PM Modi’s security policies for India imperfect but can be rectified

An isolationist American President Donald Trump will shrink the United States’ role and military presence abroad, and will be disinclined to assist India to deal with China or any other threat.

This is not a bad thing to happen considering the Indian government, which has relied on Washington since 2000 for succour, will be compelled hereafter to bank on its own wit, political will, initiative, and national resources.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has only laced the foreign and defence policies from the Manmohan Singh-era with some showmanship, but otherwise stayed with the old script.

Modi has not defined national interest, articulated a strategic vision, or followed hard-headed policies to bolster national security. What the country has witnessed is a lot of summitry, Pakistan bashing, inattention to big-power imperatives, the “same old, same old” subservience to the United States and accommodation of China, and continued emphasis on imported armaments furthered, ironically, by Modi’s signature “Make in India” policy.

No geopolitical drive is discernible in Modi’s approach. Stitching together a coalition of rimland states in the east to ring-fence China is floundering because of India’s faintheartedness in “speaking up” on the South China Sea dispute, delaying the transfer of the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile to Vietnam owing to US pressure, and reluctance to engage in meaningful military cooperation with Japan.

Meanwhile, China has swiftly encircled India land-ward, is delivering on the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and, seaward, has taken over Maldivian islands four nautical miles from the Lakshadweep chain. In comparison, India struggles to connect the Indian northeast with Myanmar, forget achieving anything as grand as the Ganga-Mekong connectivity announced by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in Vientiane 16 years ago.

To India’s west, the development of the critical Chabahar port, railway and roads northwards remains unimplemented, pending Washington’s approval. Linking Chabahar to Russia’s Northern Distribution Network will outflank CPEC and the prospective Chinese naval presence on the Baloch coast, and provide India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, and Indian trade a cheaper land route to Europe. India has lost the first mover’s advantage in Iran and its goodwill.

The baleful US influence on strategic policy is reflected in India seeking entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and civil nuclear cooperation deals with all and sundry premised on its not conducting new nuclear tests, even when these are urgently required to obtain a credible thermonuclear arsenal and, at least, notional strategic parity with China. It has resulted in Modi postponing the test-firing of long-range, canisterised Agni-5 and sea-borne K-4 and K-5/K-6 missiles.

Further, foreign reactors are being bought at the expense of modernising the Indian nuclear weapons design and production complex, including the construction of the second Dhruva reactor to produce weapon-grade plutonium, which is progressing at a snail’s pace.

It mirrors the situation in the defence sector where rather than have the Defence Research & Development Organisation transfer the design and technologies of the formidable 4.5 generation Tejas Light Combat Aircraft to a consortium of Indian private and public sector companies to rapidly productionise, develop variants, induct in IAF and market the plane globally, the Modi government’s approach will likely kill this indigenous plane.

Moreover, bending to American advice, Modi is shunning Russian hardware – the Indian military’s mainstay, in favour of obsolete Western equipment. Jazzing-up, 1970s vintage, US F-16s and F-18s, earmarked for license production under “Make in India” policy, is akin to dressing up a crone as teenager and “Make in India” being reduced to cobbling together any old item locally.

It is prompting foreign firms to unload worn-out production lines for antique aircraft, etc. for hefty moolah, and private sector firms to join defence public sector units in assembling 50-year old fighter aircraft and such, involving screwdriver-level technology.

The indigenous design, research and development and industrial capabilities in both the nuclear weapons and combat aviation fields are also being strangled as scarce resources are diverted to mindless, cost-prohibitive buys ($6 billion for a 1000MW nuclear plant, Rs 59,000 crores for just 36 Rafale combat aircraft!). When the import option was unavailable, India produced advanced strategic systems – nuclear weapons, the Arihant-class nuclear powered ballistic missile-firing submarine, and Agni missiles. So making conventional armaments is not problematic.

It needs Modi to show faith and confidence in Indian talent and capabilities, shutdown the arms-import channel, including license manufacture deals, that has institutionalised corruption, force the armed services to take ownership of indigenous weapons projects, and hold concerned bureaucrats, service chiefs, department and project heads accountable for bringing nuclear and defence projects in on-time and under budget. Such steps, alas, are not in the offing.

