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India’s National Security Evolution: Urgent Need for Comprehensive Strategy

India's national security strategy has shifted from a defensive stance to a more proactive approach, notably with the introduction of the Doval Doctrine in 2014. This strategy emphasizes pre-emptive strikes and international countermeasures. However, India lacks a formal, comprehensive national security policy. A well-defined and integrated national security strategy is urgently needed to navigate these complexities and safeguard India's interests effectively.
Indian army

Calcutta, India – January 24, 2022: Indian army practice their parade during republic day. The ceremony is done by Indian army every year to salute national flag in 26th January. © SumanBhaumik /

December 19, 2023 01:46 EDT

As preparations for making India’s first on-paper national security strategy begin, looking back on India’s national security profile and discussing the need for a settled and focused strategy is essential.

India is working to strengthen its national power through foreign policy. The national security strategy is a big part of this effort, helping to enhance India’s overall strength and improve its security approach in a changing global landscape. If we look at India’s national security strategy, we can see a shift from being cautious to being more proactive. This change demonstrates India’s determination to tackle global security challenges and those specifically coming from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and West Asia. In the past, India was hesitant and unsure in its security strategy, showing restraint in using force. However, this approach was not effective in dealing with cross-border terrorism and challenges from Pakistan.

An example of India’s defensive approach is evident in its response to the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks, perpetrated by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani Islamist group. Instead of launching a counterattack or taking retaliatory measures against Pakistan, India pursued diplomatic solutions. This defensive stance was rooted in doubt and an unwillingness to use force, coupled with a lack of understanding of the security and strategic dynamics in the neighborhood and global politics. The defensive strategy not only reflected a passive attitude in India’s national security approach,  but also exposed India’s perceived weakness due to its soft stance. In contrast, Pakistan adopted an offensive approach, utilizing unconventional warfare tactics. This asymmetry undermined the effectiveness of India’s national security strategy in dealing with Pakistan, as India remained defensive while Pakistan took an assertive stance.

The excessive strategic restraint in India’s national security approach proved to be a significant mistake, providing an opportunity for hostile neighbors to exploit. Recognizing this, there was a pressing need for doctrinal changes and a makeover of the national security strategy. In 2014, when Ajit Doval assumed the role of National Security Advisor in India, a doctrinal change took place. Doval introduced a strategic doctrine that now bears his name: the Doval Doctrine or double squeeze strategy. This new approach aimed to rectify the shortcomings in India’s national security calculations by injecting a realist perspective. The Doval Doctrine embraced a more assertive outlook, marking a departure from the previous defensive stance and signaling a shift towards a hawkish approach in India’s national security strategy.

Understanding the Doval Doctrine

The Doval Doctrine encompasses two primary dimensions: Offensive Defensive and Defensive Offensive.

Offensive Defensive — this involves a preemptive approach to offense with a defensive purpose. The idea is to take offensive actions to put a larger adversary on the defensive from the beginning, seizing the initiative. India has demonstrated this stance through its commitment to pre-emptive strikes, such as surgical strikes targeting terrorist safe havens in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. These actions reflect an offensive defensive posture aimed at proactively addressing security threats.

Defensive Offensive — this focuses on countering adversaries by exploiting their internal conflicts and employing diplomatic efforts at the international level, including sanctions and isolation. This posture also involves deterrence through offensive means, known as offensive deterrence. A good example of this is India’s air strikes in Balakot in February 2019, which were carried out as part of a defensive offensive strategy to deter and counter threats.

India’s shift in national security strategy is set to enhance its firepower and, most importantly, its comprehensive national power. The persistent challenges hindering India’s strategic ascent from a security perspective are gradually diminishing. However, the evolving national security approach, supported by ongoing efforts to incorporate technology and upgrade the security infrastructure of the military, paramilitary, and security agencies, demands cutting-edge strategies to confront the growing threat from China, especially in the context of challenges arising from the Pakistan–China alliance on both conventional and unconventional fronts.

