July 1, 2021

Securing the Nation: Conventional Threats

Written By: Sumit Mukerji

“Future conflicts will increasingly emphasise the disruption of critical infrastructure, societal cohesion and basic government functions in order to secure psychological and geopolitical advantages, rather than defeat of enemy forces on the battlefield through traditional military means.”

                                                — National Intelligence Council, USA

The last half century has witnessed considerable upheavals and changes in geopolitical sparring and the uni-polarity of the United States has come under a shadow. Shifting alignments and the rise of China as an economic and military giant has challenged the geopolitical structure, with China looking for its place as a major player in international reckoning. The subtle shift in the US stance, indicative of a weakened Russia while seemingly acknowledging China’s rise, took place during the Obama Presidency, as it announced the Asia-Pacific rebalance. It was evident that Asia–Pacific was going to be the area of interest in the coming decades. President Trump, an avid China hater, provided a greater push and created the Indo-Pacific region, enlarging USA‘s area of interest and firmly establishing the strategic importance of the region. Renaming of the Pacific Command (PACOM) as the Indo-Pacific Command and enlarging its scope of operational jurisdiction, justified and endorsed the strategic imperatives in the coming years and decades. The fact that 80% of the world’s energy reserves flow through the SLOCs of the Indian Ocean, highlights the criticality, importance and the need for security in the region. India’s geographical location, juxtaposed at the crown of the Indian Ocean has made it a prime player not only in regional dynamics but also in the international arena. It’s growing economy and its judicious interactions and relationship building with major strategic players has projected India into the geopolitical centre-stage.

The security environment has become extremely dynamic in the past one century. Mobility in air travel and connectivity through the electromagnetic spectrum has not only changed but shrunk the world. The huge electronic matrix which now surrounds the world is like the proverbial spider’s web – pretty to look, intricately woven, provides easy access to the user, but deadly or fatal for those who trespass. Technology has assisted in rapid development of infrastructure, promoting business and growth to provide satisfaction to nations and allow economies to blossom. So the success of a nation is a sum of all the resources that go into nation building, from the political dispensation and their control, the industry, the infrastructure, the economy and the people.

The complex and interwoven canvas provides the security to the population. This is national power. In fact, here I would like to bring out what Manoj Joshi said in his article on Comprehensive National Power in The Observer. He has mentioned about the concept pioneered by Ray Cline of the CIA, as far back as 1960. Cline proposed an index-based formula Pp = (C+E+ M) x (S+W), where Pp was Perceived Power, C = Critical Mass (Population +Territory), E = Economic Capability, M = Military Strength, S = Strategic Purpose and W = Will to pursue National Strategy. While this formula would be true in a broad framework, technology has probably added many more variations, with their particular strengths and weaknesses, which will tweak the basic formula into a more complex form. Be that as it may, the essentials remain as a stark index and provide a starting point to harness and focus our country in the right direction, to remain relevant in today’s world. It must also be clearly understood that it is these same elements that throw up vulnerabilities, which, if exposed or compromised, can be exploited by elements inimical to the state or country.

Every country is duty bound to protect its assets and provide security for its population. Under an overarching umbrella of a policy, usually a National Security Strategy, the government is expected to lay down a broad-spectrum plan as to how it will address security threats as they develop for the nation. Sadly, India has never developed a National Security Strategy. Without a guiding principle, the country is floundering like a ship without a rudder in stormy seas. While we have established sub-components like the JIC, NSC, SPG, NSAB, etc. and populated them with very prominent personalities, to the public they seem toothless and wanting in the face of crises that emerge and we falter in the face of adversity.

The last eighteen months have been tumultuous for our country. The rapid spread of the corona virus disease, termed Covid-19, enhanced itself to pandemic proportions as it ravaged the world. While it came later to India than it did in Europe and the USA, there was no doubt that its spread could not be contained easily once it penetrated our borders. The shadow of the horrific Spanish Flu which killed more people in India than anywhere else, was a deadly harbinger of things to come and hung over the country like a cloak till the casualties started building up, exposing the inadequacies of our medical infrastructure. As the cases started manifesting, crippling the population, the fear psychosis heightened and was overwhelmingly evident amongst the population as they saw thousands of people succumbing to the virus in western countries which would surely follow here.

With a psychologically and increasingly medically afflicted population, the weakened nation was vulnerable to external forces. With uncanny timing, India found its northern borders in the Ladakh sector breached by an old aggressor, the Chinese PLA. The intrusion across the LAC came as a surprise, more because of the numbers of troops and the follow-on forces that were amassed, which were substantially higher than what the Indian Army experiences in normal or routine border skirmishes. Alarm bells were justified as the state of border protection and preparedness was exposed in the face of such opposition. The inadequacy of troops, appropriate equipment and munitions, the logistics supply chain effectiveness, all came under the scanner and clearly brought out our lackadaisical attitude and perspective towards national security. The slow degradation of the armed forces with no supplement or enhancement in the defence budget was clearly evident as the country scrambled to procure arms under extraordinary circumstances, obviously at exploitation costs. The question whether there was an intelligence failure involving all agencies which precipitated such a situation will be debated within closed walls, but the fact that the sovereignty of the state was threatened and we have had to recover from a situation where our credibility was at stake, speaks volumes for the armed forces to make most of a bad situation.

