B S Raghavan

Security doctrine: Lessons from history

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on March 21, 2011

It is now a universally accepted proposition that a vision and mission statement imparts a sense of purpose and direction and a self-regenerating momentum to organised human endeavours. It represents the country's larger policy goals in which the security doctrine, if it is to be both convincing and effective, has to be anchored.

These policy goals are themselves the products of the country's historical background, and the lessons learnt from its own, and other countries', successes and failures in pursuing a particular course in the past. To these lessons, this column will now turn. The most important of the lessons is that not a single problem in the history of humankind has been solved by domination, confrontation and conflict.

Indeed, the path of history is littered with wars, some as nonsensical as the crusades and opium wars, and those of the Roses or over Jenkin's Ear. They neither made the world better nor effected a radical or lasting transformation in the world order. They merely turned out to be destructive orgies resulting in the loss of countless lives and devastation and decimation of human societies.

Likewise, short of wars, attempts by one country or section of population to dominate or subjugate another, whether in the form of despotism, colonisation or segregation (as in the case of class and caste distinctions), have failed. Extinction of empires, the suppression of blacks in the US, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the retreat of dictatorships in West Asia can be cited as spectacular examples.

Global village

The second lesson is that it will be wrong to interpret security purely in terms of armaments, arsenals, weapons systems, and other military hardware giving a country an aura of seeming invincibility. In living memory, Mahatma Gandhi resoundingly disproved this thesis as regards the British Empire. France and the UK were humbled in Algeria and Ireland despite their superior fire-power.

The third lesson is that it is futile to expect to quell insurrections, insurgencies and other outbreaks of unrest by applying force or asserting claims of legitimacy of state power. The best answer to them is to so design the processes of governance and the working of the state machinery as to remove all scope for alienation or hostility driving people to resort to desperation and resistance.

The fourth lesson is that, in view of the interconnectivities of the borderless, global village that the world has become, the national security of any one country is impacted by the conditions prevailing in all other countries which, in turn, have a bearing on their security. Environmental security is a prime example of a situation where national borders, and even national sovereignties, are of absolutely no relevance.

The eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano in March last year and the traumatic effects of the multiple catastrophe that struck Japan in the same month this year have implications for the economy, and indirectly for the security, of the rest of the world as well.

Moral strength

Stemming from the above reason, there is a view that country-specific approach to security has become outmoded, and the aim must now be to have a doctrine that encompasses the entire world. In other words, there must be a shift from an exclusive to an inclusive model of security.

This is going to the other extreme. Even in an interconnected and interdependent world, each country has distinct security dimensions which justify country-specific treatment.

Finally, no amount of flexing of muscles by governments and nations, no elaborately crafted Constitutions, neither the sanctions of laws nor the superstructures of power and authority will be of any avail unless all of them are backed by moral strength that comes from commitment to the values of integrity and accountability, and the Wilsonian principle of open covenants, openly arrived at.

It is moral strength that is the source of all other strengths. That is what will make the decisions of the country's political leadership on the security front acceptable.

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Published on March 21, 2011
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