Keynote address by Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director General, IDSA at the National Seminar on "India’s Non-Traditional Security Challenges" organised by Punjabi University, Patiala, 22nd-23rd February 2013
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  • It’s a great pleasure to share the dais with Gen Bikram Singh, Chief of Army Staff, the Vice Chancellor, Punjabi University Patiala and other distinguished members. I would like to thank the Punjabi University for inviting me to speak on the subject of India’s non-traditional security challenges. Universities provide a free atmosphere for academic discussions and debate while think tanks apply academic knowledge to practical problems. Thus, there ought to be a natural synergy between academic institutions and think tanks. I am happy to speak on the subject as the IDSA has focused on NTS issues for quite some time now.

    In recent years, the theme of non-traditional security has assumed greater salience in academic as well as policy circles. The traditional concept of security envisages use of military means to deal with the threats to the units, territorial integrity, unity and sovereignty of a state. This is the traditional, realist view of security. However, in recent years, the debate has moved on to discuss a broader concept of security which envisages threats to an individual; to a community besides dealing with threats to state. This is a liberalist view of security, the non-traditional view, in which an individual’s right to freedom from fear is emphasized. Non-traditional security issues include a variety of topics such as climate change, food security, water, energy security, environment, health, organized crime etc. In 1994, the UNDP had brought out a report on human security which placed the individual at the centre of security discourse. In 2004, UN Secretary General’s panel identified a cluster of security issues which went beyond the traditional concept of security. The high level panel drew attention to six clusters of non-traditional security issues including large scale human right abuses, genocide, poverty, infections disease and nuclear radiological, chemical and biological weapons; transnational organized crime etc.

    During these years, the discourse of non- Asian security threats has moved forward even though a precise definition of NTS is eluding. Terrorism and Responsibility to protect have been discussed under the NTS rubric. Today, issues such as climate change, energy security, food and water security, epidemics, financial instabilities etc. are included in the non-traditional security debate.

    The broadening of the concept of security have adverse created a lively debate on the definition of security itself. Speaking at the 14th Asian Security Conference held at the IDSA in February 2012, the Defence Minister, Shri A.K. Antony had said that the concept of security was expanding to include economic progress, climate change and good governance. Thus, there is a growing view that issues of environment, development, progress, justice, if not addressed in time, could have security consequences. Speaking at the same conference, the National Security Adviser, Shri Shivshankar Menon, cautioned that the concept of security had been made so large that it was “not helpful in understanding or prioritizing among security challenges, and it is certainly no guide to the actions required to deal with such threats or good.”

    Not getting entangled into semantics, one could make a case that due to a variety of factors such as growing competition for resources, increasing salience of human security, globalization, interdependence, demography & natural factors, the NTS will continue to gain salience in security discourse.

    It may be noted that the distinction between hard and soft security issues is being blurred. Non-traditional security threats, like terrorism & organized crime are as much threats to state’s authority as to individuals. Weak states harboring terrorists & criminals threaten security of neighbours with implications to regional security. The application of hard power may not be the best response always, yet it is becoming clear that hard power also has its own uses in the NTS domain. Military interventions on the growth of humanitarian concerns, the thesis of R2P, is a hot topic of debate. Recently, the French military intervened in Mali to flush out the militants that overthrew the weak government in the capital. In 2004, the Indian Navy did a commendable job in mitigating the aftermath of disastrous Tsunami not only in India but also abroad. Today, most militaries of the world are developing capabilities in HADR i.e. Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief. In our own case, the Ministry of Defence had propagated the idea of Ecological Task Forces (ETFs) way back in 1982 to restore degraded ecosystems. The militaries leadership powers are studying the impact of climate change on terrain, hydrography and weather on their doctrines and operations.

    The point I am trying to emphasize is that while there is a tension between the concept of traditional security and non-traditional security, this tension is here to stay as the concept security broadens to include non-traditional security issues.

    We should also recognize that there is interplay between traditional and non-traditional issues. Securitization of non-traditional threats & challenges is becoming a growing trend. Some of the non-security issues are beginning to have serious geopolitical and geo-economic impact. Climate change, regarded as an existential threat in the long term, is being securitized. The projected consequences of climate change such as floods, droughts, sea rise, ice melt and extreme weather events can have serious security implications. Thanks to climate change, the Arctic Sea is melting as a result of which the geo political environment in the region is changing. The quest for hydrocarbons and other resources in the Arctic Sea has intensified. New shipping routes have opened up. India will need to study the impact of Arctic melt-down as its own security & foreign policy. Countries like China, Japan, South Korea, the non-arctic countries are positioning themselves in the Arctic debate.

