Emerging perspectives


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ANY examination of the emerging perspectives on global security has to note certain macro-level developments and attitudinal changes that have occurred the world over in the last decade or so. These are the reflections of an apparent democratisation of international relations, resulting in not only the nation states but non-state actors from civil societies influencing international politics. Second, the information revolution, compressing the globe into a far more interactive entity, both in sociological and economic terms.

Third, the incremental erosion of state sovereignty due to technological reasons and the changes in power equations (with the United States emerging as the overwhelming hub of power). Fourth, the end of ideological and politico-military confrontation with the termination of the Cold War (and the disintegration of the Soviet Union). Fifth, the appearance of a new multilateralism where the United Nations and its agencies are now playing a secondary role to multilateral economic and security arrangements being put in place under the guidance of the U.S. And sixth, the linking of issues of human rights, good governance and management of environment to security issues by the international community.

Added to these is the focused concern about countering terrorism which poses a threat to existing state structures, both domestically and across national frontiers. The attitudinal change in international thinking on security issues emanates from these material developments. An elaboration of this assertion should precede the Indo-centric prognoses on concerns and prospects of our security.

When assessing the security concerns and threat perceptions of any country, the conventional approach is to examine (a) the political and security environment of the region in which it is located, the nature of its relations with and its attitudes towards its neighbours and vice versa; (b) the military doctrines; (c) the forces deployment postures; (d) the weapons system capacities of countries in the region; and (e) above all, the interplay of defence and foreign policy objectives of other countries in the area.



The interests and policy objectives of the great powers in country-specific and region-specific terms, from the strategic and military points of view are inherent in this approach. Concepts governing this approach are: first, intrusive political and likely military threat perception, second, deterrence of such threats, and third, defence against such threats if and when they become operational.

This approach to defining security concerns is both limited and inadequate. A broader definitional conceptualisation of ‘security’ is necessary. Ensuring the security of any society or state implies the creation of conditions which will contribute to its politico-social consolidation and its territorial integrity, the sustaining of these conditions guaranteeing its existence and survival and finally, safeguarding the freedom of options and capacities of the country to survive in a changing and recurrently volatile international environment subject to competing and conflicting national interests.

Ensuring security, therefore, transcends strategic and military factors: it involves political, economic, social, technological and environmental factors and inputs. The validity of this argument has acquired added relevance in the post-Cold War period because of the incremental trend of international regulatory regimes being put into place which govern activities in the spheres of technology, space, exploration, nuclear energy, human rights and the environment.

The point to be noted is that these regimes have not been formulated by consensus or detailed deliberations at the UN or any genuinely representative multilateral forum but have, so far, mostly been created by the great powers and the industrially and technologically advanced countries. They also happen to be discriminatory, whatever the practical considerations or rationale for such discriminatory arrangements may be.



Such is the context in which India’s security concerns and threat perceptions are evolving. These are the ingredients in India’s changing defence and foreign policy orientations. Contemporary concerns and perceptions, without doubt are a consequence of the ferment and change which have characterised international relations.

1. India’s territorial integrity remains under threat from Pakistan, due to its claims on Jammu and Kashmir and from China, due to the still unresolved boundary dispute. In the latter case, the threat is not operational, as it was till the late 1980s. It shall nevertheless remain till a Sino-Indian agreement can be reached on the subject.

2. Internal centrifugal forces continue to affect India’s geo-political unity. There are demands for secession from segments of the population in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeastern provinces of India. Incipient separatist aspirations have been expressed by some groups in Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Orissa and North Bengal on and off since the late 1950s/early 1960s.

3. Adversary relations with Pakistan and China and military conflicts with these countries have resulted in India having to divert its scarce financial material and trained manpower resources for defence purposes, thereby reducing capacity to formulate and implement social and economic policies for national consolidation and reconstruction.

4. Barring Bhutan and Maldives, India’s relations with its other neighbours – Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan (which falls into a special hostile category) – have remained problematic for one reason or another. This pattern continues. With Nepal, the points of worry have been its trying to play China against India, differences of opinion regarding trade and transit issues (which crop up periodically), and differing views on water resources utilisation for agricultural purposes and power generation.



