BOOK REVIEW HANDBOOK OF INDIAN DEFENCE POLICY THEMES
HANDBOOK OF INDIAN DEFENCE POLICY
THEMES, STRUCTURES AND DOCTRINES
BY HARSH V PANT
1. About the Author. Harsh V Pant is Professor of International Relations in the Defence Studies Department and the India Institute at King’s College, London. He is a Non-Resident fellow with the Wadhwani chair in US-India policy studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC. His latest research is focused on issues related to present security issues in South Asian nations that can become cause of a major conflict in the region. The author writes regularly for various media outlets including the Japan Times, the Wall Street Journal, The National (UAE), and The Telegraph. The author’s wealth of knowledge from his years of experience in various Universities and colleges and his research suitably qualifies him to cover the subject in detail.
2. Synopsis. The Handbook of Indian Defence Policy provides a convincing, compelling and comprehensive survey of India’s defence policy since it gained independence in 1947. India has experienced rapid economic growth since it undertook economic reforms and liberalisation in 1991. Indian economic growth was six percent from 1991-2000, 8-9 percent during 2001-2010 and 7 percent from 2011-2015. By 2016, India became the third largest economy of the world in purchasing power parity (PPP), behind China and the USA. In 2016, it was the fastest growing major economy in the world. Indian economic growth transformed into rapid growth in defence outlays/ budget and defence expenditure, which in turn led to expectations that India will be a major power in the world if not a super power in the near future.
3. About the Book. The book is a compilation of various articles written by different writers who have contributed in the given subjects. The uniqueness of the handbook is that all the contributors are from different careers, backgrounds and countries. These include academics, practitioners, bureaucrats, officials from the Indian armed forces including a former service chief, a former head of Research ; Analysis Wing (R ; AW) and a journalist. This unique combination of academic and policy focus, opinions, debate and discussions offers a wide-ranging analysis of different aspects of India’s defence and security policy. The book is very well structured and is divided into eight sections with each exploring into different facets/ challenges of India’s defence and security policy.
4. The first section discusses the origins of the Indian armed forces during the East India Company and later during the British colonial rule. It examines the interplay between the soldier, the state and the society in modern India. It is this interplay that lies at the heart of understanding the role of the military in Indian society and its evolution over the years. It also explains how and why the military is compliant to the civilian bureaucracy. It illustrates that India inherited a certain structure from the British rule and even after almost seven decades, the same system is being followed. Only few modest changes have been introduced, that too due to the impending/ imposed crisis and not because of the ingenuity, foresight or vision of the executive, the bureaucracy, the academicians and the policymakers.
5. Section two examines the relationship between the Indian military and the India’s foreign policy. The writers discuss the incompatibility between the two and provide recommendations to overcome the same. They also suggest that India’s defence diplomacy is erratic and needs to be boosted significantly for achieving great power status.
6. Section three and four brings to fore, the evolution and history of the three armed forces, namely the Army, Navy and the Air Force. The evolution of their doctrines, the role they played in India’s wars during the British Rule and after India achieved independence in 1947, with Pakistan and China. The sections also discuss the numerous problems and challenges faced by the three services individually and their possible solutions. It emphasizes on the lack of coordination in joint operations, planning and integration of the three services, the rationale behind it and how this is affecting India in meeting 21 century security challenges.
7. Section five brings out aspects of defence versus development debate. It showcases that India did not spend much on defence immediately after independence despite war with Pakistan in 1948 and the growing threat from China post annexation of Tibet in 1951. Defence spending increased in 1962 after a humiliating defeat in a border conflict with China but declined again during the 1970s. It was only in the new millennium that defence spending was increased tremendously with emphasis on modernisation and procurement of advanced technology and equipment from the US, Russia, Israel and France. However, this push to modernise has not progressed smoothly mainly because of various inherent system flaws like turf wars, bureaucratic politics, corruption, red tape, risk aversion, accountability and lack of force integration and planning.
8. Section six discusses India’s internal security challenges with major focus on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the ‘Naxalite’ movement and the insurgencies in India’s restive and long neglected North East. It highlights that the ‘Naxalite’ or ‘Maoist’ movement which has been linked to violence in almost 90 of the 540 districts in India where the policy/ rules of the state fails in most cases and is considered as the biggest internal security threat. This is despite the rise in Islamic fundamentalism in South Asia and the ideological, financial, political and military support provided to non-state actors and terrorist organisations by states like Pakistan, and to lesser extent, Bangladesh.
9. Section seven portrays the evolution of India’s national security doctrine and the present infrastructure established to deal with the internal security challenges. It examines the evolution and role of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) such as Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF) and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF); paramilitary organisations such as the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Assam Rifles and Rashtriya Rifles. It also discusses the role of domestic and external intelligence agencies and the police in tackling India’s internal security challenges such as fighting insurgency, terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism along with achievements, issues, concerns and limitations facing different organisations and tries to provide solutions to overcome these issues.
10. Section eight focuses on nuclear weapons and space warfare. The contributors have discussed the evolution of India’s nuclear doctrine and how institutional, personal and ideological problems have continued to derail the progress of India’s nuclear, missile and space programmes and hence, its security. For instance, the military is completely absent in the decision making and formulation of India’s crucial doctrines. This privilege is enjoyed by politicians and bureaucrats in the government/ Ministry of Defence who are not at all qualified to make such policies and who have no knowledge of on ground operations and tactics on the battlefield.
11. Certain additions would have made the handbook more comprehensive and meaningful. Few of them are as mentioned below:-
(a) A discussion/ article about India’s strategic culture which directly and indirectly influences India’s foreign policy, defence policy and its
doctrines were missing. This would have provided the conceptual map of how and why Indian policymakers, the armed forces and society think and act and how this affects security, defence policy and India’s ability/ inability to meet certain security challenges (both internal and external).
(b) Cyber security is only given a cursory mention.
(c) Some analysis on the role (or lack of it) of India’s private sector enterprises in India’s defence acquisition, procurement and modernisation would have been valuable. This could have been followed by the important role played by MSMEs in production of crucial equipment to bolster the defence fores and thereby reducing dependence on foreign equipment.
(d) There were some factual errors as well. For instance, p.79 states that India is the third largest economy in the world. This is misleading as although it is the third largest economy in PPP terms, it lags in other rankings. P.107 states that China supported India during the Kargil conflict whereas China actually remained diplomatically neutral and instead sold weapons and equipment to Pakistan which helped the latter in the conflict.
12. The book is 425 pages long, includes 25 important chapters by Indian and foreign contributors and covers most of the relevant topics and issues faced by India in the present millenium. The Handbook of Indian Defence Policy provides the reader a detail insight into India’s defence and security policy, the external and internal security challenges, the ignorance side of the government and its policies, the frozen defence bureaucracy and the tough problem of identifying and responding to threats. It also focuses on the numerous problems and limitations which might hinder India’s rise to great power status and solutions to overcome the problems, the role of interest groups and other domestic factors on India’s defence and security policy. The book is presented in a very simple and presentable format and may prove to be an indispensable source for readers/ students interested in security and defence studies.