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Inaugural Address at the IDSA Fortieth Anniversary Commemorative Seminar - Emerging India: Security And Foreign Policy Perspectives

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  • Admiral Arun Prakash, Chief of Naval Staff & Chairman COSC
    September 01, 2005

    Director IDSA, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I feel privileged to be here this morning at the 40th Anniversary Commemorative Seminar of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The IDSA is today among the foremost think-tanks on defence, security and foreign policy related issues in the country. Over the past four decades, we have seen this institution steadily gaining in stature and reputation. It has had the good fortune of having outstanding intellectuals and able administrators as its Directors as well as staff; one of whom is our Air Chief today.

    IDSA is now known for the incisive and well thought-out research papers and articles it generates, and the seminars and workshops on topical subjects of security and foreign policy that it regularly arranges. All these have played an important role in raising the level of consciousness regarding national security issues in the capital. Many Track II initiatives have been triggered off by this Institute, and in the recent past Cmde Bhaskar has set such a scorching pace, that I often feel that he must be actually on Track I, and the rest of us have been relegated to Track II.

    Seeing this galaxy of luminaries arrayed before me, I cannot help thinking of George Clemenceau's remark about war being "much too serious a matter to be left to the Generals". I do not take exception to this adage, because today there are people who know just as much about our business as we in the Armed Forces do; and they miss no opportunity to tell us so! What does worry me however is the collective sense of indifference with which we have since independence regarded the study of war, strategy, and national security. This is possibly occasioned by the hubris that is engendered by our ancient heritage and culture, and the consequent feeling that there is nothing much to be gained by a study of others' experiences. But the pity is that we do not even study the fund of politico-military thought available in our own rich heritage of Vedas, Puranas, and tracts like the Manu Smriti and the Arthashastra.

    The other worrisome facet of our thought process is the pride with which we regard the fact that our civilization has survived the ravages of repeated invasion, conquest and subjugation. Let me quote for you, a verse by the poet Mohammad Iqbal which says:

    Yunan o Misr, Roma sab mit gaye jahan se.

    Phir bhi magar hai baki, namo nishan hamara.

    Kuchh baat hai ki hasti mitati nahin hamari,

    Sadiyon raha hai dushman, daur-e-zaman hamara.

    Inspiring words, but one gets the sense that survival by itself is considered a major meritorious achievement. The late George Tanham who produced a monograph on "India's Strategic Thought" put it succinctly when he said that, "The forces of culture and history and the attitude and policies of independent India have so far, worked against the concept of strategic thinking and planning. As India 's environment grows more tense and pressures of every type increase, structures for strategic forethought and planning will have to emerge." It is in this context that we must welcome initiatives of the kind that IDSA frequently takes.

    No nation ever progressed without some sense of national destiny or purpose. In our context however, it seems that it is not Indians but foreigners who have started speaking of India's "manifest destiny". Nothing illustrates this better than the July 28th edition of the US magazine "Business Week". The issue is devoted to a minute examination of Indian and Chinese economies, industry and culture, and paints a cautiously optimistic but balanced picture about the tremendous possibilities that lie in the future for these two countries.

    As a self-confident and vibrant India looks towards achieving its manifest destiny in the years ahead, the Indian security establishment will also increasingly need to play a larger role in achieving our national aims. Institutions such as the IDSA will, more than ever before, need to present decision-makers with a range of educated policy options on various issues. Indeed the setting up, in February this year, of the National Maritime Foundation which takes its place alongside the Army's Centre for Land Warfare and the Air Force's Centre for Air Power Studies, means that we now have a complete range of specialist think-tanks, to supplement the efforts of IDSA and other institutions.

    As the world awakens to our true potential, India is the flavour of the season and focus of interest internationally with a range of studies and analyses being commissioned to examine virtually every aspect of our country and its potential. In the theme chosen for this seminar, the coupling of security and foreign policy perspectives for a resurgent India is therefore not just relevant, but also most appropriate.

    Security goes well beyond strategic and military considerations, to involve political, economic, social, technological and even environmental factors. Emerging concerns also include dwindling energy and water resources, which could become the root of future conflicts. In the post cold-war era, we have witnessed the tyranny of technologically advanced countries imposing regimes governing technology, space, nuclear energy, and even the environment and human rights. These regimes do not emerge from a consensus or even mutual deliberations, but are discriminatory in nature, and are imposed arbitrarily. They should therefore form the underpinning, and provide the context within which India 's defence and foreign policies must evolve synergistically.

