Drafting national security strategy - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla

by Ajai Shukla

Unsigned editorial, Defence News of India

7th Nov 2023

News reports suggest that the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), the government’s apex body for strategic planning, has begun the process of formulating a National Security Strategy (NSS) for the country. Given the changing strategic dynamics, this is a welcome step. The strategic policy document details the country’s security objectives, and broadly spells out how to achieve those. A country’s major military reforms should flow from a coherent NSS.

The initiative to formulate an NSS comes after years of deliberation within the military and strategic community; and recommendations to this effect by the Kargil Review Committee in 1999 and a Group of Ministers in 2001. The NSCS is reported to be following a careful path, gathering inputs from central ministries and departments to formulate the text of the strategy before seeking final approval from the Union Cabinet. The idea to make the document public will also enable wider discussion.

India urgently requires an NSS, given the technological developments that have transformed the contemporary battlefield. The recent attacks on Israel by Hamas fighters, the casualties incurred by Russia’s military at the hands of Ukraine and Azerbaijan’s attacks on Armenia highlight the new threat to ground forces from remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) – or weaponised drones –driven by ultra-modern technologies. These constitute a potent threat to Indian forces, which are vulnerable to armed drones, freed to operate by the early destruction of India’s air defence network. This would enable enemy RPVs to vault over our forward defences and strike reserve echelons, tactical infrastructure, battlefield headquarters and communication nodes, logistics units such as ammunition dumps and geographical bottlenecks that force troops to concentrate, presenting lucrative targets. With hostile neighbours such as China and Pakistan preparing for fifth-generation warfare, India must have an overall security strategy.
There is apprehension not just over China’s domination of India’s military in high-tech fields such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing. Threat is also evident in conventional areas such as long-range fires from Pinaka rockets and BrahMos cruise missiles to support ground operations. Meanwhile, Pakistan has acquired, or developed the Hatf series of missiles, and cruise missiles that can deliver nuclear payloads onto Indian targets. It has been reported that attempts to formalise an NSS in the past were scuttled by political hesitation. Many within the strategic community believe this was due to the government’s apprehension that a formalised NSS would expose higher defence management to direct accountability.
The NSCS must accord high priority to formulating a NSS. The responsibility should not be pushed to the chief of defence staff, the department of military affairs and technological establishments such as the Defence Research and Development Organisation. India remains one of the few large countries that does not have a detailed NSS, updated from time to time. The US, Russia and most North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries have published national security strategies. China has a formal strategy titled Comprehensive National Security. Pakistan has formulated a National Security Policy 2022-2026 that details its national security objectives and priorities. It is thus important that India formulates and NSS at the earliest, which would not only help develop broader understanding of the strategic challenges it faces but will also help take action necessary to increase defence preparedness. A routine review will enable adaptation to the changing security and technological changes.