Fifty years of Indian Indian Independence: A Strategic Review

05 Aug, 1997    ·   5

Lt Gen Satish Nambiar strategically analyses the various external threats to India's security and the resultant defence postures taken by India.

One of the major factors that has influenced the Indian establishment’s approach to national security matters and strategic thought is the indifference and apathy induced by years of British rule, when these aspects were the domain of the colonial rulers. During those years, none of our people were privy to discussions and decisions on those vital matters of state, nor were our people aware of any of the nuances. The irony, of course, is that such indifference and apathy has continued even in the years following our emergence as an independent nation, almost certainly induced by post independence thought on the subject being largely shaped by the fact that for probably more than a century, there has been no large scale war that has touched sections of society in all parts of the country, and the fact that the independence struggle was a largely peaceful mass movement, which led dominant sections of the political leadership ideologically towards pacifism, a vision of a co-operative global order, and the abhorrence of power politics in the international arena.



The idealistic approach fed on the euphoria of having attained independence through peaceful means, and non-alignment as the main plank of our foreign policy, appeared to serve us well, more so in assuming that since we had no designs on any other country, there was no serious threat to us from others. That this was incongruous in terms of strategic throught in context of the Pakistani inspired intrusion into Jammu and Kashmir and the military operations that followed, and our own actions in Junagadh, Hyderabad , and later Goa , Daman and Diu , did not seem to strike the then political leadership. As a result, even some of the institutionalised mechanisms that were tentatively set up for the evolution and implementation of a defence strategy based on a national security policy, were allowed to degenerate; till they were somewhat resuscitated when the Chinese jolted us our of our reverie in 1962.



In recognition of a continuing Chinese threat, the country then undertook a sizeable expansion of the armed forces; regrettably ad-hoc, in as much as, our preparations were for a war that had already taken place, for which of course, we were not then prepared. Even so, this preparation enabled the country to deal with the Pakistani adventure in 1965. The greatest deficiency of Indian strategic thought and planning over the years has been the obsession with Pakistan ; the perceived need to be able to counter that nation in the political arena, and to meet a military threat from that quarter. This led to an apologetic and defensive posture in the international arena, to our great disadvantage; needless to say, had we been able to formulate a coherent and realistic national security policy, based on rational threat assessments, in context of the territorial integrity of the country’s land borders and maritime resources, and the economic and social content of our programmes, we would be taken more seriously in international circles in our own right, and not equated with smaller countries like Pakistan. Once we consciously cater for the greater dangers, however improbable they may be at the moment, the relatively smaller threats get neutralised.



In some ways, the respite from any classical wars since 1971, may be largely attributed to some strategic direction and consequent equipping of the armed forces, that was undertaken in the mid and late eighties. However, subsequent perceived setbacks in the armed forces actions undertaken in the Punjab and in Sri Lanka , and the situations that emerged in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Assam , together with ongoing insurgencies in Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura, stunted the further development of strategic direction and thought again, and the establishment reverted to the reactive routine of earlier years.



There is however scope for the emergence of strategic thought and practice in the field of national security in context of a firm direction on economic goals, which is the primary plank on which such policy will be globally based in the years to come. There appears to be a sense of purpose in terms of where we wish to take the country in economic terms, and if, into this can be reasonably welded the social and educational needs of the country, the basic framework for the determination of a coherent and realistic national security policy will reveal itself, and within this framework, it will be possible to mould a credible defence strategy for the country. This may mean revisiting what now passes for defence strategy, and discarding some of the positions established over the years.



A credible defence strategy within the framework of a coherent and realistic national security policy will be meaningful if it is accepted by the political and military leadership of the country that, respect and recognition in the international arena is contingent on power derived from military strength, and the understanding that such power will be used to safeguard national interests. Military capability based on such a strategy will, of necessity, mean forsaking larger numbers of personnel and equipment, for a strategic capability, based on a nuclear deterrent (even if ambivalent at present), and missile forces.