The transformed national security strategy implemented since 2014 effectively addresses security concerns at the tactical level. This includes tasks like detection, prevention, and mitigation that were previously hindered by undue restraint. As India continues its journey towards becoming a major global power, it is crucial for the nation to closely monitor its national security strategy. In addition to intensifying geopolitical competition, the threat landscape and security challenges are expanding into various technological domains, escalating the tempo of grey zone warfare in an already conflict-ridden geopolitical landscape and making the threats more real and lethal. A vigilant and adaptive national security craft is essential to safeguard India’s interests in this complex and dynamic security environment.

India’s need for a comprehensive national security strategy

India still does not possess a comprehensive national security policy or strategy on paper. As strategic affairs analyst Krishnaswamy Subrahmanyam wisely said, “It is now well recognised all over the world that India does not have a tradition of strategic thinking… mainly due to the incapacity of our political leaders and top civil servants to take a long-term view of national security. This is compounded by their consequent failure in giving a lead to the armed forces in preparing the country to face its long-term need for defence preparedness.”

India is working on boosting its strategic coercion and overall national power. However, there’s a need for India to develop a comprehensive national security strategy. Currently, the focus on military, paramilitary, and security/intelligence agencies is scattered. While efforts for theaterization are in progress, they are futuristic and pose challenges. A national security document could offer clarity and strategic foresight for the modernization and integration crucial for India’s national security.

As the world’s conflicts expand across various domains, India must also monitor its domestic front closely. Concerns about psychological operations (PSYOPS), cyber-attacks, narco-terrorism, and economic terrorism loom over India’s internal environment. Urgently, the perception of threats needs integration because threats are crisscrossing between internal and external fronts in India’s security. The lines between internal and external threats are blurring, demanding an integrated and comprehensive approach to secure all dimensions of India’s national security. General Bipin Rawat, the former CDS, rightly noted that India may face challenges on two and a half fronts, and NSA Ajit Doval highlighted that civil society is the new frontier of warfare. These statements recognize the changing security dynamics and evolving threats, but this realization has yet to materialize into reality.

The two-front nightmare scenario creates a need for a robust security strategy that addresses both traditional and non-traditional threats. The establishment of a national security policy is essential for achieving this. Past efforts, like that of the Kargil Review Committee, proposed integrating India’s security spectrum, and some steps have been taken, such as the formation of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). The Naresh Chandra Task Force on Security in 2011 also emphasized the need for a national security strategy at the doctrinal level, but there’s still a considerable distance to cover.

India must take a hard look at its coordination of intelligence

Efforts to integrate are evident in our intelligence setup. While the Kargil Committee acknowledged the Research and Analysis Wing’s role during the Kargil war, it raised concerns about the lack of inter-agency coordination, leading to recommendations for intelligence reforms. Many proposed measures, however, remain on paper, indicating the necessity for concrete steps in shaping a comprehensive national security strategy for India.

In 2020, a significant incident occurred in Galwan, a disputed region between India and China. The clash involved border tensions escalating into a violent confrontation that resulted in casualties on both sides. The Galwan incident is often viewed as an intelligence failure, but it was really as a failure in managing intelligence. This underscores the need for an Integrated Intelligence grid to enhance coordination. Although India has entities like the Joint Intelligence Committee and Multi-Agency Centre (MAC), these haven’t been adequately upgraded or equipped with strategic foresight. Instances where states hesitated to share intelligence have disrupted the intelligence-gathering chain.

There are grey areas requiring reflection within India’s security establishment. While there are objectives for national security, the absence of a policy paper makes it challenging to respond effectively to the heightened threat matrix. A synergized national security strategy is essential to provide integrated attention, strategic foresight, and enhance the capabilities of military, paramilitary, and security/intelligence agencies, solidifying India’s Comprehensive National Power.

India’s national security architecture has objectives, yet the absence of a policy paper hinders addressing the heightened threat matrix. A synergized national security strategy is crucial, offering comprehensive attention and strategic foresight. It enhances the capabilities of military, paramilitary, and security/intelligence agencies, solidifying our Comprehensive National Power.

Hence, India requires a well-foresighted and comprehensive national security strategy. Despite an increase in firepower and coercion abilities, the blurring lines between external and internal threats demand acknowledgment. India’s domestic environment faces a heightened threat perception, particularly with the escalation of grey zone warfare. A synergized and comprehensive approach in India’s national security strategy becomes imperative in the evolving strategic and security landscape of the global order.

[Madelyn Lambert edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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