Challenges ahead
Reviewed by
B. G. Verghese

Comprehensive Security for an Emerging India
Ed. Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak.
Knowledge World.
Pages 394. Rs 780.

THERE are many more aspects to a nation’s security than the threat of war. Battles can be won and lost even without armies moving, which is now better understood. And the danger of armed conflict escalating to a nuclear exchange induces sobriety and restraint in military responses, though many have speculated on what could still happen below a certain threshold. The Indo-Pakistan and Korean strand-offs are two cases in point. Even so, the prospect of nuclear terror or irresponsible action by rogue elements leaves much unanswered.

The discourse in the Indian context is carried forward, covering many dimensions, in Comprehensive Security for an Emerging India, edited by Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak. It is, as K. Subhhramanyam, the country’s security doyen, says in Introduction, a daunting task in an uncertain world. Yet, one positive factor he pointedly notices is that "emerging India" does not appear a looming threat to most, as it is a democratic, plural and non-irredentist state.

India is already recognised as a regional power with its growing economy and technological sophistication. Arvind Virmani, the economist, puts numbers on this trend line. India will be the third largest economic power by 2015, with China growing faster to catch up with the US by 2025 to create a bipolar world. India will follow by 2040-50, but will be even by 2035 to become a balancer for the US in offsetting Chinese power in a tripolar world. After 2050, China and India will be the world’s two leading economic powers, as they were until 1700.

The gaps to be filled to assume this power are real. India’s missing defence doctrine and the need for a more robust higher defence management and planning structure with a Chief of Defence Staff in place (N.S. Sisodia, director IDSA), is amplified by Admiral Arun Prakash who stresses the increasingly crucial role of the Navy in projecting power for which it must adopt a transformational rather than an incremental approach. Air Marshal Asthanna supplements this with emphasis on aerospace power and the need, with the other services, for developing network-centric warfare capability for making available the combined operational picture at all levels in real time. These strengths have to be matched with improved defence resource management and defence research and development efforts so as to reduce high levels of external dependence on external platforms, equipment and stores (Vinod Misra).

Given current concerns over the menace of terror, the argument for developing smart counter-terror capability merits serious attention. B. Raman notes that India’s limited covert action capability was "wound up as a unilateral gesture to Pakistan" in 1997. He describes this as an extremely unwise step. It is also his considered opinion that the time is ripe for establishing a separate Ministry of Internal Security outside the Home Ministry and to beef up the country’s intelligence and investigation and prosecution capabilities.

Wajahat Habibullah writes of the importance of the right to information. But this by itself does not answer to the need for a national communications policy to give meaning to "Satyameve Jayate" or a sound defence/security information policy that is totally lacking and was singularly botched up in Mumbai through 26/11. Indeed, this is a grave lacunae in the context of the instant and global reach of convergent media when everybody—military commanders, intelligence agencies, foreign offices, prime ministries and the man in the street—get their first information report on events far and near through the media. Not to report is to be fed with disinformation and to ignore the real, established fact that the world’s true hyper-power is national and international public opinion. The neglect of this in India and the failure to discuss it meaningfully with allied subjects like cartographic and archival secrecy has been extremely damaging.

The economy, water, food security, renewable energy, hydrocarbons, nuclear power and climate change are competently discussed by learned authors. So too are the bare bones of the Left-wing extremism. But the structural failures in dealing with the root causes of Maoism, on account of the total bypassing of the Fifth Schedule and the lack of a sturdy governance delivery mechanism for socio-economic change, are singularly lacking. For something described by no less than the Prime Minister as India’s greatest internal security threat, the lack of discussion on these critical aspects represents a national blind spot.

Future discussions on climate change also need to address issues of "greed" versus "need", the plundering rather than management of global natural resources, lifestyle changes, social consumption versus individual consumption and demand management through pricing and other mechanisms. However, the present volume marks a good beginning towards a better understanding of comprehensive security.