This article is a part of India 2024: Policy Priorities for the New Government, a compendium of policy briefs from scholars at Brookings India, which identifies & addresses some of the most pressing challenges that India is likely to face in the next five years.
If we wish to secure the continued transformation of India, we must be prepared for the new situation and threats that we face. At a minimum, that requires urgent defence reform, foreign policy reform, and the reform of our security structures and practices.
Update National Security Structures
We have had twenty years of experience with the National Security Council system and its workings. But it is time to place the National Security Council, the National Security Adviser, and their subsidiary bodies on a proper statutory basis, specifying their authorities and functions, as other parliamentary democracies have done. India also often relies on 19th century legal and administrative instruments to deal with 21st century threats, such as to the country’s cyber security and citizens’ data privacy. Sufficient capability, regulation, and legal authorities need to be provided. India also needs to train manpower––which is in such short supply–– for these tasks in the cyber domain, and to start on the longer-term task of building hardware capabilities necessary to secure itself. Finally, police reform is essential if India is to cope with the rise in social and communal violence since 2012 and to apply the balm of political healing to our society in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere.
Implement Defence Reforms
It is time that India built 21st century armed forces. Its defence reform must be capability driven, enabling it to deal with hybrid warfare, to deter potential adversaries, and to project power to pacify its periphery when necessary. Without a defence production industry of its own, India will never be secure. The solutions are known and have been recommended by successive governmental bodies. The time has come now for implementation.
Integrate Foreign Policy
The foreign policy apparatus needs to be strengthened in numbers, quality, and in its linkages within our own society. Additionally, India’s foreign economic policy needs to be brought in line with its political ambitions and outreach and needs to be integrated with our foreign policy institutionally and in practice. And while maintaining strategic autonomy, India needs to work out new frameworks for its relationships with China and the United States; reconnect with its extended neighbourhood and the subcontinent and build issue-based coalitions with partners to secure itself and the peace that will be required for India’s transformation.