Prime Minister Narendra Modi has yet again received a spectacular mandate to govern the country for the next five years. As issues related to national security were at the forefront of elections, they are likely to be top priorities for the new government, among other pressing challenges like economy, polity and foreign relations.
If one looks at the national security issues preceding or during elections, one can fairly say that almost all core issues – internal security challenges like terrorism, Left-wing extremism, national security challenges such as modernisation of armed forces, transparency in military procurement and human resources-related issues – were flagged and debated in public, subjects that were hitherto confined within relevant government agencies and departments. Breaking of barriers between the government and public serves as a very important pointer for the nation, which will lead to a healthy democratic tradition in time to come.
National security issues are often times ill defined, which results in confusion and hence impacts decision-making at the highest level. For example, prime duties of the national armed forces are to ensure security for citizens from external aggression as well as maintain territorial integrity, while prime duties of para-military as well as state police forces are essentially to maintain internal security as well as maintenance of law and order respectively. However, current Indian security situations, especially in matters of internal security, necessitate employment of armed forces in violence-prone areas within the country. Standardising the standard operating principles among various security forces would be a priority for the new government, which points to distinction between forces and effective coordination among forces for desirable results. Institutional fault lines need to be examined and corrective measures need to be contemplated accordingly.
Spheres of security threats have not only expanded but also overlapped in cases where it becomes a challenge for security forces to deal with them. Traditional threats like conventional war may appear obsolete, but in actual terms they still remain. Non-traditional threats like terrorism, transnational threats like illegal human or material transactions with security implications always pose challenges to the state. However, newer forms of threats like cyber warfare, militarisation of space and even protection of key national infrastructure have added to the already expanding spheres of security challenges. The new government, as is obvious, will need to address each and every of these threats.
Modi government has received massive popular support on national security. Simply put, the citizens have mandated a decisive leadership to address security challenges, among others. The next Raksha Mantri (defence minister), along with the Cabinet Committee on Security under the chairmanship of the prime minister will be expected to guide the country on security affairs.
Four sets of challenges are placed before the national leadership: a) reforms in higher defence / security organisations; b) meeting military and security procurement challenges; c) nurturing national military industrial and military scientific R&D eco-system to make them a formidable factor toward self-reliance; and d) last but not the least, ensure adequate resources for national security capacity development.
Needless to mention, all these challenges are known and periodically addressed by the government. However, three factors – non-clarity on different challenges, traditional mindsets and institutional rigidities – still impinge negatively on any progress. National security doctrine as well as comprehensive policy formulations are a work in progress. It is hoped that the new government will give it a definitive shape and clear directions. Military and security institutions are always confronted with newer challenges but are too slow to react because of their structural limitations. Such institutions resist major changes primarily because of institutional rigidities.
Modernisation of forces is a pressing issue, to say the least. Indian arsenal is woefully inadequate to meet immediate or long-term threats. Despite best efforts, Indian procurement agencies are not able to deliver best results, which impacts negatively on national security forces. Institutional frameworks on military procurement needs to be efficient, which otherwise requires simplification of procedural arrangements.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that confronts the state is related to national security production and R&D capacities. Indian story in this domain is pathetic, despite best efforts from the government. Resource allocations will not be inadequate, if a formidable production and R&D infrastructure is in place to meet the growing demands of security forces.
While larger structural and institutional security challenges, outlined above, can always be attempted, attempts to transform Indian military’s scientific and industrial sectors would be a top priority.
The defence minister will obviously have his / her plate full, yet again.
Deba Mohanty is a New Delhi-based strategic affairs analyst. Read Deba Mohanty's columns