Security concerns in the future will not be restricted to protecting the borders and using the military and its war-fighting capability. The canvas of elements has spread so far and wide it makes one shudder at the thought of having to acquire an ability to straddle all domains. Some of the security concerns that come to mind are:

Military Security                        Political Security                         Economic Security

Energy Security                         Infrastructure Security               Human Security

Food Security                            Health Security                            Resource Security

Environment Security              Geostrategic Security                 Disaster Security

Media & Information Base      Diplomacy                                    Cyber Security

As a vast country with diverse population and low education levels, India has a huge problem on its hands to address each and every vulnerability. Over the years it has developed systems which are in place to address security issues regarding that particular system. Unfortunately, a concern for security comes from a sense of belonging. The population must realise the effort being undertaken by the government to keep them safe under so many varied conditions and circumstances. In the diverse environment existing in our country, the democratic ethos sometimes takes on an extreme hue and the sense of unity and homogeneity, which fosters nationalism, is lost. The multi-party political system is so fractured one can never seem to reach a consensus.

Whether it is in our culture or in our psyche, the average Indian will question every decision taken by an authority. The sad part of this is that when there are actions taken with regard to security of the nation, their validity and veracity are questioned openly, ridiculing and embarrassing the government in the public domain. The present dispensation provided the first ever firm response in the form of punitive action against Pakistan, with surgical strikes by the army and a more definitive and penetrative action by the IAF when they struck the Balakot terrorist training camp. Post the action it was horrific to see the opposition parties questioning the veracity and proof of these actions, almost like mouthpieces of the Pakistan government. It was shameful. It is for this fractured attitude and approach that India has fallen prey to marauding militia and subsequently been ruled for centuries by foreign powers, who capitalised on India’s ‘dog eat dog’ attitude providing the opportunity to divide and rule.

Given the huge security matrix, there is a serious need for our people to put their differences aside and become one cohesive whole for this one purpose – Security. Our potential in population and territory makes up a huge chunk of Cline’s formula. If we can gather and preserve that potential to focus in a common direction, for the sake of the country, half the battle is won. Rather than attempting to address all the factors that affect national security, I think some of those which need greater attention would be worth addressing early. There are no shades of grey in hard power considerations. If it comes to military engagement with the enemy, equipment and manpower cannot be compromised. It is only hard power of military action that can preserve sovereignty of the nation and integrity of the country’s territory. Not too far back an Indian Army Chief, when questioned whether he had the means to fight a two-front war with Pakistan and China, said, “Yes and we will fight with what we have.” The statement clearly defines a true soldier, who will give his blood for the motherland despite the odds and the lack of material support provided him.

Our defence budget has been found wanting for the past few decades. This has contributed to a greater disproportionate efficacy in capability in a modern and rapidly changing battlefield scenario. Technology has pushed legacy equipment into the background, in the face of state-of-the-art weapon systems existing today. Given our extensive land borders with Pakistan, China and the 7000 + kms coastline, the need for numbers can never be more evident. To subsist on a defence budget which has seen paltry, if any, increments in the past three decades, is an affront to the military and its potential to defend the nation. There has not been a single war in the history of independent India when we didn’t have to turn to another country to fortify our needs for arms and ammunition. We should feel embarrassed.

Modi government’s huge thrust on development across the board, from infrastructure growth, to agriculture, railways, road networks, power to villages, connectivity of all kinds etc., will necessitate huge amounts of energy. With energy consumption doubling in the last one decade, the rising economy and increase in population, the reliance on regular supply of energy cannot be ignored. With a huge dependence on coal and thermal energy, India’s additional resources through hydropower and natural gas will remain a major factor in any consideration. China’s phenomenal growth has propelled her energy requirements to unprecedented levels and protecting its channelisation through the SLOCs in the Indian Ocean and the choke points at the Gulf of Hormuz and the Straits of Malacca are causes of concern to China. Similarly, India must be concerned with not only the sources of energy and their security but also of the means to transport such energy across the length and breadth of this vast country safely.

As just mentioned, industrial development and growth of any nation is clearly defined by the creation of infrastructure which will propel the nation forward and provide it the rightful place in the modern world. The growth of industry necessitates large investments in infrastructure and in turn the creation of road networks and rail services to move raw materials across great distances. Securing infrastructure against sabotage or natural calamities should be a priority for sustained growth and development. India has well set up security systems, whether govt controlled or privately owned, for most developmental projects. While recruiting manpower for security agencies may not be much of an issue, their dedication and commitment are sometimes questionable.

