January 18, 2010 1:56:12 am
Since there is to be a change in the incumbency of the post of the National Security Adviser (NSA),this is an appropriate time to review the working of the National Security Council (NSC) and the NSA in the light of the experience of the last eleven years.
The NSC of the NDA government was not modelled on the recommendations of the Pant Committee but was completely recast to suit the requirements of Prime Minister Vajapayee,who needed an innovator NSA who was also his personal confidante. It was a Kissinger-Brzezinski model. Though the two subsequent NSAs attempted to sustain that model,Dr. Manmohan Singh is his own innovator,and he does not have such an equation with his NSAs. In the last five years,radical changes have taken place in our national security environment. Internal security now compels far greater attention.
Consequently,the Ministry of Home Affairs is about to reinvent itself in the role of Ministry of Homeland Security. Total intelligence coordination encompassing internal,external,technical and satellite intelligence has become an imperative,calling for a Director of National Intelligence (DNI) reporting to both the home minister and prime Minister. 26/11 proves that it is not enough to react to a crisis,the NSC members should be regularly briefed and sensitised to security situations so that they can proactively react to anticipated crises.The challenge of China calls for coordination with regard to domestic and external economic policies,international trade,infrastructure development,expansion of higher education and technology and defence and security capabilities.The need for coordination in our internal and external security policies with other major powers of the world has also increased.
Today the NSC functions as an overall approval and sanctioning committee of the Cabinet for specific proposals. The NSA is cast in the role of its executive. Too many additional tasks have accumulated since the NDA regime and it is not possible for the NSA to function effectively in that role with the present areas of responsibility,though the incumbent has done as much justice to his responsibility as possible. His role should ideally be to coordinate policies of the PM relating to national security,monitor their implementation and bring the shortfalls in performance to the attention of the whole council. He should also get the councils directions for policy initiatives and monitor their implementation by the ministry concerned. While he could be an inspirer of policies and plans through the prime minister,his undertaking executive roles is at the cost of forward planning and coordination and monitoring of implementation of national security policies. Too many executive coordinating responsibilities,such as chairing the executive committee of nuclear command authority,coordinating the intelligence agencies etc. come at the high price of not being able to do full justice to them. The basic assumption underlying the NSC is that executive responsibility for policies doesnt rest only with the ministers and that they should all work together in implementing national security policy.
The result of the present model is that all the NSC ministers do not operate on a single assessment of threat or in full appreciation of the interlinkages of the policies of the four ministries which form the apex of national security management. Such coordination is effected in the US not only through the formal council meetings chaired by the president but through meetings of the principals (cabinet members) with the NSA coordinating. There are also meetings between deputies. Such lack of coordination in India leads to a situation when there was a National Security Guard but it did not have a dedicated airlift. There is hardly the realisation that arms purchases are not matters of selecting equipment on the basis of lowest tender but the building up of our strategic capabilities through partnerships with the major powers concerned. The role of the national security adviser is to ensure that each national security ministry is fully briefed on the overall policy and acts accordingly. If such a system had been in place there should be no further complaints about our defence procurements.
The present model gives too high a profile to the NSA,and impinges on the effectiveness of his role.While Kissinger and Brzezinski had high profile roles and were innovators focussing on one policy (Kissinger on China and Brzezenski on Afghanistan),they were not the ideal NSAs for the system. In India,Brajesh Mishra was resented by most Cabinet ministers. Cabinet secretaries are not resented since they play a low profile role. Condeleezza Rice was a prima donna as the Secretary of State and so was Colin Powell. But they played a low profile role as NSAs.
For the new NSA ,much of the executive role for intelligence will shift out of his hands and so also internal security management,which will shift to the revamped home ministry.But it is necessary to ensure that all intelligence inputs of DNI are routed to the PM through him. The NSA should continue to have his coordinating role in respect of internal security in order to apprise the NSC of the continuing developments in the internal security situation. Our cabinet system functions on the basis that each minister is autonomous in respect of his own jurisdiction.The NSC concept is based on the recognition that on national security,the ministries need to be coordinated and that responsibility vests with NSA. Shedding of various executive responsibilities and assuming an expanded coordinating role will make the NSA more effective and permit the PM to implement his strategic vision better.
Civil servants have a preference for hands- on administrative roles.The purpose of NSC is to function as a thinktank for the strategic advancement of the nation. Such visions have to come from the political leadership.The most important challenges currently facing India are the rise of China and the new industrial revolution consequent on climate change on the external front,and terrorism and problems of left-wing extremism,ethnic sessionism and good and effective governance on the internal front. For an NSA or NSC to tackle this,India needs more thinking and planning,and a hands-on administration.
The writer is a senior defence analyst.
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