With Sri Lanka, there were first the issues of the citizenship of Tamils of Indian origin who migrated to Ceylon in the 19th century to work in the tea plantations there, and determining the jurisdiction of the two countries on coastal islands off India’s peninsular coast without disrupting the traditional rights of fishermen of both countries. From the late ’70s the Tamil-Sinhala ethnic conflict impacted on the politics of Tamil Nadu, leading to Indian mediation and then intervention in Sri Lanka. Though relations are normal now, the ethnic crisis casts a shadow over these relations.

With Myanmar the memory of the expulsion of the Indian community in the 1960s and 1970s still rankles in the Indian mindset. India has forged a working relationship with the SLORC military regime in Rangoon, but Indian public opinion has not yet reconciled to the non-fulfilment of the democratic verdict of the people of Myanmar. This attitude has prevailed since General Ne Win’s assumed power. Finally, Myanmar’s economic and defence relations with China remain a matter of interest to India.



With Pakistan and Bangladesh, the points of dispute are too well known to need elaboration, particularly since both countries were one political entity till 1971. Bangladesh’s creation and India’s support to the process have not made much of a difference; in fact, on many issues Bangladesh has reverted to the former ‘East Pakistan’ adversarial postures towards India.

5. Pakistan’s attempts to influence the attitude and policies of India’s other direct neighbours as also the Islamic countries, with a view to generating apprehensions amongst them against India, have posed a continuing challenge to Indian security interests.

6. Foreign countries and foreign thinktanks questioning the practicability of India’s survival as a polity because of the religious, ethnic and linguistic plurality has been a recurrent refrain which India has had to (and will have to) counter in one form or the other.

7. Foreign military bases and foreign military presence, including the deployment of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons systems in India’s neighbourhood, in the northern reaches of the Indian Ocean and in the Arab and African littoral countries, has been a matter of apprehension to India. The end of the Cold War has discontinued this force deployment posture, whether it was Diego Garcia or whether the forces were sea-borne or airborne.

8. China’s overwhelming nuclear capacities and the presence of nuclear weapons in the Asian and Indian Ocean region have influenced India’s defence planning since 1964.



Late in 1991, the U.S. Department of Defence circulated a policy note, ‘Forward Defence Planning for the US’ in the aftermath of the Gulf War. The Department, while referring to prospects and policy objectives in South Asia, held the view that one of the most important tasks of the U.S. was to prevent India from dominating its neighbours, especially Pakistan. Consequently, Pakistan’s economic and military capacity should be built up to balance Indian regional ambitions.

Jerrold Elkin, faculty member of the U.S. Air Force Academy was more direct. He declared that, ‘The government of India maintains three principal strategic objectives consolidating its position as hegemon (sic) in South Asia grounded on military superiority over Pakistan and lesser regional actors, achieving military paramountcy throughout the Indian Ocean, and accreting sufficient armed power to press successfully status elevation demands on the international community.’

The end of the Cold War provided India with the opportunity to remove these anxieties. By 1991, India had commenced a dialogue for defence cooperation with the U.S.A. Similar contact was established with Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia. Exchange of visits between armed forces personnel increased. Joint naval exercises were undertaken with the U.S. and other countries. India showed greater transparency about its military and strategic intentions. Cooperation in the Indian Ocean region, rather than domination of the region has been the Indian objective.

Conventional wisdom has it that the disappearance of the Soviet Union and U.S.A.’s victory in the Gulf War have led to these trends which will govern international relations in the foreseeable future. First, the world has become unipolar with the U.S. as the power centre. Second, there will have to be consensus among the great powers on important international issues in the UN under the leadership of the U.S.A. Third, the international community will have to conform to economic and technological regimes which are considered necessary by the great powers for ensuring a stable new world order.



There is some validity in this prognosis, but it is not entirely accurate. The world might have become unipolar in military terms, with the U.S. as the focal point of power, but other power centres do exist and are likely to emerge in terms of economic and technological capacities. Western European countries, Japan, the Russian Federation and China cannot be written off as second-class powers in global equations.

India’s prime security concern is to cope with a more complex and competitive international situation. Now, without the leverage of a stable political equation with one of the super-powers, new political relationships, strategic ties and defence equations have to be forged. Diversified economic and technological links have been established with a number of countries given the erosion of arrangements which existed earlier, particularly with the Soviet Union and East European countries.

