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The 21st century is being termed as the Asian century and a rising India finds itself prominently placed geo-strategically and geo-economically among the community of nations to be a key driver in shaping this emerging notion. Aiding India’s quest is its insistence on continuously building its military capacities to wage all kinds of war, be it irregular, conventional, or nuclear in asserting its core values, interests, and national security.
Instances of this perception can be observed in India’s governmental approaches, such as, when citing primacy of national security, the Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her 2020 budget address set aside Rs. 4,71,378 crores for the Ministry of Defence (MoD), of which Rs. 90,649 crores was allocated for modernizing the Indian Armed Forces. Another instance observed is an exceptional reformatory move in India’s higher defence management when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August 2019 approved the position of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to coordinate activities of all branches of the armed forces.
It is remarkable that these internal balancing approaches, ranging from modernization of armed forces to structural reforms and others are in part emerging out of an understanding of the regional and international security environment. India’s foreign and defence policies are also determined by factors prevailing beyond the scope of South Asia, however regional geopolitics is of immediate concern and forms the basis for major policy orientations. The contemporary international structure is witnessing dynamic shifts as US global hegemony established after the fall of Soviet Union is being challenged by emerging powers, which are creating their own spheres of influence due to significant strides in technological and economic domains. This structure can be ascertained as an asymmetric bipolar core with a fluid economic multipolarity orbiting the core. US and China can be considered as the two poles of this new asymmetric bipolarity and these nations are central to calculations of any actor having stakes in regional and international affairs and the element of asymmetry arises out of US military and economic preeminence. The implications of such a structure has resulted in the development of Indo-Pacific as a new geopolitical construct and the emerging India-China-US triangular dynamics in Indo-Pacific has highlighted India’s role in the evolution of such a construct. However, India’s role is also constrained by its capabilities and intentions and in a complex environment, to placate uncertainty generated in placing allies and adversaries and instituting reliability, impetus laid on internal balancing may be imperative to preserving national security.
This essay would make a modest attempt to conceptualize internal balancing theory and its association to national security, assess India’s military internal balancing approaches, analyze the prospects and challenges in the efforts made so far, and determine implications on the regional security architecture.
‘National Security’ has foremost been linked in social science literature to national existence, exercise of sovereignty, and territorial integrity, though complications arise when it comes to conceptualizing the term in its entirety. Aiding the complexity is the understanding that a variety of perspectives compete in defining a term as broad as security. Concerns have also been raised as to the ambiguity of national security itself, whether it is considered an objective to be realized or the means of achieving an objective. However, it is significant to note that any concept of security is built around the perception of threats and therefore, any national security policy that is formulated by a nation must ponder over elements that constitute as threats to correspondingly orient its strategy. Threats do evoke fear and are a rousing factor in pursuing a strategy of security by a nation. Perception of threat rises from asymmetry in power between various nations and that threat perceptions also are directly proportional to a weak position in terms of military power. “In the international relations literature, a threat is defined as a situation in which one agent or group has either the capability or intention to inflict a negative consequence on another agent or group. Threats are probabilistic because they may or may not be carried out.” India’s threat perception of its security architecture is based on its threat perception matrix that categorizes threats into immediate, short-term, medium-term, and long-term threats. This classification of threats orients India’s military strength and has provided the impetus for modernizing its armed forces including its air power, more so in consideration of the immediate and short term threats that rise out of regional geopolitics. India is not a regional hegemonic power in South Asia, however it is perceived as such by its western neighbor, Islamic Republic of Pakistan which constitutes its immediate threat. An emerging economic power with a surplus of youthful demographics, India is seen as a competitor by China in its quest to obtain more resources and have a say as a dominant power in global politics, and constitutes its short-term threat.
The evolving contemporary international security environment has seen the loss of the western liberal international order and an emergence of great power rivalry which has shed light on the traditional understanding of national security characterized by notions of securing a state from external threats in the form of a military attack. Impetus has emerged on utilizing neorealist theoretical perspective to comprehend the dynamics of international relations after it failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union by the end of the last century, which resulted in the development, and prominence of new theoretical lenses such as Constructivism in addressing identities, structures, and events.
