National security council – Panacea or pipedream

Combat Journal | Aug 15, 1996

National security strategy requires a holistic approach, clear concepts for determining vital national security objectives and policies, a viable framework for the successful implementation of the policies, constant monitoring of the security environment to anticipate and pre-empt or neutralize emerging threats, dynamic crisis management and credible damage limitation. As the nation Stands poised at the threshold of a new millennium, the present generation of politicians, soldiers, diplomats, bureaucrats, academics, media-persons and other intellectuals owes it to posterity to evolve an institutionalised structure by way of a National Security Council to come to grips with the threats to national security and to recommend comprehensive policies for a measured response, so as to ensure the unity and integrity of India, as also its unfettered development.

The Siege Within and Turbulence Without

With alarming regularity, screaming headlines inform:-the nation that all is not well on the security front. The arms drop at Purulia, the Suspicious flights at Lakhimpur, the bomb blasts at Lajpat Nagar in New Delhi and near Alwar in Rajasthan, the illegal overflights by foreign-owned AN-26 transport aircraft and IAF Mig fighters being scrambled to force them to land, the arms caches being discovered at diverse places from Jammu to Kanyakumari and Jodhpur to Agartala, the dhows plying the Arabian Sea ferrying assault rifles and rocket launchers for clandestine droppings on the Gujarat coastline, are all pointers to a rapidly deteriorating security environment.
The ongoing insurgency in Kashmir Valley and Doda in the North, the ULFA-Bodo imbroglio in Assam and the NSCN-led multi-outfit militancy in Nagaland, Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram in the Northeast, are a constant threat to the Country’s territorial integrity and a major drain on the exchequer’s meagre resources for development. The latent militancy in Punjab, an incipient terrorist movement in Telangana, a restive LTTE-dominated coastal belt in Tamil Nadu and frequent violent eruptions in Gorkhaland, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand in Support of ethnic aspirations for autonomy, also go not augur well for long-term peace and prosperity.
Though there is a perceptible change for the better in the situation prevailing on the Line of Actual Control(LAC) with China, there appears to be no let up in the daily fire fights along the Actual Ground Position Line(AGPL) at Siachen Glacier and in the incessant struggle on the Line of Control(LC) with Pakistan. The unending quest for power in Afghanistan with the Taliban making major gains In Its strident march towards Kabul, Irans slow recovery from its long brush with Islamic fundamentalism, the MQM-inspired conflagration in the Sind region of Pakistan and simmering discontent in Baluchistan, the burgeoning movement for democracy in Myanmar and the potent military threat posed by the Karen rebels, seething undercurrents of tension in Tibet due to China’s Strong arm tactics and the stubborn resistance of LTTE despite the liberation of the Jaffna Peninsula by the Sri Lankan army, are all destabilising influences in the geo-strategic environment in the Southern Asian region and nave a direct bearing on India’s security.