    Similarly, Cyber space is emerging as the new arena for contest & competition amongst states. Information warfare, cyber terrorism, cyber crime, cyber fraud are emerging as new areas of concern. Discussions have begun on the desirability of having a code of conduct in cyber space. New inclusive structures of internet governance are being explored. The case of cyber weapons, as for example in the case of Stuxnet used recently to cripple the Iranian nuclear programme, is increasing. Academics are trying to understand whether or not the laws of conflict can be applicable to cyber space.

    In the meanwhile, cyber space has emerged as a lawless region, where attribution is difficult and enemies cannot be identified. Cyber crime is on the increase. Cyber fraud and cyber terrorism is a major threat. A recent report released by a US security firm Mandiant has implicated a PLA unit in attack on American Corporations. Cyber Security is today a top security concern for all nations.

    Energy security receives top billing in any security in any security discussion. Given the scarcity of energy resources, high energy prices, difficulties of access, transportation and shipping of energy resources, the threat of sabotage, ensuring energy supplies has become a top priority for foreign policy and security establishments.

    Energy security is linked with maritime security. Today, powerful navies are routinely performing the tasks of protecting sea lanes of communications, against piracy and terror attacks.

    The challenge of providing food and water for billions of people is daunting. Climate change, global warming is expected to cause severe draughts & floods affecting agriculture productivity. Thus, food and water security are emerging as major issues. There is growing literature on whether nations could go to war on food & water. Food and water issues are, in turn, linked with climate change, environment degradation and governance issues. In any conflict, food, water & energy emerge as salient issues. The idea of water wars may not be accepted as yet, but scarcity of water could lead to migrations with negative consequences.

    The non-traditional security issues are quite diverse in character but still have some commonalities. They affect large number of people and they are mutually re-enforcing. NTS issues challenge state sovereignty all the time. The issue of global commons and their preservation has become an important topic of international discourse. They require wider international cooperation for effective handling.

    India’s Response

    In the backdrop of emerging salience of non-traditional issues, what are Indian responses?

    First, there is need to have an accurate assessment of the non-traditional threats India faces. Even a cursory consideration will show that India is vulnerable to terrorism, organized crime, illegal migrations and to the adverse effects of climate change.

    Second, India’s population is still growing and will not stabilize until 2050/2060. Thus, India has the daunting task of providing jobs, food, water, education, health facilities and other necessities to the vast population. Any shortcoming in this will have adverse consequences.

    Third, India needs assured supplies of energy for economic growth. India is an energy deficient country. Thus, energy security will be on top of Indian agenda.

    Fourth, India’s neighbours are equally exposed to non-traditional threats. Thus, India will remain exposed to the challenges of large scale migrations. Food, water, illegal migrations, public health etc. are likely to become major issues of concern in India’s relations with its neighbours.

    How has India been responding to these challenges?

    India has a long history of being sensitive to concerns relating to poverty, environment, population growth, socio-economic irregularities etc. Over the last few decades, the Indian government has launched numerous schemes of poverty alleviation etc. However, these issues were regarded as developmental issues and not security issues. Even today, the government is reluctant to regard climate change as a security issue. It is felt, with some justification, that securitization of developmental issues will be counterproductive. While the government has focused on climate change, energy security etc. as developmental issues, the security implications of non-traditional challenges cannot be ignored & will need to be addressed in a holistic fashion.



    The sovereignty of States must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights.” The broadest definition of human security is “freedom from fear” and “freedom from want” (UNDP 1994). It encompasses economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security, and political security
    (UNDP 1994).

    According to Mely Caballero-Anthony Non-traditional security threats may be defined as “challenges to the survival and well-being of peoples and states that arise primarily out of non-military sources, such as climate change, cross-border environmental degradation and resource depletion, infectious diseases, natural disasters, irregular migration, food shortages, people smuggling, drug trafficking, and other forms of trans-national crime.”

    V. R. Raghavan rightly observers that, “The existing state-centered approach to national security, confined to the defense of a country against territorial aggression, has been widened to the idea of security inclusive of a larger set of threats to the people of the state.” It is therefore becoming increasingly crucial to analyze how the non-traditional security threats are reshaping the global institutional architecture.