Talk to the 68th Professional Course for Foreign Diplomats, on ‘India’s National Security & Challenges’ at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), 09 Oct 2019, by Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director, Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi
A multipolar world is taking shape

Global security environment is changing rapidly. Soon after the end of the Cold War in 1989, the USSR collapsed in 1991 thereby ending the bipolar world. Thereafter, the word became unipolar. The 2008-2009 financial crisis ended uni-polarity as well. The rise of China, India and other emerging countries became pronounced. The word is now becoming a multipolar world.

The meaning of security is expanding

The meaning of security has expanded. Earlier, security issues were concerned with the defence of sovereignty and territorial integrity and confined to military matters. No longer so. Internal developments get linked with longer security issues. Over the years, non-traditional security issues have also been included in the expanded meaning of security. The scope of threats the world is facing is also changing. For instance, climate change is now considered an existential threat which can undermine the entire humanity. The changes in weather patterns are leading to frequent extreme weather events which undermine the country's safety and security of citizens. Migrations from conflict zones or due to global warming are major security issues of the day. Terrorism is emerging as a major threat to the global stability. The instability caused by massive flows of capital across the borders can also lead to destabilisation of the countries. Drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering et cetera are massive security threats which a state faces. Many of these threats are invisible. None of these threads can be tackled by military means alone. New ways of dealing with new challenges have to be found. This is not an easy matter. Building consensus on such matters is difficult, tortuous and a long-term task.

Globalisation has brought to the fore new security concerns

Globalisation is a multi-faceted, multidimensional phenomena which is gathering pace continuously. Hyper-connectivity is the other name for globalisation. Driven by technology, it has led to the integration of financial markets, trade, transportation, financial markets. Paradoxically, while globalisation has led to several integrative processes in the world, it has also accentuated fragmentation. This is because globalisation has highlighted the importance of the local factors. The link between the local and the global factors is now well established. Local influences travel fast to become global influences by global factors have an immediate impact on local factors. The conflation of the small and local is also a cause for a lot of differentiation and fragmentation in the world.

Hyper-connectivity through Internet, social media platforms and new infrastructure like the undersea cables as brought about new security issues such as cyber security, safety and security of data, privacy, et cetera. There are no easy answers to the new security challenges that have risen.

New geopolitical trends are arising

As the world becomes more multipolar, and the diffusion of power intensifies, new geopolitics becomes visible. The rise of China is the most visible example of when you geopolitics. Not only is China challenging the hegemony of the United States which was the key architect of the post Second World War order, it is also emerging as a shaper of the New World as is evident in its ambitious $ 1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative. Its virtual occupation of the South China Sea in disregard of International Court of Justice (ICC) opinion is a manifestation of the Chinese intentions and behaviour. China has also been at the forefront of constructing new institutions like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or the AIIB.

The alliance system on which the post-war world was based is also fraying. The United States alliance with Europe has weakened considerably. Doubts have also risen about the commitment of US Japan alliance. US alliance partners are also hedging their bets and following strategies which tend to reduce their dependence upon one country for security.

The security architecture of the multipolar world is not yet ready. Regional institutions have grown in numbers but there commitment to security is still weak. Thus we have a situation that would alert system is continuing but steadily getting frayed.

Technology and security

With the invention of new technologies like the hyper- sonic glide vehicles which can travel at speeds of 20 Mach will also undermine the conventional nuclear deterrence which has been the cornerstone of post-war security architecture. The demise of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty earlier is also putting in doubt the future of the non-proliferation regime.

The emergence of artificial intelligence, big data analytics, enhancement of space surveillance et cetera is likely to the emergence of new class of weapons about which as yet there is little understanding. Earlier, the international community had painstakingly worked out conventions, norms, principles and rules of the road et cetera to control the proliferation of weapons. New technologies are leading to the emergence of autonomous weapons which can completely change the face of warfare. For these, no new rules of the road exist. Such technologies can destabilise the world.

International law is inadequate to handle the present day security issues

International law has traditionally sought to bring some order to the anarchic world characterised by independent sovereign states who do not report to any superior authority. The law has generally been concerned about the behaviour of nation-states as independent actors in international relations. However, globalisation has led to many changes, particularly, bringing about the linkages between the national and international. Human rights law has been evolving over the decades and has often been seen as intrusive by many states. Human rights have also been used as an excuse for intervention as reflected in the doctrine of right to protect. Humanitarian law is insufficient to deal with cyber warfare. As globalisation takes hold, the role of international law is also changing. After the end of the Cold War, the ICC was set up when it began to look into the crimes of genocide and ethnic cleansing committed by national leaderships. This was a new development.

As the crisis of ‘Commons’ such as air, space, water, cyberspace et cetera grows, there is need to develop laws to govern the behaviour of states in the Commons. The order in the world depends upon the maintenance of order among the Commons. There is acute lack of consensus on issues concerning the Commons. In a multiple world, building consensus is going to be more difficult than otherwise.

Other factors impacting security

International Political Economy

There are a host of other factors which impact national security. The issues of international political economy, which concern the functioning of the financial markets, banks, trade and finance et cetera is critical for stability in the world. We are seeing that the old institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, where the Western countries dominate, are in need of reforms. Economic instability is can be caused by factors such as debts, uncontrolled related capital flows, disruptions in supply chains, natural disasters, et cetera. There is now a clamour for the reforms of World Trade Organisation (WTO). The US-China trade war is essentially a struggle for global dominance. Trade has been weaponised in the interest of security.


Demography is also becoming an important driver of global change. Different regions of the world are growing at different pace causing demographic imbalance. The industrialised world is ageing fast while the developing countries are brimming with young people who are jobless, with little hope in the future. Jobs are being affected by technologies. The movement of people, legal and illegal, is an important point of discussion in the international discourse on security. We have seen how politics in Europe related has been impacted by migration from the Middle Eastern conflict zones. Migrations have both positive and negative effects. Much of the international effort will be focused on the control of migrations.

