26 May, 2024


India Trudging To Be The Security Provider!

By Austin Fernando

Austin Fernando

An American scholar has said that India has a long way to go before it becomes the security provider that Washington and rest of Asia hope India will become.  He stressed that it requires “much more than a large defense acquisition budget and occasional military presence to develop a credible and capable defense force”. However, as an observer I note that there is a planned movement towards military cooperation, orchestrated with recurring dialogues at highest advisory levels between US and India.

The quoted study added that India has key lacunas in defense modernization, before it becomes a world class military force that can become “a provider of security.” I am perturbed. I thought India is world class and I believe I am correct!

He maintained that “the recent weapons procurements, combined with episodic displays of Indian military presence through counter-piracy patrols, disaster response, high profile naval exercises, and port visits, have led many observers to opine that India will play a pivotal role in promoting security and stability throughout the Indo-Pacific region.” The researcher has discounted military commanders’ visits like that of General Bikram Singh to Colombo right now and Admiral DK Joshi some time back!

It is of interest that India’s defense modernization challenges are discussed under four dimensions which will be educative and comparative to Sri Lanka. The researcher called these the “Four P’s” and will be discussed with relevance to Sri Lanka.

Public Apathy

Public apathy emanates from political angles. The research says that Indian elections are not won or lost on politicians’ knowledge (or lack thereof) about defense and foreign policy. The electorate demands are personalized and focused on immediate needs like access to basic needs and not on the promotion of the nation’s defense. Therefore, their interests are less on Indian defense strategy and modernization. Even among the wealthier strata the focus is usually on facilitating greater business and trade opportunities, rather than a muscular defense policy.

The notable exception to this is when defense acquisitions become tainted with corruption. Indian politicians are extremely sensitive to any hint of corruption in defense scandals. It is said that Defense Minister MK Antony, a Gandhi family loyalist, is always on guard against any hint of corruption that might taint the Congress Party and its future and this has made defense deals slow to materialize. Though India’s global influence required an ardent public debate about India’s defense role in the world, other than relatively minimal strategic-minded thinkers, the Indian government has not engaged its public in a meaningful way about this.

Contrary to India the first P is notably observed in case of Sri Lanka which has no global or regional power intentions. India of course has regional “Big Brother” intentions. Sri Lanka concentrates in becoming the “Wonder of Asia” to become powerful through location and strategic development measures.

Due to the publicity generated and the lengthy period of waiting to erase terrorism the Sri Lankan politicians and even the common man were knowledgeable of the defense end result, but not the really intricate policies. The government focusing some attention also on immediate needs (e.g. roads, jobs) kept the masses happy during the conflict. Modernization and military strategy were known to a handful, especially by those in the defense establishment and the top hierarchy of the military, and hence was similar to India.

Due to this limited participation allegations of corruption were aimed at these few. This did not deter critics even to be nasty on new institutional arrangements introduced after 2005. The economic doom and peace making mood did not provide for large procurements from 2002-2005. Hence, the defense authorities were fortunate to be spared from vituperative criticism.

Additionally, since ‘supplements’ on corruption were mostly in English, the dialogue was limited like in India! The Indians had vociferous media establishments and a powerful judiciary and hence the defense authorities had to be extremely cautious than here.

Policy coherence

It is the second dimension. The researcher says “India is still unsure of the type of power it wants to become” and blames this uncertainty for “the lack of an effective and coordinated defense strategy that guides defense procurement, force structure, military deployments, and developing relationships.” He says that “Aside from its doctrine of ‘strategic autonomy’ that allows India the luxury of ‘omni-engagement’ while resisting excessively close partnerships or entangling alliances, India has yet to officially articulate its core interests through a publicly available national security strategy or defense strategy.”

This lacuna is explained as due to the reluctance to promulgate strategy partly due to the potential political controversy requiring India to make strategic choices and prioritize its interests and partnerships which may put New Delhiat odds with certain foreign capitals like Beijing, but also domestically with India’s leftists opposing closer U.S.-India ties.

