1 June :The Minister of State for Defence Shri MM Pallam Raju has said that one of the dimensions of the country’s defence policy is to deter the exploitation by external forces of our internal vulnerabilities while we fashion a domestic political response, which draws on our democratic strengths. Speaking at the 7th Shangri La Dilaogue in Singapore on Saturday Shri Raju gave a detailed overview of security architecture in India. Interestingly, the topic was ‘Making Defence Policy in Uncertain Times’. We reproduce here the full text of the Minister’s speech.
"I am very pleased to join all of you this morning at the session devoted to discussing making defence policy in uncertain times. At the outset, let me thank the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in particular its Director Dr. John Chipman, for the invitation to speak at this prestigious forum. The Shangri-La Dialogue has established a very enviable reputation and like the earlier meetings, I am sure that the seventh one will be just as thought provoking and productive. I would also like to take the opportunity to express my appreciation to the Singapore Government and its Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean for their excellent arrangements and hospitality.
The term ‘uncertain times’ provides an interesting context to the discussion we hope to have during this session. For a policy maker dealing with security situations, all times have been uncertain. More than two centuries ago, when the world was considerably simpler, Charles Dickens captured this sentiment with the paradox of the coexistence of ‘the best of times’ with the ‘worst of times’. What certainly has changed since then is the complexity of the uncertainty and, to a considerable measure, its spread as well. We have to deal today with far more variables, which make any security calculus infinitely more difficult. At the same time, living as we do in a more integrated and globalised world, the comfort offered by national boundaries no longer constitute effective defence. As the situation in Afghanistan demonstrated, uncertainty anywhere affects security everywhere.
What then are the key factors of our current uncertainty? To begin with, there are domestic challenges emanating from poor governance, lack of development and extreme ideologies. There are then larger regional concerns when such factors spread beyond national boundaries. Obviously, the behaviour of states towards each other is a critical factor in assessing both regional and global uncertainty. While the pursuit of national interest is legitimate, doing so with disregard for international norms such as non-proliferation adds to global volatility. At a global level, divergent beliefs, competing demands and conflicting goals can become a basis for differences. The making of defence policy is, in essence, devoted to the management of challenges at these three levels. The problem is to get our reading at each level right, factor in the imponderables the best we can, and obtain desired outcomes regularly and consistently. This task is made more difficult by the Dickensian paradox, where positive trends parallel the negative, and human advancement cuts in both directions.
Allow me to briefly describe our present predicament. On the positive side, the world in general and Asia in particular have witnessed a period of extraordinary growth. Our quality of life is visibly improving, poverty rates have dramatically declined, nation states have consolidated themselves, regional and international cooperation have grown, the benefits of technology are increasingly enjoyed by the many, and a sense of global norms has taken root. Yet, the very nature of our progress has produced increasingly intricate security problems, made even more challenging by the process of global integration. The very connectivity and the same technologies that drive global growth and progress have made terrorism more potent and international, the WMD threat more serious, pandemics more probable, and raised the stakes for transnational crime. In responding, we face four broad conceptual issues:
i) The progress of globalisation is taking us into uncharted territory, making it hard to predict successes or anticipate problems. What does the future hold in terms of energy, water or food security? How uncertain will competition in these areas make the world? When the past, present and future are so different from each other, policy making is not made easier.
ii) While our challenges are likely to be more global and trans-national, yet our approach to them continues to be largely national in nature. This is particularly inadequate in situations where power centres may not be nation states. We are already grappling with this problem in a rather unsatisfactory manner.
iii) Global security architecture is characterised today by less rigidity and greater freedom of choice. While generally a welcome development, this calls for more sophisticated hedging strategies on part of all states. The pursuit of competing interests need not constrain cooperation in other areas.
iv) Our ability, collectively or nationally, to address these challenges is as uncertain as the problems themselves. Future directions of growth and the extent of global interdependence cannot be accurately predicted. While we can assume that interdependence will place limits on competition, the degree to which this will happen is still far from certain.
With this overarching perspective, I would like to share with you all my thoughts on India’s defence policy making in these uncertain times. In terms of the specific concerns that we seek to address, I would categorise them using the three levels mentioned earlier:
In respect of domestic security challenges, our concerns emanate primarily from forces that ideologically challenge India’s pluralistic and secular character. By espousing ethnic or religious extremism and advocating separation, they seek to threaten the Indian identity. Many of these groups obtain sustenance from outside. While we recognise that pluralistic cultures are broadly under threat from narrow and sectarian beliefs the world over, India which lives in a particularly difficult neighbourhood, has borne the brunt of such attacks much longer than most other states. In recent years, the consequences of uneven growth and unmet expectations have added to our vulnerabilities. The internal security dimension occupies a significant portion of our policy making attention. Our defence policy aims to deter the exploitation by external forces of our internal vulnerabilities while we fashion a domestic political response, which draws on our democratic strengths. On the whole, the nature of the challenge is predictable and manageable, even if there is not a ready end in sight.