Need for Synergy in National Security Affairs

Besides its seemingly permanent deployment on the LAC, the LC and the AGPL., the army is frequently called out to quell internal disturbances and to assist the civil administration to maintain law and order. While at many places paramilitary forces operate under direct command of the local army formation, at other places the army, paramilitary forces and units of central police organizations(CPOs) function in close proximity to each other to achieve the same goal. All of them depend immensely on the intelligence agencies for real-time inputs based on which operations can be planned and executed. The intelligence agencies are many In number and have been raised to fulfil diverse functions and, in the absence of the coordinated utilisation of resources, are unable to meet the varied requirements.
In the present era of an “open skies” policy, effective surveillance and safeguarding of the nation’s airspace has become a complex task which requires joint policy planning and close coordination between the Indian Air Force and various civil agencies. The country’s coastline and the Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ) require a constant watch against smugglers, poachers and encroachers and, consequently, a coordinated joint approach between the Indian Navy and the Coastguard. The off-shore platforms and other assets of the ONGC also need surveillance and protection. The nation’s atomic energy assets are susceptible to sabotage and terrorist strikes and in the case of a successful attack, disaster levels are likely to reach monumental proportions.
The newest threat is in the realm of “cyberwarfare”. With increasing reliance on automation and networking in the commercially important banking, railways, telecommunications, civil aviation, stock exchanges and other important sectors, there is now a viable and potentially crippling threat from the “weapons” of cyberwarfare to the nation’s commerce and industry. Clearly, there is an inescapable need to closely coordinate the functioning of the multiple agencies and organizations forming part of the national security apparatus so as to achieve the desired results in a synergistic manner with minimum resources, without political or diplomatic embarrassment and without causing irreparable damage to the delicate fabric of national integrity and the psyche of the affected people.
National security strategy requires a holistic approach, clear concepts for determining vital national security objectives and policies, a viable framework for the successful implementation of the policies, constant monitoring of the security environment to anticipate and pre-empt or neutralize emerging threats, dynamic crisis management and credible damage limitation.
Given the multifarious bodies involved in the management of national security, such as the Defence Ministry, the Ministry of Home Affairs. the External Affairs Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Oflice, the Department of Atomic Energy, CPOs.
intelligence agencies, state governments and State police forces, the Civil Defence organization and many others, it is imperative that the overall responsibility be entrusted to a bipartisan apex body with over-arching control.
Undoubtedly, the need of the hour is to establish a viable National Security Council(NSC) and there appears to be an overwhelming national consensus on the matter, cutting across the political divide. However, there are widely divergent views on the role. the organization, the responsibilities and the statutory powers to be given to the council. Since the issue concerns a vital aspect of national life, it deserves deep and serious consideration and early resolution. It also deserves an unprejudiced approach and the need to desist from attempts at empire building and gaining turf.

Defence Policy and National Security Doctrine

In order to perceive a viable structure for the NSC it is necessary to understand the methodology for the evolution of India’s defence policy and security doctrine. As Is well known, there is no formal written document on India’s defence policy. However, the Ministry of Defence is of the view that the policy has been articulated clearly and unambiguously through various policy statements over the years. Replying to the debate in the Lok Sabha on Demands for Grants of the Ministry of Defence, on 10 May 1995, the then Prime Minister, Mr. P. V. Narsimha Rao, stated: “We do not have a document called India’s National Defence Policy. But we have got several guidelines which are followed, strictly followed and observed….. This policy is not merely rigid in the sense that it has been written down, but these are the guidelines, these are the objectives, these are the matters which are always kept in view while conducting our defence policy…”
According to the Ministry of Defence, the following aspects “fully depict the national security interests”:
– Defence of national territory over land.
sea and air, encompassing among others the inviolability of our land borders, island territories, offshore assets and our maritime trade routes.
– To secure an internal environment whereby our Nation State is insured against any threat to its unity or progress on the basis of religion. language, ethnicity or socio-economic dissonance.
– To enable our country to exercise a degree of influence over the nations In our immediate neighbourhood to promote harmonious relationship in tune with our national interests.
– To be able to effectively contribute towards regional and international stability.
– To possess an effective out-of-the-country contingency capability to prevent destabilisation of the small nations in our immediate neighbourhood that could have adverse security implications for us.

In this age of global terrorism, the spectre of briefcase-sized nuclear weapons, narcotics and drugs trafficking, arms smuggling, starvation related deprivation and mass migrations and even cyberwarfare, national security cannot encompass merely external threats from nation states and internal disorders. Today, national security considerations impinge on virtually all aspects of national life including trade and commerce. {he national security strategy should necessarily be all- encompassing, much wider in scope than at any time in the past, reflective of the continuously changing world order and the geo-strategic environment and flexible enough to cope with the emerging threats. Such a strategy can only be drawn up by an independent body like the National Security Council.

