India does not believe in a world order where a few countries are considered superior to others, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Thursday and noted that the possibility of a global framework could be envisaged if security becomes a truly collective enterprise.
In an address at the National Defence College, he also called for concerted efforts of the international community to counter "grave" emerging security threats such as cyber-attacks and information warfare. According to Singh, information warfare has the potential to threaten political stability.
"There is no account of how much fake news and hate material is likely to be brought in society through social media platforms. The organised use of social media and other online content generation platforms is being used for engineering the opinion or perspective of the masses," he said.
"The deployment of information war was most evident in the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Throughout the conflict, social media has served as a battleground for both sides to spread competing narratives about the war and portray the conflict on their own terms."
The Defence Minister described national security as the prime focus of the Modi government, stressing that the full potential of the country can be tapped only when its interests are protected. "Security is sine-qua-non for civilization to flourish and prosper."
Singh also sounded a note of caution about cyber warfare and said it has increased the vulnerability of critical infrastructure. "I would like to tell you that the conduct of our strategic policy should be moral. India does not believe in a world order where few are considered superior to others," he added.
"India's actions are guided by the very essence of human equality and dignity, which is a part of our ancient ethos and its strong moral foundations, give us our political strength. Even our freedom struggle was based on the bedrock of high moral values."
Singh's comments came amid increasing concerns over China's aggressive military posturing along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as well as in the Indo-Pacific. The defence minister said a strong and prosperous India would not be built at the cost of others. "Rather, India is here to help other nations realise their full potential."
Singh said if security becomes a truly collective enterprise, "we can think of creating a global order which is beneficial to all of us". The defence minister also said realpolitik cannot be the fig leaf for being immoral. "Rather, enlightened self-interest of nations can be promoted within the framework of strategic morality, which is predicated on the understanding and respect for the legitimate strategic imperative of all the civilised nations."
"It is for this reason that when we partner any nation, it is on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual respect. Forging relations comes naturally to India, as we work towards mutual economic development," Singh said. Quoting Martin Luther King Jr, he stated that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere".
"The recent Ukrainian conflict showed how its ripple effects could adversely impact the whole world. Together, Russia and Ukraine export nearly a third of the world's wheat and barley, but this conflict had prevented grain from leaving the 'breadbasket of the world' and led to food crisis in various African and Asian countries," he said.
Key infrastructure like power generation and distribution is increasingly becoming more complex and there is a need for dealing with such challenges effectively, Singh said. The energy sector, he added, is one of the main targets of cyber-attacks but it is not the only one; transport, public sector services, telecommunications and critical manufacturing industries are also vulnerable.
Singh emphasised that national security should not be considered a "zero-sum game" and that there is a need to create a win-win situation for all. "We should not be guided by narrow self-interest which is not beneficial in the long run, but by enlightened self-interest which is sustainable and resilient to shocks," he said.
The minister said the world's increasingly interconnected financial systems are also at great risk. "You all must be aware that in February 2016, hackers targeted the central bank of Bangladesh and tried to steal 1 billion dollars. While most transactions were blocked, 101 million dollars still disappeared.
"This was a wake-up call for the finance world that cyber risks in the financial system had been severely underestimated. Today, the assessment that a major cyber-attack poses a threat to financial stability is not a question of if, but when," he said.
The defence minister also threw light on the narrowing gap between internal and external security and said that new dimensions of threats are being added with changing times, that are difficult to classify.
He asserted that terrorism, which generally falls in the category of internal security, is now classified in the category of external security as training, funding and arms support of such organisations are being carried out from outside the country.
(With PTI inputs)