National Security Planning
Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF

(The following is an updated version of talk delivered by Director, Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi to the National Defence College, New Delhi faculty and officers on 17 September 2020)

India’s national security environment has become increasingly complex over the years. Covid has made the international environment extremely certain politically, economically and socially. Planning for national security at a time of extreme uncertainty and flux in international relations is a difficult task.

There is a need to plan for national security nevertheless. This will require a continuous assessment of the security environment, assessing the resources (men and material and technology) gaps, strengthening the institutions, planning for jointness and taking a holistic approach to security.

The protection of national sovereignty and territorial integrity remains the paramount challenge. To this we can and also add fighting terrorism and radicalisation, enhancing resilience against disasters, providing human security, strengthening the economy, preventing environmental degradation, providing food and water security, ensuring that we have access to new technologies.

In recent years India has grappled with a bewildering variety of challenges: Pakistan’s proxy war’s and cross-border terrorism, China’s challenge to India’s territorial integrity on its borders, lawlessness in the maritime sphere, insurgencies, organised crime, communalism, porous borders, disasters, pandemics, economic, environmental and health challenges. Planning for diverse challenges like these is a difficult task.

Historical Overview

India’s record in managing its national security challenges has been reasonably good. When India became independent in 1947, most experts in the West did not give much time to India before it disintegrated due to its diversity.

India had undergone one of the worst episodes of ethnic cleansing in history. Millions of people were displaced and several hundred thousand died. The division of India led to the fragmentation of supply routes and the integrated economic structure. For the previous 50 years, India’s economic growth had been stagnant. The extreme poverty, national security challenges and internal disorder would create major apprehensions about India’s longevity.

Within a few months of its independence even as the unending inflow of refugees was going on India had to fight a debilitating war with Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir starting in October 1947 and continuing up to January 1949 when an UN-sponsored ceasefire was signed. Yet, India kept its date with destiny and started an incredible experiment in human history: maintaining a diverse country in a democratic framework. India has today become the 4th largest economy in the world, it has the 3rd largest army in the world, it’s international image is bright and its future is even brighter despite the current problems.

In India’s history, grave national-security issues have always been present. To mention a few: the 1947 war between India and Pakistan, the 1962 war with China, the wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971, Kargil War of 1999, airstrikes against Pakistan after Uri and Pulwama terrorist attacks, a military stand-off with China at Doklam in 2017, and the current one of 2020 as we speak.

Terrorism has been a problem ever since the beginning. The 1947 war began with tribal attacks in Jammu Kashmir, supported by the Pakistan Army. Pakistan army has never hesitated to use terrorism as a policy instrument. Even the 1965 war was preceded by Pakistan sending a large number of infiltrators into India. The 80s and 90s and the first decade of 2000 saw numerous terror attacks against India. The Khalistan movement was supported by Pakistan. Pakistan also supported the jihadi movement in Kashmir. The terror groups based in Pakistan and supported by Pakistan were behind the Parliament attack, the Mumbai attack, the terror attacks in Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama et cetera.

One of the sterling achievements of India was achieving self-sufficiency in food by launching a green revolution in the 70s and a white revolution. India is today nearly self-sufficient in agriculture. India’s achievements in information technologies have also been noteworthy. India is today one of the largest manufacturers of pharmaceuticals in the world.

But these achievements are still insufficient for India’s needs. The 1991 economic liberalisation opened India to the world. It brought new opportunities and new challenges. While India’s economic growth rate picked up, more resources became available for national security. At the same time, India had to open up its markets to in strategic sectors like electronics and telecommunications which eventually impacted on India’s indigenous capabilities. Domestic production was simply not globally competitive. Our dependence on imports for high-tech products and technologies increased. Although India had a fairly large defence manufacturing base, it did not achieve self-sufficiency in defence manufacturing, which created its vulnerabilities.