In case of Sri Lanka there had been blowing hot and cold by Delhi. Delhi had been influenced by Tamilnadu politicians. However, due to personal familial reasons (e.g. Sonia factor) and past experiences (e.g. withdrawal of Indian Forces),India had to limit cooperation (e.g. selling non-lethal military material, intelligence sharing, maritime surveillance). But this pushed Sri Lanka to explore other sources like Chinaand Pakistan. The latter would have been happy to offer immediate support. This would have pressured New Delhi, but pushed Sri Lanka to be grateful to the “helping hands.”

Certainly, this has affected and may affect us in the future, not only militarily but even economically. This may force Indians also to look at other options in retaliation for closer ties (may be with theUS) or indirectly twist the arms of Sri Lanka, as done at the UNHRC last March, which can be repeated again.India’s “”strategic autonomy” and “omni-engagement” may be exhibited in this manner!

Procurement Reform

The researcher pinpoints that as India modernizes its defense forces, it realizes the need to reform its procurement processes and adds that India’s defense acquisition stymies the ability to timely obtain the needed hardware, which prevents spending the total budget provision. This inability to quickly procure defense equipment can be attributed to several factors including excessively bureaucratic procedures, insufficient bureaucratic capacity, and concerns about the perception of corruption that can scuttle defense deals, if there are charges of irregularities, the research said.

Due to India’s inability to produce all its own defense equipment, it has been forced to rely on foreign acquisitions. India has attempted to streamline its procurement process and increase transparency through its Defense Procurement Procedure, which is regularly updated reflecting acquisition procedures reforms.

One major problem with India’s procurement system according to the study is the gearing towards established criteria, rather than obtaining equipment that provides best value. Until an expeditious, fully transparent system undergirded by a philosophy of procuring best value systems is established India will continue to face challenges in procuring needed equipment, the research said. India has commenced this but has a long way to go.

Sri Lanka has developed other systems that were required to keep secrecy, need evaluation, procurement conditions etc but has faced wild criticisms. But when the final outcome of wiping terrorism is considered the defense authorities must be satisfied with the end result. In developing countries there had been complaints of corruption and even India is not devoid of them, e.g. Bofours deals during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure and even later.

Personnel challenges

Any military will require modernization and technically competent manpower. It is a responsibility of a country’s education system. Competition from the other economic sectors for educated technically qualified personnel complicates Indian military’s recruiting challenge. The study says that this competition for talent has manifested itself through significant shortfalls in the numbers of officers for all Services.

In addition to salary, the erosion of high status for the military officers due to India’s growing wealth has brought alternative opportunities for wealth and status generation. The report highlights that the Indian Army being plagued by corruption scandals recently at the general officer level, reported instances of enlisted (other ranks) personnel mutinying etc that has made the General Bikram Singh to emphasize on restoring good order and discipline, integrity and morale in the Army.

Some of these challenges are common to Sri Lanka too, though for instance military personnel have been found to be receiving new assignments hitherto unheard. However, there is demand for demilitarization and demobilization made several sources. At a time where ‘deserters’ have intruded in to criminal activities, it will be problematic to let loose military personnel without a plan. The researchers who have shown evidence of post conflict trauma incidents hint the need for methodical actions.


The researcher has concluded that India has the ability to meet these challenges and that “this ability is not just an issue for curious policy study, but, instead, has high stakes for Asia’s bet that India will become a democratic force for stability and security in Asia’s coming century”.

I do not think that in this movement India has a “strategic autonomy” or “omni-engagement” walk-over due to other influences that have been developing over time. One may question whether the strategy development had been highly bureaucratized as against politically strategized. Another issue may be whether  Chinese engagements would bar Indians weakening in becoming a democratic force for stability in Asia. The emerging Indo-US military and economic cooperation if properly managed may be a way out.

In that background countries like Sri Lanka who do not possess such large economic and military power may have to balance and play another strategic game rather than being unnecessarily committing itself, as it is not only the military strength that matters to us, but economic and international influences which could mar also the country’s development and political stability.

This approach is not only due to the quoted Four Ps. One must be mindful of the  growing concerns in India having crossed China recently on its presence in South China Sea and more so due to the emerging thinking orchestrated as recently as December 18th 2012 in which another researcher has stated “ New Delhi, which so often likes to sit on the margins and avoid taking sides, must assume it can no longer afford the luxury of inaction if it wants to preserve credibility as a significant actor in both East and Southeast Asia.” Whether this message is heard clearly is yet to be seen and it is best we hear it sooner than later.

