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IDSA's 39th Foundation Day Lecture - Challenges to National Security Over the Next Decade: A Perspective

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  • Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy, PVSM AVSM VM & BAR ADC & Chairman COSC
    November 11, 2004

    Honourable Raksha Mantriji and friends,

    It is indeed my privilege to be here this morning at the annual gathering of IDSA and an honor for me to share some of my thoughts with you. IDSA is one of our prestigious institutions that had seen great minds like Shri K.Subramanyam and Air Cmde Jasjit Singh who had contributed immensely and are recognized internationally. It is 39 years since the institution came into being. I have been asked to speak on challenges that I perceive to national security. I felt that I should limit my projection to the next decade since this period is of great importance to us. The happenings and directions that the country may get in this period would be of great significance for the future growth of our nation.

    While we ponder over the future, history is relevant and the present is important. The history of India is almost the history of civilization. Our society and our ways of living and thinking have been evolving over thousands of years. It is therefore difficult and sometimes impossible to adopt the ways of other nations and cultures. Our value system and sense of security are unique to our own ways. It is important that in the military field, we think the “Indian ways” and do not necessarily get sucked up to the Western ways of thinking. We have happily learned for centuries under the Gurkul concept. Arthashastra spelt the strategy for governance and war in 3rd Century BC long before most of the world had formed a cohesive thought on war and its strategy. We do not have to imitate the West in defining doctrines the manner the West understands them. We need to develop our own ways that would be more secure and far more effective.

    Africa and our subcontinent were bled for centuries by colonial powers after which they were divided into a number of nation states based on religion or tribes or other arbitrary reasons leaving many parts of the borders poorly defined. This plunged many divided countries in these continents into strained relations and even into wars. The other day, many of us heard Altaf Husain, the leader of the MQM party of Pakistan lamenting over the division of India and Pakistan and praying for unification.

    The West and most of Europe and Russia have settled their borders. However, Southern Asia still has some problems with unsettled borders. To be fighting a war to resolve a border issue is, according to the developed world, no longer thinkable. It is considered primitive and dangerous since the war could spread and its effect most devastating. Nuclear escalation is seen as a threat to the world and to civilization as a whole. In my view, our problems with Pakistan and the threat of war between us have tired the nations of the world. No one cares who is right or how we should resolve as long as we don’t war with each other. We have unsettled borders with Bangladesh and China. We have soft borders with Nepal and Myanmar. We have problems from across these borders such as migration, smuggling and narcotics – to name a few. Our greater concern is the possibility of internal unrest spreading across these borders.

    We adopted the Westminster form of parliament democracy. Nation State is relatively a new concept to us, so is democracy as a system of governance. In India, at the grass root level, the social fabric has not undergone much change. It unfortunate that exploitation of caste, oppression of the downtrodden and women, periodic outburst of religious intolerance etc., have caused serious dents to progression of our society. In my opinion this drag could only be contained if a strong political consensus emerges across the nation, to work towards unification of people and discourage such divisive tendencies. Our national resolve is reflected in the Constitution of India. It is sad but a reality that despite our resolve, divisive tendencies, poverty and want have been exploited. This has a direct bearing on our national security. National effort should now focus on unity and progress, which is indeed a challenge. We are fortunate to have great leaders – experienced, wise and able. Politics could contribute positively in influencing, motivating and moulding people in right directions.

    Politics and bureaucracy govern our everyday life. While license Raj may be on its way out, corruption in the society seems to be well dug-in. While we may have many seminars, committees and commissions to bring in changes, implementation lags behind. Bureaucracy is our way of functioning; it is omnipresent in all of us including the military. It is a frame of mind. It is focused on preserving the ‘Self’ avoiding risk of any kind. Bureaucracy predominantly passes the buck, avoids decisions, shuns responsibility and dodges accountability. We as a society wish to avoid risks. In the South, we avoid initiating any work at Rahu Kalam that lasts for one and a half hour every day! But risk is like heat. Law of nature is such that any work produces heat. Similarly, any work initiated has an associated risk. I believe that determination is necessary to overcome this ailment.

