UPA must do more on national security

Four years ago, when the new ruling coalition, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), had finalised its common minimum programme (CMP) for governance, the formulation contained a few brief paragraphs on foreign policy and national security. The CMP accorded a very high priority to defence modernisation and promised to eliminate delays and ensure that allotted funds were "spent fully at the earliest". 
The coalition declared that it would make the National Security Council (NSC) a "professional and effective institution" and would appoint a full-time National Security Advisor (NSA). It also held out the assurance that "there will be no compromise in the fight against terrorism", expressed concern at the manner in which the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) had been misused, and proposed to repeal it. 
The CMP also spelt out its intention to establish a new Department of Ex-Servicemen's Welfare and proclaimed that the "long-pending issue of one-rank, one-pension will be re-examined." 
The section on foreign policy dwelt on the UPA government's intention to "maintain the independence of India's foreign policy stance on all regional and global issues" while pursuing "closer strategic and economic engagement with the USA." The new government said that it would "accord the highest priority to building closer political, economic and other ties with its neighbours in South Asia." 
It would continue a systematic dialogue with Pakistan "on a sustained basis," support peace talks in Sri Lanka, further expand trade and investment with China and "seriously" pursue talks on the border issue. 
Perhaps in deference to the Left Parties' anti-nuclear sentiments, the CMP made no mention of the UPA's stand on India's nuclear policy of credible minimum deterrence and strategy of no first use. All of the aims and objectives contained in the CMP were unexceptionable and were generally in line with the stated positions of the Congress and the Left Parties with only minor variations. 
This appeared to augur well for a national consensus on major foreign policy and security issues as it was considered unlikely that the constituents of the outgoing National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would have objections to any of the provisions spelt out in the CMP. However, with only one year of the UPA's five-year term remaining, the implementation of the CMP has been lackluster. 
Sadly, the lack of political consensus has almost checkmated the UPA government's most importance foreign policy and national security initiative – the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. 
Despite the almost unanimous approval accorded to this agreement by the nuclear scientists, the leading lights among the members of the strategic community – including former Generals, Admirals and Marshals, diplomats and academics, and the irrefutable logic of obtaining uranium supplies and nuclear reactor technology quickly to further India's nuclear energy programme, India's political class has allowed coalition politics to prevail over national interest. 
The stubborn resistance of the Left Parties and the incomprehensible vacillation of the BJP and some of its NDA allies have stymied a key initiative that would have set India firmly on the road to world power status and pulled it out of the doghouse of nuclear apartheid and a disadvantageous technology denial regime. Only a political miracle can now salvage this deal before a new US Administration takes office in January 2009. 
Much still needs to be done to improve long-term defence planning and inter-ministerial coordination for the holistic assessment of emerging threats and challenges. The evolution of a comprehensive National Security Strategy (NSS) is a mandatory pre-requisite for the armed forces to plan their force structures and weapons and equipment acquisitions to meet future challenges. 
The first step in the NSS process is to conduct an inter-departmental Strategic Defence Review with multi-agency inputs. This must be ordered post haste by the National Security Council that has at long last begun to meet fairly regularly to consider the formulations and proposals of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and the Strategic Policy Group (SPG). 
The NDA government had dragged its feet on some important measures despite the recommendations made by its own Group of Ministers that had reviewed the suggestions of the four task forces formed after the Kargil Review Committee Report was submitted. The UPA government has also ignored these issues completely. 
These include the creation of a post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to provide single-point military advice to the Cabinet Committee on Security and the genuine integration of the headquarters (HQ) of the three Services with the Ministry of Defence. Equally important for efficient functioning is the need for the government to delegate responsibility for the financial management of the revenue budget to the Services HQ. 
The modernisation plans of the three Services are continuing to stagnate, raising the spectre of being out gunned by the Pakistanis some time in the future, even as China is gradually converting its quantitative superiority to a qualitative edge and tightening the screws in its strategic encirclement of India. 
Another important measure that is being glossed over is to raise the defence budget from the present abysmally low level of less than 2.0 per cent of the GDP to first 3.0 per cent and then gradually to 3.5 per cent, a figure the Indian economy can easily sustain. 
The Finance Minister must ratify his predecessor's decision to institute a rolling, non-lapsable defence modernisation fund of Rs. 25,000 crore by incorporating it in the defence budget for the year 2008-09. 
The UPA government has its work cut out for its last year in office and Defence Minster A K Antony must take up the cudgels in right earnest - if this government is to leave a positive mark on India's defence preparedness before it demits office.
Strategic Affairs