The Stillborn National Security Council of 1990

The present organization for the higher direction of war, including the various cabinet committees and the inter-services organizations, is too well known to merit detailed recounting. The many limitations of the present apparatus are also well known. The concept of civilian supremacy over the armed forces implies the supremacy of the elected representatives of the people, that is, the political leadership. However, today it has degenerated to bureaucratic control over the armed forces. India is perhaps the only major democratic country in which the headquarters of the three services are not part of the government, that is of the Ministry of Defence. It was to overcome the many limitations of the present set up for the management of national security that an NSC was eStablished by the V.P.Singh National Front government. The NSC was constituted vide Government Resolution 50/4/18/88-TS dated 24 August 1990. It had the Prime Minister as the Chairman and the Ministers of Defence, Finance, Home and External Affairs as the members. The aim was to “provide a framework in which various aspects pertaining to national security could be viewed in a coordinated manner”.
To provide a broader cross-section of views to the NSC, it was also decided to set up a National Security Advisory Board under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister. The Board was to nave 35 members with all the members of the NSC being permanent invitees. It was also proposed that the Prime Minister may invite other members of the Council of Ministers to attend the meetings of the Board. “The Advisory Board was to assist the National Security Council in the following manner:
– “Provide a broad range of informed views and options for decision making on crucial issues affecting national security”.
– “Comment on the options presented before it for planning responses in the long and near-term on the developing situation and related threat perceptions”.
– “Strive for a consensus and broad underStanding In a non-partisan atmosphere on national security issues to enable continuity of policies and programmes on national security”.
– “Promote better understanding of basic national security issues and problems in the country”.

The Cabinet Secretariat was nominated as the government department responsible for dealing with the NSC. The Chairman of the Joint intelligence Committee was designated as the Secretary of the NSC. While the NSC had one meeting on 5 October 1990, the National security Advisory Board which was required to meet at least twice a year does not appear to nave ever been constituted and certainly never met even once. soon the government changed and that was the end of the country’s first NSC. However, it was not the end of the concept of the NSC and concerned members of Parliament Kept the issue alive throughout the tenure of the 10th Lok Sabha and the term of the Narsimha Rao government.
It is worth examining as to why the NSC, an important, duly constituted organ of national security, became defunct with a change of government. Prime Minister Narsimha Rao informed the Lok Sabha on 28 April 1993 that, “In view of the need for speedy decision making, confidentiality and flexibility relating to strategic and security related matters affecting the nation, the setting up of a formal institutional mechanism such as the National Security Council may not prove to be very successful ….. The need for a National Security Council for certain long-term purposes is being felt and I personally think that this has to be set up…..”
In a written reply to the Standing Committee on Defence in the 10th Lok Sabha, the Ministry of Defence stated that, “The original proposal had the drawbacks of duplication of structure, non-provision of interface of the NSC with the existing official and political structure and multitiered structures which hindered speedy and flexible decision making”. In reply to a discussion on Demands for Grants (1995-96) of the Ministry of Defence in the Lok Sabha on 16 May 1995, the Prime Minister stated that a thorough review of the NSC had been carried out and that the Ministry had come to the conclusion that a number of changes would be required because:
– The NSC was not much different from the CCPA: it was a kind of mechanical addition and not a functional addition.
– The Advisory Board appeared to be somewhat unwieldy and discussions in such a large body would tend to lose focus and make the whole exercise blurred and confusing.
The Prime Minister was of the opinion that consultations with experts outside the government, including members of Parliament, and experts In academic and other institutions, were important and advantageous but that such consultation was best done in small, well-knit groups with persons having specialised Knowledge or expertise of that specific subject concerning national security.