The threat to, and restrictions on, India as well as other developing countries emerge from the new concept of the ‘danger of dual technologies falling into the hands of irresponsible states.’ The Iran-Iraq war and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait created this concern among the advanced industrial countries. Simply put, the apprehension regarding dual use technologies, material or equipment is that such technologies can be used for peaceful as well as military purposes.



Let me illustrate this point: the metallurgy processes used for manufacturing milk containers can also be used for making gun barrels. So, the logic is that such technologies should not be exported to ‘irresponsible’ countries such as Iraq, Iran, or Libya or tension-prone areas such as South Asia, and if such technologies are exported or transferred at all, they should be under arrangements which ensure strict monitoring and transparency. India has faced problems on this count regarding the import of a number of items for industrial and research purposes from the U.S.A., U.K. and Germany.

It is obvious that a recurrent handicap in sustaining and updating India’s technological capacities is a significant hurdle in ensuring Indian security. Needless to say, India cannot quite reconcile itself to the idea of being clubbed with Libya or Iraq. Renowned institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, among others, have come up against problems of non-availability as well as non-supply of equipment and technologies from advanced countries in spheres such as lasers, fibre optics, genetic engineering, biochemistry, computers and electronics. Since 1991, India has had to undertake a series of separate bilateral negotiations with different countries to resolve these problems.

India’s space exploration activities and technologies have been viewed with suspicion and reservation by the great powers. India’s nuclear weaponisation in May 1998, and its capabilities to manufacture and deploy Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (Agni) and the parallel acquisition of similar capacities by Pakistan has resulted in a qualitative change in the strategic equations and security environment in South Asia. The achievements of the two countries in this area also signifies that technological restrictions from the major powers are not insurmountable. Nevertheless, apart from India declaring a moratorium on further nuclear tests and missile development, in some respects, it remains committed to the elimination of weapons of mass destruction.



The following points are notewothy:

a) India is a member-cum-signatory of the international convention banning chemical weapons.

b) India co-sponsored, along with the United States, a resolution at the UN General Assembly in 1993 to work towards not only a comprehensive test ban treaty but also an agreement to cut off and ultimately ban the production of fissile material. Both these items were to be nondiscriminatory and uniformly and universally applicable to all countries.

c) India supported the creation of the UN arms export and import register and the attendant monitoring mechanisms and procedures.

d) India may be willing to be a partner in the missile technology control regime if coopted as a member and accorded the rights, discretions and privileges which the seven founding members of the regime enjoy.

e) India has always been willing to be transparent about its nuclear space and missile programmes, if the procedures and regimes governing these activities are applied in a nondiscriminatory and impartial manner to members of the international community, regardless of their technological or weapons capacity status.

f) Last, but not the least, leaving aside the international aspects of India’s approach, and despite its security concerns, India’s nuclear, space and missile development programmes are under civilian control. They are accountable to the Indian Parliament, which, in itself, is a safeguard against any inclination towards military adventurism in these spheres by technocrats or the executive branch of the government. Having said all this, India remains concerned about challenges to its technology development potentialities in these spheres.



Internal non-military, but never-theless significant threats to India’s security and territorial integrity are as follows:

i) The break up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia have eroded the sanctity or legitimacy of plural societies as well as multiethnic, multilingual and multireligious states. The international community does not have the inclination to uphold the integrity of such states. The logic is that if a superpower such as the Soviet Union could break up, there is no need to be overly concerned about other similar societies facing fissiparous tendencies.

ii) Rising levels of political consciousness, due to the information revolution, have heightened economic expectations beyond the resource capacity of the Indian state and society. The resulting tensions disrupt the law and order situation and lead to instability.

iii) The same frustration has led to the emergence of sub-regional ethno-linguistic centrifugal trends in Indian politics. Even more dangerous is the reflection of these trends through communal and religious identities and ideologies. The agitation by disaffected Muslim groups in Kashmir, ‘Khalistanis’ in Punjab and various tribal and other cultural groupings in the Northeast manifested this phenomenon. Interested foreign agencies have provided financial and political support to separatist tendencies in India on the basis of religious ideology. Foreign Islamic and Christian educational and missionary activities in different parts of India possess this pernicious dimension, a cause of worry. Kashmir and the Northeastern states of India have been especially subject to such pressure.

iv) The social and political reaction to these trends, in fact, in the form of a backlash from the majority Hindu community is equally worrisome. The increasing appeal and credibility of Hindu religious political parties among Indian masses found expression in the destruction of the Babri Mosque on 6 December 1992, as well as in state level election results. The latest manifestation of this phenomenon was the communal riots in Gujarat in which the state government played a dubious role.



