Geo-political dimensions of India’s security paradigm
by Depinder Singh on 25 Jan 2010 2 Comments


It is an indisputable fact that India is a major player in the comity of nations. The doubt is whether the screen is regional or further afield. Some questions come to mind in this regard:-

-        Where do we figure in the emerging global security paradigm?

-        Is our polity geared and steered well to ensure national security and integrity?

-        Do we have adequate mechanisms in place to accept the gauntlet?

-        Does our diplomacy possess the vision, wherewithal, and clout to secure a just and honourable niche?

-        Do we have a sound economic potential to sustain the enormous needs of security and growth?

-        Are the armed forces adequately empowered and poised to adequately back up the nation’s geo-political aspirations?


Our Place

It has been established that, post World War II, military conquest with concomitant physical occupation of territory is not feasible today. If the geo-political reality is that in today’s world the physical survival of even smaller countries is guaranteed, then what is the threat? The answer apparently has to be that the whole concept of sovereignty as of old must be jettisoned and replaced by concern with regard to political and economic control and exploitation by foreign powers without a military element. The capability to resist such penetrations will be the measure of meaningful, independent survival of a state today.


In the South Asian region, the security environment is largely governed by the pre-eminent position of India which is saddled with an asymmetrical relationship with its neighbours in terms of ethnic, religious, economic, military and socio-cultural ties. These have an adversial impact on their mutual relations. The test of our diplomacy will be the relationship we develop with our neighbours in the light of the new environment.


China will remain the main rival to delay, even stop, our move towards the world stage. Its main proxy, Pakistan, is now under enormous US pressure to set its own house in order, so China will seek other avenues to keep us bogged down. They have cultivated the Maoist swathe in Eastern Nepal. In India, it runs right down to Andhra through the intervening states. The fact that the Maoists are a major factor in Nepalese politics must remain a matter of concern.


Relations with Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are on the mend even as China contrives to fish in these waters. Diplomatic and economic pressures must continue to bring these neighbours closer as economic dependence deepens. Pakistan is now engaged in putting its own house in order and therefore, the threat from this state stands reduced. However, non-state actors will continue to pose a threat.


As this threat is also directed at the US, Israel & the EU, these countries will continue to provide support to us without alienating China. To sustain its allies, Japan and South Korea, and maintain pressure in North Korea, the Indian Ocean remains vital to US security interests as the Afghan and Iran conflicts continue and Iran remains on the boil. It would serve US strategic interests if policing of the Indian Ocean is taken on by India.


State of our policy

There is periodic debate on whether there is need to change our form of government. An old saying “For forms of government, let fools contend; whatever is, is best.” Democracy legitimates the struggle for power and provides safety valves for group anger; its denial drives dissent underground.


Alexander Hamilton, outlining the future course of American democracy, explained the requirements of the executive and legislature as follows:-

-        Executive - should be a man of decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch

-        Legislature - have an immediate dependence on and an intimate sympathy with the people


By these yardsticks, though we may have the potential, lack of will has not allowed our full potential to be achieved. For instance, we have had, over the years, militancy, terrorism, insurgency in almost every state of the Union. It is common knowledge that such events are a direct consequence of misgovernance. Yet, not even in one case, has the Government produced a White Paper to examine the causes and fix responsibility. Don’t we want to learn? Don’t we want to punish the guilty? Second, the fruits of economic improvement are not percolating to the under-privileged fast enough, causing friction. Third, though guilt is established in the high and mighty, action is delayed abnormally. There is need to take hard decisions.


Adequacy of Mechanisms

Terror is the weapon of those who resent being historical victims, are too weak to do anything about it through conventional methods, but are motivated enough to seek vengeance. This is the creed of the man who decides to go underground; dealing with them requires effective intelligence and a special breed of hunters.


James Madison (author of American Liberty) states, “In framing a government which is to be administrated by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must just enable the government to control the governed; and in the next phase oblige it to control itself.’ In other words, first order, then liberty. With us, the process is reversed!


We are fortunate in having a positive ‘do-er’ in our Home Minister. The measures he has instituted will take time to fructify, but we can take comfort in the fact that at least a start has been made. Much more needs to be done and here we have an excellent example in the US homeland security which we could emulate.


The media will always be a force multiplier. How it should be employed is best explained in the words of the Father of the Nation: “One of the objects of  a newspaper is to understand the popular feeling and give expression to it. Another is to arouse in the people certain desirable sentiments. And the third is to fearlessly expose popular defects.”


In the emerging security environment, India’s dependence on the sea will increase in terms of trade, energy resources, shipping, sustainable exploitation of marine resources, and ocean research and exploitation. Its transportation routes will be increasingly vulnerable to disruption. The dynamic role of technology on naval warfare will also impact upon the country. Various measures were taken in the wake of the 26/11 attack in Mumbai to streamline the security apparatus. One hopes these are effective.



