A 20 member delegation from the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS) visited the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) on 14 May, 2013 for a Round Table Discussion that covered a wide range of issues. The RCDS delegation was led by Air Commodore (Retd) S Abbott. Welcoming the guests Lt Gen (Retd) Ravi Sawhney talked about his time spent in RCDS and how much he cherished the memories of his association with the RCDS. He noted the emergence of new threats, both traditional as well as non traditional, since his tenure at the RCDS in 1989, which he acknowledged was a watershed year in International Politics.
Mr Ajit Doval, Director VIF gave the Opening Remarks and his assessment about the enigmatic character of India, its strengths and weaknesses, role in global and regional affairs, its future trajectory etc. He highlighted India’s important geo-political location, size, rising economic power and demography, its pluralistic society as well as having a stable constitutional democracy with strong defence capabilities. He touched upon the problems and challenges faced by India that included environmental concerns, food and water security, the effect of global terrorism, the rise of Islamic radicalism and terrorism in Pakistan and changes in Afghanistan that would have an impact on the region. Whether the rise of China would be peaceful or could it become a destabilizing factor in the region was another important issue that was touched upon by him.
The need to develop strategic thinking was stressed by Air Commodore (Retd) S Abbott, leader of the RCDS delegation, in his opening remarks.
Amb PP Shukla presented a functional categorization of where India is and spoke at length about issues that were of priority for India. Essential constitutional requirements and commitments ensuring sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of the country required a strong defence sector, a strong economy, and an active diplomacy. Giving an overview of the defence sector, he highlighted the desire of self reliance related to defence equipment although acknowledging that there was huge import dependence. Issues such as technology transfers, offsets and end use monitoring that underlie India’s defence procurement were flagged by Amb Shukla. India’s impressive economic growth was traced by him, that moved from a socialist pattern to following a liberal economic order in the 1990’s. How far this growth has been inclusive was also discussed. Increased economic engagement of India post 1990’s with the world was highlighted. Pakistan and China were identified as a cause of concern for India. According to him, the fundamental problem with Pakistan is not Kashmir but the inability of Pakistan to find an identity for itself, except in a way to oppose India in every way it can. With respect to Afghanistan, the narrative that Al Qaeda is finished, Taliban and Pakistan have changed and therefore things would turn out well after 2014 were described as being far from the truth. Stressing the need for the current government to be financially and materially secure as being essential to be able to hold on their own in a similar manner as the Najibullah government was in 1989 when the Soviet’s withdrew due to the financial support given to them by the Soviets. As soon as financial support was withdrawn, Najibullah government fell.
Gen NC Vij gave his perception about Sino- Indian relations and the security aspects in the Asia Pacific region. Two issues that were identified by him as a cause of concern in terms of the security calculus of the region were the rapid rise of China and the spread of Islamic Fundamentalism and terrorism in the region. The Chinese providing nuclear capability to Pakistan, investment in the Port of Gwadar, the string of pearls around India, challenging India’s sovereignty by stapling visa’s, mentioning only 2000kms as the land boundary it shares with India as against the actual 4000kms, their claim over Arunachal Pradesh and the recent 15 day intrusion in Ladakh were some of the issues highlighted by Gen Vij that were of concern to India. The Indian response, however to these issues is largely dictated by it being a peace loving nation having other priorities like removing poverty rather than spending on defence. The Indian stance therefore has stressed on the co-existence of the two economic giants and co-operation to work towards the betterment of the world rather than confronting each other. In addition, the US China relationship, Japan China relations, the Taiwanese issue, the Korean Peninsula, South China Sea and Myanmar’s Sittwe Port were also discussed and identified as factors that affect the security scenario in the Asia Pacific Region.
Amb Satish Chandra spoke about India’s nuclear deterrent strategy and the reasoning behind their SSBN capability development vis-à-vis the risk of an arms race with Pakistan and China. In his talk Amb. Chandra demonstrated that India’s nuclearization and strategy has in fact not contributed to a regional arms race in the region. He wove his talk around three basic strands, firstly India’s aversion to nuclear weapons, the factors that have impelled India to go nuclear and the strategy itself. He spoke about the evolution of nuclear doctrine and presented its main features. Expanding on the concept of Credible Nuclear Deterrence which is the core of the document taken together with no first use and non use which clearly envisages that India views its nuclear weapons only as a deterrent for defensive purposes and not as a means to threaten others or build a huge arms arsenal or engage in arms race. He also highlighted that survivability of India’s nuclear forces that needs a combination of multiple redundant system viz. mobility, dispersion and deception, bringing out the importance of a triad and developing SSBN capability.
The presentations were followed by a vigourous questions and answers session which pertained to India’s security environment and the evolving scenario in Afghanistan. Leader of the RCDS in his closing remarks expressed his keen desire to further interact with the VIF Faculty in the future.