The NSC Concept: A Critique

George Tanham of Rand Corporation, who has stated that “India has not had a tradition of strategic thinking”, quotes sources in New Delhi to say that, “India has no strategy, that no government institutions exist to make it and that Indians do not think strategically…..” There is considerable merit in this argument. The fault lies in keeping all national security issues under wraps — the “holy cow” syndrome.
It is imperative that an issue as important as that of the structure and responsibilities of the NSC should be openly debated in Parliament, academia, the media and within the armed forces. In the words of Mr. Jaswant Singh, BJP member of the Lok Sabha, “It should not be left merely to the household of the Ministry of Defence or a few other concerned organizations to come to whatever view they think is most accurate”. However, even though five years have already been lost, there has been no major public debate or discussion of the concept of the NSC. Mr. Jaswant Singh is of the view that, the problem, of course is (that) too many vested interests are too fearful of losing out in a NSC-type of architecture. Hence, they do not support it.”
Former Foreign Secretary, Mr. A.P. Venkateswaran, states that the NSC should be a permanent body. He writes: “While setting up the National Security Council, it is important to ensure that it does not become a colourless organization consisting of the same people responsible within the bureaucratic machinery and the political leadership, if it is to provide what is urgently needed, namely new thinking”. As President Eisenhower of the United States had stressed in a memo to the members of the newly constituted United States NSC, their function should be to “seek, with their background and experience, the most statesmanlike solution to the problems of national security, rather than to reach solutions which represent merely a compromise of departmental positions.”
General K. Sundarji, PVSM, former Chief of the Army Staff, warns that bureaucratic ploys to create minefields for the smooth functioning of the proposed NSC should be carefully avoided.
He describes the NSC of 1990 as “ad hoc, its personnel double-hatted and with no dedicated Staff….. This will ensure that bureaucratically uncomfortable propositions are quietly but effectively killed and the comfortable status quo continues.” Such concerns need to be clearly addressed while formulating a structure for the new NSC.
It would be appropriate to analyse the United states NSC model as it is the best known and has progressively evolved over 50 years to its present unique status. The NSC was created by the National Security Act of 1947 along with the (unified) Department of Defence, comprising the erstwhile Departments of War and Navy, and the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA). The functions of the NSC are to:
– Advise the President with respect to the domestic, foreign and military policies relating to national security so as to enable the military services and other departments and agencies of government to cooperate more effectively in matters involving national security.
– Assess and appraise the objectives, commitments and risks of the US in relation to actual and potential military power, in the interests of national security.
– Consider policies on matters of common interest to the departments and agencies of the government concerned with national security.

The United States NSC is a statutory body and is headed by the National Security Adviser.
He advises the US President on all aspects of national security. Over the years, the NSC has also become a crisis management centre. The NSC has no role to play in the execution of domestic and foreign policies.
It is self-evident that the NSC should be an autonomous body. National security is too important an issue to be trifled with by creating a ‘placebo’ organization merely to Keep Parliament and the public happy. Mr. K.Subrahmanyam, a defence analyst of standing, writes, “National security management its splintered among the Prime Minister’s Office and the defence, home and finance ministries… These weaknesses could have been overcome if we had a National Security Council, a body which inspite (sic) of changes in government, would provide continuity and be responsible for defining the country’s security objectives and overseeing their implementation.”
According to Mr. K. Subrahmanyam, there are fundamental differences between the goals and objectives of a nation and its national security policies which concern threat perceptions, threat management, force structure, equipment policy, defence infrastructure and foreign policy support to national security. He writes, “Unfortunately since independence, in India this distinction between goals and objectives and the policy framework to achieve them has been overlooked and many of our problems of national security management flow from that basic misunderstanding”.
The NSC will have to operate within the political environment prevailing in the country, the constraints of the Cabinet system and parliamentary form of government and the limitations of the bureaucratic establishment. The Structure of the NSC must, therefore, take the “ground realities” into account. Some of the factors meriting attention are as follows:
– Since 1980, India has had a full-time Defence Minister for only seven years; for the remaining period, the Prime Minister has also held the defence portfolio. The Prime Minister’s ability to devote time for defence matters Is unquestionably limited.
– Parliamentary democracy makes heavy demands on a Minister’s time for attending Parliament, steering bills, answering questions and participating in the meetings of various committees. A Minister also has numerous political commitments, both personal and those mandated by his party.
– Political instability spells a doom for national security as hostile nations can take advantage of the resultant uncertainty and delay in decision making and so can insurgent groups and terrorist outfits.
– Only an autonomous body, with members of proven integrity and probity, can act as a vigilant watchdog over matters related to national security.