    From the range of topics selected, and the distinguished speakers invited, it is evident that the proceedings of the seminar are going to be an intellectually stimulating, thought provoking and rewarding tour de force for the participants. I will therefore, in the next 25 minutes, confine myself to pointing out a few milestones which have shaped our security attitudes and structures so far. I will then place before you, some of the challenges which the future is going to throw up for us, and which we must plan to meet. Let us start by casting our minds back over the past 57 years of our existence as an independent nation, so that we are not "condemned to repeat the past" as George Santayana puts it, by "forgetting it".

    It is evident that many of the mind-sets, perceptions, and policies that emerged in the early days of our republic were shaped by the nature of our long independence movement. Let me just mention a few of them. I would hasten to add that I am recalling some facts of history and not making any value judgement:-

    • First, Mahatma Gandhi's success in achieving independence for India through non-violence had no parallel in modern history. He was a great man of unique vision and principles, but an over-simplification of the values that he subscribed to led to an idealistic world-view amongst our post-independence leadership. So our policies acquired a moralpolitik orientation as opposed to the realpolitik of our neighbours. Moralpolitik is simply a foreign policy based on morality, which some may consider an oxymoron. This was manifest in Pakistan promptly taking the "low road" to join SEATO, and the Baghdad Pact while we decided to adopt high-minded postures like non-alignment and the quest for universal nuclear disarmament.
    • Second, as the Hon'ble Raksha Mantri put it during his recent speech at the Carnegie Endowment, two centuries of colonial rule and exploitation, a large part of it by a group of British merchants who formed the East India Company left Indians suspicious of foreign traders and bred a lingering mistrust of what is now called "globalisation". This laid the seeds of autarky, or economic self-sufficiency, which we attempted to achieve for over four decades. It was a mixed blessing; for while it did help in building up core industries like steel, space and atomic energy, it also stifled private enterprise in favour of the public sector and led to technological stagnation in several areas.
    • If the creation of the INA in Singapore, and the Indian Legion in Germany out of Indian PoWs, shook the British Army, the RIN Mutiny possibly sealed the fate of the British Empire. So it is undeniable that the Indian Armed Forces did contribute to accelerating our independence. The Army also played a major role in persuading a few recalcitrant princely states to join the Indian Union, and helped in handling the massive refugee influx after partition. Notwithstanding this, the Armed Forces were perceived as having played only a marginal role in our independence movement. This led not only to their counsel being largely ignored, but also gave rise to an impression that India could survive with minimal investment in the Armed Forces.

    I mention all this, only to place in perspective our attitudes as a newly emerged republic. Against that backdrop, let us also look at certain post-independence events or junctures which can be termed as "defining moments" in the evolutionary process of our national security and foreign policies.

    The first of these was 27 October 1947 when barely two months after independence, Pakistani forces invaded Kashmir. Our nascent leadership, both political and military, undertook no overarching analysis of the situation and gave no strategic direction other than to "repulse the invaders". In a year of fierce but sporadic fighting in inhospitable terrain, the Indian Army managed to achieve the tactical aims set before it and the Valley remained with us. A haphazard cease-fire line was drawn, and the invaders kept whatever they could hang on to. The single major outcome of this operation was the creation of the so-called " Kashmir problem" which has festered and bled the country for six decades, and currently appears to have become an open-ended issue.

    On 20 October 1962, the Chinese army attacked Indian Army positions in NEFA and Ladakh, and the brief but bitter war which lasted just a month left us militarily defeated and humiliated as a nation. This debacle while demonstrating naiveté and ineptness also exposed our total lack of strategic thinking, planning and vision. A blessing in disguise was the bitter realization that we did not live in Utopia and that you could not hope to concentrate on development if you did not ensure a secure environment for the country. And that meant strong, capable armed forces. This marked the end of our post-independence euphoria and recognition of harsh military realities – at least for some time.

