New defence doctrine: Indian armed forces to stretch security duty beyond borders

New defence doctrine: Indian armed forces to stretch security duty beyond borders

P K Balachandran,

With growing aspirations as a nation with a greater role in the new world order, India strives for more intense involvement with global developments. Itprepares to use its geographical location and multifaceted national power to influence the region, and the rest of the world.

The sheer geographical size of India and its strategic location in the Indian Ocean, gives it tremendous leverage in the regional security scenario.

Given these circumstances, the Indian armed forces are assuming a greater role beyond the country’s borders. They will not only defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India, but are to take on security duties in the immediate neighborhood and strategically relevant areas beyond. These are the basic premises of India’s new defense doctrine.

Doctrine of defense

India’s defense doctrine, according to official documentsof April 18, 2017, very clearly states that India’s nuclear arsenal will be under tight civilian control with the ultimate decision on its use resting only with the Prime Minister. It will not be the first to strike with nuclear weapons in the event of a war.

The defining issues for nuclear C2 (command and control) is to maintain credible deterrence, no first use, civilian authorization, and a dispersed arsenal structure to ensure that the option to retaliate is available, the document says.

“The broad framework of India’s nuclear doctrine drafted by the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) has laid out our robust C2 structure to ensure our credibility in nuclear deterrence. The framework emphasizes that nuclear weapons shall be tightly controlled and released for use at the highest political level,” according to the document.

India’s National Command Authority (NCA), a two-layered structure with a Political Council (PC) assisted by an Executive Council (EC), is responsible for thedeployment, control and safety of nuclear assets. It is chaired by the Prime Minister and the PC is the only body empowered to take decisions on nuclear issues.The Executive Council (EC) which advices the PCis chaired by the National Security Advisor (NSA) and provides necessary input for effective decision making and is responsible for executing directives received from the PC. The service chiefs are members of the EC.

The Strategic Forces Command (SFC) manages the nuclear command. The SFC manages the nuclear arsenal and comprises representatives of the three services besides civilian staff, experts from the Indian Atomic Energy Commission and missile experts from the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO).

The document states that “The tri-service SFC is the NCA’s operational arm, having its own Commander-in-Chief. He reports to the Chief of Staff Committee (COSC) as well as National Security Advisor (NSA), and controls all of India’s nuclear warheads and delivery systems.”

“Alternative chains of command for retaliatory strikes exist for all eventualities,” the document adds.

Call for Cooperation

In extending its security duties beyond borders, India calls for cooperation and inter-operability of goals, services, techniques, command structures and logistics not only among the three Indian services, but also between the militaries of India and other countries.

In this context, the Indian military will have to be co-opted by the Ministry of External Affairs and the presence of the military in Indian diplomatic missions abroad will have to be enhanced. 

Multi-dimensional Threat

Territorial conflictsstill exist significantly in the Indian sub-continent. India has border disputes with Pakistan and China which had led to wars earlier. India sees this as an imperative protect itsterritorial integrity.

It also asserts that strategic interests along its northern, western and eastern borders and along the Line of Control (LoC) and Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Kashmir have to be protected with effective deterrence.

India’s security concerns are also impacted by a number of global and regional issues and challenges. This calls for “geo-political re-balancing,” according to the document. This is probably spurred on by India’s apprehensions of its South Asian neighbors moving closer to China to defend themselves from Indian encroachment on their sovereignty.

The documents indirectly points to China when it refers to the threat of “increasing assertiveness by emerging powers.” India is also concerned about the presence and role of China in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), as global geo-politics shifts focus to the Asia-Pacific.

There is reference presumably to the volatile conditions in Nepal and the Maldives. There is a mention of the danger from the “spread of radicalism,” presumably referencing Pakistan and Bangladesh.

India thus justifies its need to address the instability and volatility in parts of its extended and immediate neighborhood.

Immediate Threat

The immediate threat to Indiaemanates from the disputed land borders with Pakistan and China. Maintaining territorial integrity remains the major strategic challenge for India.