The media has emerged as an extremely powerful tool in society and the day-to-day happenings in the world. News and information have, through years, influenced the human mind, thereby eliciting actions and decisions which may not have occurred otherwise. This ability to influence the human mind and thus groups, societies and even governments has had some very serious repercussions, positive and negative, in the recent past. The information domain, highly computerised and professionally managed, can now throw up statistical data and analyses at the drop of a hat. So convincing are these that individuals, organisations and governments have used the media to project their side of the picture. The success of the advertising world hinges around exactly this projection, which enhances a product. But the same media or information source can be tweaked by those who wish to disrupt societies or governments, weakening their authority and trying to reduce government to naught. While it may have been in existence (maybe in horse racing news), ‘Fake News’ was an unknown entity up until some years ago, when suddenly the tweaked information domain started knocking on the top rungs of government and even threatened their credibility and existence. While fundamental rights hold sway and the media cannot be throttled, other than in authoritarian states like China, they remain a tool which could turn unsavory in the hands of undesirable elements.

Perhaps the factor which really casts its umbrella presence with regard to national security is that of the cyber domain. Technology could not have moved at such a rapid pace but for computerisation and the information space provided by the cyber medium. Data transfer in various forms has created the need for networks to allow access to users across the globe at a touch of their fingertips. Today, virtually everything, from shoe designing & manufacturing to bridge construction, airplane controls, power systems and businesses are dependent on vast networks interconnected through the electromagnetic spectrum. At the micro level of the ordinary citizen, the government has created access portals to banking and government organisations, through mobile phones. This huge dependency on the cyber medium and the transportability of information is a ‘ripe tomato’ for picking by undesirable forces. Cyber-attacks and cyber warfare have today taken on proportions far outweighing military engagements, primarily because most modern military hardware today is largely dependent on systems fed by and controlled through cyber networks.

The need for strong cyber security systems needs no emphasis. As a nuclear state and operating the fourth largest military in the world, India needs a Cyber Command. An authority which will not only handle military issues but will have civilian sleuths and professionally trained ‘hackers’ alongside to cover all domains and sectors, or provide the niche assistance that would be required. With very high dependency on networks, this organisation would be about the most important set-up in the country.

The multi-dimensional character of future security threats is likely to have physical and moral components. While border protection and localised wars would entail the physicality, it would permeate down to tackling terrorists, insurgents, embedded military fighters, proxy fighters and Naxals in our constant counter-insurgency battle. The national government will also continue the moral battle against separatists, activists, media disinformation and the like. We must remember, the line between conventional threats and sub-conventional threats is becoming narrower and the moral element is assisting in the merge. The threats will continue to look for vulnerabilities as they appear and strike when opportunity arises.

We need to consolidate our national power, identify and harness the key strategic areas of concern which can cripple the nation and ensure a strong blanket protection. The cyber domain clearly is the defining critical factor amongst all the vulnerabilities, with a capability to bring armies and nations to their knees. We have created some agencies at the national level to address the big issues (like the NDMA). We need to create more to oversee crises as they occur and manage them before they become disasters. The military has a system of ‘War Gaming’ all likely possibilities that may cause situations to go out of control, whether in battle or otherwise. War Gaming offers the players the opportunity to ‘plug gaps’ and formulate ‘contingency plans’. These ensure that if surprised for any reason, there is a tackle available to stem the tide. There is no gainsaying that the civil/government organisations placed in responsible positions to avert threats to the nation must adopt such methods. They will go a long way in securing the nation.

In the final analysis and to (lamely) fall back on Ray Cline’s formula for Perceived Power (read Comprehensive National Power), success can only be assured by the last bit of the formula—Strategic Purpose and Will to Pursue National Strategy. We need to state our Strategic Purpose through a National Security Strategy, a public document which clearly spells out the government ‘intent’. The people must be aware and assured that the government will follow the strategy it lays down to address any security threat to the nation. The populace must also be convinced to see such action when the opportunity presents itself. A National Security Strategy document provides a positive face to a government and its ‘Will to Pursue its stated Strategy’ lends the ultimate credibility to its leadership.

Author Brief Bio: An alumnus of NDA and DSSC, Air Marshal Sumit Mukerji, PVSM, SC, VSM, has served the IAF as a fighter pilot with distinction He has commanded three units, a MiG-29 Sqn, a MiG-25 SR Sqn and TACDE (considered the ‘Top Gun’ school of the IAF) and also served as the Air Attaché in Washington DC. He retired in 2011 as the AOC-in-C of Southern Air Command.

References: –

  1. Warfare in Many Dimensions – Mad Scientist Laboratory – Exploring the Op Environment – USA
  2. Op Environment 2021-30 (US Army)
  3. National Resources – Wikipedia
  4. Strategies for Enhancing India’s Comprehensive National Power – Brig Rahul Bhonsle (Retd) – VIF
  5. The Sixth Dimension of War – Raghu Raman – The Wire
  6. A National Security Strategy for a New Century – 1997
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