    Our finest hour, without a doubt, came on 16th December 1971 when 90,000 Pakistani troops surrendered to the victorious Indian forces after their historic victory that led to the creation of Bangladesh. The nine month prelude to war saw a diplomatic campaign being mounted in the best traditions of Vedic statecraft, with sama, dana, bheda, danda all being invoked in turn. The military leadership worked in reasonable harmony, and showed moral courage by buying the time required for a logistics build up. Some imaginative planning resulted in a military campaign which included every tactic of war; from covert and special ops to para-dropped, air assault, armoured, amphibious, aircraft carrier, submarine and missile boat operations. And yet we faltered in the end-game. No coherent and tangible "war-termination" strategy had been evolved and in the final analysis, we failed to gain a decisive advantage.

    The Peaceful Nuclear Explosion in May 1974 marked what should have been another defining moment for us, but in hindsight it can best be seen as yet another missed opportunity. Already ten years behind China, we should have followed Pokharan I with a series of tests required to get within striking distance of weaponisation. Perhaps it was a combination of international disapprobation, economic compulsions, and over-caution which made us hold our hand. Whatever the other contributory reasons, lack of a strategic vision certainly lay at the bottom of our timidity.

    The decade of the 1980s saw several major hardware acquisitions by the Armed Forces and it must be flagged as a landmark period. It seemed that we were at last on the way to acquiring the surplus of security assets that would mark us the pre-eminent nation in this region. In the span of about 5-6 years, the army bolstered its artillery and armour, the navy acquired a nuclear submarine, an aircraft carrier, a squadron each of fighters and maritime aircraft, and the IAF added the Mirage-2000, MiG-29, Mig-27, Mig-23, IL-76 and An-32 to its inventory.

    The reality was otherwise. While little change had come about in our strategic thought process, this massive accretion of military might was seen as a serious threat by countries like China, Australia, and others in Southeast Asia. We did not bother to rationalise and explain through doctrines or white papers – that is not our style. This build up also coincided with our first forays beyond our shores; into Maldives and Sri Lanka. In the bargain, we began to be suspected of hegemonistic designs and sinister intentions, which just did not exist.

    It is now clear that the balance of payment crisis in 1991, which led to the opening up of the Indian economy under the able stewardship of Dr. Manmohan Singh, was a seminal event and a defining moment in our modern history. With the realisation that economic growth would underpin India's future relevance in the world, economic policy became the driver for our diplomatic initiatives. Dogma, while not jettisoned totally, took a back seat. A nascent realisation began to dawn that our security policy could not exist in splendid isolation and needed to be meshed with our overall foreign policy and economic objectives.

    In sum, the 27 years following independence saw us moving from idealism to a quest for a Western nuclear umbrella, to rejection of the NPT, and then to Pokharan I. The next 24 years could be summed up as a state of "nuclear ambiguity", then "non-weaponised deterrence" and finally in May 98 came our defining moment: Pokharan II. Whatever our reasons for crossing the nuclear Rubicon, and whatever the resulting impact on national security, one thing became clear, at least to students of strategy. It was not the financial liability of maintaining a minimum credible deterrent that was going to be problematic for us. It was the intellectual capital, the time and the capacity required to comprehend the arcane dogma of deterrence that was going to be difficult to mobilise.

    I am, however, happy to conclude my survey of the past on a positive tone. Over the past few years, security consciousness has been accorded a much priority than before, though much more needs to be done in this direction.

    The PM's recent visit to the US has the potential to recast our bilateral relations with the US. But as many of you sitting in the auditorium have cautioned, we have to see how the reciprocal initiatives on both sides will play out. So this really sums up the list. Let me then move on and define the challenges that lie in store, as we move forward slowly but surely to take our rightful place in the international order. I intend to highlight just five or six issues of salience.

    Firstly, if India aspires to don the mantle of even a regional entity, we have to shed our diffidence, and find not just the ways and means but the will to project our power overseas. This does not mean that we are going to be aggressors, or to invade someone. We may need to eject intruders from our own island territories, to come to the assistance of our neighbours, to rescue Indian nationals, and as the tsunami showed, to render aid in natural calamities. Or indeed to safeguard our vital interests overseas. Starting with an embryo Rapid Deployment Force, we would need to build adequate sealift and airlift capability to have a credible and sustainable trans-national capability.