Intensifying competition for natural resources steps up the volatility of existing fault lines and poses challenges that have the potential to instigate conflict. The reference here is likely to be to Pakistan and Bangladesh which have a water sharing disputes with India.

There are also trans-national threats posed by the activities of state and non-state sponsored terrorist organizations which exacerbateintra-state and inter-state conflicts. The activities of terrorist groups in Kashmir create tensions with Pakistan as well as within groups in India. Such conflicts may invite the participation of groups and states outside the region too, the document warns.

Other non-traditional threats include illegal financial flows, small arms transfers, drug trafficking, human trafficking, climate change,environmental disasters and seizure of national assets by outside forces.

“These challenges are exacerbated by several countries vying to acquire Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and by the competition for natural resources. Their effects on regional stability and the geo-strategic environment are areas of immediate concern,” the document says, without elaborating or identifying the countries trying to acquire WMD.

Protection of Indian Diaspora

Protection of the Indian Diaspora and their possessions abroad is highlighted as a concern and responsibility of the Indian armed forces. The hot spots mentioned are countries in the Middle East and North Africa, which are home to millions of Indians.

Internal Threats

The Indian armed forces are worried about internalthreats too. There is the on-going unrest in Kashmir, insurgencies in some states, and also organized crime.

Left wing extremism remains an important challenge that is sapping India’s national resources, while also impacting the pace of economic development of the affectedregions.

Illegal cross border migration of people due to poor socio-economic conditions and security situations in their home countries is another challenge.

Islamic Fundamentalism

The unrest in Kashmir gives rise to the possibility of its being a conduit for an eastward spread of fundamentalist Islamistand radical ideologies, India apprehends. This could take shape in a radicaltilt towards such ideologies amongst India’s youth.

“Mitigating this requires a multi-faceted approach facilitated by a robust intelligence network. The easy access to high end technology has increased the threat, making it multi-dimensional,” the document says.

Social Media

The radicalization of Indian youth in some states by social media platforms is the latest challenge to national security, according to the document.

The management of the digital environment, which has the ability to spur and conduct conflicts through social media, merits high priority in India’s national security calculus, the doctrine says.

Politico-Military Relations

On the crucial issue of politico-military relations, the doctrine says that a “symbiotic” relationship between the two and parliamentary control over the military are mandated by the Indian constitution.

“A robust and firm political control and a strong military serve the national Interests best. However, to address national security imperatives, it is necessary that institutional and structural mechanisms that facilitate free flowing communication between the two exist, thereby enabling critical and timely decision making. The functionaries in the Ministry of Defense ought to be enablers of this relationship,” the document states

Importance of Deterrence and Prevention

Strategists have always sought to prevent war and settle disputes through peaceful means. This calls for attention to the root causes of conflicts. Wars can also be prevented through show of force and mutual confidence building. Countries are normally restrained by a fear of each other’s war-waging potential which is a credible deterrent.

“A credible deterrence capability strengthens a nation’s diplomatic leverage and is a major factor in the test of wills between countries,” the document says.

Coercive diplomacy is an option for maintaining peace through a show of force. A threat of military force in support of diplomatic, economic and other pressures, may force a belligerent foe to comply with conditions, thereby preventing war, it adds.

Hybrid War

Wars today are “hybrid” in as much as they include generating and supporting chaos,psychological and media warfare, cyber warfare, economic warfare and so on.

Today’s “Fifth Generation War” is characterized by a blurring of the lines between war and politics, combatants and civilians. It is a war in which one of the major participants is not a state but rather a violent non-state actor or non-state actors sponsored by a state.


Technology has been a major driver to the evolution of war. Today’s stand-off precision munitions with satellite control systems have altered the physical component of conflicts. The character of future wars is likely to be ambiguous, uncertain, short, swift, lethal, intense, precise, non-linear, unrestricted, unpredictable and hybrid, the document states.

Given the global and multi-dimensional nature of the modern war, achieving India’s political goals requires collaboration with other nations and international organizations and agencies.

While on one hand talking of coercive show of force and flexing of military muscle, the India doctrine also speaks of foresight, patience, endurance, tenacity and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.