*Austin Fernando- Former Secretary Defence

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Sri Lanka behaves as if India is the historic traditional enemy of Sri Lanka.

    A perusal of Sri Lankan policy since independence reveals clearly Sri Lankan attitude.

    India always bend backwards to accommodate Sri Lankan concerns but Sri Lanka never reciprocate.

    Remember Srima- Shathiri Pact and the Kachchathivu issue.

    India entered into binding agreements against the concerns of TamiNadu.

    What did Sri Lanka did in return.

    Sri Lanka supported china against india in the India- china war in 1962 and in the Bangaladesh war supported Pakistani flights from West Pakistan to East Pakistan through Colombo.

    Even in the annihilation of LTTE,Sri Lanka would not have succeeded without Indian assistance both diplomatically and by sharing espionage/surveillance/ intelligence.

    What is Sri Lankan response?

    In the case of intrusion of Indian fishermen into Sri Lankan territorial waters, Sri Lanka without understanding Indian dilemma is provoking confrontation between TamilNadu fishermen and Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen and trying to gain political mileage.

    India is really at a catch-22 situation.

    India to be a worthy regional power should revise their foreign policy and strategy even before modernizing their military

    • 0

      Srikrishna, I am not sure how old you are but your statements carries half truths and some ignorance either by design or apathy…Let me clarify.

      Sri Lanka behaves as if India is the historic traditional enemy of Sri Lanka.
      Not so in historic context… SL’s are sad that India’s best children like Lord Buddha and Mahathma’s legacy is no more… Care to comment on this ?

      A perusal of Sri Lankan policy since independence reveals clearly Sri Lankan attitude.
      I am glad you brought this up… Just before and after your independence Nehru was on record, trying to get SL as part of India and this triggered fear not in SL but in British circles as well… Now you know where SL stands but no Sri Lankan will try to destabilise India since it is not any ones interest and hope Indians should also realised that re. your neighbours.. Trying to destabilise SL by Indians using ltte was a foolish act and with Nehru’s past intent and what Mrs G did add lots to SL’s fear.
      I have personally seen Mrs G’s first communique to certain person ( who is in exile in UK) re. how to fund ltte and also how many should be hired ( 170 initially) and trained… This is how Indians treat its small neighbour which is pathetic and counter productive.

      India always bend backwards to accommodate Sri Lankan concerns but Sri Lanka never reciprocate.
      Really ? Are we in a different planet? Trying to destabilise a neighbouring country that fought 30 yrs due to your sheer greed ?

      Remember Srima- Shathiri Pact and the Kachchathivu issue.
      I agree S_S Pact was a kind gesture by India BUT whole Indian Tamil repatriation was stopped due to politics and war by India.. I have plenty of anecdotal evidence on this. I would say only 50% success.

      Sri Lanka supported china against india in the India- china war in 1962 and in the Bangaladesh war supported Pakistani flights from West Pakistan to East Pakistan through Colombo.
      I have given the reasons for this above.

      Even in the annihilation of LTTE, Sri Lanka would not have succeeded without Indian assistance both diplomatically and by sharing espionage/surveillance/ intelligence.
      Half truth again and intelligence and support was on extremely small level from India, re. surveillance and tracking we had a another country doing this with out any pre conditions… What diplomatic support ? Your guys created the monster so you have no say about diplomatic area here… Remember when our troops were stuck in Jaffna, our madam president ask for Indian naval support ? You said unequivocally, NO .. So pls. don’t lecture us.

      In the case of intrusion of Indian fishermen into Sri Lankan territorial waters, Sri Lanka without understanding Indian dilemma is provoking confrontation between TamilNadu fishermen and Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen and trying to gain political mileage.
      India is really at a catch-22 situation.
      What kind of a nonsense is this? Typical Indian that does not understand the rule of law and what is right ? There is a clear border line and why do you cross it ? Your sheer ignorance and stupidity is mind boggling. Fix your morons in Tamilnadu before you preach to us… It is your mess not ours.

      India to be a worthy regional power should revise their foreign policy and strategy even before modernizing their military.
      Agree on this and try to get your neighbours as partners and stop issuing diktat to us.