The neighbourhood, however, gives us much less cause for complacency than our domestic prospects. While India’s economic growth has created an enormous sense of optimism in our society, this is not quite the case with our neighbours. Some are seriously afflicted by terrorism, itself a cause for concern to India as a neighbour. Such concerns are further aggravated when that terrorism spills over into India, through state sponsorship or otherwise. Undeniably, we have a difficult history with some neighbours and the political challenges are no less formidable than the physical terrain of our borders. For its further growth and prosperity, India clearly needs a secure and peaceful periphery. To ensure that, we are seeking to give our neighbours stakes in our own growth through trade, investment and services. The challenge is to convince them that we are all better off growing together rather than expend energies checking each other. To this end, reviving old affinities are helpful in building new interdependence. Regions like Southeast Asia have been inspiring in this regard. In the last few years, considerable progress has been made towards the goal of a more integrated South Asian region. Politically, the successful holding of elections in many of these states is itself a cause for encouragement. But, at the end of the day, regional cooperation will only gather momentum when the salience of hard security is reduced.
The global situation too offers a very mixed picture for defence policy makers. On the positive end of the spectrum, the post Cold War world marks a departure from structural rigidities that significantly constrained our freedom of choice. As a result, there is considerable scope for new partnerships and initiatives. At the negative end, we are staring at the prospect of state collapse and rise of non-state actors, including in our proximate region. Somewhere in between, there is the equally complicated challenge of establishing appropriate equations among nations at a time when their inter se capabilities are changing. India finds itself well placed in this regard, partly because it enjoys cordial ties with the other major players, and also as the culture of non-alignment has given it considerable experience in global political hedging. Policy making in this area rests on two key assumptions – (i) that the natural competitiveness among nations would continue, but will be constrained by an interdependence among major states that has increasingly become a source of global security, and (ii) the real threats to international security would arise from states that would avoid interdependence, particularly with neighbours, and from non-state actors.
The growing integration of India with the world economy also imposes its own responsibilities on our defence forces. Our exposure to the external world has tripled in the last 15 years. Our trade interests have expanded steadily, as have our investments abroad. We have developed a legitimate interest in securing our supplies of external natural resources. The number of Indians who work and live abroad has also grown significantly. For a variety of reasons, as Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has perceptively noted, the rise of India does not evoke international disquiet. On the contrary, we find that there is a new interest on the part of many countries in partnering India on security cooperation. Past historical connectivity and shared traditions have been helpful in forging new defence bonds, particularly in Southeast Asia and West Asia. With its vigorous democracy and strong individualism, India has a natural ability to relate across cultures. The long term challenge for India, as indeed for every other major nation, is its ability and willingness to contribute to public good. We certainly have the latter, with a long and distinguished record in UN peace-keeping operations to show. The ability will, no doubt, rise with time and with our own economic growth. In the meantime, we remain focused on responding to challenges within our capacity, such as ensuring safety of sea lanes, enhancing the security capacities of our partners, and responding to natural disaster situations.
A larger Indian economy will obviously provide a greater resource base for our defence forces. Equally, they will lead to more burdens and greater responsibilities. How they will balance out is difficult to predict. Taking into account the various constraints that we face at the current stage of our development, much of the answer to our security concerns lie in the realm of international politics. In Asia, unlike in Europe, an acceptable security architecture is still far from being evolved. We not only need an open architecture but an open mind in undertaking joint activities as well. It is equally important that our responses to new challenges are not determined by old theologies. Nor indeed can we afford to overlook, as we have done in the past, critical threats such as WMD proliferation for tactical political considerations. Uncertain times require greater creativity and more jointness among nations. It would certainly help if decisions of global import were seen to have greater legitimacy, taken by institutions with a more representative character. Where India is concerned, our efforts in defence policy making will give particular priority to expanding the range of our defence contacts, enhancing confidence and comfort levels, building habits of cooperation and encouraging greater interdependence. There can be no better forum than the Shangri-la Dialogue to send out this message and I thank the IISS for the opportunity to do so."