Religion and culture

Religion and culture will also play an important role in the shaping of the world. Terrorism has turned out to be a major security issue. A connected problem is that of radicalisation. There is no consensus in the world about what constitutes terrorism. One person's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. The radicalisation of the young minds, as done by ISIS, Al Qaeda etc. has led to violent extremism. There is need for tolerance and moderation. Anti-dote to extremism must be found.

Terrorism and radicalisation

In the meanwhile, lots of innocent people die in terrorist violence. Terrorists have also used religion to justify their actions. India has called for a UN Convention on countering terrorism but the project has been tied up because of the lack of consensus on the definition of terrorism. Some states have not hesitated to use terrorism as an instrument of their policy. For India, cross-border terrorism remains a major problem. At the civil society level, we have a number of dialogues advocating tolerance and accommodation. Samvad, Hindu-Buddhist dialogue is an example. Values of tolerance and accommodations must be promoted in international discourse.

Samuel Huntington has talked about the coming clash of civilisations on account of irreconcilable cultures. Some of his prophecies turned out to be right. Fukuyama, who talked about the victory of the Western liberal order and the end of history has turned out to be wrong. In order to avoid dive scenario like the clash of civilisations, inter-cultural, inter-faith dialogues must be promoted, Mutual acceptance, respect for diversity, tolerance and accommodation must be encouraged.


Benefits of globalisation have bypassed many societies. Inequality in the world as increased. Globalisation is giving rise to extreme inequality in the world. One percent of the world's population controls 50 percent of the global wealth. In the last few years, 99 percent of the economic growth has benefited 1 percent of the population. Such dire inequalities are going to lead to their own security problems.

India and its national security

India is an ancient land, a civilisation and a culture which has survived for 5000 years. Many aspects of the Indian culture, for instance the way we worship and many of the rituals, are of ancient origins. Some of the Indian languages like Sanskrit, Tamil are 3000 years old.

Indians had a highly developed tradition of knowledge, dialogue. Many systems such as linguistics, philosophy, education, health, science, astronomy, mathematics, statecraft et cetera and thousands of years ago. The Indus Valley civilisation, which is dated as far back as 3000 BC or even beyond, was a highly developed civilisation with urban planning, metallurgy, pottery et cetera. What is important to note is that Indian civilisation was trading with corresponding civilisations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Rome, China and the Asian neighbourhood.. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism are ancient religions predating Christianity and Islam. Hinduism and Buddhism travelled to other parts of the world without conquest. Indian travelers in the form of merchants, traders and religious people were interested the other parts of the world. Indian civilisation also had maritime contacts. These are visible in the advanced trading that the Indian people did with the civilisations across the seas. Rajendra Chola had a thousand ship massive force.

Civilisational contacts have defined the geostrategic space of India. Colonisation led to the sinking of the Indian contact with the rest of the world. The colonisers put paid to the maritime linkages that India used to have. Instead, they took Indians as slaves and plantation workers to the other parts of the world. That is one reason why India has a huge diaspora across the world. The partition of India led to the artificial creation of a state on the basis of the ‘two nation’ theory. This was a damaging theory considering that India has a multiplicity of cultures, languages and religious inclinations. If accepted, such a deconstruction of India would lead to its balkanisation.

India has several security issues which arise from its history, geographic location, and the partition. Further, as India gets globalised, it cannot remain immune to global developments. Some of the security issues India has are:-

  • Unsettled boundary with China;
  • Cross-border terrorism from Pakistan;
  • A troubled neighbourhood;
  • A series of non-traditional security issues such as Impact of climate change;
  • Eenvironmental degradation and global economic environment.

India deals with the security issues in the framework of its democratic constitution which guarantees fundamental rights each of its citizens irrespective of their caste creed and religion or any other characterisation. India is a federal country where there is a balance of rights and responsibilities between the Centre and the states. The Centre is responsible for the security of the states against external and internal threats. The states maintain their own law and order but take help from the Centre when required. India also maintains a strong military, a large mumber of paramilitary forces.

India follows an activist foreign policy based on the principle of engagement and peace and security for the world. The Indian foreign policy has developed several practical concepts such as neighbourhood first, the Act East policy, Indo-Pacific, Security and Growth for All, the Indian Ocean, look west policy, Link Central Asia et cetera. These concepts are guidelines to planning and action.

India is a developing economy. The Prime Minister has set a target of achieving $ 5 trillion GDP in the next five years. This will make India the third largest economy in the world, up from the present fifth or sixth position. India is already the third largest economy in terms of Purchase Power Parity (PPP). India has maintained a reasonably small budget for its defence forces. The present defence expenditure is about 2 percent of the GDP. Indian defence forces need to be modernised. It requires a strong army to look after its security interests. India is also a nuclear weapon state but not a member of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It subscribes to credible minimum deterrence and no first use policy, and is not in any arms race with anyone.

India follows a policy of zero tolerance towards terrorism. It is under this policy that it has taken action against terrorist hideouts, camps and launch pads across the border. India has successfully dealt with many of the internal insurgencies such as in the North-East. A combination of a developmental approach combined with a measured use of force is needed positive results. Care has been taken to ensure that a dialogue is initiated when necessary and the misguided elements are brought into the mainstream. The Indian Constitution is flexible enough to permit the government to follow multipronged strategies to control insurgencies.

Democracy is India's strongest point that has helped keep the country together. The people have a high sense of participation in the governance of the country. The dissatisfaction of the people is expressed through the ballot. The recent mandate to the Modi government has been an indication of the People's preference for good governance.

India has many security problems but it is not a security state.

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