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Think Tanks: The Intellectual Capital by Dr Arvind Gupta

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Author: Dr Arvind Gupta
Worldwide, the governments are engaging think tanks to get inputs in policy making. This trend is well developed in the US and Europe. Although a similar trend is emerging in India, the gap between policy making in think tanks is still wide and marked by mutual apprehensions.

Think tanks are playing an increasingly important role worldwide in tracking global, regional and national security trends as well as in influencing policies of governments and multi-lateral institutions. The onset of the Internet and social media technologies has provided them global reach.

Historically, think tanks have grown from the need felt in the US and the West for policy research on a variety of issues including security issues. Think tanks research has complemented the International Relations (IR) research in the universities. The US and the UK have some of the oldest think tanks. Brookings Institution was set up in 1916, RAND Corporation in 1948, the United States Institute of Peace in 1984 and the IISS in London in 1958. In the Soviet Union, the Academy of Sciences used to have a number of influential institutes which provided policy inputs to the party and the government. Some of these think tanks continue to exist even today. China is now catching up too with a number of think tanks beginning to make their mark. In Germany, leading political parties have their own foundations and think tanks.



Think tanks claim a number of achievements to their credit. For instance, the RAND Corporation says that it has contributed to the development of doctrine of nuclear deterrence by ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ (MAD), the concept of a ‘winnable’ nuclear exchange, the technique of ‘systems analysis’, ‘artificial intelligence’ as well as ‘war-gaming’ concepts. Brookings Institution claims to have contributed with ideas like the Marshal Plan and even the United Nations.  The IISS holds that it was influential in setting up structures to manage the cold war. It organises the Shangri-la Dialogue every year where security experts from various countries gather to discuss the global and regional security environment. Several other institutions across the world hold annual dialogues of this nature.

A number of think tanks have been set up in India in the last few years. Though young, many of them have gained reputation in national and international circles and are doing useful work in policy analysis arena. Foreign think tanks like the IISS, Brookings and RAND Corporation have also set up chapters in India.

Indigenous IDSA

In India, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) was set up in 1965 on the initiative of Gen JN Choudhary, Chief of Army Staff and Shri YB Chavan, Defence Minister, in the wake of the 1962 and 1965 Wars. It has since played an important role in debating strategic issues. The IDSA was at the forefront of nuclear debate in India. Its scholars contributed to national security debate in the eighties and the nineties. Since 1999, the IDSA has been organising an annual Asian Security Conference (ASC), which has attracted renowned scholars from all over the world. The ASC provides a forum for exchange of views on emerging trends in Asian security. The Institute also anchors the annual India-ASEAN Delhi Dialogue.

The growing role of think tanks in global security needs to be appropriately contextualised. The forces of globalisation, aided by the rapid developments in technologies, are beginning to change the international order and affect socio-economic and political structures. The situation is in a flux and the contours of the emerging order are not yet clear. The expansion of the concept of security has been rapid and now includes a variety of non-traditional security issues along with the traditional military security issues. The governments are faced with the problem of comprehending the change, conceptualising the new world order and devising policies. We have seen in the last few years how the US, Russia, China, EU, ASEAN, African Union and a host of other countries and regional groupings are readjusting their policies in an effort to come to grips with the changing power equations. Lately, the US has come up with its policy of “pivot to Asia” and the Chinese have promoted the idea of “peaceful rise”, “harmonious development” and “China Dream”.
The think tanks are contributing to the development and propagation of such ideas. In brief, the think tanks play the following role in global security:
1. Focus on comprehending the global change through empirical and analytical studies; building scenarios;
2. Offer policy suggestions; raise awareness about different issues; and influence the policy making processes;
3. Interact with a variety of non-governmental stakeholders in security studies; monitor and critique the government policies; and help in the growth of strategic community including the students;

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