The external environment was also tricky. Pakistan upped the ante by supporting the call for an independence movement in Kashmir, cross-border terrorism in Kashmir as well as in other parts of India. A large number of terrorist groups found shelter in Pakistan. India’s internal security challenges multiplied with Pakistan giving support to numerous terrorist groups based on its soil. It also sought to increase international pressure on India by raking up the Jammu and Kashmir issue internationally. It used the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) to pressurise India on Jammu and Kashmir.


To deal with these issues, India had some institutions inherited from the British. It had inherited an army, a small air force and a few naval ships, police forces and a few ordnance factories. It has built on these institutions and today has the 3rd largest army in the world, a variety of defence manufacturing plants, defence research and development, a million-strong paramilitary forces, a space program, and atomic energy program, capabilities and cyber warfare and so on.

However, there has always been a feeling in India that we have not spent enough resources on providing security to the country of the size of India. In the initial years, the governments were more focussed on economic and social development. They underplayed the threat from China even after the latter annexed Tibet and created an intractable border problem which continues to this day.

The first action of the government in 1947 was to reduce the defence expenditure and rely for security on the police forces. This was a major mistake. However, 1962 was a wake-up call. Ever since, the expenditure on defence forces has increased, modernisation has been a continuous process.

Indian Armed Forces have done well in defending the country against multiple threats. India has also contributed more than 100,000 troops to UN peacekeeping forces in the interest of world peace and stability. While the defence expenditure has increased in absolute terms, it remains low in terms of share in the GDP – a mere 1.5% of GDP as against the recommended 3% of the GDP. Thus, the paucity of resources has always been an issue in national security planning. The situation is becoming dire as India has to now deal with challenges of space security, cybersecurity and nuclear deterrence and needs more resources for that.

The method of warfare is changing due to the onset of new technologies. India must prepare for a hybrid war which requires a very different approach. Hybrid war has to be included in India’s military doctrines.

Defence planning needs to pay attention to the cyber, space, unmanned vehicles technologies which are increasingly being used in warfare.

Equally important is the growing menace of information warfare of which fake news in the social media has become a weapon of choice for the state as well as non-state actors. Dealing with different components of information warfare requires a very different approach as this is about dealing with information attacks, lowering of morals, psychological warfare and the like.

India has a variety of institutions as was mentioned earlier. But, there is always a question of productivity and efficiency of these institutions as also the jointness and synergy among them. India’s military doctrines need to be updated and organised.

It is important to have an integrated and holistic approach to national security. This is the key aspect of national security planning. The silo-based approached, followed so far, is only partially effective. The setting up of the Chief of Defence Staff(CDS) after 20 years of debate is a step in the right direction although it has been delayed so much. It remains to be seen how the CDS and the newly set up Department of Military Affairs in the Ministry of Defence delivers.

National Security Planning

National security planning hinges on the question of resources. One is to assume that there will never be enough resources for national security, as for other sectors. India’s needs, whether it is national security or of socio-economic development are humongous as our population increases and will touch 1.6 billion or so in 2050. Even feeding such a large population is a major issue. Thus, prioritisation of resources, efficiencies in their spending and mitigating the national security threats through diplomacy is extremely important.

National security planning has been piecemeal and ad hoc in the early years of the republic, some notable achievements were nevertheless made. This is because there was a good deal of foresight and planning in sectors like space and atomic energy.

India started with space and nuclear program quite early even though we do not have enough resources for health and education. India also successfully defended itself in severalwars even though we were poor.

In 1974 India demonstrated its mastery of the nuclear cycle although it postponed the weaponisation until 1998. It also launched a satellite, Aryabhatta, in 1974. In 1984, it sent one of its compatriots to space with the help of the Soviet Union. India’s space program has made steady progress and is now one of the largest in the world.

It is to the credit of the DRDO that an Integrated Guided Missiles Programme was developed which has helped us to strengthen our nuclear deterrence. DRDO has also conducted an ASAT test and attested scramjet technology. Despite our weak planning system, these achievements are creditable.