Realism has provided primacy to national security in comparison with other approaches as its core tenets of ‘statism’, ‘survival’, and ‘self-help’, assist a nation to understand the essence of power in international relations and to develop capabilities to accumulate power for oneself in safeguarding national interests. Structural realists, in particular, emphasize that the distribution of power in the international system has a direct bearing on a nation’s behavior. National security is understood to be a function of power and every nation aims in expanding its power relative to that of other states. In order to ensure one’s survival, nations that lack military capabilities to challenge the might of a hegemonic power or an emerging power, must resort to balance of power. The balance of power in international relations rests on a multitude of factors including size of population and territory, resource endowment, extraction and exploitation, economic flourishing, military strength, political stability and competence and will of political leadership. However, the immediate military balance is sought as the most important variable by realists as it is the best measure of the ability of one State or an alliance of group of States to influence another State or alliance in its pursuit of achieving national or alliance interests. The other mentioned factors of power can be transformed into the military power in the long run. “If a neighboring state has more power than you, your state should feel at risk because nothing in the anarchical international system prevents that state from using force against you to resolve a conflict. In this ‘‘self-help’’ world, states are forced to rely on domestic military spending and temporary international alliances to balance against the power of other states.”
It is upsetting for States when there is an uneven power distribution and may cause the weaker nations to fear being dominated and dislike their inferior position in the power hierarchy. And on the contrary, the stronger side may fear an inevitable shift in the balance of power in the long run and a challenge to the status quo. This may lead to acquisition of new weaponry or modernizing of existing capabilities by both stronger and weaker sides to maintain balance of power and create a security dilemma. Conventional deterrence is a theory proposed by John Mearsheimer which seeks to prevent an outbreak of conflict during times of crisis between States by maintaining the ability to deter and deny the opponent their goals on the battlefield through the use of conventional forces. This theory also gains greater relevance in the context of South Asia as with nuclear parity achieved, nations shall not resort to total war and rely more on their conventional capabilities to gain decisive advantage when seeking goals.
To build an effective national security policy and equilibrium of power, nations can tread on external balancing by building a coalition of powers to meet threats or use internal balancing to increase one’s capabilities in order to deter the threat or use both balancing mechanisms. In a multipolar system, the number of powers ensure that the cost of defection is low and therefore military interdependence is low. Military interdependence also witnesses a decline in a bipolar system as the Great powers rely largely on themselves and their military capabilities to balance each other. “States are less likely to misjudge their relative strengths than they are to misjudge the strength and reliability of opposing coalitions.” Internal balancing garners prominence over external balancing as it was understood by Kenneth Waltz to be precise and reliable. Uncertainty is a dictum for war and miscalculations can cause wars, which is underscored in the case during Cold War when US and Soviet Union relied primarily on themselves and not their allies. In response to a potential hegemon, Kenneth Waltz again espouses the benefits of internal balancing which is driven through a process of emulation. In this process, a lesser power implements institutions and practices of the hegemonic state to compete effectively. The probability of emulation is directly proportional to a perception of hegemony.
Internal Balancing is desired by nations as it offers control and independence, which is reserved in external partnerships. External balancing does not guarantee security and no alliance is permanent in an anarchic world and is subject to changing interests, therefore abandonment is possible. Also, alliances can be entrapping in nature as other nations seeking to bandwagon or pass the buck may impose themselves on a resourceful nation which translates in increasing burden.
In contemporary security environment, internal balancing offers significant benefits to India. It allows India to retain its foreign policy culture of strategic autonomy. It negates domestic divides over aligning with a nation for its linkage to a particular ideology. And lastly, it allows for India to be articulate to other nations that aligning with a certain nation may not carry repercussions for another. Internal balancing as a strategy is not wholly adequate for India, as it carries certain drawbacks. India faces a twin security threat from both China and Pakistan and its military capability is not sufficient to deter China’s military capabilities or to defeat a joint attack. Capacities lacking also include possessing a sound border infrastructure, a lesser defense budget and technological parity. India’s questionable defense industrial complex and its slow defence acquisition capacity has eroded its credibility of ensuing sufficient output in case of a conflict. Lastly, India’s purchase of arms and ammunition has allowed it to build strategic partnerships with nations that ensure India’s interests in multilateral institutions, which would not be feasible if it competes alone with China, considering China’s economic advantage and influence.
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