    Our economy is growing at a decent rate. We have large untapped natural resources. We are seen as a potential technological powerhouse. We shall be seeking a greater role in the region and the world. It is believed that we may overtake Japan in terms of GDP within the next decade. If we add the number of those people living below the poverty line to the number of those living on marginal income, the total population that is dissatisfied could be very high indeed, may be of the order of 250-350 million! Abject poverty and not being able to assure human dignity would be a challenge that impacts on our national security.

    Honourable Finance Minister desires to see more and better “Bankable Projects”. It is indeed encouraging and yet it is a challenge. I believe that many bankable projects nation-wide could be possible and are available. The difficulties may be in promoting the idea and more importantly to recognize such projects. It may be worth injecting technocrats among advisers along with economists. India, it is assessed, could at best sustain a 7% growth over the next decade. Even that would be possible only if no instability occurs, such as war or serious natural calamity. In this regard, it is a welcome decision that we shall actively pursue peaceful means to solve our problems with Pakistan. Yet, it is vital that we keep our powder dry and that our defense forces remain credible and professional. We are most satisfied that modernization of our defense forces is getting the right attention besides the required direction. I am most grateful that I got the opportunity to enter a noble profession and have served in the Air Force for the best part of my life.

    In the next decade, working population of India would overtake that of China. India shall have the largest working population in the world. A decade later, I wonder, what would the number of poor and uneducated be out of the total population? Job creation would be a formidable challenge for India, a problem that is linked to national security in an intrinsic way. Shortage of water, electricity, health facilities, energy and serious deficiency in infrastructure would pose serious challenges to progress of our country.

    We as a nation need to work harder on enhancing internal security. When there is unrest it heightens apprehension. State governments are more than aware of situations within their states. Possibly, a national effort is needed to enhance confidence, promote peace and strengthen governance. There are encouraging signs in J&K as well as in the Eastern States. People want peace but for long years it has been evading them.

    I now draw your attention to defending the nation. India is a Nuclear Weapon State in a rough neighborhood. The structure, ethos and attitude of our Forces evolved from the days of the British Raj. Our equipment and ways of war fighting went through some changes from the experience gained during the brief wars that we fought. Wars over ideology or religion are now history. So would be wars to settle borders. Most of our focus is still on defending our borders from external aggression. It is not a good feeling that modern India is seen to be obsessed with Pakistan and far too concerned about China.

    The wars that we had fought have taken a toll and so are the current missions that the forces are deployed in. Actions being taken to conserve losses must reflect at all levels and in every activity – the ways by which we are managed, organised, equipped, trained and we fight. Armed forces alone cannot manage without active support and understanding at all levels including the public. Awareness of complexity in managing modern fighting forces is, I am afraid, inadequate. Criticism alone will not help but active support is essential. It would also not be adequate to focus on the budget alone. I believe that it is useful and necessary that those associated with the defense services get to learn what would be relevant to them. This calls for an orientation capsule for all those concerned.

    I believe gradual changes are necessary in the orientation of our Forces, to be in consonance with the progression of our nation. I am glad to state here that this is happening; thanks to the vision and encouragement by the government. Our country is firmly moving on to the global arena with a focus on our region. We have expanded military-to-military contact with friendly countries. Notable among them are Russia, United Kingdom, France, USA, South Africa, Srilanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Singapore and Israel. The three services have exercised with some among these. We are in close touch with the military of many other countries that are our traditional friends. We have dialogued for the first time with militaries of Chile, Brazil, Japan and Myanmar. Our commitment to UN Peace Keeping operations is strong. Our Army has sent thousands of troops on UN peacekeeping role. Many lives were lost in the line of duty with the UN. Our Air Force, for the second time in history has sent a contingent to Congo and our service is well appreciated. Our forces have earned respect for their professionalism and commitment. Thus, the defense services have had our humble share of diplomacy in tune with our foreign policy and the vision of our leadership. We need to re-focus our defense forces as a Force with regional outlook. This requires some orientation and training. We need to build awareness in the region about our armed forces - as professionals, yet friendly with human touch.