Haphazard arms procurement, highlighted by the commitment of some $70 billion since 2014 to purchase (with mid-life upgrades) an assortment of aircraft and other military goods, is exacerbated by the absence of a mechanism in the government for prioritisation and the arbitrary handling of competing military demands.

Thus, monies are found for the Rafale acquisition because Modi announced it, but the raising of 17 Corps for mountain offensives against China is lagging behind for want of funds. It reinforces the skewed threat and military orientation, resulting in meagre funding of wherewithal for the China front, and in capital-intensive armoured/mechanised forces to subdue Pakistan whose total annual budget only slightly exceeds India’s defence expenditure.

There is much that is woefully wrong with the national security system, some of it attributable to Modi’s policies, but nothing that is not rectifiable.
Solicited by the Hindustan Times for the ‘National Security System’ topic in its ‘Make a Change’ – section, and published on Saturday, Nov 26, 2016, at

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, Culture, Defence Industry, disarmament, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Iran and West Asia, Japan, Maldives, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, Myanmar, nonproliferation, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, SAARC, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to PM Modi’s security policies for India imperfect but can be rectified

  1. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Reading the headline I thought WTH, are we going to lose BK to the coterie. But the post-interval storyline will give a lot of @#$!#*(&$ pain to the establishment. 😀

    At times I have asked you to write on the economic issues also. I take back the recommendation. We will lose you to the dark forces if you start reading too much of the mess thereat.

    Just keep going the way you are. Economy and social structure of India will take care of itself. Best of luck.

    • Titling my articles, however inappropriately and misleadingly, is the prerogative of the editorial desk. Given the usual contents, the editors err on the side of caution and provide bland titles in the hope that the powers-that-be will read no further than the title!

  2. andy says:

    To all the supporters of the super expensive Rafale jets deal, here is food for thought.Not only is the Rafale no match for the Su 30mki in the air but its much hyped avalability is only 48%.There go the tall claims of 90% servicability of Rafale out of the window.

    The French have made fools of not only IAF but also the pro Rafale crowd with their sales pitch and succeded in making suckers out of both parties.In other words ‘Topi pehna diya’…jeez but the topi is worth $9 billion…some deal this.

  3. andy says:

    What GOI desperately needs are strategic affairs experts for some much needed advise on how to conduct Indias geostrategic policies.The generalist bureaucracy being relied upon are simply out of their depth where formulating strategy for India in a fast changing global environment is concerned.As for wasteful defence expenditure one need look farther than the Rafale deal as also the 450 odd T90 tanks recently ordered.

    When India should be making haste to raise the China centric MSC,India is buying the expensive Rafale and Pak centric T90 tanks.China has already created an incredible amount of military infrastructure in Tibet wherein the only target can be India.With India pussyfooting around the South china sea issue,China has a free run in Asia.They are not building the CEPEC through territory rightfully claimed by India in POK but also claiming Arunachal pradesh as south Tibet.

    Unless India gets its act together vis a vis China by not pursuing policies that are meant to appease China, the results are going be disastrous.Its too much to expect the notorious Indian bureaucrats,empowered though they may be,to have the kind of expertise required to not only counter China but also chart out a course whereby India’s great power ambitions are fulfilled,for this to happen experts are needed (if they’re nationalistic as well,it would be icing on the cake )

  4. Maximus says:

    What an audacious and aptly laced judgement on the current state of daft play. “The king is wearing no clothes”. You can reap only the ire of the so called nationalistic and revisionist readership, when you show them the brutally honest mirror.Can you expect more from a kingdom, where the national anthem is played before a cinema starts, where jingoism is competing on bare chicken breasts?Quo vadis India?

  5. armchair says:

    Dear Sir,
    chinese lessons. 62 war, asian age, still the same story.(idrw) what it means sir? kindly share your views

  6. satyaki says:

    Bharat sir,

    Are the K-5/K-6 anywhere near testing ? The K-4 has indeed been tested a few times

    • How many K-4s have been test-fired? Three that I know of for sure, and only one of those from submerged Arihant and that too on depressed trajectory. That still leaves the K-4 well short of the Kasturirangan standard on the submerged firings. K-5/K-6, well, that’s ICBM territory and the ball is in Modi’s court.

      • satyaki says:

        I was under the impression that the K-5/6 would take about 10 years to test even if Modi gives the green light.

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