Need for a National Security Doctrine for India – Explained, pointwise

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The US (Biden Administration) has recently released the National Security Strategy. It is a document prepared periodically by the US Government (Executive) that lists the national security concerns and how the Administration plans to deal with them. The Government is legally bound to present the document to the US Congress (Legislature) under the Goldwater-Nichols Act (Department of Defense Reorganization Act, 1986). The NSS also gives the Congress an opportunity to assess the cost that the country will have to bear to achieve the nation’s security goals. Policy experts argue that India lacks such a structured approach towards its National Security. Many strategic analysts have suggested that India needs a National Security Doctrine (NSD). Some other experts contend that India has managed successfully without one. They further argue that such a doctrine without matching capabilities, will serve no purpose. There is further debate on whether it should be a doctrine or a strategy.

What is the meaning of National Security?

The concept of national security has evolved and expanded over the years. Earlier it was limited only to protection against external military attacks. However, now National Security means the ability of a country’s government to protect its citizens, economy, and other institutions. It includes non-military dimensions like economic security, political security, energy security, homeland security, cybersecurity, human security, food security, environmental security and counter-terrorism etc. To ensure national security, governments rely on tactics, including political, economic, and military power, along with diplomacy.

It is generally agreed that the Executive branch is responsible for coordinating the implementation of various security measures to protect the state and its citizens in a way that advances national interests as a whole.

What is the difference between Doctrine and Strategy?

The concept of Doctrine and Strategy are closely interrelated yet distinct concepts.

Doctrine is an overall statement of principles as to how forces are used at any stage. The US Department of Defense defines doctrine as: “Fundamental principles by which the military forces guide their actions in support of national objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgment in application.”

Broadly, Strategy refers to ‘ways and means to an end’. The end is the goals established by the Doctrine or Policy. Strategy defines how operations are executed to accomplish doctrine objectives. Strategy is a continuous process where ways and means are aligned to accomplish desired policy end goals while keeping risk at an acceptable level. It provides broad outcomes along with the plans and designs to achieve them.

Strategy describes a perspective on how resources are to be used to achieve some goal where as Doctrine is an overall statement of principles as to how forces are used at any stage. Thus strategy is short term while doctrine is long term. Moreover, Strategy changes frequently based on circumstances while Doctrine is authoritative.

What is the need for National Security Doctrine for India?

Hostile Nuclear-armed Neighbours: India has two hostile nuclear-armed neighbours, Pakistan and China. Both have antagonist approach towards India. Any error by either State might result in a nuclear conflict. Having NSD will be beneficial in reducing the threat posed by nuclear weapons.

Consistency and Political Consensus: The policy and approach keeps on changing with a change in the government. There is lack of agreement on threats from Pakistan, Maoism, insurgency, and so on. Having a National Security Doctrine will provide guiding principles that are more consistent and authoritative.

Calibrating National Security and Foreign Policy: Because there has never been a security doctrine, there has been very little effort put into calibrating national security initiatives with foreign policy. For instance, there is a lack of clarity on what form of foreign policy towards Pakistan would be most effective in tackling Pakistan-sponsored Terrorism at the international level.

Jointness in Tri-Services: The Government has created the post of Chief of Defense Staff as a first step towards jointness in the 3 services. Joint Theatre Commands is next on the agenda of the Government. However, there are differences among three services regarding the joint theatres. A National Security Doctrine can act as a guiding document to achieve the jointness and avoid the inter-service conflict.

Multiple Threats: India had long porous borders with many of its neighbours which are exploited for arms, drugs and human trafficking. India faces threat of external state-sponsored terrorism as well as self-radicalized domestic terrorism. A comprehensive doctrine will help in addressing these challenges.

New Challenges: The rising Indian economy is facing new challenges. Cyberterrorism, attacks on critical infrastructure have the ability to stall economic engine. The former CDS had talked 2.5 front war and hybrid warfare. Climate Change and climate-induced migration can also create potential security threats. A National Security Doctrine should foresee and anticipate these challenges and guide the response.

What should be the constituents of the India’s National Security Doctrine?

