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21st Asian Security Conference: National Security and Defence Planning in an Era of Strategic Uncertainty

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  • March 12, 2020 to March 13, 2020
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Concept Note

    In a rapidly changing world, all known paradigms are experiencing stress. This calls for a level of strategic readjustments at multiple levels. At the broadest level, the inadequacies of the post-World War II international institutions — the United Nations and its Security Council in regard to peace and security, and the Bretton Woods financial institutions in regard to finance and development — are showing up because of the complexities and uncertainties characterising global politics and economy today. The old consensus is fraying and a new consensus is yet to emerge.

    The flow of human resources and services are impeded by concerns over loss of jobs and anti-immigrant sentiments. Technology, the vital pillar of progress, is open to misuse. The world appears to be on the brink of an intense battle for technological superiority in the age of artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing. Power is fracturing along multiple axes, be it economic, military or on the technological fronts. States and non-state actors have acquired the means and the skill sets required to overcome asymmetry in the absolute power quotient. No single country is capable of enforcing its writ on all issues at all times. Hedging and multi-alignment are part of every country’s toolkit.

    There are several facets to this emerging uncertainty. Traditional and non-traditional security threats such as economic and military competition, climate change, piracy, radical ideology, cyber threats, drug & human trafficking, and energy & food security have grown in magnitude. In addition to these, the spectre of terrorism, especially cross-border terrorism, continues to challenge the peace and prosperity to national security. Besides, the rapid advent of automation and AI in the Industry 4.0 is not without its consequences for disruption in conventional global supply chains. The changing nature of conflict and strategic uncertainties faced by nations regionally have further accelerated Asia’s security outlooks.

    Against such a backdrop, a number of variables impact the defence planning process. Among these are the growing inter-linkages between traditional and non-traditional security challenges,  competing priorities for the national budget in terms of defence versus development, inter-service tussle for resource allocation within the armed forces, the requirements of speed as well as transparency and probity in defence procurement, the trade-off between human resources and high-tech equipment, and striking the right balance between the longer-term objective of self-reliance through indigenisation and the urgent induction of world class weapons and equipment to meet operational requirements. These factors combine to make defence planning a dynamic process in which frequent adjustments have to be made along the way.

    Defence planning processes are further tested in an environment of strategic uncertainty, which — though not unique to our times — has acquired an unprecedented scale and pace today. Countries and national security organisations have to contend with dilemmas and make choices that can alter the very state of their preparedness and effectiveness against threats and challenges. Outcomes of defence planning processes depend on whether we make accurate assessments. A misreading of strategic realities harbour the potential to completely alter the direction of procurements, training and defence planning. This can lead to grave inadequacies in other future scenarios.

    Technology is, undisputedly, a major factor driving change in the context of issues that have a bearing on defence and security. This is true not only for official state organs but also in regard to private entities that increasingly are playing a role in defence research and development (R&D), manufacturing and procurement chains.

    Technological behemoths — having an international presence — control and shape the direction of technological research and its application. They not only steer the course of technological advancement and research, but control data representing the new currency of power. The data that resides with these companies provides them the opportunity to manipulate human behaviour and influence decision-making processes in recipient states.  

    In conflict scenarios, technology is likely to have an impact on factors with a direct bearing on national decision-making processes. It will influence speed and scope of information-gathering, analysing it and synthesising derivatives in real time basis, including weapons platforms. These decisions could relate to target striking, emergency-based ammunition requests, among others, based on real-time consumption patterns, casualties or refugee movements. In other words, the role of technology in de-cluttering decision-making in an increasingly complex operating environment will be far more important in the future. If this characterises the current reality of technological advancement, how much more is it likely to manifest in future conflict scenarios and on issues that impact national security? Even more importantly, will its role bring a transformative shift in warfighting as a strategic deterrent? This is a question that remains critical for military planners, particularly those involved in the task of ensuring effective defence planning.

    These are merely some of the more realistic shifts that are evident in the evolving conflict scenario, influenced by fast-evolving high-tech conditions. However, even as shifts take place both in the nature of conflict and the character of technological advancements, planning procedures for doctrines, capability-building and contingencies cannot be completely reinvented. They must remain anchored in proven procedures and processes to strengthen national security.

    The 21st edition of the Asian Security Conference (ASC) of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) is aimed at debating the scope of defence planning for countries and organisations in an era of acute regional and global uncertainty. The conference aims to bring together a range of experts, scholars, ex-policy makers, industry leaders and strategic planners to discuss the various facets of conflict, warfare and conventional and unconventional threats, by high-lighting implications for defence planning in an era of strategic uncertainty. The conference will examine the linkages between national security, defence planning and changing nature of conflict in Asia and beyond.

    The conference is tentatively divided into two days over eight sessions. The details are as follows:


    Inaugural Session

    Session- I:        Theorising National Security

    Session- II:       Strategic Uncertainty in Asia

    Session- III:      Changing Character of War & Warfare

    Session- IV:      National Security, Middle Powers and Neighbourhood


    Special Address

    Session- V:       Artificial Intelligence and National Security

    Session- VI:      Strategic Technologies and Deterrence

    Session- VII:     Defence Planning, Procurement & Fiscal Management

    Session- VIII:    Defence Innovation & Asia’s Defence Industrial Bases