IPCS Debate

Technological Change and Security: Implications for India

01 Oct, 2013    ·   4130

PR Chari responds to Amb Shyam Saran’s Prem Bhartia Memorial Lecture in August 2013

That technological change is value neutral and can lead to either greater security or insecurity is well known. But the linkage of technological change to a 'cultural time lag' is seldom identified, which is the period required for cultural adjustment to catch up with technological innovation. Social conflicts are inherent in this situation, and wisdom lies in taking ameliorative action before social conflicts due to technological change arise. Still, as explained by sociologist William F. Ogburn in 1922, a period of maladjustment often occurs while society struggles to cope with technological change.
These questions were addressed by former Foreign Secretary and current Convener of the National Security Advisory Board, Shyam Saran, in his Prem Bhatia Memorial lecture on 11 August. He drew attention to: “An altered landscape, which is still in the throes of further change, [and] is no longer amenable to being managed by the tools that were fashioned to deal with an altogether different environment.” He then drew attention to the maritime, space and cyber-space domains where technological changes are multiplying the insecurities arising from a globalising world.
The maritime dimension, for instance, is slated to grow by quantum measures as the melting of the Arctic snow cap shortens sea route distances between Europe and Asia. No accurate estimate is available of the mineral wealth that could be mined in the Arctic continent, but it is generally believed to be immense. A shift, therefore, in “the centre of gravity of global power to the Asia and Pacific region,” placing emphasis on maritime expansion, which presages the need for  investments in a blue ocean navy, aircraft carriers, and nuclear submarines . All this would, no doubt, be music to the ears of the Indian Navy.  
However, Shyam Saran went further to criticise “those who continue to allocate resources to large and increasingly less effective land forces and weaponry.” The sensitivity of India’s land borders vis-à-vis China and Pakistan needs little elaboration in the light of events over the recent weeks. And, Shyam Saran had clearly forgotten the role of land forces to handle the internal dimensions of Indian security. Competent opinion holds that India’s most serious national security threat arises from Left Extremism, militancy and terrorism. In these circumstances, suggesting that further investments in land forces and weaponry would be 'less effective' overstated his case. Maritime and land security are equally important.
Coming to the space domain it obviously encapsulates the entire global communications system. Space-based satellites are used for navigation, communications, surveillance and terrestrial surveys, which have both peaceful and military, applications. In future space-based assets could become launch pads into outer space, and the possible colonization of Mars and the Moon. Technological innovations in space-bases defenses are being pursued by US and China to dominate space in their search for global power. India needs to be cognizant of these developments and how they would impinge on its security.
Finally, Shyam Saran noted that cyber space is a “complex hybrid of both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial domains." Terrestrial because it is dependent on fibre-optic cables based on land or under the sea. But, also extra-territorial because it is linked to space-based systems. Internet, television, mobile phones and computers permeate  our daily life, highlighting the ramifications of cyber space and raising attendant problems of cyber security, invasions of privacy, crime and espionage. Cyber space also provides a powerful mechanism for achieving national development, and the reality obtains that “no nation or society can opt out of [cyber space applications] and survive as a viable entity.”
So, what does this linkage between technological change and security forebode for India? Shyam Saran genuflects towards India being “an influential actor in the emerging global order, precisely because it has demonstrated capabilities in all these three critical domains.” He then suggests that India display leadership by “creating global governance structures … on an understanding that only collaborative responses will be able to deal with the inter-linked challenges posed by these emerging domains.” He is right in recognising that the global challenge posed by technological change will only yield to global efforts seeking their amelioration. He is also right in believing that an ambitious goal of this magnitude" require(s) leadership which understands the altered landscape in which we live and leads in putting in place institutions and processes that are appropriate to this changing landscape."
Unfortunately, after making all these irreproachable recommendations, Shyam Saran offers no practical options on achieving them. A long-term programme requires continuous thinking about its structure, objectives, and desirability juxtaposed against feasibility, and the mid-course corrections that may be required.  The National Security Advisory Board, which Shyam Saran also heads, could be charged with this responsibility. And, civil society should ensure that this responsibility is not shirked. 

Also see:  

Vice Admiral (Retd) Vijay Shankar, IPCS Debate - Horsemen of Change: Politics, Economics, Technology and Security, #4136, 10 October 2013