With the successful conclusion of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, our diplomacy has secured a notable triumph and the latest deals signed with the US, France, UK and Russia add to the sense of satisfaction.


The arrogance that has characterised our relations with smaller neighbours must give way to respecting that they too have interests (example Bhutan).


There is need to follow up on the old saying, “cultivate the enemy of the enemy.” Diplomacy to be effective must be pro-active and it must have the support of the nation and be backed by what Theodoce Roosevelt said, “Wear a silk glove, but carry a big stick”. This is particularly relevant in the case of China which only understands the language of power.


We have, on occasion, not been realistic in regional security problems. Witness the ambivalence that characterized our policy towards Sri Lanka. There were conflicting pulls: on the one hand, the need for a stable Sri Lanka; on the other the pressure from Tamil Nadu to help the LTTE. The former should have been our choice.


As the regional power, we have to involve ourselves directly if a neighbour has a problem; example Nepal, Sri Lanka. If we do not involve ourselves, we allow space for foreign powers to intrude.



India weathered the 2008 financial crisis well and the economy is likely to grow between 8-10%. FII’s are back though recurring complaints of too much red tape persist. Contrast this with China where opening a business is the easier part, doing it involves meeting numerous Chinese demands. Our labour laws need to bring in greater accountability on the part of unions.


Energy needs are going to witness a sharp increase by 2020, hence the vital importance of energy security. Negotiations are on concerning the Iran and Central Asian Republics pipelines. There are security concerns which hopefully should be resolved. We are also in negotiation with Bangladesh and Myanmar for supply of gas. Power from nuclear plants should ease scarcity.


The Indian Ocean remains vital from the economic, military, political and legal points of view. It is our backyard and it is our legitimate right to keep it secure from the Strait of Hozmuz to the Strait of Malacca. This not only concerns protection of India’s over 2.3 million square km EEZ, but also securing the energy lifeline. For this diplomacy has to be pro-active in securing friends and a deterrent strong enough to back our claims.


India, China, ASEAN, Japan, South Korea and Australia are all pillars of an emerging Asia-Pacific architecture. Cooperation is essential between them and India must emerge as the fulcrum of the new geo-political and economic order.


The armed forces  

The armed forces have continued to display excellence in each and every assigned bash. We should note the extraordinary complexity of the challenges they face. They not only have to contend with external threats but also the possibility of widespread strife among political, ethnic and religions groups, any incident of which can escalate and go beyond the control of civil authority.


Modernization is a two–fold problem. On the one hand, imports are seriously hampered by red tape and other apprehensions; and domestic upgrades are slow or non-existent. We need the will to make the system simple, transparent and fair; yet we keep foundering surrendering to allegation and succumbing to pressures.


Coming to the part of domestic production, despite efforts in recent years to expand civilian participation in defence production, there is no clear government policy to formalise the partnership. It is no secret that DRDO’s performance has been unsatisfactory. Take the Arjun tank: while I was in service, pressure was brought to bear on me to select a particular engine, but I replied that my recommendations had already been made. This was 1988!  


I have a simple solution: the Army’s technical arms services, the engineers, and signals have a vast reservoir of highly qualified technicians, generally under-utilised on mundane tasks. My suggestion is to create three nodal points at the CME, MCTE and MCENE, each of which has a base workshop in its vicinity; create dedicated teams not subject to criteria like command report, not served in field area and so on. Give them the funds and facilities and some projects from DRDO and I guarantee the most spectacular results.


In the 1950s and 70s, we had a pathological fear of constructing roads near the border, thus denying the forces proper lines of communication and the locals all the facilities that good roads bring. The reason trotted out was that the enemy would use the roads! Can there be anything more insulting? Mercifully this has since been corrected.


When Kargil erupted some years back, instead of leaving tactics to the soldier, the government announced that we will not cross the border, making life difficult for our attacking soldiers.


In 1987, when IPKF was fighting the LTTE, I found that the voices of the Services were muted by other players far removed from ground reality. I asked the COAS to speak to the PM and was told “Woh Sunta Nahin.” Can you imagine a Service Chief not being heard by the PM? Contrast this with 1971 when there was perfect rapport between the PM and COAS.



So, what is the prognosis in regard to our security? The framework is there, but it needs more backbone. We need to think as Indians rather than allowing religion, provincialism, groupism, and even political affiliations to intrude. Economically we must go in for regional and state to state cooperation, acting more the big brother by giving more than what we demand.


Militarily, we delay modernisation at our peril. I have suggested an alternative to DRDO; private players also exist who can deliver the goods without jeopardising security. You have to possess a credible deterrent and you must have the will to use it when the need arises in furtherance of your national security needs.             


[The article is based on the Second Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw, MC, Memorial Lecture delivered at Teen Murti Bhavan on 16 December 2009]

Lt Gen Depinder Singh, PVSM, VSM, is author of Soldiering with Dignity (Natraj Publishers)

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