Call of Duty: National Security Reforms– Long Overdue?

National Security Reforms- Long Overdue? There are gaps in crucial places, even when efforts are made at reforming the system, they have only been met with partial success.

In the Indian context, though our national security threats and challenges are quite well defined, our national security apparatus appears to come short many a time, especially when there is a major security crisis, whether it was the Chinese attacks in 1962, the Pakistani infiltrations in 1999, Pakistan engineered 26/11 attacks on Mumbai in 2008, or the intrusions in May 2020 by China in Eastern Ladakh. To add to the problem, even when formal efforts are made at reforming the system, they have only met with 

We have a largely functional national security system in place. However, whenever there are security reverses, it comes to light that our security systems have gaps in crucial places and appear more geared to address the crises that have occurred in the past and not the ones that are likely to happen in the future. It becomes obvious that there are shortfalls in our security systems, which need to be addressed. But then, even an important recommendation after the Kargil War, like the creation of the crucial appointment of Chief of Defense Staff or CDS, took twenty years to be implemented. It only goes to show that the reforms that we undertake in the security sector are reactive and piecemeal, related to the crisis of the day, and these too are not implemented fully and in good time.

National Security Reforms that India needs to undertake should result in improvements in the existing security system, to the extent that, as far as possible, it should be able to predict and preempt all forms of security threats and challenges that the country may face in the foreseeable future.

Comprehensive security reform was last attempted after the Kargil War in 1999. It may be time that an even more comprehensive appraisal of India’s security sector is initiated and security reforms implemented.

Reforms To Be Top-Down at Three Levels

To be effective, security sector reforms must be implemented top-down at three different levels:

Firstly, reforms at the directional level, in that, strategic guidance, emanating from the highest authority in the government, should be made available to our security practitioners, and possibly, to the public at large.

Secondly, at the procedural level, an efficient and dynamic system should be made to work continuously to identify, review and proactively address national security challenges in the current and future perspective, in an efficient and foolproof manner.

And thirdly, the execution level, where the military, para-military, police, cyber, and intelligence agencies should be continually strengthened, optimally structured, and resourced, in terms of tasking, training, budget support, equipment, and motivation, to carry out their role and tasks in a most effective manner – which precludes getting caught off-guard, being untrained or ill-equipped whenever the next crisis takes place.

Essential Reforms

  1. Directional Level

What has been missing so far is the strategic guidance in the security realm – that the government of the day must articulate clearly, and provide to the security practitioners.

The best way to do that is to enunciate a ‘national security strategy for the country, say, for a five-year period.

And for an Emerging power of India’s strengths and resources, which seeks developed country status economically and a global rule-maker status politically, the National Security Strategy should predominantly reflect our hopes rather than our fears, in that, it is our aspirations for a leadership role in the global comity of nations that should primarily guide us in formulating our strategy, rather than just addressing our security threats.

No doubt, our security system should display foresight, alertness, and strength in terms of an effective intelligence and police capacity – backed by a strong military deterrence capability and internal security reserves – which we are able to operationalize at short notice, to deal with any threat that manifests on our borders or within, but it is equally important that, from that position of strength, we are successful in creating a peaceful security environment, both within the country and on our borders, which would contribute to rapid economic growth and the people enjoying the fruits of resultant prosperity.

Clearly, an emerging power of India’s stature and potential should not be satisfied with an eternally unstable situation on any of our borders or within – we should treat such episodes only as temporary hiccups or setbacks, meant to be resolved – so that stability is restored at the earliest.

Strangely, all this while, the primary focus of our defense forces and other security means has remained on Pakistan, the weaker of our adversaries. There should be no doubts left – the happenings in Eastern Ladakh over the last two years gave a clear message that it was time to shift our primary focus to China, our stronger adversary, which continues to display a confrontational stance, both politically and militarily.

And our ‘national security strategy must give a clear message highlighting adherence to our traditional values of democracy, equality, freedom, and pluralism, which have gained us an endearing place in the hearts and minds of the global community – a positive image as a country and a people – which distinguishes us clearly from authoritarian, aggressive and hegemonic nations, which do not provide the fruits of these enduring values to their people.

And the national security strategy should also cover the non-traditional aspects of security like water security, energy security, environmental security pandemic security, and financial network security – all of which are very important for the sense of well-being among the people of our country.

  1. Procedural Level

We are aware that, in our parliamentary system, the highest decision-making body on security matters is the Cabinet Committee on Security. The Cabinet Ministers who form this Committee control the resources and means which provide security to the country. Further, in our parliamentary system, the Parliamentary Standing Committees associated with these Ministries, provide legislative oversight to ensure the efficient functioning of these Ministries – this is a system that needs enhancement in a number of ways.

Parallelly, we have a system where the National Security Advisor, with support from the National Security Council and the National Security Advisory Board, provides advice on security matters to the PMO.

Both these systems should not be seen to be functioning independently of each other. We need to strengthen these institutions and optimize the output of and coordination between the Ministries, Agencies, and the NSC. Otherwise, there will be gaps, which will be exploited, especially by our adversaries.

Various sub-systems in our security system must be put through periodic review in keeping with developments in the security environment and improvements in the technological means available to us. And timely action must be taken on the recommendations of these Committees without waiting for the next crisis to happen.

  1. Execution Level

I am sure we all agree on the need for capacity building of our security forces who provide the means to execute our security plans and measures.

The most important reform would entail operationally strengthening and modernizing our military, police, para-military, cyber, and intelligence agencies and structures, as well as improving the coordination between them. And, as far as possible, such measures should not result in increasing the numbers of personnel in these forces. This would require :

1.  Articulation of a National Defense Strategy.

2. Increase in defense budget till our defense modernization needs are achieved.

3.  Restructuring the forces by improving the quality of our military units through the use of better equipment & technology (while cutting down on quantities, including numbers of personnel). Raising of the Mountain Strike Corps and other related accretions,  in the form, originally envisaged, would need to be completed, if not done so already.

4.  Rebalancing our forces between the various fronts may be opportune at this juncture. 

5. Our nuclear doctrine may need a review 

6. The operational functioning of the military, para-military, and police forces must be optimized by integrating resources and removing duplication of effort.

7. Creation of the CDS, as of 1st January 2020,  is an important step in this direction. The new CDS must be appointed at the earliest. However, a lot more needs to be done in terms of achieving genuine integration and optimization of effort.

8. The theatre commands will have to be put into effect at the earliest.

9. Air defense and Logistics of the three Services need to be integrated.

10. The Procurement system needs total revamping. A more efficient and cost-effective system needs to be put into place to provide the best bang for the buck, and that too in a timely manner. 

11. Correct prioritization of our competing needs holds the key. Efforts at Self Reliance definitely need to take off – but not at the cost of the efficiency and effectiveness of our forces – which would happen in case the products are unreliable. The functioning of the DRDO and DPSUs need further review and optimization, as part of this process.

To sum up, may I opine that the recent tensions with China have provided us an opportunity to review our national security challenges and put much-needed security reforms into effect.

I would also like to reiterate that a well-thought-out National Security Strategy needs to be enunciated at the earliest, following which, a comprehensive strategic review of the effectiveness of our national security architecture and systems should be done and reforms put into place. The faster this is done, the faster we will be confident of effectively handling our security challenges of the future in the best way possible