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The Hindu Editorial Analysis | PDF Download

Date: 01 February 2019

Heading towards strategic instability

  •  India must be alert as there is a possibility of emerging disruptive technologies prompting inadvertent conflict
  • In late 2018, the government decided to set up three new agencies — the Defence Cyber Agency, the Defence Space Agency and the Special Operations Division — in order to address the new age challenges to national security.
  • While this is indeed a useful step in the right direction, it is also important to note that the constitution of these agencies is a far cry from the crucial recommendations given by the Naresh Chandra Task Force and the Chiefs of Staff Committee, both of which had suggested the formation of three separate joint commands to deal with new challenges to India’s national security in the cyber, space and special operations domains.
  • This rather lacklustre response to major ‘futuristic’ challenges to our national security raises a larger question: is India adequately prepared for the new age wars in general or is it still preparing for the last war it fought, and won?

 High-tech innovations

  •   There is a revolution in military affairs that seems to have attracted the attention of strategic analysts and policy planners across the world.
  •  The current focus in military thinking across the world is increasingly moving away from traditional heavy-duty military hardware to high-tech innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, satellite jammers, hypersonic strike technology, advanced cyber capabilities and spectrum denial and high-energy lasers.
  •   In the light of the unprecedented capabilities that these systems offer, there is also an increased focus on developing suitable command and control as well as doctrinal concepts to accommodate and calibrate them.
  • The arrival of these technologies might deeply frustrate strategic stability as we know it given their disruptive nature.
  • Strategic stability in the contemporary international system, especially among the nuclear weapon states, depends on several age-old certainties, the most important being the issue of survivability of a state’s nuclear arsenal and its ability to carry out a second strike after a first attack.
  • Once accuracies get better, hypersonic glide vehicles replace conventional delivery systems, real time tracking and surveillance make major strides, and AI-enabled systems take over, survivability of nuclear arsenal, which lies at the heart of great power stability, could take a severe beating.


  • There was, for instance, an assumption that the naval leg of a nuclear triad is the most survivable part since it is hidden away in the depths of the ocean away from the adversary’s gaze.
  • However, the potential ability of deep-sea drones to detect ballistic-missile armed nuclear submarines or SSBNs may make this assurance a thing of the past thereby frustrating traditional calculations.
  • Now add the arrival of these new technologies to the emerging strategic competition among great powers.
  • The U.S.’s withdrawal from the IntermediateRange Nuclear Forces treaty is perhaps an indication of a potential arms race in the offing.
  • In a January 2018 article, the Economist put it succinctly: “Disruptive new technologies, worsening relations between Russia and America and a less cautious Russian leadership than in the cold war have raised fears that a new era of strategic instability may be approaching.”

Fears of conflict

  • There is an inherent paradox vis-à-vis high technology-enabled military systems. While on the one hand, it is imperative for states to redesign their systems in the light of these new technologies, especially the digital and cyber components, this also makes the cyber- and digital-enabled systems vulnerable to covert cyberattacks.
  • More so, given that such surreptitious attacks might take place in the early stages of a conflict, ensuing confusion and scare might lead to uncontrolled escalation with little time for assessment and judgement.
  • The biggest fear about these technologies, the implications of which we don’t fully understand yet, is their potential to increase the risks of intentional and inadvertent nuclear use.
  • Such scenarios may be unlikely but not improbable.
  •  Here’s what the Economist had to say on precisely such a scenario: “Both China and Russia fear that new American long-range non-nuclear strike capabilities could be used to deliver a disarming attack on a substantial part of their strategic forces or decapitate their nuclear command and control. Although they would still launch their surviving nuclear missiles, improved missile-defence systems of the U.S. would mop up most of the remainder before their warheads could do any damage.”
  • The fear of a bolt-from-the-blue attack against one’s command and control systems or a disabling strike against strategic arsenal using new technological solutions is likely to dominate the strategic mindspaceof great powers in the days ahead, thereby further deepening mistrust and creating instability.
  • Therefore, the possibility of emerging military technologies prompting inadvertent escalation and conflict cannot and should not be ruled out.