A think-tank has provided a possible approach to India’s National Security Doctrine.

In the 21st century, India faces challenges of unprecedented scale and complexity that necessitate new ways of thinking about national security. In this scenario, India’s national security doctrine should include “yogakshema” an idea pioneered in the Arthashastra (6.2.31,32), “Strength is power. And well-being is the goal.” The State must provide security, kshema, and economic opportunities, yoga, to all its citizens. To accomplish these goals, it is necessary to:

First, Create and defend a conducive environment for yogakshema (well-being, prosperity, and happiness) of all Indians. At this stage of India’s development, national security is primarily focused on protecting and promoting India’s economic development. As a Swing Power, India must seek to shape the world’s political, economic, technological order and defend India’s interconnectedness with the world.

Second, Protecting the constitutional order, individual freedom, the territory, social cohesion, and national resources: (a) Securing the Republic of India and its institutions; (b) Protecting the rights of all Indians; (c) Comprehensive view of territory including land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace; (d) National strength ultimately derives from social cohesion; (e) Sustain and enhance natural, environmental, and social capital.

Third, Amass and project power across all domains: (a) Develop both continental and maritime power projection capabilities; (b) Develop comprehensive deterrence across all domains; (c) Humane and effective management of internal security; (d) Develop intelligence as a credible instrument of statecraft

Fourth, Reimagine national security capacity: (a) Boost the fighting spirit of the armed forces; (b) “Whole of Government” approach to national security management. The Government should deploy the wide array of economic, military and diplomatic tools to counter potential threats. This includes market access, visa controls, investment deals, diplomatic support, and so on; (c) Nurture a globally competitive defence technology industry; (d) Build leadership across government that understands the prudent use of power.

What is the significance of National Security Doctrine?

A national security doctrine will be a key part of internal security in the following ways:

First, It would help make decisions that are timely and useful because they would be based on the doctrine’s national security strategy.

Second, the Doctrine would guide various sub-doctrines related to external and internal security. It will fill a huge void in the higher defence management of the country.

Third, the Doctrine would ensure a uniform security response taken during times of crises.

Fourth, It would help in maintaining effective coordination among security establishments at both the Union and State levels, hence averting terror attacks that occur even when intelligence agencies have input but fail to prevent the assaults owing to a lack of cooperation.

Fifth, National Security Doctrine would help protect India’s national interests that would ensure peace, growth, and development of the country.

What are the possible challenges in the implementation of National Security Doctrine?

First, It has been difficult to arrive to a consensus on India’s national interests under the current political system, which is a multi-party democracy with representatives from across the ideological spectrum. Moreover, pre-occupation with electoral politics and outcomes have led to compromise on some aspects of national security to an extent.

Second, It would be difficult to bring consensus among the various stakeholders like the Government and the Armed Forces and within the three services.

What should be done going ahead?

First, Armed forces need to quickly step up to the warfare in the digital age. Emerging strategic technologies like Artificial Intelligence, robotics and miniaturised wars are likely to play an increasingly important role in future warfare. Given the transformed nature of warfare, down-sizing the forces, by substituting manpower with smart technology and innovative tactics, has become an imperative need.

Second, The doctrine must encompass all major domains that have implication for India’s National security like Economic, Military, Internal, External, Technological and Environmental etc.

Third, The ‘strategic communication’ aspect of national security is of utmost importance and needs to be strengthened. The construction of a command, control, and communication centre is required.


India has a large and diversified population which could pose significant social and economic problems. India’s security and stability are being threatened by the radicalization of its neighbours, which is quickly turning into an arc of insecurity due to the rise of militancy, terrorism, and social unrest. There are issues of ecology and sustainability. All these things threaten India’s well-being and has the potential to slow economic progress. The significant number of new threats have surfaced in recent times and this demands that they be defined and comprehended in their entirety. The many things that affect national security have an effect on almost everything, and their effects need to be taken into account by every Institution, and Executive body of the State. This is only possible when India has its own national security doctrine.

Syllabus: GS II, India and its neighbourhood relations.

Source: ORF, Takshashila Institution, Delhi Policy Group

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