Communal antagonism between 700-odd million Hindus and about 120 million Muslims in India can tear apart the fabric of Indian polity. Secularism is not only an ideal but a necessity to sustain the Indian Republic. This imperative has been endangered by recent political trends. Here, a point to be emphasized is that the large and important minorities in the Indian state should realise that their own well being and civil liberties can be ensured only if they acknowledge that they have to live in harmony with the majority community and are sensitive to its concern and interests.

v) However, even the majority Hindu community now stands fragmented; there is internal alienation and political tension within the community. The emergence of caste-based parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (representing non-high caste Hindus), the Farmers Party led by agricultural leader Mahendra Singh Tikait, and so on is symptomatic of this trend. Ethno-linguistic/caste-based political parties with sub-regional identities such as the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and the Telugu Desam party in Andhra Pradesh are other collective sociopolitical expressions of the same trend, challenging the consolidation of the Indian Republic in political as well as territorial terms.

vi) There is a growing demand for restructuring relations between the central and the state governments with a view to delegating more power and jurisdiction to the states. Given the tenuous experiment in democratic federalism which India has undertaken, and given the centrifugal forces affecting the Indian state, this demand poses serious security concerns. In overall terms, however, recasting centre-state relations with more autonomy for the states seems necessary for preserving Indian unity.

vii) Rapid economic reforms and modernisation undertaken by India since June 1991, has created regional imbalances in development, employment, income, and industrialisation. The central government faces the difficult task of ensuring that these imbalances do not cross thresholds of political patience and tolerance of people in the comparatively deprived regions of the country. Another aspect of the same problem is the widening gulf between the incomes and living standards of the affluent and the urban middle classes on the one hand, and the rest of the population on the other. The recurrence of, and increase in, civil strife has to be contended with.

viii) The last mentioned factor has impinged on the role of the Indian Army, as the Constitution and the civil and criminal procedure codes provide for the armed forces coming to the aid of civil authorities in moments of serious crisis. In recent years, the frequency and continuity with which the Indian Army has been deployed to maintain civil law and order has created anxieties among Indian military commanders for two reasons. First, the army, if enmeshed in civilian duties, will get politicised, and second, its professional competence in dealing with external threats may consequently diminish.

ix) Increasing trends of domestic ferment portend the likelihood of coalition governments based on temporary multiparty equations, therefore, leading to political instability. Anticipating these possibilities, a number of politicians, lawyers and intellectuals have advocated constitutional reforms to convert the present government into a presidential form on the pattern followed in the U.S.

x) Criminalisation of electoral politics and increasing levels of corruption in high places has affected the credibility of the government, both at the centre and in the states. In the public mind, disenchantment and scepticism about politicians and, more tragically, about political institutions have adversely affected national cohesion and purposiveness. This situation poses a basic threat to India’s stability and unity.

xi) Above all, the national consensus on security, defence and foreign policy, which existed during the first decade and a half following India’s independence, no longer exists. This consensus had cut across ideological and party lines. Today, while there may be agreement on safeguarding India’s territorial integrity and unity, there are divergent views about international equations to be established, defence capacities to be acquired, regional security arrangements to be forged (or in which to participate), as well as on issues such as nuclear nonproliferation and missile development. This state of affairs complicates defence and foreign policy planning.

Against this backdrop, Indian security concerns and objectives in the coming years would be:

1) To structure suitable equations with the emergence of centres of influence and power in the world, which will secure India’s unity, territorial integrity as well as well-being. India does not perceive the world as unipolar, (While the U.S. is important, Europe, China, the ASEAN region and Japan are equally significant areas for Indian interests.)

2) To ward off externally supported political movements and insurgencies threatening India’s territorial integrity and unity.

