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Vinay Rana asked: What does Defence Studies in India encompass and what is the importance of Defence Studies?

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  • A. Vinod Kumar replies: The academic discipline of defence studies, usually described by the pedagogical nomenclature of defence and strategic studies, branches out from the larger stream of the study of politics, or from a scientific paradigm, even political science. Its genesis is traced to the development of security studies as an academic stream during and after the World Wars. With studies on the interaction of states centred on the Westphalian state system having already begun in 1919, with the setting up of a chair on international politics at the Aberystwyth University, the discipline evolved into various nomenclatures including international relations (IR) or international studies. It also encompassed the theme of international security by reflecting the broader nature of security, defence and military studies as inherent elements of the interaction of states in the global system.

    A glance at the postgraduate page of the Department of War Studies, Kings College London (KCL) or the syllabus of the Department of Defence and Strategy Studies at the University of Madras provides a holistic idea on how the discipline has evolved into a broad academic construct encompassing numerous intra-disciplinary subjects that include defence, security (including national and international security), strategy, war, conflict, peace resolution and management, international relations/politics, intelligence, terrorism, and so on, besides integrating the inter-disciplinary elements of history, economics and sociology, among others to study the broader dimensions of the core areas.

    In India, the first Department of Defence and Strategic Studies was established at the University of Allahabad in 1940. Later on, similar departments came up in the University of Pune (now Savitribai Phule Pune University) in 1963 and the University of Madras in 1977. After catalytic events like the nuclear tests of 1998 and the Kargil Conflict of 1999 generated massive interest and debate on matters of defence and national security, numerous such departments/centres/schools came up in various universities across the country.

    Furthermore, the pattern of nationalistic fervour and collective adoration for the armed forces, as visible in the country in the past decade, could also be a factor in the increasing trend of national security studies pervading institutions of higher learning and subsuming thematic areas like defence, strategy, military and international relations under its rubric. An example of this trend is the establishment of specialised national security and police universities in states like Gujarat and Rajasthan, which some other states are also likely to follow. This is beside the fact that the Indian National Defence University (INDU), which will integrate all educational and training institutions under the armed forces, is being established at Manesar in the National Capital Region through an Act of Parliament, which is currently being drafted. A proposal was also mooted some years ago on the need to include defence and national security in the school curriculum.

    Notwithstanding these trends, the question of assessing the importance of defence studies could be subjective and would vary on the basis of the levels or the nature of pedagogy. The introduction of defence or national security studies in schools could contribute to inspiring the younger generation to join the armed forces. The same, however, cannot be said about the universities, where the discipline is approached from a dialectical and an academic framework. There are instances of defence studies syllabi in various state universities being applicable for recruitment exams to various state-level government services. Beyond these aspects, the utility of undergraduate and postgraduate studies will be to seek further opportunities for higher learning or research or specialised niche jobs in the corporate sector including risk analyses, banking and related security services. Those pursuing research in this discipline in universities have the opportunity to join the academic or policy-making communities like think tanks or international institutions.     

    For a recent assessment on this discipline by the University Grants Commission (UGC), see Learning Outcomes Based Curriculum Framework (LOCF) for Defence and Strategic Studies (B.A. Defence Studies) Undergraduate Programme (2020)”

    Also, see Prakash Menon, “Military Education in India: Missing the Forest for the Trees”, Journal of Defence Studies, 9 (4), October-December 2015, pp. 49-69.

    Posted on November 27, 2020

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India

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