India's National Security: Reform and Revival

In recent years, India has increasingly asserted itself on the world stage. As its economy continues to expand and its military continues to modernize, India seeks to firmly establish its place among the world powers. Towards this goal, India has taken the crucial step of revamping its antiquated national security architecture. Perhaps most significant is the creation of a dedicated think tank to monitor and assess China across a wide spectrum of issues.

Under Prime Minster Modi, India has taken a much more proactive role in international affairs. Last year, Modi ordered a comprehensive review of the national security structure, deeming it to have a distressing lack of coordination and order. The review was completed in mid-2018 and has led to the recent changes.

India has been aware of the necessity of modernization regarding its military forces for a while. In constant tension with Pakistan and underlying tensions with the Chinese are powerful reasons for India’s military to argue for its necessity, and importantly the necessity of the best, most modern and up-to-date equipment. Much has been said about India’s $250-billion military modernization program, not all of it positive. There have been recent developments that may well threaten other areas of India, such as politics and the economy (The Rafale controversy and possibility of US sanctions over India’s purchase of Russian made S-400 missile defense systems, respectfully). However, not all aspects of modernization can be addressed with the checkbook.

In Indian strategic circles, the lack of a grand strategy has often been criticized. Many security officials, experts, and analysts in India believe that India needs a grand strategy; one that lays out the long-term political objectives for Indian power projection, and then coordinates the necessary military, economic, and educational development to achieve those political objectives. One only needs to look to India’s neighbor, China, to observe this grand strategy in action.

Modi has recognized that India’s current national security apparatus is “siloed”, meaning that each department essentially functions as its own entity, focused on its own individualist goals. There is a lack of communication and shared strategy, other than a desire to protect the Indian state. Modi’s reforms include the establishment of an overarching defense planning committee to coordination the various elements of national security and ensure that a grand strategy is implemented across the board. In addition, Modi asked for the formation of three tri-service agencies – cyber, space, and special operations. These agencies don’t fit well within any of the established branches of armed forces (army, navy, and air force), and thus tri-service coordination is needed.

The Strategic Policy Group (SPG) has also been revived in order to assist the National Security Council with the creation and implementation of long-term strategy. Whereas previously the SPG was chaired by the Cabinet Secretary, now the National Security Advisor (NSA) will take that role. The SPG contains members from a wide range of fields, from space to finance, atomic energy to Cabinet ministers. This varied selection of experts and policy-makers ensures that this group can provide strategic analysis and planning on the many challenges facing India in the future.

While maybe not top of list of challenges facing India, Modi’s administration has recognized the importance of China and the necessity to study the potential rival power. While it has gone largely unnoticed, the formation of the Centre for Contemporary China Studies (CCCS) is a strong indicator of India’s recognition that China will continue to play a large role in the formation of Indian grand strategy. CCCS seeks to study China from an Indian perspective and is manned by a wide range of individuals, including members of all three of the armed forces, intelligence agencies, and members of the Indo-Tibetan border police, just to name a few. Their task is to provide real-time policy inputs to the necessary decision makers. The governing body is headed by the External Affairs Minister and the NSA is the deputy chairman.

The last major reform change that Modi has sought to implement in the national security apparatus was the creation of the Defense Planning Committee (DPC). For years, various committees in India have pointed out the serious deficiencies in India’s defense management, highlighting the” siloed” aspects as chief among them. In 2017, the Minister of Defense commissioned an internal report, and its findings were damning, pointing out various unnecessary delays and lack of expertise across the board. It was released to the media in February 2018 and within a few months, the DPC was announced. The DPC has a wide mandate, encompassing strategies to boost defense exports, building defense manufacturing, and developing capability plans for the armed forces. The DPC is also headed by the NSA.

One criticism that has arose from these reforms is that many believe the National Security Advisor has too much power, that too many of these new agencies report to one individual. However, supporters of the reforms point out how these new changes have given the NSA the authority to properly implement a grand strategy, and that included in the reforms are an increased number of deputies, meaning that concerns of overloading the National Security Advisor with tasks are unfounded. What is clear is that Modi has recognized the need to bring India’s national security apparatus up to date, and to do so quickly.