Written By: Taj M. Khattak

What is national security? It is a very simple question to ask but not quite as simple to answer. The complexity arises from divergent views of any number of authors, each partially right, most wholly wrong. What constitutes security in both real and abstract terms, how it is achieved and what it achieves in turn, are each different aspects of national security which need to be addressed both separately and collectively in order to arrive at some conclusion which can be considered nearest to an answer ‘complete in itself’.

It is said that the past inevitably determines the present, as indeed the present will determine the future. The past historical context to fall back on for better appraisal of national security is relatively limited. And whatever is available – like failure of politicians to agree on a constitution for nine years after partition, hasty and unwarranted military interventions in 1958, 1977 and 1999, the mutually destructive politic of 1990s, and present dangerous trajectory shaped by militancy and unbridled corruption in the last few years, is so skewed that any lessons drawn would not have been tested against unassailable earlier decisions and be void of reasonable depth of experience.

A country’s security objectives cannot be realized without its military acting as a tool. During Pakistan Movement, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, struggled for Pakistan constitutionally, without an organized military machine and its accompanying hierarchical order. To be fair, neither was there any need for it. But the downside of this void was twofold; one, the inherited military structure after partition lacked clarity about its place in affairs of state which prompted Quaid to offer advice on importance of constitution during his visit to Command and Staff College, Quetta and; two, the political class were so bereft of this historical experience that resignation of a well meaning COAS was asked for merely because he had uttered the words ‘national security council’ during a visit to Naval War College in Lahore.

In national security affairs, flawed conclusions can lead to disastrous consequences. After the fall of France in WW-II, Hitler, during negotiations with Britain’s Prime Minister Chamberlain on Munich Agreement in 1938, wrongly concluded that given the right conditions and terms, Britain could separately be persuaded towards a truce, after which Germany could re-orientate its military axis towards Russia and establish its supremacy once and for all.

To create these right psychological conditions, Hitler in his wisdom, didn’t push the retreating British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk hard enough and allowed them to retreat. He obviously erred disastrously in overlooking Britain’s centuries old national security imperative of not allowing ‘balance of power’ in Europe to tilt in favor of any one country which had even enforced it by war by its past rulers.

The questions begging an answer therefore are: in charting out national security roadmap for Pakistan, is there a realistic assessment of historical context vis-a-viz India which dismembered Pakistan in 1971, and has evolved military doctrines to harm our country grievously. Is there a fuller understanding of Indo-U.S.-Afghan nexus to destabilize Pakistan? Or vis-a-viz Afghanistan for that matter, which has no case on Durand Line but, in spite of being a landlocked country and its dependence on Pakistan for trade, continues to play in the hands of others?

The role of U.S. in this nexus stands exposed because the tone and tenor of its condemnation is different for major terror incidents in Pakistan, Afghanistan or India. It doesn’t bring any credit to the U.S. when by design it does not want to correctly distinguish between a terrorist who blows up soft targets in Balochistan and a freedom fighter who battles regular Indian occupation army in Kashmir, whose cause has been on the UN agenda for decades.

Let us revert to understanding national security and examine views of only three distinguished personalities due to space constraints. Walter Lippmann, the famous American reporter credited with coining the phrase ‘Cold War’, is of the opinion that, “A nation has security when it doesn’t have to sacrifice its legitimate interests to avoid war and, if challenged, is able to maintain those (legitimate interest) by war”. This could be a militaristic approach to national security since exercising the war option is an operative part of this view.

The inference here is that a nation’s military power must remain in direct proportion to the number of legitimate interest it decides to pursue and protect. The longer the list of legitimate interest, the greater is the need for increase in military power, and the danger of falling into a spiraling trap of declaring even more pursuits as legitimate interest. We need to re-visit that list to see if we are not over-extended in commitments beyond our shores.

Robert McNamara, former President of World Bank viewed national security in economic terms. He observed that ‘Security is not military hardware, though it may include it; security is not military force, though it may encompass it. Security is development and without development there can be no security. A developing nation which does not, in fact, develop cannot remain secure for the intractable reason that its citizenry cannot shed its human nature’. This view is appealing to many as it inherently suggests that development is the basis for economic security which is more important than military security. It is logical to infer that a developing nation which does not in fact develop, is threatened more from within than from outside. Put bluntly in Pakistan’s context, one can say that people would be better served by more responsive health services, education, employment prospects, clean drinking water and less of expensive showcase projects reeking with corruption and benefitting a few.

The third view of national security by Helmut Von Treitschke, a 19th century political thinker from Austria, enunciates that ‘The real test of a state’s power status is its ability to decide, on its own, whether it should engage in warfare’. It therefore follows that a nation should limit its legitimate interest to the level up to which it can take independent decisions to use force for pursuing and protecting them. In this regard, every nation endeavours to be as sovereign as possible but autarky is a mirage which even superpowers have been disappointed in chasing (U.S.’ recent military adventures).

McNamara’s view was clearly propounded for developing nations but it would be a mistake to deduce that military expenditure is wasteful. In fact, it is as faulty an inference as to believe that security is directly proportional to military strength alone. Can there be economic development to complete exclusion of a matching military development, especially where threats to its legitimate interest exist? Perhaps yes, but only through curtailing a nation’s sovereign right to defend itself and outsourcing these function – like the U.S.-Japan relationship.

What is national security? This was the question posed in the beginning. Have we succeeded in achieving some semblance of national security? If we carry out an honest audit of ourselves, we might find that the answer to this question – if not a resounding ‘no’, then at best is a highly conditional ‘yes’. This might please few, but the nation at large is highly skeptical about this whole paradigm.

In order to achieve greater national security in a coherent manner, it might make sense to amalgamate the above divergent views; starting from economic security with matching military security, leading to forging military ability for defending national, including economic interests, to finally achieving as near a state of robust national security environment as possible (Helmut Von Treitschke view).

This is easier said than done as our experience of national security has been flawed by personal prejudices and ill-informed decisions. The situation is unlikely to change for the better, unless there is a fresh approach and government structure is revamped to achieve the desired goals.


The writer is a retired Vice Admiral and former VCNS of Pakistan Navy.

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