3) To manage the continuing adverse drift in Indo-Pakistan relations and not allow it to degenerate into a military conflict.

4) To establish stable and friendly working relationships with other neighbours and thus ensure a positive security environment in the region by forging reasonable compromises on points of differences with them. Relations with China, and resolving the boundary dispute with that country, remains a matter of priority in this context.

5) To ensure access to sophisticated technologies of all categories to meet India’s economic and defence requirements and to resist pressures by big powers against this Indian interest by political and diplomatic means.

6) To establish relations with Islamic countries in order to ensure they don’t become party to Pakistani strategies that are designed to threaten India.

7) To strengthen the UN and support the reorganisation of its major organs so as to make the latter more representative and, more important, prevent the UN from becoming an instrument of superpower policies and objectives (this is politically unrealistic, but should remain an Indian objective, nevertheless).

8) To gain admission to newly emerging regional and sub-regional economic and security arrangements, particularly those involving the Asian region, as this would subserve and consolidate India’s political existence, territorial integrity and defence as well as economic security. India’s aspirations and expectations in relation to the ASEAN and APEC are cases in point.

9) To recast the terms of reference and orientation of the Non-aligned Movement and make it relevant to transformations in the international situation. Even if this objective is not achievable, India should retain its freedom of options in foreign and defence policies, and should be realistic enough to detach itself from NAM if it remains a shibboleth and a shell.

10) To oppose all forms of religious and ideological extremism – internal and external.

11) To continue its efforts to bring about nondiscriminatory universal nuclear and conventional disarmament, but not to accept discriminatory arrangements which affect India’s security.

12) To pay particular attention to countering domestic centrifugal trends as they pose a more potent threat to India’s unity and security. India’s historical experience of foreign invasions and colonialism and the reasons for their success should make it concentrate on negating internal threats and divisiveness by political, socioeconomic and constitutional means.

13) India is, and should remain unperturbed by the deliberately motivated and pernicious strategic image as a self-opinionated hegemony being projected by certain western think tanks and academic circles. Compared to the U.S.A., China, and Russia (even after the break up of the Soviet Union, India does not have any ambition or greater capacity to create an area of influence in South Asia. The U.S.’s involvement with creating a new world order, China’s general approach towards South East Asia and Russia’s continuing policies of intrusive influence in East Europe and Central Asia merit the term ‘hegemony’ more than Indian policies. India interprets such accusations as motivated by a desire to ensure that it does not achieve a status in the international community commensurate with its size, resources, capacities and commitment to democracy.



These specific concerns have to be met in the context of certain new macro-level trends in international politics, and some challenges which are almost elemental in their importance. At the most comprehensive level, state security involves territorial integrity, internal unity and cohesion, sovereignty in fashioning policies and the ability to choose options related to foreign relations, defence and socio-economic development.

All these criteria territorial, political and economic – affecting the autonomy of nation states are under question and in the process of erosion, not only in terms of declared trends in international politics but due to the new world order dominated by the United States and to an extent by a small number of industrialised powers in the world.

The process of globalization underpinned by the logic and objective of free market economics poses a profound challenge to freedom of economic options of less developed nation states. The imperative of distributive social justice is not part of the lexicon of globalization. Similarly, state sovereignty is now subject to what one would call neo-multilateralism being evolved under the guidance of the United States.

In formal policy statements the United States has articulated a new framework for international security which it desires. The plan is to fashion security consultations and informal defence cooperation under Article 51 of the Chapter which allows countries of different regions to put in place regional defence and security arrangements on their own initiative outside the framework of the United Nations and its Security Council. In other words, the advocacy is for a kind of ‘Pax Americana’ where such arrangements would be put in place both institutionally and operationally under the guidance of the United States and its closest allies.

It is also pertinent to examine this approach in the context of a thesis propounded by President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser Zibignew Brezenski on U.S.A.’s relations with the rest of the world. His view is that the U.S. would be the hub of global power equations in the 21st century. The rest of the world can be divided into three categories of nation states, namely, the vassal states, the tributary states and a few countries which may pose a challenge to U.S. domination of world politics.



