Confusing mix of politics, governance and national security

Universal access to nutrition, healthcare, education, gainful employment and secure social spaces, as well as freedom to articulate powerful ideas for building institutional capacities in this direction, are vehicles for securing India’s military-defence capacities and economic prowess, contends Jitendra Kumar Ojha

In the first week of December, I was invited to address a small group of academics, students, professionals, politicians and journalists at India International Centre, New Delhi. The issue was the ongoing impasse on academic campuses in the national capital, and I was specifically asked to speak from the perspective of national security.

I argued that a strategic vision of national security must focus on building high quality R&D and greater harmony, alongside universal access to education, healthcare and gainful employment. War waging capacity or military security is no doubt the most direct and non-negotiable component of national security but in the absence of a larger favourable ecosystem, even such capacity, along with other variables like economic development, could erode. I also emphasised that a state like India needed strong capacity to contain irregular wars and conflicts within its own territory with minimum use of force/resources and negligible distress to its citizens. This was not possible unless the state enjoyed the absolute trust of its people.

As a former Securocrat, fighting a court battle against alleged forgery and perjury by my own former colleagues, I avoided responding to persistent direct questions on some of the politically contentious issues like the Citizen Amendment Bill. I was keen to avoid any politicisation or partisan abuse of my views. Hence, I maintained that, if I was asked, I could speak on such subjects only behind closed doors with members of the government.

I was emphatic that a stronger national security warranted high quality researches in the universities for technological excellence and innovation in socially relevant areas. Therefore, vice chancellors and academic leaders needed to shun colonial type arrogance and reach out to students to find solutions to the ongoing impasse. These institutions needed an amiable and conducive ambience, free from anxiety and insecurity. Undesirable elements needed to be segregated from bonafide scholars.

Many members of the audience urged me to explain my views on national security, propounded on public platforms on a regular basis. I have always believed, practised, spoken and written that a stronger India requires a stronger national security and governance capacity. It is critical not only for the aspirations of 1.3 billion Indians but also for a safer world for all humanity.

It is well known among global security establishments that the idea of national security has been expanding since the end of the Second World War. Ever since the then US Navy Secretary James Forestall spelled out a vision of national security for his country, during a hearing in the US Senate in August 1945, several others have expanded the idea. Today, national security virtually encompasses all dimensions of governance that make up the larger military, economic, social and technological capacities.

Forestall had, for the first time, suggested a ‘wider and comprehensive concept, going beyond military strength to include almost everything linked with war-making potential or capacity of a state’. These included industry, mining, research & development, technological innovation, improvement in quality of human resource and such other activities which also enhanced quality of civilian and social life.

Today, food, water, energy and environment, apart from individual and social security, are components of national security. Some experts have gone on to incorporate diplomatic influence and soft power to security of sea-lanes and supply chain to security of outer space as part of national security doctrine. Virtually everything that can optimise collective output and capacity of people to build an optimally secure and congenial life comes under the broad ambit of national security.

In 2016, I attempted to suggest a national security strategy from an Indian perspective in the form of my NDC dissertation, captioned ‘Governance as Bedrock of National Security’. I emphasised the need to build an integrated framework of effective institutions that mutually reinforced each other, arguing that their structures and processes must push for individual and collective excellence with a sustainable synergy between the two. I also suggested viable and cost-effective strategies to address conflicts like subversion, radicalism, diffused and irregular wars, including insurgency, terrorism, cyber and propaganda wars, etc, which could ultimately cripple even the most formidable states and societies. High quality institutions alone could prevent, pre-empt and deter such conflicts.

With easier mass access to disruptive and destructive technologies, the rise of clandestine cliques and networks and loosening grip of existing democratic governance institutions, both governance and security institutions need re-orientation. They must move to the next higher stage to foster larger collaboration among different entities of state and society. This is indispensable for sustained progressive evolution of democratic societies in a technology-driven globalised world.

Both in my research work and during my interaction, I highlighted that a high quality population, equipped with good physical capacity, cognitive and technical skills, as well as values like integrity and courage, constituted the base of a strong national security architecture.  It is clinically proven that only in a wider ambience of social trust and integrity can good leadership and good democratic institutions flourish. If excellence requires a larger process of competition and collaboration, alongside containment of conflict, the strategic focus of governance and national security must be on building good individuals and vibrant societies.

To drive home the point that the welfare state is not charity, I must quote Austrian welfare state expert Bernd Marin, as well as German and Danish academics Herbert Obinger and Klaus Petersen. They have presented extensive and credible data to argue that military generals were responsible for pushing for a welfare state in Europe. With the rise of mass warfare and universal conscription, they were concerned at the deficient population pool from which the soldiers had to be recruited. Large components of military recruits in Europe were often found to be unfit for military service. Marin has quoted these figures at 51% for Switzerland (1878), 54% for Germany (1873) and up to 70% for the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1912). Even during the Second World War, he has argued that ‘50% of US industrial workers and 40% of Japan’s army draft were unserviceable’.

Until the late 19thor even early 20th century, Europe was known for deficiencies in the education of children, adolescents and young males, high infant mortality, or of women in childbirth, rampant diseases like tuberculosis, etc. Even during the First World War, a write-up in the Journal of Contemporary History (Sage Publications, Ltd. Vol. 15, No. 2 Apr., 1980) has chronicled the growing sentiment in favour of ‘nourishing the new generation of children as tomorrow’s Imperial Army’. It quotes the then British Prime Minister David Lloyd George in a speech at Manchester in 1917 as saying that ‘A grade empires cannot be manned by a C grade population’.

Hence, universal access to nutrition, healthcare, education and gainful employment for the entire population, as well as innovation of ideas and institutions for such purposes, must not be left to the altruistic discretion of a few. These are powerful vehicles for securing the whole gamut of national security objectives, including ‘defence capabilities and military-economic strengths’.

A strategic national security vision of India must push to build high quality manpower and high-quality leaders in each and every sector. This would require a well thought out restructuring of governance institutions, skirting the emotive issue of identity. People are least likely to act rationally when their identity appears challenged.  Hence, public debates and discourses require simultaneous confidential engagements among stakeholders, lest the dream of resurrecting a civilisational state of India is shattered forever.

There will be resistance from formidable self-serving cartels in India for any move in this direction. They have traditionally blocked powerful ideas and talents from coming in to the public domain. Their clout appears intact even now, as serious governance reforms for genuinely strong and sustainable national security architecture appear nowhere on the horizon.

Jitendra Kumar Ojha is a thinker and analyst on national security and governance. He is a former diplomat/Joint Secretary in Government of India and holds research degrees in Diplomacy and Defence & Strategic Studies

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