Tuesday, 5 June 2007

New security priorities for India

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard 3rd June 07

At the 6th Asia Security Conference in Singapore on Saturday, Defence Minister AK Antony became the first union minister to signal a radical shift in India’s security policy. Outlining new threat perceptions, he stated that India’s greatest security threat came not from Pakistan, China, nuclear weapons or terrorism, but from the difficulties of meeting the aspirations of all of India’s citizens at a time of rapid modernisation. This radically departs from India’s traditional position of defining security almost exclusively in terms of external threats.

The new security policy explicitly recognises the destabilising effect, at the national level, of the long-playing insurgencies in the northeast, movements like Naxalism that stem from lack of governance, communal dissension, as well as agitations like the Gujjar demand for scheduled tribe status. Security against external threats alone, says the defence minister, is not enough. “When (external) security is accompanied by such a broad sense of well being, we can be more certainly assured of stability.”

Interestingly, the MoD has framed its new concerns in the face-saving rhetoric of contribution to international stability. Mr Antony stated, “When one sixth of the world demonstrates an ability to meet its wants, manage its expectations and govern itself effectively, the significance of that achievement cannot be overvalued.”

After internal security, the MoD’s second priority is to ensure “peace and stability on India's borders and in the regions with which we have increasing interaction: the Gulf, Central Asia, the Indian Ocean region, South Asia and South East Asia.” This is not just an emerging power’s geographically expanded phrasing of what was earlier termed, “safeguarding our borders.” Instead, there seems new hope for a peaceful neighbourhood. The Defence Minister pointed to the peace processes that had transformed relations with both China and Pakistan, and said that security objectives could be met through “confidence building and a rational and realistic approach based on peaceful bilateral dialogue”.

India’s third priority is drawn from the economy’s increasing integration with global trade, investment and technology flows. Mr Antony stated, “The third security priority for us is to safeguard the material, psychological and technological basis for enhanced interaction with the rest of the world.” In specific terms, this boils down to energy and maritime security, the security of critical infrastructure, and WMD proliferation. The defence minister emphasised India’s intention to work constructively with littoral States in ensuring the security of international sea-lanes.

India’s final priority, said the defence minister, was to enhance its global clout through strong equations with key players – US, Russia, EU, China and Japan and key regions such as the South East Asia, the Gulf and the Middle East. This new approach to international affairs is markedly different from that of the Foreign Ministry’s stated position that the United Nations must be the nodal forum for global action. Mr Antony declared that, “no single forum should perhaps assume responsibility for international security related issues. Only a pluralistic security order working through a network of cooperative structures can have the legitimacy as well as the wherewithal to deal with the security challenges of the 21st century. India is ready to play its role in the shaping of this new approach to collective security.”

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