Most of Western Europe, North and South America fall in the first category. A number of countries in North Africa, the Middle East and the Asia Pacific region are assessed as tributary states, willing to acquiesce in this emerging world order. Countries which could pose a challenge to the U.S. are China, the Russian Federation, Iran and Iraq. Africa, south of the Sahara, is considered unimportant in the new scheme of things except Nigeria, Congo and South Africa.

As far as these three countries are concerned, they could be persuaded to become ‘tributary states’. Regional organisations and groupings of all these countries would have a dominant U.S. presence. The sovereignty of the individual nation states is to be progressively circumscribed under these arrangements.



Leaving aside this Brezenski thesis, issues which have been defined as matters of international concern, transcending national boundaries and priorities are energy security, environment management, safeguarding communication systems of the world rooted in new information technology and securing a stable international environment for international trade and economic transactions. The campaign against terrorism and for democracy, good governance and human rights is considered a matter of global concern, relevant not only to state security but human security and the security of civil societies.

The sanctity of the territorial integrity and national jurisdiction of nation states is subject to legitimised international intrusive action based on advocacy of good governance and human rights. Observing the policy orientations of the U.S. and other major powers on issues like energy security and security for international economic trade and technological relations during the last decade and a half, one gets clear indications that the substance of these policies aim at ensuring U.S./western dominance in the spheres of access and control of natural resources, assuring discriminatory access to the markets of the developing countries, and ensuring that the technological superiority of the U.S. and its closest allies is maintained to the maximum extent possible, to the exclusion of other countries.

Restrictive international regimes governing transfer of technologies based on the doctrine of dual use technologies, the prevention of horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons and missiles put in place over the last two decades confirm this assessment. This advocacy is underpinned by politico-strategic concepts like ‘Axis of Evil’ declared by President Bush and the selective and arrogant definitional identity of states as ‘irresponsible’ or ‘rogue’ states.

The manner in which the WTO agreements have been implemented since 1996 and the modifications to these agreements sought by the United States seems to be aiming at legitimising discriminatory non-tariff barriers, smacking of protectionism in favour of the advanced countries.

India faces the abiding challenge of maintaining its plural and secular political identity even as communal and ethnic forces continue to exert a centrifugal pressure. Then, the demographic pressures on the nation states constituting South Asia will generate trends of mass migration, food and water shortages and unemployment, leading to social unrest further affecting India’s’s political stability and economic development.



In conclusion, two questions demand an answer. How has India responded to these challenges and second, how should India respond to them in future. It is clear that India does not have the leverage of interstate equations in a unipolar world to adopt a confrontationist approach towards the power centres of the world dominated by the United States. Having said this, one feels that India’s response has been over-submissive and devoid of calibration and careful calculation. Indian foreign and strategic policy responses to the U.S. on important issues and critical events has been of succumbing to superpower pressure without calculating whether there would be appropriate positive U.S. response to India’s concerns and interests.

Though some American responses have been marginally useful to India within a limited framework, like on the issue of nuclear weaponisation, terrorism and transfer of technology and economic flows, presently we would certainly fall under the category of Brezenski’s ‘tributary state’, if not ‘vassal state’.

Since December 2001, our Pakistan policy seems to be oscillating between bravado and ambiguity. Listening to international advice to remain restrained may have been necessary up to a point but it is difficult to accept inaction in the face of continuing subversive terrorist activities by Pakistan. Equally, we have taken policy positions and actions which lack strategic manoeuvrability and tactical flexibility. India’s image as a soft and pliable state is substantiated by these policies. The claim that India’s foreign and security policies have gathered increased international support cannot stand the test whether the support has served India’s immediate and urgent concerns and interests in substance.

The fundamental social, economic and demographic challenges that one has mentioned do not form part of the calculus of the current power structure of India in any meaningful or systemic manner, though it fashions India’s policies. One accepts that much time has to be spent on structuring policy responses to emerging contingencies and events, but this should not be at the cost of negating the need for systematic, practical, long-term policy planning based on analytical prognoses and carefully structured deductive anticipation.

The focus seems to be on short-term political gains. While the central objective is to win elections, to achieve power, what is tragic is that the aspiration for power is not based on a conviction that it will be an instrument to serve India’s interests, in terms of stable governance, economic progress and ensuring national security in all its dimensions.