priority. It should severely penalize those found guilty of taking advantage of people’s desperation. It is indeed a matter of national security, as most of the secessionist movements in Northeast India and the Naxal conflict have identified causes such as political disempowerment, lack of dignity, state repression and absence of economic opportunity as reasons for taking up violence.
Along with a stress on economic development aimed at citizen’s prosperity and happiness, India clearly needs a social security system that guarantees benefits to its citizens. When one travels to remote areas of India, it is heart-breaking to see people living in abject poverty and zero access to the kind of facilities one might see in cities. One elderly woman in Dhansiripar, Nagaland, incredulously asked me, “what state benefits are you talking about”, as she made dinner over her fire-wood stove in a bamboo hut that had neither electricity nor running water. Moreover, fears of state repression has led to ethnic communities forming armed groups for protection in remote areas. The NSP must address these issues directly, based on building state strength inspired by a democratic ethos of inclusion of the most marginalized. The NSP should clearly articulate the state priority of offering a life of dignity to its citizens, to include food, housing and freedom from physical harm.
To safeguard India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, it is pertinent to have a robust military. India’s economic growth cannot be in isolation and requires an international system that sustains it. India depends on exports to sustain its economic growth. In 2015-2016, India’s dependence on the import of crude oil was 81 per cent; the flow of import into India is dependent on ensuring freedom of sea lanes of communication (SLOCs), especially via the Malacca Straits. To forward operational access, in November 2017, India signed a logistic agreement with Singapore for its Navy to use port facilities at the Changi Naval base. China, with its improved naval modernization, and increased presence in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea (SCS) could become adversarial. This includes its modernization of its sub-marine facilities and subsequent deployment of SUBS in the Indian Ocean. Consequently, India has witnessed an exponential growth of USD 53.5 billion in military expenditure in 2017-2018. Significantly, the Indian Navy has clearly articulated in its 2015 Maritime security strategy, that “the Navy is to ensure and enable maritime security in the sea areas of interest to India, to establish an environment conducive for the unhindered conduct of shipping, fishing and offshore exploration and other maritime interests that contribute vitally to economic growth and national development”. The Maritime strategy highlights the critical role played by the Indian Navy in the development and prosperity of India. It also makes it clear that secure seas are vital for India’s energy security, trade and defense. An overarching NSP could incorporate aspects of the maritime document for securing the seas, to include and expand on the role of the Indian army and air force, including its special forces, in safeguarding its borders elsewhere. Such knowledge dissemination is in India’s national interest as it results in more assured citizens. For example, lack of information and transparency about illegal migrants from Bangladesh including their names in the voter’s list, resulted in violent movements like the Assam movement from 1979 to 1985. This has now resulted in an updated draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, which was released on December 31, 2017, to identify those who are citizens of India, with an aim to weed out illegal migrants, especially from Bangladesh. However, human risks will arise with no practical solution for those whose names do not appear on the NRC, given India and Bangladesh do not have a bilateral policy of repatriation of citizens.  This, by itself, poses a national security risk, of plausible futuristic communal tensions, and should be dealt with in the NSP. Whether it would work as a ‘deterrent factor’ to discourage further illegal migration will depend on how the updated final NRC is implemented on the ground and how those, who have been found to be illegal migrants, are repatriated back to the country of origin. Given India’s ‘Neighbor first’ policy with Bangladesh, how would one reconcile two opposite poles; targeting its citizens while at the same-time expecting Bangladesh to limit its strategic shift towards China. How will India increase its influence in its neighborhood region, while at the same time securing its borders and territory? Matters like that should be explained clearly in the NSP as to why collecting data on illegal migration helps in addressing societal fears, like those in Assam, of being taken overtaken by an alien culture.
Strategy: The strategy should be clear and premised on realism: given the adversarial positions of countries like China and Pakistan towards India, that clearly threaten its territorial integrity, the NSP should make clear that India’s thrust towards military modernization is to safeguard against such threats, and a willingness to use force when necessary. With regard to internal crisis like secessionist violence, an approach that ensures ‘rule of law’ with a proclivity towards meeting genuine demands of development and safeguard of individual dignity should be highlighted including peace talks between the government of India and insurgent groups like the NSCN (IM). Detailing the effects of long standing peace-talks with insurgent groups is useful.
Promote Peace and Security in its Strategic Neighborhood
Policy: The NSP should clearly articulate what India views and includes as its strategic neighborhood. For one, it is Indo-Pacific, which supports all export and import of goods via sea routes; Afghanistan, and the bridge it offers to Central Asia; Myanmar/Burma, given the linkage it offers to Southeast Asia and the growing status of ASEAN-India relations; China, given the long-standing border dispute and its growing influence in India’s neighborhood to include its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative; Bangladesh, given the long borders with it, and cultural and societal connections stemming from India’s history; and Pakistan, given its adversarial position vis-à-vis India. The existence of nuclear weapons in China and Pakistan is of strategic priority, compelling India to consider seriously, missile defense shields, for instance like the U.S. Army’s Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) deployed in South Korea. Both China and Pakistan share a deep-seated alliance and Pakistan is a key factor in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an integral part of Chinese President, Xi Jinping’s OBOR initiative.