  • 0

    I dont think India and Indians are such idiots to become standard bearers of the US in the Indian Ocean. They have merely allied with US to benefit from transfer of technology and economic treaties.

    The main focus of Indian Defence stategy is Pakistan and China. Engagement in Sri Lanka is mainly to neutralise Chinese and Pakistani influence and cover its bottom side. Beyond that it is sensitive to the politics in TN and is closely monitoring the situation in the North.

  • 0

    India is a provider of confusion and instability. The corrupt ruling class has no intention to establish a coherent policy, only increase its wealth. India has yet to find its own internal stability, with Muslims, with Kashmir, with the North-East, with Tamil Nadu, with Adivasis, with the Dalits, with the women. The only certainty is rivalry with Pakistan. USA is instigating the anti-China strategy, due to their national interests, not India’s.
    India has more to learn from Sri Lanka than the other way. Foreign policy and security in Sri Lanka have been quite successful. By me the humanitarian cost has been intolerable, but nobody cares in India, Sri Lanka, Europe or the US so you can conclude that that tactics paid off.

  • 0

    You forget that India like Sri Lanka has a majority of it’s people living in poverty without social security?
    We are a country with rubbish strewn streets, no proper garbage collection, lunacy on our roads with five including babies on one motorcycle along with fish boxes and other circus acts,a police force directed by uneducated thugs,bribery and corruption rampant,a Chinese satellite launched for us at huge expense on borrowed money and talk of the buffalo headed Namal or his brother being our first astronaut along with a monkey trained to send back information to little Gota at mission control Colombo?

  • 0

    Todays news shows the Indian High Commisioner involved in an event organised by Koparage Vermin.

    “Indian high commissioner Ashok K. Kantha was the chief guest at this year’s Perahera of Sri Uthpalawanna Vishnu Devale in Kelaniya, an annual event being organized by minister of public relations Mervyn Silva. The high commissioner placed the sacred casket on the tusker who carried it in the procession.”

    India seems to be bending over backwards to curry favour with the regime even to the extent of fraternising with drug peddlars and racist. Shouldnt he have visited Jaffna to inquire into the well being of Jaffna students? Shows the spineless attitude of New Delhi.

  • 0

    India had a very cordial relationship with Sri Lanka till JRJ tilt the boat by antoganising the then Indian PM Indira Gandhi over Mrs. Bandaranayake’s civil rights removal. Now India and Sri lanka are not the best of friends, and trying to keep India out from the Sri lankan External Affairs is not going to do any favours for the Lankans. It is true Rajiv forced the 13th Amendment on JRJ and still we suffer due to that and with the introduction of the 13th A, they violated the friendship extended by the Sri lankan Sinhala community to the majority North Indians. Now the 13 A has become a problem for Sri Lanka and the Rajapaksa government should try to negotiate the 13 A and allow India to agree on any changes to keep their pride and good relationship intact. if not India may use her powers again to show her power.

  • 0


    You are talking about Lord Buddha’s and Mahatma’s legacy?

    Does their legacy other than pacifism have any relevance to Indo- Sri Lankan relations.

    Jawarharlal Nehru was the architect of Indian foreign policy and the father of Pansaseela and non alignment.

    Jawaharlal Nehru tried to built up India on the firm foundation of friendship with China

    Are you aware of china’s strained boarder disputes with her immediate neighbors like India, Japan(senkaku /diaoyo), Vietnam, Philippines and others?

    However China still advocates non interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

    Jawaharlal Nehru was almost an atheist but the only religion he admired was Buddhism.

    Jawarlal Nehru was a true friend of Sri Lanka,but the UNP politicians messed them up in line with their political agenda.

    I just take to 1939/40 and to the series of correspondence between Nehru and JR Jayawardane.

    JR almost pleaded with Nehru to bring Ceylon under India after independence, because JR was convinced that Ceylon could not exist as a separate country once British leave Ceylon, Ceylon will be defenseless and will be at the mercy of the evil communist Soviet Union and hence wanted Ceylon to be brought under the Indian orbit.

    For this pleading Nehru’s response was not to immediately agree with JR’s request but to request JR to wait for future development and let an independent india and Ceylon to take a decision.

