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India’s National Security – Challenges and Priorities

Published: 21st Sep, 2019

India continues to face many complex threats and challenges to its national security, a few of which are predictable and well-defined.



India continues to face many complex threats and challenges to its national security, a few of which are predictable and well-defined.


  • Over the years, we have entered into an era of complex and uncertain threats and challenges, due to dynamic changes in the geo-politico-economic landscape and revolutionary changes in technology.
  • These threats include traditional, non-traditional, cyber, information, space, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and propaganda.
  • In order to ascertain the preparedness of our defence forces, it would be prudent to analyse it both from threat and capability-centric points of view.


Security threats and challenges:

  • Dichotomy of thought: The thought process of uniformed personnel and civilian research scholars towards national security challenges is completely different.
    • Uniformed personnel: They perceive national security challenges as well-defined external or internal threats or the challenges of hybrid warfare in the future and mostly ignore non-traditional threats.
    • Civilian Research scholars: They have thought-provoking perceptions towards security challenges like:
      • Lack of education among masses leading to the election of non-suitable leaders having no vision on national security;
      • The triangle formed by the huge youth population, unemployment among the youth and threat to food security is a deadly recipe detrimental to national security;
      • Lack of social cohesion and harmony, dilution in the integrity of institutions, the polarisation of people along the lines of religion, caste and region, and non-inclusive growth pose a potent threat and challenge to national security.

  • External Threats and Challenges:
    • Two neighbours of India—China and Pakistan—are not just the principal source of its external security threats, but are also nuclear-armed states who share a deep friendship.
    • The territorial disputes and external threats on our sub-continent are a result of its unique geostrategic location, its neighbourhood, its history and the Partition.
    • Security of India’s long and porous coastline, offshore islands, exclusive economic Zone and sea lines of communications in the Indian Ocean require a high level of surveillance, situational awareness, rapid response capability, and synergy between all enforcement agencies to provide effective maritime security.
    • Detailed examination of the economic and security implications of CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), Belt and Road Initiative  (BRI),  and the 21st-century Maritime silk road on India and the region is required.
  • Internal Threats and Challenges:
    • Huge diversity in geographical regions, ethnicity, religions, and languages coupled with social discrimination, inequality in human development indices (HDI), lack of inclusive growth, the polarisation of population-based on religion and caste, and mass unemployment among the youth makes India vulnerable to internal armed conflicts.
    • The aim of the armed conflicts like Naga insurgency, Bodoland army, , in India is primarily to capture political power or seek separation or secession or greater autonomy. We have been more successful in conflict-management and not conflict-resolution.
    • Internal security is a function of political morality, responsiveness of the governance system, integrity of institutions, social cohesion, the status of the economy, wealth distribution in the population, and social justice. India is suffering from dysfunctional institutions, which further add to the problems in the internal security environment.
    • Pakistan has continued to indulge in proxy-war-cum-cross-border-terrorism in J&K with a view to destabilising India, which poses a serious threat to India’s internal security.

  • Dynamics of Limited Conflict
    • Considering the geo-political-economic-strategic environment with nuclear-armed states, the probability of a total war appears less likely.
    • However, given our unresolved border disputes with our neighbours, history of our earlier conflicts, and the continued proxy war-cum-cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, the probability of limited conflicts or border skirmishes, with irregular, information and asymmetric threats would always remain high.
    • Such conflicts would have the potential to spill over to a larger area/region.

  • Economic Cost of Violence refers to the direct and indirect costs incurred in preventing, containing, and dealing with the consequences of violence. The economic cost of violence to India has been 9% of its GDP.

Way forward

  • Build an effective military deterrence
    • India needs to progressively improve its military capabilities in conventional as well as non-conventional war-fighting mechanisms, soft power and demonstrated power.
    • Military deterrence needs to be backed by comprehensive national power: political will, strong economy, social cohesion, vibrant industrial base, supportive public information system, and strong technology and innovation culture.
  • Integration and Jointness
    • The future conflicts would be short, intense, multi-dimensional and hybrid in nature and straddle land, sea, air, space, and cyber and information domains.
    • Therefore, we will not have the luxury of delayed decision-making, delayed mobilisation and delayed application of forces.
    • Integrated organisations would certainly help us become effective operationally, with the ability to ensure synergistic application of all available resources for that operation in the very limited window of opportunity.
  • Defence Industry and Capability
    • There is a need to holistically and pragmatically review the existing system of defence production in India, with a greater focus to boost indigenous manufacturing to achieve self-reliance with quality products.
    • To produce state-of-the-art weapon systems in India, innovation has to be accorded with a very high priority and private sector participation needs to be enhanced, with substantial investment in R&D to revolutionise our industry.
  • Border Management Strategy
    • The aim of border management strategy should be to effectively maintain the territorial integrity of the borders and to take care of the multifaceted threats and challenges along each border.
    • Besides utilising technology to manage borders (smart management), there is a need to have clarity in responsibility, command and control, authority and accountability for each border, more importantly, the borders under dispute.
  • Cyber and Space Domains: While looking at the offensive aspects of cyber-warfare, it is important to first take actions to protect our networks from cyber-attacks. The militarization of space is yet another dimension that needs to be explored for military purposes.


India has to use all instruments of its national power—political, economic, diplomatic, military, social, technological, psychological, cultural—in a coordinated manner to address its security concerns. This can happen only if we put an end to turf wars between different elements of national power, and look at the national security with a national outlook.

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