 Chinese capabilities

  • China has emerged as a key actor in the field of emerging military technologies.
  • This is something that will concern New Delhi in the days ahead. Some analysts believe that Beijing is in the lead position in emerging technologies with potential military applications such as quantum computing, 3D printing, hypersonic missiles and AI.
  • If indeed, Beijing continues to develop hypersonic systems, for instance, it could potentially target a range of targets in the U.S. While the Chinese focus is evidently on U.S. capabilities, which China interprets as a potential threat, this is not without latent concerns for New Delhi.
  • India might, in turn, consider developing some of these technologies which will create dilemmas for Islamabad. The cascading strategic competition then looks unavoidable at this point, and that is worrisome. And yet, it might be difficult to avoid some of these developments given their dual use.
  • However, there is a need to ask how survivable India’s naval platforms are given the feverish developments of advanced sensory capability in the neighbourhood.
  • Is it sufficiently prepared to face the new age wars? Has the urgency associated with these technological developments dawned on the security planners in New Delhi?
  • It is in this context that we must revisit the government’s decision to set up the agencies to address cyber and space challenges.
  • Clearly, this is a timely effort from the government to have finally decided to set them up — though they are not yet in place.
  • It is unfortunate that unlike what was envisioned earlier, these agencies will be reduced in their powers and their standing in the pecking order of defence planning in the country.
  • Moreover, reports indicate that the Space Command will be headed by the Air Force, the Army will head the Special Operations Command, and the Navy will be given the responsibility of the Cyber Command.
  • If indeed that happens, their effectiveness in terms of triservice synergy will be much less than anticipated.
  • Even more so, given that the higher defence decisionmaking in the country is still civil services-dominated, despite the recent attempts to correct it, the effectiveness of these agencies will remain weak.

In the Northeast, a David versus Goliath battle

  •  With political protests erupting in the region against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the BJP has been put on notice

Getting back on track

  • South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s visit to India helped further strengthen bilateral ties
  • South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s visit to India last week was significant. Its value lay in strengthening the people-to-people aspect of the bilateral partnership, and focusing on the implementation of previous agreements signed by the two governments.
  • As the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations, Mr. Ramaphosa followed in the footsteps of President Nelson Mandela, who played this role to perfection in 1995.
  • The presence of a South African president at the parade was especially pertinent, as this year is the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, a common hero to both countries.
  • Through the first Gandhi-Mandela Memorial Freedom Lecture, hosted by the Indian Council of World Affairs, Mr. Ramaphosa related the story of Gandhiji’s impact on South Africa, on Mandela, and the way the combined legacy of the two icons moulded the relationship between the two countries.
  • He saw India and South Africa as “two sister countries separated by an ocean, but bound by history.”
  • Mr. Ramaphosa’s message was that in view of the rich past of this special relationship, the two nations should strive harder to keep it strong and vibrant.


 Defence and economic cooperation

  • As to the dialogue at the government level, there was a shared awareness that New Delhi and Pretoria had signed a large number of agreements, but it was now time to concentrate on implementation, since progress has been slow.
  • The visit resulted in finalisation of a strategic programme of cooperation aimed at implementation in a time-bound manner.
  • Diplomatic sources have indicated that specific emphasis in the next three years would be on promoting defence and economic cooperation.
  • On the former, the way was cleared last year when an agreement was reached to allow the South African public enterprise, Denel, to participate again in the procurement of military equipment by India.
  • Earlier, for years, the company had stood blacklisted because of using agents to pay kickbacks. Its products and technology are world class, the reason why Delhi chose to devise a compromise.
  • Defence cooperation extends to other areas too: maritime security, joint training exercises on sea and land, and provision of training facilities.
  • Despite promotion, bilateral trade and investment are yet to show robust and speedy expansion.
  • A continuous process is under way to identify inhibiting factors.
  • Some of them relate to the small size of the South African economy and its slow rate of growth.
  • Lack of direct air connectivity and South Africa’s rigid business visa regime are seen as discouragements.
  • Mr. Ramaphosa agreed to reform the visa regime. He also identified a few sectors where India’s investment would be most welcome, such as
  • agri-processed goods, mining equipment and technology, financial sectors and defence equipment

