Review of In Hard Times — Security in a Time of Insecurity: Force multiplier

An anthology of essays runs through India’s defence preparedness with a to-do list

Published - February 10, 2023 09:03 am IST

Nations aspire to maximise their security through a well nuanced foreign and security policy. We get a broad sense of India’s security prospects in a time of great insecurity in an anthology of essays, In Hard Times, edited by Manoj Joshi, Praveen Swami and Nishtha Gautam. The spectrum of arguments applied to Indian national security dimensions are explored by revisiting its foundational assumptions. They underscore the urgency of India developing a long-term national security strategy for hard times in the post-COVID era given that the global power equations have significantly altered.

Nations often feel constrained by the extent of geography with limited choices, but as Manoj Joshi asserts, while a nation’s geography may be fixed, geopolitics is an ever-changing affair in which a nation’s alignments are impermanent and that, often, the smarter, not the stronger, side wins the war. Pranay Kotasthane and Admiral Arun Prakash draw attention to India’s predicament in the not so benign security environment, where interests and sensitivities of neighbours have to be balanced with a diligent preparation for a possible two-front war in the near future. Sanjaya Baru makes a strong case for a rising India to not only defend multilateralism but also create space for its own growth and development. An expansive role for India’s military beyond its neighbourhood in the Indo-Pacific region, where it desires to be strategically engaged, calls for developing substantial maritime and air power capabilities with precision targeting strike power as elaborated by Col. Vivek Chadha and Group Capt. Kishore Kumar Khera.

Limitations of budget

The real dilemma facing our forces is the undersized budget that imposes severe limitations on the acquisition of hard power. Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur aptly observes that India’s defence budget is grossly inadequate to maintain combat effectiveness. If nations, like tailors, must cut the coat according to the size of the cloth, then reducing manpower costs assumes urgency. Adoption of technology, contends Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, will help reduce manpower costs and can be balanced by increasing use of sensor-weapons, UAVs, robotics, AI, cyber security applications, etc. The recently-introduced Agnipath Yojana becomes germane to that objective in the expectation that it would make the rank-and-file younger, leaner, fitter, robust and technically savvy.

Understanding the limits to military power finds resonance in Swami’s essay that demystifies the might of excessive force in conflict resolutions. Maintaining harmony in a diverse country like India, nurturing political instruments and civic institutions that restore rule of law and provide stability on the domestic front, he extols, also strengthens the security of a nation. Nishtha Gautam appeals for increased participation of more Indian women in UN peace-keeping operations as they have a unique way of minimising conflicts.

The book deals with just a thin slice of the reality we are confronted with. The experts have sought to craft solutions that require purposefulness and team work and, in certain cases, advocate biting the bullet. Their emphasis on smart and systematic planning and consistent effort over lofty goals is worth noting. At this critical juncture, when the West is busy fighting Russia and managing a belligerent China, India needs to prudently manage its national security. The need of the hour is a ‘whole-of-the-nation’ approach that inculcates a sense of harmony, calm and modesty, which works towards putting the economy on a higher growth trajectory.

In Hard Times: Security in a Time of Insecurity; Manoj Joshi, Praveen Swami & Nishtha Gautam, Bloomsbury, ₹559.

The reviewer is a serving Indian Foreign Service officer.

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