    Secondly, with oil prices hitting $ 70 yesterday, we have an energy crisis of serious proportions, looming over us. India is currently the world's sixth largest energy consumer, and in 2010, will hit the fourth place. With a great deal of foresight, ONGC Videsh, in addition to a long term contract for gas supply with Iran, is negotiating with 22 other countries to pursue energy projects involving exploration, development, transportation and refining of hydrocarbons to meet our future needs. If we are going to invest such vast amounts of national resources in locations as far afield as Middle East, Africa, Central Asia and SE Asia, it is essential that we take adequate security measures to safeguard our assets and interests against any unforeseen eventualities. This point is closely linked to what I have just said about trans-national capabilities, and a rapid deployment force would be ideal for such a purpose.

    There is also a move afoot to build up a national strategic oil reserve. To safeguard this oil reserve and to ensure that it is never unduly depleted, our maritime forces would need to deploy in sufficient strength at strategic locations to ensure the safety of our oil traffic in international sea lanes.

    Our third security challenge is the rapid and alarming deterioration in the political and economic state of countries which are our immediate neighbours. So much so, that we are in real danger of being completely surrounded by "failed states"; a situation which will be entirely to our own detriment. In addition to their internal turmoil, but possibly related to it, there is a very disturbing phenomenon of growing hostility towards India. While political and diplomatic endeavours are going on, we need to establish a link or strengthen existing relations with their militaries. Whether it is confidence-building, military aid or even a gentle hint, the armed forces can be gainfully utilised for all these purposes.

    A fourth area of vital interest to us lies in the expanse of the seas; the island nations of the Indian Ocean. Currently, countries like Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros are friendly and well disposed to us. However, their security remains fragile, and we cannot afford to have any hostile or inimical power threatening it. These countries are generally in need of military hardware, training or technical assistance and sometimes of help in policing their waters or airspace. Our armed forces are always prepared to help, and we are working very closely with the MEA in an endeavour to minimise delays and to meet their needs with promptness. In this context, it might be of interest for this audience to know that we have recently created in Naval Headquarters, a new directorate of Foreign Cooperation under a 2-star Admiral.

    The fifth challenge relates to the all pervasive and omnipresent threat of terrorism, both within our country and all around us. This is a phenomenon which is confined neither by national boundaries, nor by the mediums of land, sea or air. Its sinister tentacles embrace illegal traffic in drugs, arms, human beings, and even in weapons of mass destruction. In combating terrorism lies the biggest security challenge to the armed forces, to nations and to the international community as a whole. This challenge is likely to take up much of our energy and resources in the days ahead.

    As a responsible nuclear weapon state, our sixth challenge will lie in management of deterrence. Nuclear deterrence as you all know lies in the mind of the adversary. To deter someone, you must be able to convince him that the consequences of using a nuclear weapon will be so horrible and devastating, that he should never even contemplate it. Here we are placed in the distinctive situation of being a declared "NFU state" faced with a nuclear opponent who has in the past threatened first use. The only way to make deterrence robust is to ensure that your second strike capability is not only well protected, but that it is also overwhelmingly devastating. CBMs certainly have a place in deterrence, as does dialogue and a certain degree of transparency between adversaries.

    I come to the final challenge that faces the nation's security establishment; and that relates to transformation of the armed forces into a lean, technology intensive, networked and joint entity. It is a tall order under any circumstances; and the historical experience of other countries indicates that it would need political direction to achieve this.


    All in all, there is no doubt that because of India 's growing strength, and issues like our prospective permanent membership of the UN Security Council, we will need to integrate our security, foreign and economic policies. A substantial part of the onus will fall upon Track II organisations to provide policy alternatives and options for decision-makers. The Hon'ble Raksha Mantri, while Presiding at the Foundation Stone laying ceremony of the IDSA's institutional complex had rightly remarked, "While governments have certain responsibilities to discharge, it is the role of the academic and the analyst – what is referred to as the Track II constituency – to provide objective and rigorously analysed inputs on matters pertaining to national security."

    Consequently, the role of IDSA and other organisations will grow in importance. However, this will require individuals to have a deep understanding of the subject, which require intense study and rigorous academic analysis. And here let me quote the words of John Adams the 2nd President of the USA: "I must study politics and war, so that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy."

    In conclusion, let me thank you for your patient hearing, and wish this Seminar all success. I am sure that your deliberations will be meaningful, and go a long way towards building a synergistic and visionary national approach for the strong, purposeful and modern India that is just over the horizon. Thank you. Jai Hind.