As Russia-Ukraine war goes on, India must step up. But it lacks a national security policy.


Lt Gen (Dr) Prakash Menon (Retd)


In war, strategic contestation may not easily knuckle under the passing winds of tactical successes and defeats. The problem is always about judging the flow so that informed decisions can be made on how much and in what manner should force be applied. The Russians have used artillery and missile firepower to devastate Ukrainian resistance and taken control of nearly the entire Donbas region. An uneasy tactical pause is occupying the stage and the contours of a protracted conflict are discernible.

It is high time that the international community took a stand on this issue. And India can take the lead in attempts aimed to preserve global peace.

The threat of a full-blown nuclear war

Superficially, Russia’s military gains have reduced the probability of the use of nuclear weapons, though the threat to use them endures as long as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) provides political and strategic support to Ukraine. The latent threat of nuclear weapon use should not be taken lightly even if it is perceived as being of a very low probability. Resting on the shoulders of a conventional war, perceptions of success, setback and defeat by either side harbours the seeds of bringing nuclear weapons into play. Ukraine has no nuclear weapons and it is highly unlikely that NATO would use nuclear arms to defend it. But on the other hand, what should be NATO’s response to Russia’s nuclear threats and also its actual use? There are no easy answers for NATO. All actions ranging from joining the conventional war to nuclear retaliation and even actions limited to formal protests and intensified economic sanctions promise no happy endings for the parties concerned and the international community.

Joining the routes of conventional war or nuclear retaliation are both paved with the dangers of escalation to an unimaginable nuclear exchange that can threaten the survival of humanity itself. Though the theory of Nuclear Winter remains unrecognised by the United States and Russia, its scientific truism remains. The truth is that this theory had sounded the death knell for a nuclear strategy based on massive nuclear blows, as the long-term environmental consequences could turn out to be suicidal—not only for the parties concerned but also for humanity.

India must take the lead

The international community has to raise its voice and call for an immediate cessation of war in Ukraine. It certainly cannot be silent in the wake of great power politics posing threats to global peace and at its worst, an existential threat to humanity. India should take the lead as it is in an advantageous position. India’s nuanced foreign policy has attempted to evade the image of belonging to power blocs. However, India’s relations with China are fraught and its recovery hinges on New Delhi’s orientation in global power politics.

Ideally, for India, its relations with the US and China should be better than what they have among themselves. Whatever the dimensions of this relational structure, it can allow India to lead the world as a third force in global power politics. This grouping must seek the stoppage of use of force in violation of agreed international norms and represent the voice of peace. It should call for Russia and NATO to undertake a No First Use of nuclear weapons policy in the context of the Ukraine War as an immediate measure. Such a step should be followed by a call for a Global No First Use pledge by all nuclear powers.

In sheer quantity, the number of nations that lend their voices to such a movement could be large enough to represent a force that can make a difference in the ongoing global power struggle. Such a force actually exists in the form of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) though it has been comatose in its main area of interest – global peace. The reason for inaction was because of the disunity within the movement. India should lead the call for dealing with disunity. A call for reawakening Non-Alignment has already been given by India’s former National Security Advisor, Shivshankar Menon, through an article in Foreign Affairs magazine. India’s officialdom should seriously examine the idea.

India still doesn’t have a security strategy

The idea is based on India’s political loyalty to non-violence. India ignoring Russia’s territorial aggression was a political act of disloyalty to non-violence justified under the garb of realpolitik. Such a foreign policy orientation does not serve the purpose of global peace and is not conducive to India’s ability to garner cooperation. Becoming a major player in the third force is actually a political aspiration and choice. The Ukraine war should be seen as a warning bell for political prudence and India’s role has to be one of deliberate choice. The time of which has arrived.

The choice has to be part of a National Security Strategy (NSS) that has been long overdue. The NSA-led committee tasked with its delivery is obviously unable to do so. One of its crucial members, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), has not been appointed even though nearly seven months have elapsed. The committee’s inability to proceed with its responsibility is understandable when it should have been allocated to the body created for such ideation. The task is the bread and butter of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB). If not already done, the task should at least now be assigned to it. There would be a need to populate the NSAB as a multi-disciplinary body, which it is not at present.

The decisions in demand regarding India’s political alignments cannot be left to be decided by practitioners who are prisoners of the here-and-now school of thought. Also, for sure, the NSS cannot be considered a silver bullet for determining the country’s political direction. But without it, the planning process of different realms of national strategy stands severely dented—military strategy in particular. There is a need to strengthen India’s political will to decide on the NSS. The NSAB’S current representative weaknesses must be overcome. It could be easily done from the immense talent pool available, as long as the selection is anchored in constitutional loyalty and not personal loyalty.

Global geopolitical threats can affect India’s developmental progress. Lost time can never be recovered. It is time for a wake-up call to crystallise India’s role in global politics.