    But on the eve of Independence Ceylon’s defense agreement with Britain mad it superfluous.

    Nehru never had any imperialist designs.

    To have leverage over Sri Lanka it was in india’s interest not to completely destroy LTTE, But to use it to manipulate Sri Lanka as Indira Gandhi did during the 80’s.Indira of course wanted to teach a lesson to JR and hence her support to Tamil militants.

    Please remember that one of the reason for the dissolution of Tamil Nadu state assembly by indira in 1976 was due to Karunanithi’s complexity in Sri Lankan Tamil issue.

    Regarding the intrusion of Indian fishermen, It is improper but wanted Sri Lanka to appreciate Indian dilemma.

    Watcher, if you could use more polite language it would be highly appreciated please.

    • 0

      Srikrishna , if you are offended I apologise .. I still says that you are using selective text to justify your countries bad behaviour..
      Sri Lankans had great respect to Nehru until he went with imperial ambitions and your excuse is not valid or not true… I am saying this since my family is involved and knew what happen around 1948 and they are friends with Nehru at that time… Nehru’s public profile did not fit with his private profile. This also upset Mahathma and to me he is a amazing human being and brought the whole British empire to its knees with out using violence .
      For the record JR is not running SL and you possibly know or did not know who or which people involve re. SL security aspect and its future foot print to the world.
      Senanayake family never trusted JR and always kept him at arms length and only good JR did was asking forgiveness at UN for Japans crimes which were horrendous.
      Pls. do not use JR excuse to counter Indian duplicity and this is exactly my point re. Indians since no one can trust you.
      I agree Nehru tried fence mending with China and BTW, chinese those days are not the same Chinese today.
      You mention Chinese issues with neighbours and I can tell you, what Japanese did to Chinese in 1800 and to mid 1900 is horrendous and beyond words when you talk of crimes against humanity.. Go and see Beijing summer palace and it will tell you what these so called civilised west did there which was nothing but cultural genocide.
      Am I a apologist for Chinese… NO, I am saying certain facts ( unlike you) which created Chinese mentality today.
      Your explanation re. Indian policy re. ltte is laughable and down right childish , to be taken seriously I suggest you apologise to the whole of Sri Lanka then start again as a true friend. As a Buddhist we will forgive you.
      Re. fishing and Tamilnadu issue its your dilemma and not ours since Tamil Nadu run by thieves and cut throats and central govt. need to fix it, or shall I say you all are in the same soup?
      We need to look after our seas riches and our fisherman’s only got few resources and stealing those by Indians and asking us to understand is asking too much and this is where we differ on right and wrong and morality since stealing is ok for you.

      Re. comment about Indian dilemma, let me give a nice joke told by a Israeli friend.

      What is Jewish Dilemma ?
      Half price Pork.

      Hope you got the jest.

  • 0

    That India is a substantial power in the region cannot be denied. That China is doing its best to win friends and influence people in this part of the String of Pearls long-term strategy cannot be denied either. The more powerful China and the lesser India are engaged in a silent power struggle in the area. It is only wise diplomacy and learned leadership that will be in our interest so that we do not get crushed like ants if and when Elephants decide to collide. The best would be to get some of our experts to study the role of smaller countries in the neighbourhood of larget powers and see if we can learn lessons from them to suit our defense interests. Finland – sharing even a land-border with Soviet Russia – succeeded in keeping their country from getting deeply involved in the Cold War of then – with unstable men like Stalin, Khruschev, Beria at the helm. They did well and must be thankful for the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the ending of the Cold War. The learning and experiences of men like Austin F will not do for the Rajapakses – as he served Ranil’s Govt.
    In our twisted political culture such a thing is anathema to the incumbents. This is a huge weakness in our system. The Rajapakses will have to handle this delicate matter very carefully. The fate of this generation and posterity depends, to a large extent, in how they handle this part of our relations with the 2 Asian super-powers.


  • 0

    CT, One of my friends informed me that another excellent article by Austin Fernando has been published in Ravaya of 30/12/2012. My friend is a very good political analyst and as he explained to me about it this particular article is one of his best articles about the present political situation in the country. Please publish same in your web cite.

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