Multilateral groupings

  • India-South Africa cooperation in multilateral groupings came up for a close review, especially the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) forum and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).
  • New momentum is being imparted to IBSA, which has been ‘displaced’ by the larger grouping, BRICS, in recent years.
  • The fact that Mr. Ramaphosa’s talk was portrayed as one of the select events marking 15 years of IBSA and that he met the Brazilian president just before his arrival in Delhi indicates that India may be willing to host the much-delayed IBSA summit this year.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ramaphosa agreed on measures to further strengthen IORA.
  • A specific decision was to enhance cooperation to harness the potential of the Blue Economy within the IORA framework
  • The two leaders also witnessed the exchange of two new agreements of cooperation.
  • These formally linked the Research and Information System for Developing Countries, a policy research institute in Delhi, and two premier South African think tanks — the Institute for Global Dialogue and the South African Institute of International Affairs.
  • The three institutions have been entrusted with the task to conduct joint research and dialogue in 1.5 track format (i.e. involving officials and experts) on “areas to further promote practical cooperation with Africa.”
  • In sum, the President’s visit was a notable plus in the Modi government’s record of deepening relations with Africa. As to the visitors, the Delhi sojourn should have sharpened their awareness of the desirability to pursue a more balanced Asia policy, factoring in the complex dynamics between India and China.

Centre hikes scholarships

  •  But research scholars unhappy, say 25% raise too low, want increase to be 56% The Centre has hiked its popular research scholarship — called the Junior Research Fellowship — to ₹31,000 per month, a roughly 25% increase from the existing ₹25,000. For months, research scholars across India have organised protests demanding that the scholarship be hiked as the stipend hadn’t been revised since 2014.
  • A Wednesday communiqué from the Department of Science and Technology, which was coordinating the exercise, said that the Senior Research Fellowships (SRF), given to research students two years into their doctoral studies, had been hiked to ₹35,000 per month. Stipends for Research Assistants (who are pursuing post doctoral studies and have at least three years of research experience) would range from ₹47,000 to ₹54,000 per month. In percentage terms, this is the lowest hike since 2010.

Navy’s Project-75I approved under SP model

  •  Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) on Thursday gave formal approval to execute the Navy’s Project-75I for six advanced submarines worth ₹40,000 crore through the Strategic Partnership (SP) model of the Defence Procurement Procedure. Under the SP route, an Indian private strategic partner will tie up with a foreign manufacturer to manufacture submarines domestically through technology transfer.

Only an interim Budget, says PM

  • Assurance comes at all-party meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday assured the Opposition that his government would be presenting an interim budget and not a full one on Friday, as the Budget session of Parliament, the last of this government’s tenure, got under way.
  • “Prime Minister Modi told us that the government will present an interim budget,” he said, adding that the Opposition had also demanded that the government take up “only those Bills which are not controversial…on which there is total unanimity.”

48 Bills listed

  •  The government has once again listed the controversial triple talaq and the Citizenship Bills. “Why has the government listed 48 Bills in 240 minutes? This leaves only five minutes per Bill,” Mr. O’Brien added. The Opposition parties complained that limited time was available for discussions on subjects such as unemployment and farmers’ distress after the Budget debate.
  • There are 10 sittings of Parliament spread over 14 days of the session. There is a widespread consensus that the government should bring in the Women’s Reservation Bill that the Rajya Sabha has already cleared. The Bill does not figure in the 48 pieces of legislation listed.

Another judge exits case on

  • CBI chief Justice Ramana cites personal reasons Justice N.V. Ramana of the Supreme Court on Thursday recused himself from hearing a petition challenging the government’s appointment of M. Nageshwar Rao as interim CBI Director. Justice Ramana, who is in the line of seniority to be the Chief Justice of India, is the third apex court judge to exit the case in the past two weeks
  • Citing personal reasons for his decision, the judge said Mr. Rao was from his home State and that he had attended the wedding ceremony of Mr. Rao’s daughter. Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi was the first to bow out from hearing the petition filed by NGO Common Cause and activist Anjali Bhardwaj. Two days later, on January 24, the court’s number two judge, Justice A.K. Sikri, had followed suit.
  • Justice Sikri’s recusal came on the very morning of the day of an inconclusive meeting of the high-powered committee to pick a new CBI chief. The committee, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, included Justice Gogoi and Opposition Leader Mallikarjun Kharge. Mr. Kharge had raised objections about the list of persons shortlisted and the selection process. With Justice Ramana’s recusal, the petition returns to the desk of the CJI, who will now have to allocate the case to another Bench.