India's Emerging Security Policy

By Ganguly, Sumit | The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Fall 2016 | Go to article overview

India's Emerging Security Policy


Ganguly, Sumit, The Brown Journal of World Affairs


India's security policy has evolved considerably since the country achieved its independence from Britain in 1947. Today, India faces several internal threats and two compelling external threats. The internal threats stem from the resurgence of neophyte Maoist guerilla violence in parts of northern and central India, an unsettled ethnic/secessionist movement in the disputed state ofJammu and Kashmir, continuing discontent in parts of India's northeast, and growing radicalization of a small but significant segment of the Muslim community in the country. Finally, India also suffers from an antiquated and cumbrous defense acquisition system-one that has ill-served its armed forces and that has left the country increasingly vulnerable to external threats. What India appears to lack is a discernible grand strategy that could provide the necessary guidance to its national security policies. Instead, the government seems to be both reactive and idiosyncratic, with a minimal overarching strategic design.

The external security threats that India faces have dogged its policymakers from the country's founding. The first external threat, from Pakistan, erupted within months of the partition of the British Indian Empire and the creation of the two states. Despite its material weakness vis-à-vis India, Pakistan chose to initiate a war to wrest the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir on the basis of an irredentist claim. Though the salience of this dispute has waxed and waned over the last seven decades, it still remains unresolved.1 In a related vein, India also faces a continuing threat from Pakistan's use of various proxy terrorist forces, both in Kashmir and elsewhere. Finally, in the last decade, as Afghanistan has found itself caught in the vortex of a civil war, Pakistan has relied on the Afghan Taliban to attack Indian assets and investments in the country. Consequently, the country has now become another arena for the Indo-Pakistani rivalry.

Another threat, one which most Indian policymakers-notably Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru-initially failed to anticipate, emerged from the People's Republic of China (PRC). The PRC saw India as the principal inheritor of the British colonial legacy in South Asia and questioned the legitimacy of significant segments of its colonially demarcated Himalayan border. This dispute, despite multiple rounds of negotiations, is presently no closer to a settlement.2 Indeed it is far from clear that any government in New Delhi has formulated a coherent strategy to reach an end game in these talks.

The central problem that seems to vex Indian national security policy is the absence of long-term strategic planning. India's national security policy, for the most part, tends to be reactive, ad hoc, and subject to the vagaries of particular regimes. Resource constraints have also periodically hobbled the pursuit of a stable, coherent set of policies. Even the current regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has emphasized the need for a robust defense policy, has dithered on key weapons acquisitions, hesitated to firm up existing military partnerships, and reacted unevenly to significant provocations from Pakistan and the PRC.

This essay will discuss how these threats have evolved, how India's policymakers have sought to deal with them, and the prospects and shortcomings of the strategies that have been adopted to address them.

Coping with and Responding to Internal Threats

Resurgent Maoist Violence

What are the sources of the internal threats that the country is currently contending with? The first, Maoist violence, has long-standing antecedents. It initially erupted in the early 1970s in the state of West Bengal. A group of ideologues, imbued with Maoist ideology and given material support by the PRC, launched the movement in the district of Naxalbari, located in the northern part of the state. Subsequently, it evolved into a brutal urban guerilla movement. …

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