The NSP should explain why India is developing a stronger relationship with the U.S. and Israel, as well as the rationale behind its support for a Quadrilateral with the U.S., Japan, and Australia. The NSP should both represent policy priorities and outline the strategy to be adopted to achieve goals.
Overall Strategy: It is in India’s strategic interest that it officially publishes an annual NSP, so that its own citizens and friendly countries are not left in the dark as to what its policy positions on national security and foreign policy, really are. It helps in efficient and effective coordination across various agencies within the overarching framework of the national security priorities of the state. This brings in the much-required predictability and proves useful to form partnerships of trust and to send clear signals to adversaries as to what the Indian response would be to transgressions into its territory, both by state and non-state actors. Otherwise, like the perception that plagues its public-sector institutions of inertia, inefficiency, corruption and adhoc practices, India may find its influence slipping unless it meticulously builds an innovative and adaptive national security architecture, to include organizational and doctrinal clarity.
While the NSP is a policy document, the strategy adopted by India should be based on realism regarding its territorial integrity and cross-border terrorism or in its conduct of safeguarding SLOCS, and building up strategic partnerships. Dealing with violent and non-violent protests for better ethnic representation requires both a realist approach of ensuring physical safety for its citizens from non-state armed violence as well as a robust ‘rule of law’ to protect citizens from state brutalities. The recent violence in the Dima Hasao district of Assam is a case in point in which two Indian citizens protesting against a so-called draft Naga framework proposal by a private individual, succumbed to their injuries in police firing. Non-violent protests are the hallmark of a democracy for citizens to mark their aspirations and frustrations with a particular policy or regime. Unfortunately, I have heard too many stories of Indian state representatives abusing their power especially when dealing with those citizens who they see as underprivileged or lacking power, to be deluded by those trying to defend such actions in the name of nationalism or patriotism. For I believe, true patriotism is to strengthen India’s democracy and its representative institutions, not to perpetuate abuses of power and illiberal attacks on those who try hard to ensure that India is a living embodiment of a country based on democratic values and humane kindness towards those who are the least privileged. For they are entitled as citizens to the state that is India, and enjoy in the fruits of its democratic culture and existence. In that spirit, the NSP serves the noble purpose of building up an informed and enlightened citizenry, sharing with them how their institutions represent them, including the institution of the Prime Minister and the National Security Council. Transparency, especially towards its own citizens, is the hallmark of a stable and secure democratic power. And an NSP document serves that core purpose.
All views expressed here are personal.
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Dr. Namrata Goswami is one of the foremost Indian thinkers on long-term global trends, emerging security challenges, and scenario building. Dr. Goswami is currently a Senior Analyst and Minerva Grantee. She regularly consults with Wikistrat,, and is associated with NATO Partnership for Peace (PfPC) “Emerging Security Challenges” working group.She was formerly Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi where she specialized on ethnic conflicts, insurgency, counter-insurgency and conflict resolution. She has been a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the Congressionally Funded United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington DC, where she explored long-term India-China-US scenarios in order to craft sustainable security frameworks to enable unimpeded human development and security. She was co-lead and editor of two IDSA sponsored works on long-term trends, Imagining Asia in 2030, and Asia 2030 The Unfolding Future.
Her latest book published by Pentagon Press, New Delhi is on India’s Approach to Asia, Strategy, Geopolitics and Responsibility, 2016. In 2015, she published with Routledge, London and New York, her book on Indian National Security and Counterinsurgency: The Use of Force Vs. Non Violent Response in which she explored the contrasting influence of Kautilya, India’s classical realist thinker vis-a-vis Gandhi’s prohibition on a violent response. In 2012-2013, Dr, Goswami received the Fulbright-Nehru Senior Fellowship supporting her work on China-India border. She also received the “Executive Leadership Certificate” sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the National Defense University, Washington DC, and the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, Hawaii in 2013. She has been a Visiting Fellow at the Peace Research Institute, Oslo, Norway, the La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia and the University of Heidelberg, Germany. Dr. Goswami is part of a renowned group of international experts exploring emerging security challenges such as 3-D printing, human self-modification and longevity, trans-national insurgencies, combating violent extremism, hybrid war and asteroid threats in the NATO sponsored “Partnership for Peace Consortium”. Her philosophy for life is one of the immortal quotes of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”.
© Dr Namrata Goswami