National Security Council

In the 90s it became clear that India could not meet its national security challenges unless it had a proposed national security strategy. The first attempt to evolve a holistic approach to national security was made in 1990 when a national security council was set up. However, the experiment was short-lived and the National Security Council never met. The year 1998 was a turning point in India’s national security planning journey. India tested its nuclear weapon that year. This changed the international environment and also impressed upon India to evolve institutions which would make it a responsible nuclear-armed country. It was in the backdrop of 1998 is that the National Security Council was revived in 1999 in a changed format.

The National Security Council structures included a National Security Council headed by the Prime Minister, a National Security Adviser, a National Security Council Secretariat, the National Security Advisory Board and a Strategic Policy Group. In the last 20 years, the structure has endured although some modifications have to give place.

Kargil was a landmark event in the national security thinking of the country. The Kargil exposed India’s weaknesses in national security planning. It was found that the various agencies working in silos, not sharing vital information. It also emerged that many of these agencies were internally not strong enough and required reforms. Further, it was realised that some new institutions would have to be created if a holistic approach to national security was to be evolved. Essentially, the National Security Council advocated an institutional approach to national security. This has been accepted by and large although a lot more needs to be done.

The first thorough review of national security structures since independence was undertaken in the aftermath of the Kargil war and the report of the Kargil Review Committee. A Group of Ministers under the then Home Minister Mr Advani was set up to have a complete overhaul of the national security structures of the country. A task force each was set up on defence reforms, intelligence reforms, border security management and internal security. Collectively, they produced about 360 recommendations which form the basis of a total restructuring of the national security structures of the country.

As a result of these reforms,the intelligence apparatus was refurbished, a Defence Intelligence Agency was set up, the IDS was set up, and a recommendation to set up a CDS was made. A tri-service command was taken. India launched cartographic and surveillance satellites in space. It now has a GPS of its own in the shape of Navic and Gagan.

A host of reforms were suggested to strengthen the paramilitary forces, their HR policies, equipment, protocols et cetera. The effort at restructuring continued for several years and has led to deeper reforms. A good deal of border fencing was completed.

The National Security Council triggered new security thinking, spawnednew institutions, prioritised a holistic approach, stressed on jointness, sought to bring in improvement in coordination, raised awareness about the technology. A Cyber Defence Agency and Defence Space Agency have also been set up. A considerable focus has come on indigenous defence manufacturing with the involvement of the private sector.

There were also seminal changes in foreign policy. Indo-US nuclear deal, an era of strategic partnerships was started and active defence diplomacy became the norm. India began to engage with the world widely. The old hesitations about setting up defence cooperation with various countries were gradually given up.

The Indian Navy began to fly the Indian flag in different parts of the world by setting up joint exercises and friendly visits. The Indian Navy also participated in tsunami relief operations, evacuation operations of neutrals occasions and provided human humanitarian assistance to several countries. Thus the profile of the Indian Armed Forces began to change in the early years of the 21st century.

The world is not static. It entered a new phase in 1991 with the end of the Soviet Union. The major challenge for India in the changing world is the rapid rise of China, its military modernisation, Belt and Road Initiative, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), its assertiveness, its inroads into India’s neighbourhood and it’s growing footprint in the Indian Ocean. The nexus between Pakistan and China has also strengthened quite considerably as evident in the conceptualisation and implementation of the CPEC, China’s continued help to Pakistan’s nuclear program, military modernisation et cetera. China has acquired a port in Pakistan and is likely to have a naval base there. China’s presence in the Indian Ocean has been strengthened by its acquiring a naval base in Djibouti. China is footage into the South China Sea, is also a matter of concern.

So How does India Plan for National Security?

The National Security Advisor has emerged as a pivotal point in India’s national security planning. He heads the Defence Planning Committee, the Strategic Policy Group and is responsible for preparing for the estimates of national security threats for the government.

He heads the executive part of the National Command Authority, the Technology Coordination Group which looks into the technical needs of the intelligence agencies.

He also heads the National Information Board, responsible for government's information warfare related polices.

In addition, the NSA is the key advisor to the Prime Minister and the key ministers on national security. He enjoys the rank of Cabinet Minister.

