India’s National Security Calculus in the Coming Decade

Although India does not face any impending existential threat, internal and external challenges in various forms remain its core preoccupation. India’s national security concerns lie in the overlap between internal and external security because of their interconnections alongside the blurring of lines between traditional and non-traditional security. Accordingly, this review of India’s national security calculus is through four varied lenses.

Firstly, the long-standing issues remain a high priority. This would primarily include border issues with China and Pakistan. India will have to deal with an increasingly assertive China and its intermittent attempts to raise the bilateral tension through physical acts of hostility at strategic border locations. India’s inability to successfully wean itself off economically will limit its maneuverability contours. With Beijing’s growing prominence in the Indian Ocean Region, maritime security, including keeping the sea lanes of communication open, poses a red flag too.

Differences with Western neighbor Pakistan will also ensure the preoccupation of security forces. Given the constant fluidity and evolving dynamics of the South Asian region, it would be unrealistic to assume a secure and friendly neighborhood. The emerging economic crisis in the neighborhood provides some leverage for India in the immediate context but it does not foreclose longer and deeper negative consequences for India or the region. The growing Chinese engagement in the region continues to raise the security threat perception.

The other long-standing security issue remains the underlying domestic communal tension. While there is a belief that ‘the threat of Hindu fundamentalism is also as real as the minority backlash’ the simmering scope for domestic conflicts remains, especially one arising out of religious extremism. Although violence relating to Left Wing extremism incidents has been on the decline, the challenge is far from over.

Secondly, India’s security calculus will be weighed through its ability to combine hard power and deft diplomacy to create strategic advantages. Institutional mechanisms and military preparedness would be necessary tools to address India’s security perception.
It is with this hard and soft strength that India will be able to deal with a host of new and dynamic security matters including the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine and its impact and implication for India. Similarly, the heightening of hostility between Israel and Palestine casts its shadow on Indian economic and political security.

Apart from its diplomatic efforts, India’s ability to project power and protect the nation’s regional interests will depend on two large aspects of its security apparatus. A modern military capable of deterring and defending the country from external threats and internal challenges will be of utmost priority in its national security calculus. While India has initiated reforms in this sector and an indigenized defence production Atmanirbharta program, innovations and emergent technologies will have to be the cornerstone of an efficient armed force. Nuclear weapons will continue to play an important role in India’s security calculus. Assessing the credible minimum level required for India’s national security remains crucial.

Indeed while PM Narendra Modi highlights the significance of the adoption of the human-centric approach while supporting innovation and digital technology, this sector has opened up new domains of contention in domestic quarters as well as in the domain of cyberspace and outer space.

The third facet of security calculus would consist in examining the challenges that India faces as it advances into the coming decade. India’s long-standing issues are combined with unprecedented challenges of the changing global order and India’s own tensions of capability and performance both in the domestic and international spheres. With a rapidly growing economy predicted to surpass Japan’s $4.31 trillion GDP in another year, India’s economic growth has been substantial. Much of the veneer would fade in the face of mounting pockets of poverty, growing unemployment and lack of human security. The large number of farmer suicides across the country is a case in point of the lopsided economic growth. Safeguarding against economic shocks, vulnerabilities in cyber, space, maritime, and information domains, safety and protection of Indians living and working abroad would be some of the other aspects of India’s security challenges. Indian capability towards developing immunity against the external environment – one that is now seeing prolonged global economic downturn, growing turmoil in Middle East, and Ukraine crises all of which has made India vulnerable to changes and shocks in the global arena. These prolonged crises have laid bare the challenges of energy security. Despite its thrust on renewable energy, dependence on oil and gas imports and coal is a costly reality for India. One that has become more complicated in the transition to electric vehicles and the importance of critical materials like lithium and cobalt.

Finally, India’s aspirational element that goes beyond impending threats has to be factored in. As its heft is growing, this is becoming a major feature in India’s security calculus. Despite India’s renewal of faith in multilateralism, it will need mechanisms for greater influence in global institutions beyond the rhetoric. While the global engagement in the Indo-Pacific and India joining the QUAD has lent to this, the shifting balance of power in Asia is an evolving dynamic to grapple with. In this context, the emerging new contours of the EU’s strategic partnership with India will be a crucial component to India’s security calculus. A growing mutual recognition of each other’s strategic importance, recognizing India’s regional presence beyond China has potential to develop into meaningful engagement.

Aspiring to be a balancer in the global balance of power system, some of its bilateral ties with big powers will be a critical factor. How India manages its bilateral this with the bigger players like the US, Russia Japan and its ability to leverage them will be a key factor in its national security calculus.

Arguably, India’s sustained economic growth, ability to maintain political stability and continuing to showcase its technological prowess, will enhance its international standing, however, the major tension in India’s security calculus is between India’s capabilities, especially material, and potential needs.

About the Author: Dr. Sreeradha Datta is the Professor, Jindal School of International Affairs,O.P Jindal Global University. Non-Resident Senior Fellow, ISAS-NUS. Singapore.

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