Intellectual Thoughts by Sanjay Panda: A national security index

A national security index

India  has survived many crises and tackled many challenges over the past 59 years: wars, famines and food shortages, near-bankruptcy on the external account, and the like. Some endemic problems remain, like grinding poverty and poor human development indicators. Another continuing worry, which shows the likelihood of being there for some time to come, is the broad issue of internal security, linked increasingly to the even broader issue of national security (because, for instance, Pakistan has to be part of any internal security calculus). Over the past year, India has suffered many setbacks on this score: there have been the terrorist attacks in a series of cities, culminating with the outrage in Mumbai two months ago. The Maoist challenge has also grown over time, and spread. Uncontrolled illegal immigration from Bangladesh into the border states of West Bengal and Assam certainly poses a security challenge as well as a communal threat. There was also the sudden uprising in the Kashmir valley in the summer, not to mention the question of how good the security detail really is at strategic points like airports. But, of course, the issue goes well beyond these conventional stereotypes.

Global warming is a national security issue—what happens if the sea level rises, or if the melting of Himalayan glaciers dries up some of the country's most important rivers? Energy security is another issue which was driven home this past year, when oil prices at one stage reached $147 per barrel and threatened to derail the economy. Control of strategic industries would be a factor, as would the country's technological capabilities in key areas. When the elements that go into a national security calculus are so varied and complex, how does the country even begin to know whether national security is improving or getting worse? The first step in any managerial challenge is to measure the problem, because only then can anyone track how it is being tackled. This points to the need to construct an annual index with a range of sub-indices, in a manner that carries credibility.

Admittedly, such indices are qualitative and hence a matter of opinion—as is the case with the international rankings that have sprouted on everything from competitiveness to corruption. But measuring the problem is a way of focusing the mind, and that is the first requirement if the country is to get to grips with the issue. For instance, the country is uninformed on the nature of its preparedness, and the quality of equipment, training and manpower in the security forces—until an episode like the one at Mumbai lays the whole thing bare to a shocked public. While some issues will remain secret, as they should, that should not prevent annual reviews. The publication of an annual index incorporating all known elements would lead to discussions, newspaper articles and a general raising of consciousness levels, which would then (hopefully) lead to the required action.


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