Book Review | Indian National Security: Misguided Men and Guided Missiles

 By Ratnadityasinh Chavda
Indian National Security: Misguided Men and Guided Missiles by Jonathan Mead

Napoleon once declared that the foreign policy of a state flows from its geographical position. This is particularly evident in the case of the Indian civilization, as the geographical confines that define the Indian subcontinent have for centuries shaped and moulded Indian foreign policy. In 1947, the Republic of India burst onto the international stage, embracing the light of independence. Jonathan Mead’s book, ‘Indian National Security: Misguided Men and Guided Missiles’, is an effort to capture India’s place among the family of nations through the lens of its national security. The book in a structured manner discusses the various elements of national security and how they might interact with one another. The traditional method of scrutinizing national security has been the pillar formula. However, Mead’s work employs a hierarchical formula, with the underlying premise that security at one level can influence and spill over into subsequent levels. The main purpose of the review is to cover the main points laid out in Mead’s work and focus on the drawbacks within the literature.

At the very onset of the book, the author reflects on the work of Florence Nightingale and the reality it portrays (Nightingale, 1864). Furthermore, he refers to reports by leading organizations such as the WHO and the UN, which conclude that children in India are plagued by malnutrition, iron deficiency, anaemia and tetanus. Moreover, the report also holds that more than 665 million Indians lack the most basic sanitation facilities. (WHO, 2008) Moving on, the author shines a light on poverty. Based on the figures released by the UN, approximately 340 million Indians live in absolute poverty, while another 300 million live in conditions that are described as appalling. (Mead, 2010) The author believes that poverty as a social problem can in extreme circumstances manifest into an insurgency, separatism, and terrorism. Coupled with the country’s meteoric economic growth, is the problem of a yawning divide between the rich and poor. Often it is relative poverty rather than absolute poverty that causes angst among the populace. This also might explain why underground left-wing movements like Naxalism, have been resurgent.

Since the last war with Mahmud Gazni in 1000AD, India has been home to millions of Hindus and Muslims. After referring to the divide of the Indian Subcontinent along religious lines, Jonathan Mead touches upon the work of Amartya Sen in his book ‘identity and violence’. Sen noted the distinction between the two terms; ‘multiculturalism’, and ‘monoculturalism’. (Sen, 2007) Jonathan Mead holds that countries like India are defined by the term mono-Culturalism, where the ingredients in the pot fail to melt, and instead, the nation is characterized by several co-existing groups which retain their individuality, often leading to tensions. Backing his claim, the author believes that in a mono-culturalist country like India, social unrest between or within disparate communities has morphed into community violence, seen during tumultuous events such as the Delhi-Sikh Riots of 1984 or the Gujarat Riots of 2002.

Moving from internal to external security, Mead’s work has been instrumental in understanding ‘modern military thinking’, and redefining India’s ‘strategic frontiers’. Current geopolitics has led India to follow a doctrine dubbed RMA. (Freedman, 2007) RMA in essence is a theory that suggests that modern war-fighting will be conducted using high technology, precision-guided and unmanned weapons. At the heart of the RMA is the doctrine of Network- Centric Warfare. (Mead, 2010) Moreover, while reflecting on India’s military strategy, the author also shines a light on the expansion of India’s area of interest and influence. For decades following independence, India followed a military doctrine, that focused on its immediate region, while being acutely cautious of other powers and their influence in the region. However, as the country begins to assert itself on the international stage, its regions of interests have increased and so has its willingness to collaborate with other nation-states. In recent times, this is most evident through India’s increasing role in platforms such as the ASEAN and the QUAD.

Having covered the conventional elements of the military, the author ventures into an element that has equally perplexed domestic and international observers. India’s Nuclear Strategy was completely shrouded in ambiguity and opacity. India chose to adopt a completely different approach that serves the purpose of deterrence. What is interesting is the author’s take on Nuclear Doctrine, which he believes to be an Oxymoron.  (Mead, 2010) Ames Schlesinger rightly comments that “Doctrines control the mind only in periods of non-emergency- in the moment of truth when the possibility of major devastation occurs, one is likely to discover sudden changes in doctrine. Nuclear doctrine is conducted in extremis- under these conditions, it is hard to predict how New Delhi’s nuclear decision-making team would react.