Recommended Organization for National Security Council (NSC)

Ideally, the NSC should be an autonomous, statutory, constitutional body such as the Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. It should be headed by a National Security Adviser(NSA) of cabinet rank who should be appointed by the President tor a fixed, non-extendable term of five years. His appointment must be ratified by a simple majority of both the houses of Parliament, thus ensuring widespread acceptability.
Besides the NSA, there should be six other permanent members of the core group of the NSC. Two of them should be serving volunteer officers of Lieutenant General or equivalent rank from the three services who are approved for the post of GOC-in-C/FOC-in-C/AOC-In-C and choose instead to join the NSC. One of them should be the Secretary General of the NSC. There should be one volunteer member each from the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Foreign Service with two years or more remaining for retirement. The fifth member should be a serving Director General of one of intelligence agencies, central police organizations (CPOs) or from the paramilitary forces. The sixth member should be a distinguished defence scientist or an outstanding professor from the international relations or management department of a reputed university or institution, or a person of standing from the media. All the members should have the status of a Secretary to the Government of India.
The following should be ex-officio members of the full NSC, in addition to the core group:
– The Chiefs of Staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
– The Defence, Home and Foreign Secretaries.
– Member Secretary of the Planning Commission.
– Secretary, Defence Production and the Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister.
– Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, Secretary, Department of Space and Secretary, Department of Electronics.
– Director General, Defence Planning Staff.
– Director General, Intelligence Bureau.
– Director General, Research and Analysis Wing.
– Director Generals of Military, Naval and Air Intelligence.
– Director, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
– Director, Centre for Policy Research.
– Director Generals of Border Security Force, Rashtriya Rifles, Assam Rifles and Central Reserve Police Force.
– Director General, Territorial Army.

Besides the permanent and ex-officio members, the NSC may invite members of the Council of Ministers, other bureaucrats and serving armed forces officers to attend its meetings on an as required basis. It may also invite consultants, including retired armed forces officers, bureaucrats and diplomats.
The NSC must have its own permanent Secretariat and its own budget. While the core group may meet as often as necessary, at the discretion of the NSA, the general body of the NSC must meet at least once In every quarter to deliberate over important matters pertaining to national security and to approve the position papers prepared by the NSC before these are presented to the government for consideration.
The question of overall control remains. Taking all diverse aspects into consideration, perhaps the best possible solution would be for the NSA to report directly to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Committee for Political Affairs.
Parliamentary control over the NSC can be ensured by making the NSC answerable to the Standing Committee on Defence, which could be re-designated as the Standing Committee on National Security. Since the NSC would Nave mainly an advisory role, the formulation of policy would still remain the responsibility of the Cabinet. [he NSC would ensure that well considered views and options are available to the Government as an independent input.
It would be preferable to constitute the NSC as an autonomous body, rather than as a department of the Government of India. Although it would be desirable to give some executive powers to the NSC, particularly in the spheres of counter-insurgency, anti-terrorism, anti-narcotics trafficking, anti-hijacking and cyber-warfare, in the early years of the constitution of the NSC (before the concept of an overarching body for national security has fully matured), it may not be appropriate to do so. As such, the prerogative for executive action must remain with the line ministries.
A National Security Council, constituted as recommended above, would act as a nodal and a pivotal agency to assist the government to counter the large and varied emerging threats to national! security in a more coordinated and comprehensive manner than has been possible till now. A great deal has already been lost by not having an apex body to advise the government on the formulation of national strategy to counter regional and global threats to India’s security in the conventional, nuclear, trade, industrial and cyber-wartare fields. As the nation Stands poised at the threshold of a new millennium, the present generation of politicians, soldiers, diplomats, bureaucrats, academics, media-persons and other intellectuals owes it to posterity to evolve an institutionalised structure by way of a National Security Council to come to grips with the threats to national security and to recommend comprehensive policies for a measured response, so as to ensure the unity and integrity of India, as also its unfettered development.