Challenges of securing the nation in the era of new wars

Building trust within our societies and institutions is paramount, as evidenced by the correlation between trust levels and resilience during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Samrudhi Pande Mar 05, 2024
Challenges of securing the nation in the era of new wars

During the recent Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi, which stands as India's premier conference on geopolitics and geoeconomics, and is jointly organized by the Observer Research Foundation and the Ministry of External Affairs, significant focus was placed on addressing the most pressing global challenges. Discussions centered on topics such as global defense mechanisms, the 'grey zone', 'new wars', and global intelligence sharing. The overarching theme for this year's dialogue  was "CHATURANGA: Conflict, Contest, Cooperate, Create."

As is customary each year, leaders from politics, business, media, and civil society gathered to deliberate on pressing global issues and explore avenues for cooperation. The event facilitated inclusive, cross-sectoral dialogues, bringing together heads of state, cabinet ministers, and local government officials, along with prominent figures from the private sector, media, and academia.

One notable discussion featured India's Chief of Defense Staff, General Anil Chauhan, Netherlands Minister for Defense Kaja Ollongren, Australia's Director-General of National Intelligence Andrew Shearer, Sujan Chinoy, Director General of India's Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis, and Jeno Ben-Yehuda, Executive VP of the Atlantic Council of the United States. The focus was on exploring policies, practices, and preparations in the age of the new-war era.

New wars, emerging  conflicts

In traditional tactical teachings, it was commonly suggested that if an adversary had only four options available, they would inevitably choose a fifth option. However, in the context of contemporary warfare, adversaries now have a plethora of options beyond the fifth. This concept encapsulates the essence of 'new wars', a term that rose to prominence in the 1990s to describe the evolving nature of conflict influenced by factors such as globalization, the proliferation of small arms, and the erosion of state authority.

As we navigate the transition from conventional to modern warfare, it becomes imperative to delve into the complexities of this emerging era. New Wars encompass a spectrum of definitions, including hybrid, asymmetrical, unconventional, and low-intensity conflicts, often characterized by prolonged durations with no clear resolution in sight. The increasingly intricate international security environment underscores the shift from traditional to unconventional methods and tactics.

The contemporary landscape of warfare is marked by a diversification between traditional strategies and the advent of digitized weaponry, accompanied by round-the-clock cyber threats, supply chain disruptions, and the proliferation of semi-autonomous weapons, posing significant challenges for both state and non-state actors. Events such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the growing threat of groups like Houthi in the Red Sea region underscore the critical importance of national security.

In this evolving paradigm, the lines between state and non-state actors are becoming increasingly blurred, giving rise to asymmetrical warfare and the growing influence of emerging technologies. This shift highlights the emergence of a new era of warfare, where the concept of the 'grey zone' assumes significance.
The term 'grey zone" refers to the space between war and peace, where hostile actions and competition occur without necessarily escalating into full-scale armed conflict. This zone encompasses a wide range of activities, including political, economic, cyber, and informational tactics employed by both state and non-state actors to achieve strategic objectives while avoiding direct military confrontation.

Addressing 'grey zone' warfare requires a multifaceted approach, considering its potential roots in historical disputes. Strategies must encompass historical analysis, legal frameworks, and preparations for various contingencies to effectively navigate this complex terrain.

Enhancing tech capabilities

In recent conflicts such as those between Israel and Hamas or the Ukraine war, there's a clear indication of the evolving nature of warfare, emphasizing the necessity to adapt to utilizing modern technologies. These technologies have become more accessible and affordable, transforming the battlefield into a hyper-modern environment where drones play pivotal roles in surveillance, reconnaissance, and combat missions. This shift signifies a significant departure from reliance on manned weapons.

Moreover, technology plays a crucial role in democratizing capabilities previously unavailable to small non-state groups, companies, or individuals. It has led to a dramatic increase in the speed, scale, and impact of capabilities relevant to informal warfare and disinformation campaigns. Integration of emerging tools of informal warfare with traditional instruments of national statecraft and power, such as diplomacy, military strength, economic coercion, or foreign interference, underscores the strategic importance of technology.

The growing utilization of cyber power and artificial intelligence (AI) further highlights the changing landscape of conflict. However, advancements in Al also raise concerns, such as the potential for misinformation dissemination impacting military decisions and the use of facial recognition for targeting individual commanders on the battlefield.

Despite these challenges, there are positive aspects to consider, such as the natural language processing capabilities of Al. Nonetheless, there's a pressing need for technological capabilities and partnerships to address these complex challenges effectively.

Need for collaboration

Nations with shared interests must collaborate in addressing these challenges and establish effective mechanisms for international intelligence sharing. Non-state actors exploit divisions within countries to polarize societies through misinformation spread via social media. Transparency is crucial in combating this, as informed citizens are better equipped to discern facts.

Considering the situation in Afghanistan, engaging with non-state actors/groups has become an unavoidable necessity. There is a pressing need for agile responses to non-traditional threats, necessitating adjustments to formalize approaches to informal threats. Given that these threats transcend multiple domains and impact not only military and intelligence agencies but also civilians involved in national security architecture, global multi-agency coordination is essential to anticipate emerging threats.

Presently, these threats span various disciplines, extending beyond military concerns to include bio-threats and pandemics. The COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, caught countries like ours unprepared due to its unprecedented scale. Addressing such challenges requires innovative, adaptive, and inventive approaches from our machinery, fostering collaboration across governmental organs and beyond, from vaccine development to mass manufacturing and beyond.

Evolving doctrine

India's focus should be on enhancing preparedness, encompassing a range of measures from bolstering military-industrial production to fostering robust cooperation and coordination with partner countries. This includes sharing experiences on international platforms and leveraging its skilled expertise to propel technological advancements.
In today's world, nations must collaborate closely. We aspire to a future that transcends mere reliance on drones, emphasizing the integration of Al and other new technologies to strengthen our military capabilities and enhance security.

As our doctrine evolves to meet the demands of this changing world, there is a growing imperative for enhanced avenues of cooperation and dialogue. This underscores the importance of diplomacy in fostering connections and facilitating candid discussions both domestically and internationally. Building trust within our societies and institutions is paramount, as evidenced by the correlation between trust levels and resilience during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Achieving agility, interoperability, and scalability requires a reevaluation of acquisition strategies and concerted efforts to address underlying issues of trust. By fostering trust and swiftly deescalating conflicts, we can effectively respond to the challenges of the current moment.

(The author was a Raisina 2024 delegate and a policy enthusiast. Views are personal. She can be contacted at

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