Saturday, December 10th, 2022 00:55:49

INDIA AS A REGIONAL : SECURITY ANCHOR

By Maj Gen Dhruv C. Katoch
Updated: October 13, 2022 10:51 am

In an interview in New Delhi in August 2022, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India, Shri MilindMoragoda, while delving into India-Sri Lanka relations, stated: “India is the anchor when it comes to security in this region”.    Sri Lanka is not alone in viewing India as providing security to the region. Increasingly this is being spoken of by almost all countries in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as well as by countries in India’s neighbourhood, which are land locked. This speaks of India’s growing stature in the region as well as across the globe.

The term ‘net security provider’ remains as of now a bit ambiguous and open to different interpretations. However, broadly, it implies having the capacity and the will to contribute to stability in the region by addressing common security concerns such as terrorism, piracy, illegal trafficking of narcotics, gun running, human trafficking and the like. It also involves providing humanitarian assistance during natural calamities such as earthquakes and tsunamis, and working towards common goals on issues such as climate change, global warming, preserving the environment and the like, which, if left unattended, can prove catastrophic for the world.

To be a net security provider and contribute to stability in the region requires both capacity and will. This has been demonstrated by India over the past few years. More importantly, this also fits in well with India’s cultural ethos of looking at the world as one family—the thought encompassed by the words “VasudhaivaKutumbakam”.

India’s geographical location is also ideal to carry out such a role. The centrality of India in the Indian Ocean enables India’s reach from the East coast of Africa all the way to the Malacca coast and beyond. On its land frontiers, it encompasses the Eurasian heartland as well as India’s immediate neighbours. The military component of this role would involve capacity building, joint training, protocols for providing military aid and deployment of military forces to stabilise a situation. On the diplomatic front, it encompasses building bilateral and multilateral partnerships to deal with issues of concern.

India’s role as a net security provider is a consequence of its civilisational ethos and its growing capacity, both economic and military. For many years this role remained aspirational. In January 2016, Mr Shiv Shankar Menon, the erstwhile National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, stated that India was earlier inhibited in taking up such a role due to limited capabilities and also because other countries were providing such security.

But the situation is changing now and India would have to make “real political and military contributions to stability and security in this region that is so critical to our economy and security”.

Since 2014, when the BJP led NDA alliance assumed office, there has been a distinct push towards this direction. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to Mauritius in March 2015, enunciated his vision for a safe, secure and stable Indian Ocean Region that delivers prosperity to all—the SAGAR doctrine, SAGAR being an acronym for Security And Growth for All in the Region.  In June 2018, while speaking at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore,  Prime Minister Modi further defined India’s area of interest as stretching from the East coast of Africa to the West coast of America and said that the destiny of the world will be deeply influenced by the course of developments in the Indo-Pacific region, and despite legacy challenges, can be shaped in our ‘collective hopes and aspirations’. Here, he called for a free, open, inclusive region, embracing every nation in a common pursuit of progress and prosperity and for a common rules based order for the region, where the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations, regardless of their size or strength is respected. He spoke of equal access to the use of common spaces, both on sea and air, for freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce and reiterated India’s commitment to support free and open navigation and a rules based order in the Indo-Pacific.

India as a Provider of Net Security

Since 2014, India has moved slowly yet steadily in taking up this role. While earlier their was a certain level of circumspection in taking such a step, India’s foreign policy has been far more assertive since 2014 with respect to building relations with its immediate neighbourhood as well as in the wider Indo-Pacific region and beyond. There is now, a distinct proactive stance in India’s policy choices, overcoming the hesitancies of yesteryears.

The first visible sign of India taking a lead in providing assistance to its neighbours was the directions given by Prime Minister Modi, in June 2014, just a month after becoming the Prime Minister, to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to develop a satellite for use by all the member countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). This led to the launch of GSAT-09, a communication satellite, which was called the South Asian Satellite, in 2017.  GSAT-09 provides, tele-communication, tele-education, and a host of other services to the beneficiary countries, and also provides data on weather, alerts on natural disasters and the like.  Since then, there has also been a distinct push given to India’s space programme, be it the Chandrayaan, India’s Moon Mission or the manufacture by India of its own cryogenic engines and semi cryogenic engines for ISRO’s launch vehicles, the facility for which was inaugurated by the President of India, Ms DroupadiMurmu, on 27 September 2022. The successful demonstration of the anti-satellite test (Mission Shakti) on 27 March 2019 was a feat that has earlier been accomplished only by the US, Russia and China. This test, besides redressing the India-China strategic balance, which was its prime objective, would also have validated several emerging Indian ballistic missile defence technologies. More importantly, any subsequent treaty on the use of space would now have to take India on board, as a country with proven capability.

India has also been proactive in providing HADR (Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief) support whenever calamities have befallen the region. India provided assistance to the Maldives when it was faced with a water crisis in December 2014.  Immediate assistance was provided to Nepal when it was struck by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake on 25 April 2015 (Operation Maitri).  Thereafter, India provided assistance in the reconstruction effort.  In 2017, India came to the aid of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka when they were struck by a devastating cyclone and flood, respectively.  Most such crises occur in the oceanic belt between the Red Sea and the Malacca Strait and India has never shied away from providing help and assistance.

