Assessing Potential Threats to India's National Security Amid COVID-19
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Assessing Potential Threats to India's National Security Amid COVID-19

By Sharan KA
Department of Geopolitics and International Relations
Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), India

Assessing Potential Threats to India’s National Security Amid COVID-19

Historically, the international strategic landscape has made improvisations based on the security threats it faced. Before the two world wars, the concern with regard to security threats remained mostly traditional. However, with the bipolar world order that emerged after the conclusion of WWII, various other factors have come into the picture. The 9/11 attacks and the global financial crisis in 2008 were two of the significant non-traditional events that posed a security threat globally in the 21st century. Apart from those, epidemics such as H1N1, Ebola, and SARS did alter the strategic behavior of many states. 

In Japan, health and hygiene have been an important subject. South Korea was experienced in dealing with such outbreaks and was able to ‘flatten the curve’ this time faster due to its past experience. Despite all the tensions between South Korea, Japan, and China, they have been coordinating efforts to beat the pandemic. The United States’ approach to strategic issues has also remained mostly traditional, but the pandemic will in all certainties bring forth changes. These developments shape the strategic behavior of nations, sometimes, permanently. Many of the scheduled regional and international summits scheduled would happen through online platforms. The nature of elections world-wide is also changing due to the pandemic. Similarly, studying the impact of COVID-19 on India’s national security becomes imperative at this juncture.

The Current Scenario

The Chinese misadventures in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) to fighting with clubs and sticks at the Galwan Valley, India has been shielding itself from many potential security threats emerging from all directions. Biosecurity is one of the new dimensions of security risks emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. While threats to national security can be traditional and non-traditional, long term and short term, important issues that need to be addressed are the immediate ‘potential’ threats. The source of these threats can be both internal and external. Internal threats have been assessed using the news reports from the last three months. These threats range from our defense preparedness to failing in stopping events Tablighi Jamaat in New Delhi. Direct external threats are currently emanating from Pakistan and China. Nepal is displaying cartographic aggression, too, on the behest of China.

Biosecurity threats are defined as the threats emerging out of a natural outbreak which would lead to a pandemic. The reason can vary from an irresponsible nation attempting to research on a biological weapon or an act of bio-terrorism from a non-state actor affecting the world. There is also a high possibility of a contagious pathogen venturing out of a microbiological laboratory. There are many vaccine development institutes that would have intentionally or unintentionally leaked the virus to the lack of bio-safety standards within the institutions. In India, the National Institute of Virology located in Pune which is well equipped with the BSL-4 facility. India requires five more facilities that are equipped with the BSL-4 technology to undertake more advanced research and development on the pathogens, which pose potential bio-threat to the country.

China as a Threat

India’s growing trade and relations with China has cost a lot due to the pandemic. This perhaps is one of the most important reasons to observe China from the lens of national security. National security has mostly constituted traditional and non-traditional security threats ranging from border skirmishes to threats posed by state actors and non-state actors which includes asymmetric warfare. It has been progressive in adding new domains such as space, cyber, and climate. The spread of Coronavirus has severe implications on the world economy, which will have an impact on the defense budgets, which will be a new challenge for India’s national security. It is estimated that 78% of the share of the gross value is gained from the functional sector. The essential sector contributes only 22% to the GDP. Indian economy would witness a negative growth rate due to lockdown measures. The pandemic has put over 400 million people at risk of falling into poverty. 

The growing Chinese aggression in the Eastern Ladakh, the stationing of troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is said to be a signal from Beijing to reach out to the broader audience. Beijing views India’s efforts to build roads in the Indian territory of Galwan and Pangong Lake as an effort to change the standpoint on LAC. After the skirmish at Galwan Valley, the Chinese intentions of being an expansionist regime became apparent. India must be vigilant about all the potential threats it faces from now on if it intends to become a regional power and fulfill its ambition to become a global power. 

Due to COVID-19, two major American supercarriers have been forced out of patrol duty in the Pacific. This means that the United States will not have any carriers that are operational in the western Pacific, giving China a free hand in the region to carry out “anti-piracy operations”. The United States is a major balancing power in the region and this is said to have some major blowbacks. For instance, China’s 093 n-powered submarines have been regularly identified in the Malacca Strait, making its way into the Indian Ocean Region. According to the sources at the Indian Navy, there are at least four to five such vessels at any given point of time that are making the rounds in the IOR. 

Pakistan as a Threat

Indian forces have been vigilant about the neighboring Pakistan and China. Despite the pandemic, Pakistan continues to attack the Indian soldiers and assets. Pakistan’s efforts to infiltrate terrorists into the Indian territory has not stopped. The battle against the virus is not only in the health sector, but it has adversely affected the economy. Despite the whole world fighting against the virus, Pakistan still clings on to its old strategy of cross border firing and infiltration of terrorists into Kashmir. Pakistan has violated the ceasefire 1,144 times in the first quarter of 2020. Pakistan is pushing the coronavirus infected militants into the Kashmir valley. In the first week of April, five militants were killed in an encounter at Kupwara District. A week later in cross-firing India lost four CRPF jawans at Shopian District. In Pulwama District three of the militants associated with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) were killed.

Internal Factors as a Threat

The leadership in Delhi has briefed on the seriousness of the virus and the threats emerging to the states within since the breakout of the pandemic. The local police authorities received information regarding the gathering of more than 2000 people including about 200 foreign nationals who were camping at Markaz in Nizamuddin near South Delhi. The in-charge of the Markaz, Maulana Saad, was immediately asked to vacate the Banglewali Masjid. Maulana Saad had refused to vacate the place. The matter was immediately notified to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was tasked to manage this internal security issue. The NSA had approached Maulana Saad to vacate the camp. After 36 hours of effort, local authorities were successfully able to vacate all people. Many had tested positive for COVID-19. This incident had posed a critical question on the existing national security architecture. It was shocking that the Intelligence Bureau had very little information about the gathering at the nation's capital. It was also notified that the foreign nationals and the international travelers were at high risk of a virus. The Markaz gathering was one of the main reasons for the spread of the virus all over the country. 

In conclusion, national security threats to India are not restricted to traditional issues. Back in 2019, the Indian National Congress (INC) under the stewardship of Lt. General D.S. Hooda released a document called the ‘India’s National Security Strategy’ in which several potential non-traditional threats India's faces were included. Among these were climate change, demographic concerns, energy security to name a few. There is an urgent need for a national security strategy that can formally acknowledge and address the above-mentioned threats. There is a necessity to rearrange and prioritize security being threatened from all threats to ensure India’s national security is not being compromised.

About the Author

Sharan KA (ORCID ID: 0000-0003-0651-0370). The author is a post graduated research scholar at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), India.

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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this insight piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the IndraStra Global.