    Modernisation of our Navy and Air Force has taken significant steps forward. New acquisition of ships and submarines has given our Navy a true blue-water capability. Our Navy today is three-dimensional. Acquisition of aerial tankers and AWACS has been a great boost to the operational capability of our Air Force. In terms of strategic capability, I would say that our indigenous capability to design, develop and produce combat ships and aircraft is the most vital element. I am proud when a new design rolls out of HAL such as the LCA, IJT, Cheetal and so on. Recently you may have read the press release about the IAF establishing a world record for landing at the highest altitude in a helicopter. This was done in a hybrid machine – the Cheetal having the airframe of Cheetah and an engine of the ALH. It just proves that if we have the grit and determination, we can reach the top of the world!

    Deployment of the Army on internal security duties started as an exigency but it is now accepted as a necessity. Despite expansion of the para-military forces, Army continues to be deployed. We should now accept this formally as a defined role for the Army and for the Forces in general. We are not here to reason why; but it is better that we accept it as the inevitable and plan and train for the role. Responsibility in this regard is expected to increase. We need to train our forces on legal aspects, rules and laws that govern human rights, public relations, working with media, etc. Combating terrorism is a new art. It calls for special training and equipment. I expect the world to get more involved in fighting terrorism. Our region is relatively unstable in this respect. The Marxist-Maoist movement may, one day, threaten our internal security vertically down from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh. We need to orientate, equip and train to fight terrorism in all the three planes – land, sea and air. Today, the Air Force machines and crew are optimized to support counter-insurgency operations. UAVs and other sensors operate in an integrated manner. We have developed flexible command and control means for enhanced effectiveness. The Garud force of the Air Force is being trained in the art of protecting and safeguarding aviation assets. Our forces would continually train and upgrade its equipment to combat terrorism, the scourge of this decade.

    Induction of equipment of advanced technology demands higher education standards at the entry level and improved training. The cost of manpower would increase significantly as years go by. It is inevitable that the force level would undergo significant trimming without sacrificing the firepower. Restructuring of the Armed Forces is now a global phenomenon. Air Power must translate towards Aerospace power. Aeronautics and space science have much in common. It is important that the Air Force thinks towards the expanded form of aerospace to draw the maximum benefit of air and space infrastructure, knowledge and skills in these related areas.

    There would be a necessity to manage our Armed Forces more cost-effectively. Changes would be necessary in the manner by which Defence expenditure is budgeted and spent. Currently, financial management of the Armed Forces is archaic that requires some overhaul. Besides budget management, expenditure control and cost accounting need to be affected. I expect greater integration of equipment, training and structures among the three services.

    The newly organized Integrated Headquarters of the Defense forces is now well established and is functioning smoothly. We are a bit short on real estate but we can manage. We are learning very fast. Besides the integrated HQ under the Chairmanship of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, the Services are exchanging officers from the other Services to work in their HQ. Our cohesiveness is improved and information and data are freely flowing between the three Services. The three Service HQ have recognised the right of the Integrated HQ to coordinate and advise. Ministry of Defence is quite happy working with the Integrated HQ and has recognised its role and responsibilities. With more experience, working methods would be improved and the Integrated HQ would draw more power and responsibilities. It has been a great learning experience for all of us.

    I wish to conclude on a more positive note. Our strategic location in the subcontinent and our size and status have given us a unique opportunity to play an important role in the emerging global order. Our rising capability has drawn us closer to other nations of the world encouraging us to take on greater responsibilities. We need to come out of our internal turmoil and project the country as a responsible state that is ready and willing to support prosperity and growth of the region.

    Our nation faces many challenges that are well known. National security is to do with a nation’s well being. I believe that the time is right for us now towards building a strong nation. With greater participation of the people in our democracy, it would promote greater sense of belonging, sense of ownership and commitment, which as a combine shall reflect the spirit of the new emerging India.