Refocus on Defence and Diplomacy

Published: 23rd January 2014 07:27 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd January 2014 07:28 AM   |  A+A-

Due to a close link between the security and foreign policies of a country, there are many intersection points between defence and diplomacy. In India’s history, the defence-diplomacy interface has been and remains intense. In 1947, the war in Kashmir at once brought to fore the role of diplomacy when India decided to take the Pakistani aggression issue to the UN. The consequences of the fateful step are still with us.

In 1962, a better interface between defence and diplomatic establishments would have helped read the Chinese intentions better. In 1965, India did better on the military front but failed to prevail on the diplomatic front at Tashkent, constrained by the stalemated position. In 1971, the brilliant diplomatic effort before the Bangladesh liberation war and the mobilisation of international opinion helped India withstand the combined pressure of the US, China and Pakistan. But again, on the diplomatic front India could not clinch the final solution of the Kashmir problem despite holding nearly 93,000 Pakistani POWs. At Kargil, as India was pursuing a peace initiative with Pakistan, the latter’s army was planning the intrusion. The lack of co-ordination between defence and diplomacy was apparent.

In all these years, the nuclear factor had been playing out at the international level. India’s inability to test the nuclear weapon after the Chinese test in 1964 and the so-called peaceful nuclear explosion of 1974 kept India out of the emerging nuclear order which had a major impact on our security. After India’s nuclear tests of 1998, defence and diplomacy have become even more closely tied with each other. Diplomacy has brought India back in the international mainstream without being a member of the NPT regime. But, a new factor has arisen—the ability of Pakistan to wage sub-conventional war against India under a nuclear overhang. Diplomatically, India is trying to engage with nuclear non-proliferation regime in innovative fashion while the Indian military is faced with the task of fashioning new doctrines for war fighting incorporating sub-conventional, asymmetric warfare, cyber warfare and so on.

The changing regional and global security environment has led to new challenges demanding an even closer interface between defence and diplomacy. A few examples can be given.

International terrorism: At the diplomatic level, new counterterrorism partnerships are being forged. At the domestic level, the Indian forces, including our paramilitaries and law enforcement agencies, have to craft new counterterrorism doctrines in consistency with international standards and conventions.

Maritime security: A realisation is taking shape that India is as much a maritime power as land power. Its strategic interests extend beyond its immediate territorial waters. India has interest in a stable order at sea. Major maritime challenges have arisen including maritime territorial disputes, sea piracy, terrorism, pollution, natural disasters, implementation of the law of the sea, safety of the sea lanes of communications, etc. These challenges are multidimensional and require combined diplomatic effort and maritime operations. The Indian navy has played an important role in fighting sea piracy in the Gulf of Aden and provided international relief during the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004. India is also cooperating in regional security structures such as ADMM-Plus. The commissioning of the aircraft carrier Vikramaditya by the Indian navy will raise India’s power projection capabilities and the nuclear-capable submarines will enhance India’s deterrent capabilities.

Defence cooperation: Defence cooperation, a manifestation of defence-diplomacy interface, has emerged as a major component of Indian diplomacy helping raise its regional and global profile. India has signed numerous strategic partnerships in which security cooperation is an important part. Defence cooperation agreements have been signed with many countries including the US, Japan, Russia and France.

Defence procurements and exports: Defence procurement and indigenisation are a vital component of India’s military preparedness. In all these areas, diplomacy comes into play, especially in the context of joint defence production, technology transfer, etc. When India develops the capabilities to export defence items, diplomacy will get a new task of promoting exports.

India as a net security provider: India needs to protect its substantial political, diplomatic, economic and national interests through an effective combine of defence and diplomacy. The evacuation of large number of Indians from conflict zones, Indian operations in East Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are some examples of the out-of-area contingencies undertaken by Indian forces.

UN Peacekeeping: India has been a major contributor to UN peacekeeping operations. This has helped raise Indian profile on international security issues and given its diplomacy an impetus. But there are many problems in the area, the most fundamental being that India does not have a role in UN decision-making. It may change if India becomes a permanent member of UNSC.

In the absence of a formally articulated national security strategy and security objectives, the politico-military approach in Indian diplomacy remains weak, reactive and ad hoc. Indian initiatives are often taken sans adequate preparation and thought. This is a serious lacuna in the defence-diplomacy synergy. Rigid bureaucratic structures do not help promote efficient co-ordination among various agencies as shown during the Mumbai terror attacks. Also, there is urgent need to modernise defence and diplomatic infrastructure. It will require sustained financial and human resources. With economic slowdown, India for the next few years will face resource crunch that might hamper modernisation of defence and diplomatic efforts.

Few exceptions apart, Indian diplomats are not trained to think like soldiers and vice-versa. Their perspectives differ widely. This problem can be addressed through joint trainings and cross postings. Budding diplomats and soldiers should be taught defence and diplomacy right from the beginning. Regular institutionalised interactions among senior diplomats and defence personnel should be encouraged.

Defence and diplomacy are Siamese twins. The interface between the two must be improved and given higher priority in India’s foreign and security policies. A conscious politico-military approach on issues of security is needed. The ministries concerned and the National Security Council must reflect over this and take appropriate actions. In this context, the suggestions made in the IDSA’s two Task Force Reports—Deliberations of a Working Group on Military and Diplomacy and Net Security Provider: India’s Out of Contingency Operations—available on are worth looking at.

The author is director general, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.



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