|Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and defence minister AK Antony with the three defence chiefs of staff at the conference in Delhi on Friday. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, Nov. 22: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has for the first time flagged concerns over instability around India following the US “pivot” — or redeployment of military assets — to the Asia-Pacific and territorial disputes over the South China Sea.
The Prime Minister also nudged the defence establishment to consider restructuring the higher echelons of the military by studying the recommendations of task forces.
One of the task forces, set up by the PMO and headed by Naresh Chandra, gave its recommendations nearly a year ago but the defence ministry has not yet decided on implementing them.
This is the first time the Indian government has emphasised that the US “rebalancing” to the Asia-Pacific and a global surveillance operation by the US National Security Agency should be factored in by Indian military planners.
The Prime Minister was addressing top military commanders and the security establishment at a combined commanders’ conference — held once a year — here this morning.
In excerpts from the Prime Minister’s speech released this evening — the event is closed to the media — Singh said the evolving situation in India’s neighbourhood was still fluid but Indian strategists must chart a course through it.
“…If you survey the global strategic environment over the past decade, it would not escape your notice that, just as the economic pendulum is shifting inexorably from west to east, so is the strategic focus, as exemplified by the increasing contestation in the seas to our east and the related ‘pivot’ or ‘rebalancing’ by the US in this area,” the Prime Minister said.
“This, to my mind, is a development fraught with uncertainty,” he emphasised.
Singh was not detailing the specific complexities in India’s geopolitical neighbourhood. But his address comes at a time the US is preparing to pull out of Afghanistan next year while redeploying much of its naval assets, including carriers, to what is loosely termed the “Indo-Pacific”.
Earlier this year, the US based marines at Darwin, Australia.
In the South China Sea, through which much of India’s mercantile marine traffic to and from East Asia and the Pacific sails, five countries and China have raised the decibel level over their claims on the waters. India has economic interests in oil blocks off Vietnam that fall in the zone of the conflict.
In the face of such shifts and surveillance that accompany intense competition and rivalries in the security domain, the Prime Minister instructed the military commanders “to acquire tangible national capacity or what the lexicon now refers to as comprehensive national power”.
He defined this as an “amalgam of economic, technological and industrial prowess, buttressed by the appropriate military sinews”. He said the Indian military should be able to protect national interests wherever if they are threatened or challenged.
The Prime Minister asked the commanders to watch out for the impact of turmoil in West Asia on oil supplies, radicalism and the security of seven million Indians.
He admitted that tough economic conditions, including volatile foreign exchange fluctuations, have impacted military acquisitions. The defence establishment, he said, “will have to exercise prudence in our defence acquisition plans and cut our coat according to our cloth”. He said this should be given high priority.