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Ladakh standoff: India's National Security Strategy 'dithered, delayed', slow to take off

By Niki Sharma, Abhimanyu Hazarika*
The events at different points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on June 15, mark a new low in terms of foreign policy. It also presents the hardest challenge yet in terms of dealing with a crisis that threatens not just established border demarcations, but the morale and dignity of our forces and citizenry. The border fury is also a testament of how, despite several peace talks and agreements, there is no ironclad guarantee that the two countries will not have more such violent clashes at the LAC.
Weak military infrastructure and decision-making can mark a death-knell for India’s national and territorial integrity. Twenty-first century dependencies -- be it cultural, environmental, or economic -- among global powers must not overshadow the need to defend ourselves, and more importantly, save our soldiers from becoming casualties.
The issue, unfortunately, has no immediate means of resolve. Medium-term military-diplomatic moves and far-sighted policy endeavours can, however, make India better equipped to tackle such matters head-on, rather than defensively. Yes, banning Chinese apps is a step to assuage the immediate public anger after the death toll of the standoff was released. Nonetheless, far-sighted plans of action are needed for a viable solution to this grave issue.
Several attempts have already been made by the National Security Advisory Board to draft and submit a National Security Strategy (NSS), but it has only been dithered or delayed by different governments. The Defence Planning Committee was in 2018 formally entrusted with putting in place the fundamentals of an NSS, but it has been slow to take off.
A feasible and desirable approach to securing our nation’s security begins with a strategic review to ascertain security challenges for now and tomorrow, both internal and external, which develops into a comprehensive NSS. In future border standoffs and clashes, the strategy shall be the starting point to tackle the threats at hand, by specifying our capabilities required as far as force, technology and structures to deal with attacks are concerned.
The fundamentals of a county’s NSS entails crafting sound strategies that define a nation’s interests and ways to fix the cracks on the wall along with the means to avoid hitches and glitches in times of a crisis. Countries like the United States, Russia, and France have such documented strategies in place that lay down their needs, urgencies, red flags, and a process of tackling a crisis that yields positive outcomes. At times when raging public speeches and condolences prove to be futile, it is such strategies that help make challenging decisions.
It is critical that such a strategy is inclusive of and works in tandem with military strategy to modernise our current functional approach of being reactive, rather than preventive. Further, the NSS should also tackle multiple threats including riots and natural disasters, streamline and unburden institutions, have a coherent media policy, produce localised charters through interdisciplinary think tanks, adopt a dynamic neighbour-border policy, outline policies that advocate economic growth, prescribe central policies that emphasise decentralisation to non-urban areas, and strive for communal and ecological harmony. 
Banning Chinese apps is step to assuage public anger after death toll of the standoff was released. Far-sighted action plans are needed
While that might seem over-encompassing, contextualising it in a hypothetical handling of the Galwan Valley situation will make the intent clear. An NSS in place would:
  • handle preparedness for the altitudinal challenges along the LAC;
  • have inputs from intelligence and academic-oriented institutions as to the strategic and diplomatic means to proceed on each step of (de)escalation;
  • communicate details to the media as and when necessary but with transparency, so as not to lose the information war while dealing with the border battle; 
  • keep other neighbours informed or by our side in handling the issue; 
  • keep locals of adjoining districts in the loop of the situation as feasible, so rehabilitation isn’t a knee-jerk afterthought; and 
  • keep the economic and ecological fallouts of a violent clash there in mind. 
Before the bloody clash occurred at the LAC, a red flag had been wigwagging when minor stand-offs began taking place between the Indian and Chinese forces. A cogent strategy, in this context, would have avoided the puncturing of military and political wheels.
For situations of the present kind along the LAC, the NSS must include and go hand-in-hand with specialised units and tactics. At our conflict-ridden borders in the mountains, the focus must revolve around reviving old projects. 
The lack of funds has delayed many military projects in India, and is a major crack on our wall. Considering the current border crisis, India cannot afford to stall any more military projects and force its way back to a semblance of normalcy at the LAC. 

Mountain strike corps

One such project and specialised unit, that has been ideated, conceptualised, tested, but put in cold storage, is the Mountain Strike Corps (MSC). The rationale behind the MSC was to carry out non-defensive operations tackling aggressors along the LAC in a more optimum manner; as conventional tactics of defense cannot be grafted onto current border fragilities. The MSC was never properly formed.
After the Depsang conflict at the LAC in 2013, India’s first mountain strike corps, of sorts, was formed but stamped as a non-defensive tactic against the Chinese. A version of this is envisioned by the current Armed Forces chief in the form of Integrated Battle Groups (IBG) -- brigade sized units that can be quickly mobilised to strike or defend across terrains as escalations demand. As opposed to an MSC, however, the size of the units would mean diversion of resources from other corps in case of a large-scale conflict or the anticipation of one.
Given that the MSC was to be established over a few years for fiscal prudence, linking its immediate benefit to the current crisis is easier conceived than explained. Nonetheless, given China’s expansionist posturing, India must put in place defensive capabilities with a core offensive potential, which is where the MSC comes in. The substantial cost (over 10 billion $) of setting it up can be met with savings accrued from the Shekatkar Committee’s suggested reforms.
If it were already in place, the Corps would have helped those at the border be ready. It would have had knowledge of Chinese activities through an ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) canvas of our neighbours. 
Terrain-adapted and battle-ready formations with quick air and land mobilisation would help respond to intrusions from a position of active defensive strength. Ideally, the MSC’s operationalisation should have coincided with the launch of China's Western Theatre Command. The MSC will be equally formidable in tackling Pakistan, another troubling neighbour with painfully consistent ceasefire violations along the border.
To paraphrase an expression, a sound national strategy in hand is worth two in the rival’s bush. Proactively and speedily implementing the processes and organisational regulations for the MSC and the NSS is called for; it will go a long way in ensuring that no more of our bravehearts are killed with barbed-wire sticks, stones or worse. Reports of mutual disengagement notwithstanding, the nation cannot afford to wait!
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*Political science graduates with interest in defence affairs from the Asian College of Journalism

Comments

suranjana dhal said…
its high time for the government to come out with a policy to deal with the situation along the China border. This write-up is reflective of the expectation of the average educated Indian for a concrete action plan by the government.

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