Talk on ‘Security Scenario in the Indian Subcontinent: Implications for National Security’, by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF, at the CRPF Academy, 19 Aug 2019

In order to understand India’s security environment, it is necessary to understand fundamental and structural issues in India’s relations with its neighbours and India’s internal situation.

India’s location, size, boundaries, history is germane to India’s security environment. These factors have given rise to a host of security issues. For example, unsettled boundaries, porous borders, germinate cross-border infiltration and smuggling, etc. The chequered history of India’s relations with neighbours create the problem of terrorism (Pakistan, the two-nation theory, Kashmir).

Sino-Indian relations are complex. The unsettled boundary is a resource of tensions. Its rise has created major problems for Indian security. China and Pakistan have got together to vitiate India’s security environment. There is no easy way out. We have tried various strategies. We are managing ties at best.

Relations with Nepal have always been uneasy despite cultural affinity and geographical closeness. Nepal would be expected to balance its relations between China and India. The domestic problems of Nepal also have an impact on India-Nepal relations.

Relations with Bhutan are excellent but not without problems. The new generation in Bhutan wants its dependency on India to be reduced. China is trying to get a foothold in Bhutan.

The instability in Afghanistan will create problems for India. Pakistan tries to nullify India’s influence in Afghanistan and promote a client regime there.

Bangladesh is a close neighbours with the longest border with India. India-Bangladesh relations are passing through a good phase but have had ups and downs. What happens in Bangladesh has direct bearing on India’s North East and West Bengal. Fundamentalism is also a problem. India cannot remain complacent. Bangladesh also has a strong relationship with China.

Sri Lanka is going through domestic turbulence. Islamist terrorism has reared its head in Sri Lanka. Buddhist-Muslim amity may be affected. Turbulence in Sri Lanka has affected India in the past and will do so in the future. Sri Lanka sees itself as an Indian Ocean country and looks towards China and the East.

The Maldives, though a small country, is nevertheless critical for India’s security. Fundamentalist trends are strong in the Maldives. China has considerable influence there. The Maldives also overlooks the large shipping traffic, which passes through the Indian Ocean. In the past, India had to intervene on a domestic situation. The previous President had tilted Maldives foreign policy strongly towards China thereby creating problems for India.

Myanmar is an important neighbour and a gateway to ASEAN, we have over 1600 km of the intractable border. Indian insurgents in the North East take shelter in the jungles of Myanmar. The Rohingya crisis affects Indian security in a big way. China is also increasing its influence in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi is not fully in control because of the predominant influence of the military. India has to walk a tightrope in Myanmar.

The security environment in India’s extended neighbourhood is also transforming rapidly. China is enhancing its influence in India’s neighbourhood and extended neighbourhood rapidly through projects such as BRI, CPEC, BCIM, etc. it now has sizeable presence in the Indian Ocean where it was not there just a few decades ago. It has ambitious plans to expand its navy. On the South China Sea, it has established firm control over the disputed Islands in contravention of the international law. The China-U.S. trade dispute has a potential of destabilizing the global economy thereby affecting India. On the Article 370 issue, China has taken a hard stance and supported Pakistan in the latter’s effort to raise a Kashmir issue at the UNSC informal meeting. China professes good relations with India but its actions always have an adverse impact on India’s security. Dealing with China will remain a major problem for India’s security planners.

The U.S. has been a resident power in Asia. It has fought several wars in the region. It has treaty arrangements with several countries. It has sought to improve relations with India because its sees India as a partner in dealing with the rising China. At the same time, thanks to the relevance of Pakistan in the Afghan question, the U.S. form time-to-time continues to take a soft line towards Pakistan despite the latter’s innumerable misdemeanors. Nevertheless, India has developed a close partnership with the U.S., which needs to be nurtured. However, this creates problem for India, which has to follow a balanced policy towards major powers.

The turbulence in India’s neighbourhood is increasing as is evident in the Middle East where India has substantial security, economic and strategic interests. The logic of great power rivalries and global issues impacts India adversely as is evident from U.S. pressure on India to diminish its relations with Iran and Russia.

In today’s turbulent world, the role of technology cannot be overlooked. The emergence of new technologies like the Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, etc. can be both beneficial as well as de-stabilizing. The world is entering into a phase of acute technological contestations in which not only the countries but also the tech companies play a big role. The importance of intellectual property rights (IPRs) cannot be overestimated. Future wars, which will be hybrid wars, will be fought on technological platforms.

Non-traditional security issues also affect India’s security environment adversely. Climate Change leads to flooding, droughts, sea-level rise disease and many other problems. India is already experiencing acute water shortages even as paradoxically many parts of India are under floods. Disaster resilience is the key for Indian security planners. Incorporating non-traditional security issues in our security planning is essential.

Internal security issues can have domestic as well as international ramifications as is be clear in the recent case of Article 370. We have to manage regional disparities, corruption, communalism, youth expectations, agrarian stress, health emergencies, road accidents, lynching, and so many other problems simultaneously. This has to be done in a democratic manner without impinging upon the civil liberties and rights as well as federalism. Our internal security budget has been increasing. There is a great need for the reform of the police and the professionalization of Central Armed Police Forces.

Our security problems require a whole of government approach, strong institutions, proper coordination, and future planning. Our present institutions have done well but need to do better. In particular, we should focus on strengthening intelligence institutions, the police, central armed police, defence diplomacy, creating a defence-manufacturing base in the country. We also have to build capabilities to deal with new threats arising from cyber-space, social media, and militarization of outer space. The appointment of Chief of Defence Staff will help us in deeper defence reforms.

We cannot be oblivious to the rapidly changing nuclear and missile environment. This is a complex issue, which requires advanced thinking, deft diplomacy, and investments in our own capabilities. Defence minister has hinted that India is open to revising of its ‘No First Use’ of nuclear weapons if the circumstances so warrants.

In order to meet our security challenges, India needs to have a strong and robust economy so that there are enough resources available for national security needs. The present slow down is worrying as it can impact defence preparedness and police modernisation.

National security expenditures which is out of sync with national resources will only harm India. There it is essential that we continue to pay attention to the issues of socio-economic development.

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