Functioning in a Security Vacuum
By K SUBRHAMANYAM, May 2000
ONE of the consequences of last year's Kargil war was a Rs 13,000-crore hike in the defence budget. India's draft nuclear doctrine was published. President Bill Clinton gave us advice on the nuclear issue which his country did not practice. He did this even as he was about to decide on unleashing a new arms race with the deployment of the national missile defence programme. The Chinese proliferation to Pakistan continues. A new and dangerous security situation is developing in northern Sri Lanka with profound implications for this country's security.
In spite of all these developments, only the Rajya Sabha conducted a debate on defence. During this, the members dealt with nuts and bolts issues and when the defence minister replied to the debate, the House was nearly empty. The next morning, only a couple of national dailies devoted some space to the debate.
Last year, when fighting was at its height in Kargil, there were many demands for an investigation into its cause and fierce denunciations of the suggestions that it could wait till after the fighting ended. The committee which examined the causes and consequences of Kargil, irrespective of its other merits and demerits, has publicised every scrap of intelligence available with the government from June 1998 to May 1999. One would expect that apart from various other criticisms, there would be an attempt to analyse the mass of intelligence placed on record and the processing done. Not much effort in that direction is evident so far.
There was considerable speculation over the timing of the nuclear tests and the motivation for them. Now enough material is publicly available on the evolution of the Indian nuclear weapons' programme and the imperatives underlying it. Not many of those who expressed themselves strongly on the tests have chosen to comment on the vast amount of new material now available.
India today faces three major developments which have major implications for its security. The instability in Pakistan and the fourth round of military rule in that country have had an impact on the proxy war in Kashmir and the campaign of terrorism in this country. The LTTE's resurgence in northern Sri Lanka is bound to influence the security environment in the southern states. The steady spread of small arms and explosives, the continuing drug traffic that nurtures it and the linkage of these two factors with organised crime perhaps constitutes one of the most serious security threats to this country. But there are no serious discussions on these issues in our media.
In India, the politics of national security appear to evoke more interest than the substantive issues related to it. Otherwise, it is difficult to explain why the same security policy pursued by different parties, particularly on the nuclear issue and Kashmir should become the subject of controversy. Most of the media coverage focuses on the controversies surrounding issues, not on the issues themselves.
The political leadership and its general indifference to national security is squarely responsible for this situation. This, in turn, can be traced to the excessive preoccupation of our politicians with day-to-day issues and their unwillingness to apply their minds to the future. This is a general cultural malaise which affects dealing with water supply, elementary education, health, infrastructure or national security. All these problems as well as many others require long-term strategies. They cannot be solved overnight.
National security planning and preparedness require assessing the threats well in advance and preparing the country for them. Weapon systems take years to develop, produce and be deployed. Even procurements from overseas have long lead times. The state of preparedness, availability of equipment and intelligence capability at the time of the Kargil intrusion were largely influenced by decisions taken well in advance. Any country which starts preparing after it has assessed the materialisation of the threat will lag behind the adversary. An armed force can fight a short, limited war of the Kargil type only with equipment which has already been stockpiled.
Many commentators questioned the government on what the immediate security threat was that prompted India to conduct nuclear threats. Underlying that mindset is an understanding that a nuclear threat could be dealt with through a magical wand after another country poses a specific threat. Understandably, people with that approach refuse to take note of Pakistan having threatened India already.
Most political leaders are solely interested in safeguarding their positions in their parties and in the government, if their parties happen to be in power. They have very little time to think of wider issues such as India's foreign and security policies. The ruling parties do not consider it essential to educate the political class on national security and the opposition does not demand it either. Both sides only look upon national security as one more arena to play politics in and to blame each other.
Since most of the information on national security is generated in the government, the level of debate on security issues in the media is determined by the government and its willingness to share information. For reasons mentioned earlier, the government has not been helpful in generating debate. The establishment of the National Security Council led to hopes that the new NSC secretariat would be an engine for this purpose, but those hopes are yet to be realised.
The media is influenced by the market. While there is a lot of demand in our political culture for criticisms of the audit report type, personality- oriented gossip, speculation over political and bureaucratic rivalries and infighting, there is not much interest in issue or policy-based analysis or debates. No doubt, the former type of coverage has its place in a democracy. But when the Lok Sabha does not even debate the demand for a defence grant, such reports do not have much impact on parliamentary consciousness. The Rs 48,000 crore defence demand was adopted without a discussion. That surely does not suggest an interest on the part of our political class in national security.
It is very difficult to deal with terrorism, fight a proxy war with due attention to human rights and to have integrated foreign and security policies unless the political leadership across the spectrum realises the need to raise public consciousness on national security issues. In the absence of a sober and realistic understanding of national security issues, we have either a jingoistic approach or alternatively a sentimental one that the national security effort is sinful and does not merit the attention of self-righteous peace lovers who are out of touch with current international realities.