“It gives me great pleasure to address once again this annual conference of the leaders of our armed forces. India is proud, and rightly so, of the achievements of its officers and men and women in uniform. Be it in the line of fire or in aiding civilian authorities to carry out relief and rescue activities, the armed forces have regularly answered the call of duty and brought exemplary dedication to their task. For their bravery and their many sacrifices, the nation is eternally grateful.
In the year that has passed since we last met here, India has confronted persistent challenges on the external front. Global economic recovery has failed to materialize. The continuing uncertainty and weaknesses in the Eurozone economies have hobbled the pace of growth, including in Asian economies. Inevitably, India too has had to deal with the fallout of slowing growth, falling exports and expanding deficits.
Our security challenges, including cross-border terrorism, transnational crime and drug trafficking, remain diverse and serious. Added to these are new challenges in areas that constitute the ‘global commons’ – such as Space, the high seas and cyber-space. India has been a strong proponent of efforts to promote international peace, security and development and to act as a factor of stability in our region and beyond. Our size, technological capabilities and standing as a responsible state contribute to our ability to engage in regional and global efforts to shape responses to existing and emerging challenges.
In the political arena too, our neighbourhood remains complex with elements of instability. All around us, we see a churning of the political, economic and social systems of various countries with uncertain outcomes.
We cannot hope to develop and grow peacefully while our immediate neighbours struggle with poverty, strife and underdevelopment. Our external policies will therefore emphasize friendly and cooperative ties with our neighbours. We will also focus on establishing greater connectivity in South Asia and our expanded neighbourhood to promote the movement of goods, services, investment and technology so that we can act as a motor of growth in this region. The Services are an inalienable arm of our diplomatic outreach and I expect them to play a full and effective role in this national endeavour.
Our immediate geo-strategic environment comes with its own conventional, strategic and non-conventional security challenges. India’s strategic calculus has long encompassed the waters from the Gulf of Aden to the Straits of Malacca. Very recently, we have seen precisely these areas turn once again into fresh theatres of contestation.
We have consistently maintained that all issues must be resolved peacefully through dialogue. Wherever feasible, multilateral and international organizations such as the IAEA and the United Nations must be allowed to play their due role.
Even as we formulate responses to foreign and security-related challenges, concrete increases in our comprehensive national strength can come only if we solve our most pressing domestic problems. Affordable healthcare, quality education, remunerative jobs and reliable infrastructure for our people are fundamental to unlocking the human potential of India, which, to my mind, is limitless. The resources we need to do this can be generated only through economic growth at a faster rate than is the case today.
We need an aggregate growth rate of 8 per cent per annum to create new job opportunities for more than 10 million persons who are going to enter our labour force each year. This is not going to be an easy task, given the international economic environment. However, it is not unattainable if we make determined efforts to increase our investment rate to 37-38 per cent as was the case three years ago.
We also have to create an environment conducive for increased investment and savings rates, paying particular attention to investment in infrastructure sectors. Simultaneously, we have to work hard to improve the environment of internal security, ensuring communal harmony and control over disruptive forces such as terrorism, insurgency and left wing extremism. Our government remains committed to the achievement of these objectives.
As India grows, so will the responsibilities associated with protecting our new-found equities. For example, an expansion of our exports and a diversification of their destinations will call for equal measures to protect them from threats such as piracy. The security of our sea lanes would be equally vital in ensuring our energy security and access to other vital natural resources. Indian expatriates and our overseas investments, already present around the globe, are also going to be in need of assurances regarding their well-being. Security, therefore, will remain a pre-eminent and key pillar of our national strength. The Services, which are an important institution of our democratic and secular structure, will have to equip themselves to meet these evolving challenges.
Addressing these challenges will require addressing issues of joint-ness and skills, of training, doctrines and strategies, and of integrated decision-making structures and weaponry, all of which will need to be supported by indigenous research and production capabilities. These issues require constructive debate, not just about our strategic options, but also on our need to develop composite capabilities.
As commanders, you are all aware that growing complexities must be met by comprehensive responses. We should aim to abandon single service or segmented approaches and develop synergies across services. Compartmentalized views will only delay our response and dilute its impact.
In particular, there is a need to increase our capabilities in emerging areas like cyber and space, which can be the sources of new threats. We must therefore reorient our mindsets and define a long-term integrated perspective that aligns these capabilities with envisaged outcomes. It is my hope that the commanders will discuss these issues and not limit themselves to only material capabilities.
Preparedness is a function of modernizing and indigenizing our defence research, production and acquisition infrastructure. Our acquisition processes and procedures must stay abreast of global best practices. The Defence Public Sector Undertakings and Ordnance Factories too need to do more in absorbing technology and building capacities. They must also learn to adapt quickly in order to respond to changing needs and provide the required confidence to the users of their products.
Fortunately, the Indian private sector is now in a position to contribute to the defence industrial base and must be leveraged in the nation’s interest. Without this, the users’ levels of dissatisfaction due to time and cost overruns and technological obsolescence are bound to grow.
Many of the issues I have referred to above deserve greater debate and inquiry. You would all be aware that, in addition to the Task Force led by Shri Naresh Chandra on security structures and decision-making processes, we had also asked another Task Force led by Shri Ravindra Gupta to look into the issue of defence modernization and self reliance. Both these reports have been submitted and I understand they have made a number of very valid and relevant suggestions. It would be in our national interest to evolve an early consensus on their recommendations.
In this forum of leaders, I do not need to emphasize that leadership is the touchstone that will define the end result of any conflict and the outcome we are able to achieve. Technical excellence and domain knowledge are important in this regard. Equally, as leaders, your task is to grow more leaders. I am sure that adequate attention is being given to this aspect and that building the next generation of leadership is something that you are focusing on.
To conclude, let me re-emphasize the nation’s implicit trust in the professionalism, competence, commitment and dedication to duty of the Indian armed forces. The nation is fortunate to have military leaders like you. I wish your deliberations all success.”