While a strategic defence review is yet to be conducted, the CMP won't ruffle any feathers, which augurs well for a national political consensus on major foreign policy and security issues. The UPA promises to make the National Security Council a "Professional and effective institution" and has already appointed J N Dixit as full-time National Security Advisor.
While a strategic defence review is yet to be conducted, the CMP won’t ruffle any feathers, which augurs well for a national political consensus on major foreign policy and security issues
The new United Progressive Alliance(UPA) government’s pronouncements on national security, contained in four brief paragraphs in its common minimum programme (CMP) for governance, are unexceptional. The CMP has accorded very high priority to defence modernisation and promises to eliminate delays and ensure that allotted funds are “spent fully at the earliest”. The UPA promises to make the National Security Council (NSC) a “professional and effective institution” and has already appointed J N Dixit as full-time National Security Advisor (NSA). Holding out the assurance that “there will be no compromise in the fight against terrorism”, the CMP has expressed concern at the manner in which the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) has been misused and has proposed to repeal it. Finally, the CMP spells out its intention to establish a new department of ex-servicemen s welfare and says that the “long-pending issue of one-rank, one-pension will be re-examined”.
In a separate section on foreign policy, the document speaks of the UPA governments 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 government promises to accord the highest priority to building closer political, economic and other ties with its neighbours in South Asia. It will continue a systematic dialogue with Pakistan “on a sustained basis,” support peace talks in Sri Lanka to “fulfil the legitimate aspirations of all linguistic and religious minorities,” further expand trade and investment with China and “seriously” pursue talks on the border issue.
The CMP formulations are generally in line with the Congress and the Left parties stated positions in their election manifestos, with only few nuanced variations. The constituents of the outgoing National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government are unlikely to have objections to any of the provisions in the CMP, which augurs well tor a national consensus on major foreign policy and security issues. Significantly, the CMP commits the government to maintaining a “credible nuclear weapons programme” and evolving “demonstrable and verifiable” confidence building measures with India’s nuclear neighbours.
However, the CMP is silent on the UPA’s policy on certain important measures that were not implemented by the NDA government, despite acceptance by the Group of Ministers of recommendations of the four task forces formed after the Kargil Review Committee Report was submitted. The first of these is the creation of a post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to provide single-point advice to the Cabinet Committee on Security. The next is the genuine integration of the headquarters of the three Services with the ministry of defence. Equally important for efficient functioning is the need to delegate responsibility to the Services Headquarter for financial management of the revenue budget. A comprehensive strategic defence review is still to be conducted. The National Security Council must do this post haste, particularly now that a full-time NSA has been appointed.
Another important measure would be to raise the defence budget from the present abysmally low level of 2.2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 3.9 per cent, a figure both sustainable for the Indian economy and the minimum necessary to enhance defence preparedness. Also important is a rolling, non-lapsable defence modernisation fund of Rs 25,000 crore.
The UPA government has its work cut out and Pranab Mukherji, the new defence minister, must take up the gauntlet in right earnest if the mistakes of the past are not to be repeated. Only a nation with demonstrable political will and a well-oiled fighting machinery can deter its adversaries from launching adventurous incursions and intrusions across its borders.