He has been instrumental in sensitive diplomatic parleys with key countries like China. He represents India in the Special Representatives mechanism between India and China on the border issues.

In the last few years, the profile of the NSA has become hands-on. The Prime Minister and the government generally rely on his advice.

The National Security Council Secretariat has been revamped in recent years. Instead of one Deputy NSA, now there are three. There is a greater focus on domain specialisation.

The National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), a group of independent experts who have been advising the government on different aspects of national security for several years. Being independent, their advice is impartial and based on their domain knowledge.

National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), as well as NSA, have over 30 ongoing discussions with counterpart institutions on global and regional issues. This provides input to the government on national security issues in the new international environment. These discussions supplement the diplomatic discussions conducted by the Ministry of External Affairs.

The Defence Planning Committee, set up in 2018, is an innovation. The mandate of DPC is manifold; the committee is empowered to "analyse and evaluate all relevant inputs relating to defence planning", which consists of—amongst others—"national defence and security priorities, foreign policy imperatives, operational directives and associated requirements, relevant strategic and security-related doctrines, defence acquisition and infrastructure development plans, including the 15-year Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP), defence technology and development of the Indian defence industry and global technological advancement". The committee is also vested with the power of preparing different drafts, including—but not limited to—drafts on: "national security strategy, strategic defence review and doctrines; international defence engagement strategy; roadmap to build defence manufacturing eco-system; strategy to boost defence exports; and prioritised capability development plans for the armed forces over different time-frames in consonance with the overall priorities, strategies and likely resource flows." The DPC answers to—and submits its reports to—the Raksha Mantri (Minister of Defence), currently Rajnath Singh.

Now with the appointment of the CDS, there would be a greater synergy amongst the Armed Forces and also between the Armed Forces and the civilians. The CDS will enhance the quality of civil-military relations. The DMA which the CDS heads has a wide remit. According to government notifications,

“The Chief of Defence Staff will also head the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), to be created within the Ministry of Defence and function as its Secretary.

The following areas will be dealt by the Department of Military Affairs headed by CDS:

  1. The Armed Forces of the Union, namely, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
  2. Integrated Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence comprising Army Headquarters, Naval Headquarters, Air Headquarters and Defence Staff Headquarters.
  3. The Territorial Army.
  4. Works relating to the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
  5. Procurement exclusive to the Services except capital acquisitions, as per prevalent rules and procedures.

Apart from the above, the mandate of the Department of Military Affairs will include the following areas:

  1. Promoting jointness in procurement, training and staffing for the Services through joint planning and integration of their requirements.
  2. Facilitation of restructuring of Military Commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/theatre commands.
  3. Promoting use of indigenous equipment by the Services.

The Chief of Defence Staff, apart from being the head of the Department of Military Affairs, will also be the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He will act as the Principal Military Adviser to Raksha Mantri on all tri-Services matters. The three Chiefs will continue to advise RM on matters exclusively concerning their respective Services. CDS will not exercise any military command, including over the three Service Chiefs, so as to be able to provide impartial advice to the political leadership.

As the Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee, CDS will perform the following functions:

CDS will administer tri-services organisations. Tri-service agencies/organisations/commands related to Cyber and Space will be under the command of the CDS.

CDS will be member of Defence Acquisition Council chaired by Raksha Mantri and Defence Planning Committee chaired by NSA.
Function as the Military Adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority.

Bring about jointness in operation, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs and maintenance, etc of the three Services, within three years of the first CDS assuming office.

Ensure optimal utilisation of infrastructure and rationalise it through jointness among the services.

Implement Five-Year Defence Capital Acquisition Plan (DCAP), and Two-Year roll-on Annual Acquisition Plans (AAP), as a follow up of Integrated Capability Development Plan (ICDP).

Assign inter-Services prioritisation to capital acquisition proposals based on the anticipated budget.

Bring about reforms in the functioning of three Services aimed at augmenting combat capabilities of the Armed Forces by reducing wasteful expenditure.”