Central to literature has been Jonathan Mead’s efforts to effectively understand the ‘stability-instability paradox’ (Mead, 2010). The paradox inevitably raises the question of whether India’s nuclear weapons enhanced or degraded its national security. The consensus around nuclear weapons since the Cold War has been that they promote stability, owing to the worries over the phenomenon of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The author questions the applicability of this belief and through the example of the Kargil war fought in the immediate years after both India and Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons, tries to ascertain if nuclear weapons only prevent conflict at the grand-macro level and may also nourish a nation’s appetite for military adventurism as a nation might feel safe in the knowledge that its opponent’s options are limited for fear that conflict will escalate to nuclear configuration.

To make it easy to grasp and comprehend, it is important to critically examine the work. I must acknowledge that how the author has delivered the material is extremely encompassing. Especially, given that he has segregated every component of National Security using the hierarchical model. The simplicity of the book makes it an interesting read for a novice reader. However, for an expert in the field of International Relations, this book fails to give any substantial insight into the problems plaguing Indian society.

The writer successfully provides a detailed account of India’s internal problems such as Naxalism, casteism and communalism. However, it falls short of providing a detailed exposition of how international actors fuel these disturbances. An example of this could be China’s role in the Naxalite movement in the country. Moreover, apart from just scratching the surface, there is a lack of proper explanation as to how internal problems destabilize the country’s security.

In the following literature, Jonathan Mead claims that the Indian armed forces are facing obsolescence, while failing to give a detailed account to the reader, as to why he feels so and based on what sources he claims this. More importantly, he seemingly fails to cover the other side of the debate, as he falls short of talking about how the armed forces have initiated changes to not only ensure their relevance but also act as an effective force. It is important to shed light on these details as India only recently became conscious of the need for strategic defense as a nation. At the same time, there was also a great deal of bureaucratic inflexibility in the Armed Forces structure and no tradition of true cross-service consideration.

Jonathan Mead has chosen to bring to an end his book, by reverberating the words of the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, ‘Tryst with Destiny’. The idiom makes us reflect and question the path the country has traversed over the last seven decades. Despite all the hardships, India is a remarkable country. Drought, flood, famine and discrimination are akin to the ten Biblical Plagues, which according to the Old Testament, God cursed upon Egypt. Maybe India is cursed, for only God can create conditions as challenging as those facing India.

The one recurring thought is if India can truly emerge on the international scene as a global power? Jonathan Mead believes that the global distribution of power continues to shift and it is likely that India will join an elite grouping of countries that will inherit the lion’s share of global relative power. Grandiose predictions for China and India acting as bipolar hegemons are unlikely to come to fruition. Instead, the globe will be dominated by five powers plus one federal union.

The end of the book does create a sort of dissonance for the reader, as the author throughout the book adopts a critical approach towards Indian national security and at the very end of the book strikes an optimistic note, by stressing that India’s time in the darkness is dissipating and that India’s new day will be brilliant


  1. Mead, J. (2010). Human Security: Indosapien . In Indian national security: misguided men and guided missiles (pp. 27–42). essay, KW Publishers.
  2. Mead, J. (2010). Caste: Purity and Pollution. In Indian national security: misguided men and guided missiles (pp. 47–53). essay, KW Publishers.
  3. Mead, J. (2010). Armed Forces: Guns or Butter. In Indian national security: misguided men and guided missiles (pp. 97–126). essay, KW Publishers.
  4. Mead, J. (2010). Nuclear Weapons: Dr. Strangelove. In Indian national security: misguided men and guided missiles (pp. 130–140). essay, KW Publishers.
  5. Freedman, L. (2007). Britain and the Revolution in Military Affairs. The Changing Face of Military Power, 14(1), 55`-66.
  6. Nightingale, F. (1864). How people may live and not die in India. Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green.
  7. Sen, A. K. (2007). Identity and violence. Penguin Books.
  8. World Health Organisation, & WHO, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 1–58 (2008). Geneva; WHO.