India as a Net Security Provider

A Net Security Provider is one that tackles its own security concerns by enhancing the mutual security of more than one country. This is done by addressing common security concerns, including dealing with transnational piracy, or responding to disasters, etc.
In the Indian context the term net security provider was first used by the Americans. While speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2009, the then U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, argued that – “…we look to India to be a partner and net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond…” Reflecting a meeting of minds, Indian officials thereafter have been frequently invoking the term net security provider.
Specifically, it encompasses four different activities:
  • Capacity building – refers to the training of foreign forces, both civilian and military, either at home or by deploying trainers abroad. Historically, India has a good track record at conducting this type of assistance – through the provision of patrol vessels, coastal surveillance radars, spares, etc., to several of India’s maritime neighbors and allowing personnel from various countries to avail of its training and educational institutes.
  • Military diplomacy – this is done mainly through military visits and exercises which can bolster foreign militaries and signal strong bilateral relations and partnerships. India has been very active in this regard, as it engages various militaries in exercises, port calls and visits.
  • Military assistance – consists primarily of supplying equipment. India has displayed some ambivalence in undertaking these activities. There are two explanations for this. The first is India’s traditional aversion to exporting deadly weaponry perhaps because it conflicts with its self-perceived role as a land of peace. A less complimentary explanation is that India’s domestic arms industry has not been able to produce marketable items. These limitations notwithstanding, India has gradually increased the assistance it provides to friendly foreign countries e.g. the building of four Offshore Patrol Vehicles for Myanmar.
  • Direct deployment of military forces – this is done to aid or stabilise a situation arising either out of an environmental disaster, transnational threats, and evacuation of citizens from conflict areas or to protect self-defined national interests. Such deployment of troops has the potential to be the most controversial, both domestically and diplomatically. However, it would be less controversial if troops are deployed in Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations or evacuation of citizens from unstable areas.
Challenges to the Indian provision of Net Security
  • The first two activities i.e. capacity building and military diplomacy – will continue to be undertaken to a significant extent by India. However, there are some structural and institutional impediments to carrying out the other two missions, that of providing military assistance and direct deployment of the military.
Structural Impediments
  • Ideological – the circumstances surrounding Indian independence and the moral stature of Mahatma Gandhi gave a unique political salience to the idea of non-violence. This was later embraced by Prime Minister Nehru who, in propagating the vision of non-alignment, downplayed military power as an important constituent of global politics. Arguably, the reticence to deal in the currency of military power was displayed most recently when India turned down a request from Afghanistan for supply of lethal arms and ammunition. However, under certain conditions, India’s ideological predilection for non-violence, and non- interference in the affairs of other countries may cease as in the case of East-Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Maldives – and most recently during the hot pursuit and surgical strike operations along the Indo-Myanmar border and the LOC respectively.
  • Indian defence industry – the performance and capacity of which inhibits India’s ability to strengthen the security of partner countries by providing military assistance.
  • Bread or bullets – a downturn in the Indian economy will necessarily decrease the amount of resources that India will be able to invest in building up its partner militaries.
  • Domestic politics – the conduct of India’s foreign policy, like in other democracies, is significantly shaped by its domestic politics. There are three trends that characterise the domestic debate on overseas military deployment.
    • There is a strong aversion to the appearance of being a junior partner in any military operation or alliance. However, working under a U.N. flag is acceptable but deploying troops to be commanded by a foreign commander, if not done on a reciprocal basis, is a difficult proposition to sell.
    • Partnering exclusively with the United States is highly contentious and requires deft political handling – mainly, but not exclusively, from India’s leftist parties.
  • Political salience – inhibits India’s ability to provide security is when the issue has political salience, or is contentious, back home. Most prominently, this was an important factor that prevented India from openly providing military assistance to the Sri Lankan armed forces during their campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
  • While these trends vitiate against employing the Indian military overseas, or providing military assistance to other countries, under certain conditions domestic politics may favour it.
  • This may occur in response to an environmental disaster e.g. Nepal Earthquake, or in UN approved operations e.g. MONUSCO or to safeguard Indian nationals e.g. evacuation operations from Lebanon, Libya, Yemen etc., there is a greater likelihood that India will assist and deploy its military.
Institutional Impediments
  • Interagency coordination and cooperation – interagency coordination is difficult in any country, but on top of this, India also has to deal with problematic civil-military relations. As a result of all these, there is a lack of clarity and ownership over issues like military assistance, out of area contingencies and overall political-military-diplomatic strategy.
  • Immediate security environment – due to its pending territorial disputes with China and Pakistan, the Indian military is still largely focused on its borders and, at the most, its immediate periphery. Such a focus, while understandable, results in less of an emphasis for dealing with situations outside its immediate neighbourhood.
  • Lankan episode – like the reaction of the U.S. military post-Vietnam, the experience of the deployment of the Indian Army as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka hovers over every discussion on possible deployment of troops overseas especially if they are expected to be in a combat situation.
India as a Net Security Provider
  • The IOR is very critical to India’s security and economy – the blueing of it’s economy, with her trade to GDP Ratio (Openness Index) recording a decadal average of 40%.
  • What has inhibited us since the 70’s have been limited capabilities and the fact that other States were providers of security in the area. Now that both those limiting factors are changing, our approach and behaviour should change in defence of our interests.
  • The need for regional stability is informed by a number of reliable studies that show political instability in one’s neighboring countries has a powerful and frequently adverse effect upon one’s own national economy. This happens through a variety of channels such as:
    • Space-time-and-cost disruptions of external trade
    • Sharp spurts in military expenditure to insulate one’s own country from the malaise of instability affecting proximate countries.
    • Increased uncertainty and risk in a region dissuades investors from investing in any part of the region.
  • It is this requirement for regional stability that provides the context of India being perceived both externally and, increasingly, internally as well as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond.
  • India’s reputation as a benign power has convinced some of the IOR littorals that the Indian Navy is the suitable agency to facilitate regional maritime security in the IOR as a net security provider. Such an arrangement would be cost effective especially for small nations such as Maldives.
  • The net security provider arrangement also helps the Indian Armed forces maintain their operational agility in different theatres and helps prepare them for any contingency.
  • Concerns about whether India has the military capability to play the role of a net security provider for the region is based on an outdated view that security issues can be addressed only militarily, often ignoring the human security angle that India is currently engaged in.
  • IMSS-2015 also clarifies India’s intent to be a net security provider in its areas of interest by defining net security as – the state of actual security available in an area, upon balancing prevailing threats, inherent risks and rising challenges in the maritime environment, against the ability to monitor, contain and counter all of these.
  • Indian security planners have embraced concepts such as cooperative instead of competitive security and comprehensive rather than merely military security. These are the very concepts that constitute the foundation of India’s ability and willingness to be a net security-provider in the Indian Ocean and beyond. This ability is premised not so much upon India’s arguable capacity by way of material wherewithal, but instead, upon India’s widely acknowledged and impressive capability — organisation, training, operational and maintenance philosophies, procedures, practices, etc.

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