The integration of armed forces with the Ministry of defence has taken place. A new Department of Miltary Affairs (DMA) headed by he CDS in the rank of the secretary to the government of India has been created in the MOD. It has a wide charter.

On the technical side, the DRDO has been at the forefront of achieving self-sufficiency in strategic technologies. It has many achievements to its credit. Last year it conducted a successful ASAT and this year it has successfully tested scramjet technology for hypersonic weapons. DRDO’s achievements in missile technology, radars, secure communication et cetera have been quite remarkable.

The government is quite aware of the need for self-sufficiency in defence manufacturing. In recent years, the FDI in defence has been liberalised. Defence exports have been promoted. The private sector is being encouraged to take up defence manufacturing.

From time to time the capital defence procurement has been simplified. Defence procurement manual has been made easier. Greater financial powers have been given to the Corps Commanders and equivalent officers for procurements.

In a major step, the government has decided to corporatise the defence Ordinance Factory Board. Armed forces are now encouraging private sector start-ups to take up niche defence technologies and convert them into products.

India is paying a lot of attention to border management as well. In the last 20 years, border fences have been erected to prevent illegal crossings of the border and to attend to the problems that arise on the porous borders.

The Central Armed Police Forces like the Border Security Force, ITBP, CRPF, SSB et cetera have been strengthened with new recruitment, new equipment and new protocols. This has had a significant impact on the management of internal security issues.

India has nearly 2 million strong police forces in different states. They are vital for maintaining law and order. If not handled properly, law and order can become a national security issue. A lot needs to be done to improve the functioning of the police through reforms. This government has focused on smart policing and so to provide additional resources to the states for police reforms. However, the work is still incomplete. Most of the major reforms are still unattended to. Besides police reforms, we also need reform of the criminal justice system which is a vital component of the national security reforms.

Cyber is now an additional challenge. While India has a legal framework for dealing with cybercrimes, cyber terrorism et cetera, the nature of the cyberspace is such that it provides invisibility and non-attribution. It is very difficult to effectively monitor the cyberspace. Social media has made the problem worse. India has to devote more resources to cybersecurity. A new cybersecurity policy, which will update the 2013 policy, is on the anvil.

Protection of privacy in cyberspace has emerged as a key concern. A bill is before the parliament on data protection and privacy. Once passed, it will bring clarity on how the country should deal with data protection issues.

As the coronavirus pandemic has shown, non-traditional security issues like health, water, food, are now as serious as traditional security issues. The threat of climate change, the worsening degradation of ecology and environment can lead to situations which can easily convert into national security issues. India is increasingly grappling with the increased frequency of hurricanes, floods, droughts et cetera. Resilience against disasters is now a major component of national security policy. The government set up the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in 2005. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was created which has time and again proved invaluable in saving valuable lives.

The importance of maritime security involving freedom of navigation through the high seas and the Sea Lanes Of Communication for unimpeded trade and commerce cannot be overstated. The safety and security of about 1300 Indian islands is a critical task. The strategic significance of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI) and the Lakshadweep islands cannot be overstated. The role of the Indian Navy and Coast Guard has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. They have been involved deeply in Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations on numerous occasions. We need to attend to the requirements of the Indian Navy and Coast Guard whose role has become hugely important in the context of matter and security and national security.


India’s national security challenges or complex and multifarious. National Security planning so far has been ad hoc, piecemeal and confined essentially to the respected institutions. It is only since 1999 when the National Security Council was set up and the National Security Adviser was appointed that we have begun to take a holistic view of national security. This has helped in bringing synergy in the national security planning by bringing together the various institutions.

Several institutional innovations have been done in the past few decades. These are showing positive results but the challenges have also become increasingly complex and now non-traditional security issues are also beginning to emerge as a key national security challenge. National Security planning at that comprehensive scale is yet not there. We need to adopt a national security strategy so that all challenges are taken on board. That will be the first step towards national security planning. Although we do not have a document or national security strategy, the statements by the top leaders to provide guidance. But, there is no substitute for a more systematic approach, which follows from a national security strategy document.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
8 + 6 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
Contact Us