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Challenges And Variables

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The Book Review, Volume XXXIX Number 3, March 2015, pg. 13-14

Challenges And Variables

Avinash Godbole

India’s National Security, Annual Review 2013

Edited by Satish Kumar

Routledge, New Delhi, 2014, pp. xviii+576, R880.00

In general, national security is the sum total of the stability of the state and is measured using indicators of military security, economic security, resource security, regime steadiness, social order and a general sense of wellbeing. In case of a large developing democratic country like India, national security is subject to more variables than the standard definition of this term and it also includes, history, regional order, systemic structures anarchy or otherwise, neighbours and interactions, interests of external actors and the interplay of these variables with other details that fall under the grand rubric of national interest.

India’s national security likewise is subject to all these variables. In case of India, the idea of national security has undergone a substantial change in the last two decades. Various important variables have brought about this change. The first and foremost of these is globalization; the idea that interconnectedness and interactions create shared interests that reduce the threat of conflict. Second, nuclear weapons and second strike capability have altered India’s strategic approach to regional security and changed the global perceptions of India—whether nuclear weapons have made India more or less secure is still a matter of debate. The third, and more recent, determinant of India’s national security and its global role has been the rise of China. There is a perception that India is being courted by global great and middle powers because of China’s rise; thus the explanations for the Indo-US nuclear deal, India’s strategic friendship with Japan and the newfound one with Australia.

Professor Satish Kumar’s edited volume, India’s National Security, Annual Review 2013, looks into the multifaceted dynamics ofIndia’s national security and its complex nature.China’s rise has become an important reference point to measure India’s national security as well as development. China has definitivelyreplaced Pakistan as a benchmark as well as a challenge. Manytimes the discourse is whether India will catch up with China or ifChina is a threat. And this discursive shift is reflected in this volume,and China’s bilateral relation with India’s neighbouring countries has been treated in an independent section. Here China’s relationswith Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Myanmar arelooked into. Besides this, there is another chapter that looks at internalsecurity challenges in China and one on China and the AsiaPacific. Besides, China finds mention in the chapter on Pakistan’snational security. This gives an idea of the overall shift in the thrustof the Indian strategic thinking in the last decade.

In Satish Kumar’s overview of India’s national security for the period of study, China is listed under the section titled ‘Threats from Adversaries’ (pp. 2–3). Kumar argues that ‘China is consistently pursuing a strategy of coercion against India to derive benefits at the negotiating table as and when the need arises’ (p. 3).

The next section looks at challenges and opportunities that India faces as far as national security is concerned. Here various authors look at issues like economic security, internal politics in Afghanistan, Islamic radicalization in South Asia, nuclear energy challenge, and internal security challenge. These chapters make important observations on these regional developments. However, it is felt that their value would be greatly extended by the addition of a set of identifiable short term policy recommendations for Indian policy makers. Since this is an annual review, short term targets can be looked into while studying the challenge and opportunities in the neighbourhood.

The subsequent section comprises essays on recommendations for increasing national capability by looking into topics ranging from politics to media and perception management to the indigenization of the arms industry. This section perhaps could have included more chapters on internal security, regional politics in India, inequality, gender and regionalism which are important determinants of domestic politics. The next section looks at emerging powers’ strategic profile and the final section looks at the chronology of major events in 2012.

This book’s major strengths are its diverse coverage and the chapters and commentaries by a wide range of writers, from academics to former government officials and retired defence service officers. It is also an important source of documentation on regional affairs although not a complete one. While the documentation is a strong point of this book, it also makes for a certain degree of overlap as similar themes are repeated.

Absence of coverage of non-traditional security challenges is an important lacuna in the volume. Water shortage and excesses, health and disease, drug trafficking, unemployment and inequality are important issues that impact national security in India and need to be covered in a volume like this. In addition, the internal security challenges are all clubbed together in a single chapter and given their diverse nature, from Naxalism, to Kashmir to the North East are major issues for the Indian national security apparatus which could have been covered in more detail. Moreover, there is an internal-external linkages in areas like Kashmir that impinges on national security. In terms of rigour, the chapter lengths are inconsistent and there is an uneven pattern to the referencing style in the book, it ranges from no references to just web links to a standardized referencing.

Significantly, what this book lacks is a dedicated chapter on India China bilateral relations and misses out important landmark events that took place in the review period of 2012–13. For example, during this period, China underwent a leadership change, the new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited India which in turn was the first stop in his first foreign visit as the Premier and importantly there was a standoff/incident at the Daulat Beg Oldi in Depsang just days before the visit of the Premier.

During the same period, India and China also were on the same side as far as WTO, BRICS and Climate Change were concerned. In fact, such a chapter, it is felt, would also have dispelled, or diluted to some degree, the China threat theory that dominates much of the discourse in this volume. China is a new great power and will chart its own path as a power as it has done through initiatives like the Maritime Silk Route (MSR) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

India’s national security has reached a dynamic era whereby it is multilayered as well as prone to diverse set of influences. The Indian economy is growing and so are people’s expectations from the Indian state. The new Indian demography, young, impatient and vibrant, has access to information like never before and is able to form and share opinions in no time. In an era like this, establishing security is a huge challenge of an unprecedented nature. For that the security apparatus has to be multidimensional and quick in preventing as well as responding to the challenges to national security. In that context, what this book does is to bring out the complexity faced by India in the age of globalization and information and despite its shortfalls is a valuable addition to the literature.

Avinash Godbole is Research Assistant with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Opinions here are strictly personal.

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