Emerging Military Threats to India’s National Security
by N S Malik on 24 Jul 2008 0 Comment

After generally giving out the duties of the soldiers he postulates ‘He is thus the very basis and silent, barely visible, cornerstone of our fame, culture, physical well being and prosperity in the entire nation building activity. He does not perform any of these chores himself directly; he enables the rest of us to perform these without let or hindrance.’”

- Kautilya to Chandragupta on the Mauryan soldiers


Defence is the principal component of national power and defence policy is an integral part of national security formulations. Within that, the role of the armed forces is to preserve the core values of survival and political sovereignty against any external or internal threats by deterrence or by waging war. Our armed forces with their secular base and professional ethics contribute to the nation-building process.    


Threats, challenges and opportunities


In international affairs there is no place for righteousness and moral posturing; sovereign national interests rule. Till recently, despite its enormous size, population, military capability and technical manpower resources, India had relegated itself to a marginal role in regional and global power equations, the status of a non-performer. This needs to change.


National security policy framework must take into account the existing threats, challenges, and opportunities that may emerge, manifest, or appear from time to time. Threats require immediate response, challenges need to be visualized, analyzed and dealt with over a period of time before they become threats. Opportunities come rarely and must be encashed as and when they appear on the horizon.


Military Threats


Barely a decade and a half after the end of the Cold War, India’s security scenario has witnessed a sea-change with the emergence of USA as sole superpower, spread of religious fundamentalism in the neighbourhood, and the meteoric rise of China. We continue to be victims of proxy war by Pakistan, ongoing militancy in the north-east, and Maoist and Naxal insurgency in the so-called red corridor. The external and internal security environment is deteriorating, and there is an Islamic fundamentalism-driven nuclear environment in South Asia.




Former Defence Minister Shri George Fernandes called China ‘Enemy No1,’ but was forced to resile for diplomatic reasons, though the threat from that quarter cannot be dismissed lightly. Despite our goodwill towards the Chinese communist regime, it has followed an anti-India policy. The 1962 unprovoked attack on India was only to show its military strength and teach India a lesson; it remains as hostile today and threatens our security.


China today is a major actor in the Indian Ocean with its bases in Myanmar and the new facility coming up at Gwadar in Pakistan. Its nuclear-powered submarines have a free run in the Indian Ocean. It continues to support insurgency in the north-east by supplying arms and training; is today an important player in Nepal; has militarized the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) by deploying nuclear-weapons. All these destabilize India.


China has helped build Pakistan militarily and supplied nuclear know-how,  missiles and facilitated testing of nuclear weapons, besides supplying uranium to Pakistan.


It has not regularized the Sino-India border while having done so with every other neighbour. It continues to occupy our territory seized in the north-east and Aksai Chin area, besides acquiring large tracts of the Northern Areas of J&K under illegal Pakistani occupation. China continuously makes incursions on our borders and advances illegal claims in Arunachal Pradesh, northern Sikkim, and tri-junction area.


Militarily China spends a very substantial percentage of its GDP on building strong military force; land, naval and air, besides missiles forces. Its National Defence Policy 2004 argues for a greater role for military power in international relations and concludes with” “World peace is elusive, military factor plays greater role in international configuration and national security.”




Formed on the basis of the “two nation theory,” Pakistan survives on anti-India rhetoric. It has attacked India four times and vowed to carry on a ‘thousand year war’ using the ‘thousand cuts’ tactics; there is proxy war in J&K and terrorism inside India. It is a nuclear weapons state and has been a major proliferator of nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. It continues to destabilize Afghanistan, a traditional ally of India, thus blocking our land access to Central Asia.


The greatest danger flows from the fact that Pakistan today is in the grip of Wahabi fundamentalism and has become an unstable state politically. It thus remains an immediate front and threat. Any power seeking to destabilize India will likely work through Pakistan.


Indian Ocean


The only ocean named after a country that holds centrestage and dominates it. Yet this was neglected in the last millennium and we paid for it by being subjugated by a trading company. We are the natural sentinels of trade routes that traverse the sea lanes from the Malaccan Straits to the Red Sea. Besides, our off-shore assets and island territories need protection and here we have serious rivals as USA and China are pushing their presence on the outer shoulders of India - Myanmar and Pakistan.


Internal security 


This has assumed such dimensions that it is a virtual ‘front’ needing active defence – be it proxy war, terrorism, or Maoist insurgency. The military is directly involved in fighting the proxy war in J&K, and insurgency in the north-east. Illegal migration from Bangladesh has assumed menacing proportions and needs to be controlled urgently.




This is relatively a new threat dimension, emerging after China displayed its capability to act offensively in space, whether to knock out unfriendly satellites or more sinister uses. This is potentially dangerous as it could hit our communications, navigation, or intelligence gathering capabilities, thus paralyzing even our war machine at a crucial moment. Counter-measures and matching capabilities need urgent action.


Cyber Warfare  


This is another military threat. As India is a superpower in the electronics arena, we must harness this potential for the military use of cyber technology for defence to protect our systems and to attack an enemy. Computers have revolutionized terrorism, and cyber-terrorism could be used for intimidation, coercion, retaliation, influence, power, specific objectives, revenge, and to induce panic and erode public confidence in government, as also to spread anti-India ideology.    


Nuclear Threat  


South Asia is very unstable. One state is so unstable that it may become ungovernable, taken over by Islamic fundamentalists who may well unleash mayhem on the world around them. In such a scenario, even the best deterrence could fail. Besides, China has deployed a large number of nuclear weapons in Tibet that can be aimed at India only. We need to ensure viable deterrents.




India is vulnerable militarily from the north and east with an unfriendly China, and a Pakistan waging proxy war and launching terrorist attacks throughout the country. The Indian Ocean is wide open with hostile powers gaining footholds near our shores. A nuclearised South Asia with religious fundamentalism controlling minds in our neighbourhood is a recipe for disaster. Besides, space and cyber warfare have assumed new menacing dimensions; India needs to frame its defence policy accordingly.


Lt. Gen. N S Malik, PVSM, is former Deputy Chief of Army Staff

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