The Importance of Webinars for National Security
Today, in the Covid world, webinars have replaced seminars and thereby, expanded the number of participants in the exchange of ideas. Typically, seminars on national security are forums for selected academics, former practitioners and other experts to share thoughts on a given theme. They usually take stock of the latest developments and assess future trajectories. Therefore, these seminar proceedings are aimed as an input into policy formulation.
Recently three think tanks, namely the Institute of Contemporary Studies Bangalore (ICSB), Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) and Press Institute of India (PII) organised a series of webinars on “Deciphering China”.
The first set of webinars was organised against the backdrop of the developments on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and covered a wide range of topics to comprehend Beijing’s policies. These included border security, maritime affairs, information wars and other areas of international relations. The second set concentrated on cyber security of India. The successful completion of these events notwithstanding, it is important to reflect on the larger purposes these webinars can serve.
The webinar had some of the best minds from the government, private sector and media discuss their thoughts on emergent China threats. Two important takeaways were: firstly, the concept of warfare and national security has undergone a significant change. In modern wars, the battleground is the cyberspace and the centre of gravity lies in the identification of the right capabilities, requirements and vulnerabilities of the target. In such a scenario, war is not just a state activity, but demands the involvement of the public and business entities.
Numerous instances lately highlight the significance of a minor human error in compromising both data security and economic safety. For those unaware, a simple google search on the WannaCry and NotPetya cyber-attacks will suffice to explain the intensity of the threat posed by both state and non-state actors. Today, as most people’s livelihood has moved to the online platform,
the need to educate our society has been more pressing than ever. Most organisations have opted for brief orientations and mock tests to check the security awareness of their personnel. But in an everyday environment, it requires strict discipline to avert a single wrong move. It is for this purpose that webinars where discussions on threats followed by “table-top exercises”
play a critical role in enabling the audiences to understand the seriousness and sensitivities of cyberspace.
The second takeaway from the webinar was that, notwithstanding the magnitude of the threat and potential damages it could cause, national and organisational leadership has failed to wake up to the reality. Resource allocations are still guided by motives other than security. At the national level, electoral calculations appear to be the guiding principle, whilst profit-motive dominates business priorities. For instance, almost all the panellists held the view that the sudden surge in the Chinese threat made New Delhi oblivious to the western threat in cyberspace. To capture their arguments in
one sentence: “Cisco cannot be the answer to Huawei”. What is required, therefore, is indigenous efforts to develop local systems that provide not just
security but also “assurance”.
This can be achieved only when local talent is harnessed and encouraged through partnerships built between universities, the private sector and the government. India’s national security in this regard must truly and entirely be an indigenous effort. The webinars have amply displayed that there is no dearth of talent in the country. What is missing is the lack of political will to harness this talent for national advantage. It is mainly to rectify this lacuna that more such webinars need to be held and participation extended to civil society at large. After all, in a democracy, when there is a lack of pull factor from the government, it is inevitable that a push factor is generated from civil society. Right now, the lack of security consciousness has failed to ignite public demand for investments in the cyber sector.
To provide a context to this argument it is worth recalling that the demand for boycotting Chinese goods and services in the aftermath of the border clashes arose from the Indian citizenry. Now, imagine the kind of public interest and response that can be generated by developing awareness of the cyber threats that China poses.
Therefore, it is necessary that more such webinars are conducted with participation open to civil society. Presently, there have been several such webinars being hosted and uploaded on social media platforms like YouTube. But this effort is insufficient. Organisers will need to develop better marketing strategies to welcome larger audiences. The methods of conduct can also be constantly improvised to engage the audience’s curiosities to the best extent possible. Only by doing so can India manage to tackle its enemies effectively.
In fact, one of the presentations comprehensively traced how China attained its present international power by building bridges between the government, military, academia, research institutes and international partners over time. Today, India’s biggest asset as well as challenge is its demographic profile. In the next two decades, it is estimated that India’s working age population is expected to hit 59 percent. This also comes at a time when nationalism is at its highest amongst Indians and a desire to be part of the national security project is exuberant. In such a scenario, it is crucial that linkages are formed between the government, private entities, universities and civil society. The cyber domain is the most promising platform for the nation to collaborate against the foreign threats; and in this regard, webinars hosted by knowledgeable institutions can act as nodal points for generation of ideas and oversight.
(The writer holds a PhD in Intelligence Studies from the University of Leicester, U.K.)