India has also been proactive in evacuating its personnel from war torn regions, and in the process has also evacuated personnel from friendly foreign countries. Yemen in 2015,  Afghanistan in 2021,  and more recently, Ukraine in 2022, are examples of Indias commitment to that effect. This is a testament to India’s growing influence, especially as many big countries faltered in evacuating their personnel and sought India’s help to do so. All this has added to India’s credibility and reliability, which has in a sense made India an anchor for providing assistance in times of need.

Capability Development

Being a net provider of security also bespeaks of having the economic and military heft to be credible. Towards that end, a concerted push has been made since 2014 to bolster India’s military capability. Strategic lift capability has been enhanced by the purchase of the C130J Super Hercules aircraft as well as Chinook helicopters from the US. Aerial strike capability was enhanced through the purchase of the Rafael fighter jets from France and Apache helicopters from the US. On the indigenous front, India’s Tejas fighter jet has come of age and an impetus has been given to the AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft) project, a fifth generation aircraft, which should hopefully have the first prototype rolling out in 2025-26. India’s indigenously developed Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) is also now in Service, the first helicopter being handed over to the IAF by PM Modi in November 2021.

India has also demonstrated its capability in designing and construction of aircraft carriers, as seen by the launch on 2 September 2022, of India’s indigenously built aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant. This has projected India into a select group of countries having that capability.  India has already built submarines and warships and now, with the indigenous aircraft carrier, it heralds a step up in Indian ship building capability. The Indian Army’s capability also stands enhanced, with a larger component of indigenous equipment in its armoury ranging from bullet proof vests, artillery guns, small arms, ammunition, missiles and armoured vehicles.

An important initiative taken by the Ministry of Defence is policy interventions which have, for the first time, given the private sector in India a greater role to play in providing weapons and equipment to the military. The two defence industrial corridors, one in Tamil Nadu and the other in Uttar Pradesh, once fully established and functional will give a great boost to the indigenous drive, making India into a defence industrial hub. Export regulations have also been eased. Consequently, India signed a USD 375 million deal to export the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile to the Philippines. This is significant and heralds a change in mindset which will make India a major exporter of arms and equipment. In 2014-15, India’s defence exports stood at just Rs 1940 crore. This has risen in 2021-22 to 12815 crore, which is indeed a credible performance. The Defence Ministry has set a target of Rs 1.75 lakh crore of defence production by 2025, which will include export of Rs 35,000 crore. While the public sector will still be contributing the major share, the role of the private sector is expected to be in the region of 20 to 30 percent. This will herald the coming of age of India’s defence industrial base.

The emphasis on indigenous production has also now become a buzzword in Indian industry, for all types of goods and services. The corporate sector is focused on achieving laid down goals and reducing dependence on imported goods. No surprise then that India is now poised to become a three trillion dollar economy and has recently overtaken the United Kingdom to become the fifth largest economy in the world.

Multilateral Arrangements

India’s Neighbourhood First policy has leveraged existing multilateral arrangements such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) amongst others to compliment both India’s Act East Policy which focusses on the ASEAN countries as well as Look West Policy, which focusses on West Asia. The impetus given to all these initiatives has helped in building strong relations between India and her neighbours stretching from Singapore to the Gulf.

Beyond the region, India plays a major role in BRICS and the SCO. BRICS is an acronym for five major emerging market economies—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. In terms of GDP, China, India, Brazil and Russia currently rank 2nd, 5th, 8th and 11th respectively in world rankings and South Africa ranks at 32nd place.  China, India, Brazil and Russia are also part of the G 20. It is important to note that the BRICS countries, within themselves, account for about 42 percent of the global population.  The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)—a political, economic and security organisation, is primarily focussed on security, with the main threats being described as terrorism, separatism and extremism. The SCO provides India a forum to deepen its relations with the Central Asian Republics as well as a forum to further anti-terrorism efforts in the region.

India is also a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, popularly called the Quad—a four nation grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the United States. In March 2021, the joint statement issued at the Quad Summit spoke of a shared vision for a free, open, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific, and to promoting a rules-based order, rooted in international law.

For India, the Quad represents a totally different set of groupings than both the BRICS and the SCO. The former has a focus on India’s interests in the Eurasian heartland, while the Quad is aligned to India’s concerns in the Indo-Pacific, with a focus on free and open navigation, which is vital for India’s security and economic growth. What stands out today is the clear enunciation of India’s national interests, which India is no longer hesitant to state and pursue. This marks a shift from the erstwhile policy of non-alignment to one of strategic autonomy. India will no longer kowtow to one or the power blocs. Its size and its stature make India a pole in its own right and this is the new vision which Prime Minister Modi has enunciated.

Conclusion

India’s growing capability in the military sphere as well as its growing economic stature is perceived positively in the region. This, along with India’s civilisational ethos, as enunciated in the phrase ‘VasudhaivaKutumbakam’, (The World is one Family), has made India a reliable and trusted partner. The rise of Indian military capability as well as the strength of its growing economy is an important component in India’s foreign policy formulations. India has shed the hesitancies of the past which is why it is increasingly being perceived as the security anchor in the region, being capable of looking after not just her own security interests but those of its  neighbours as well.

 


By Maj Gen Dhruv C. Katoch
(Writer is former Director of the Indian Army’s premier think tank, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), he is currently Director, India Foundation)

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