National Security Council (NSC)- An Eyewash?

04 Dec, 1998    ·   164

A. K. Verma points out that the newly constructed NSC is beset with problems right from its inception.

A National Security  Council  has finally been born, It was a caesarian operation. There were indications that the  embryo would be aborted; but the momentum of the Jaswant Singh - Talbott talks brought it to life. The baby born,  however is quite deformed .



Two fundamentals are absolutely imperative for a National Security Council. It has to have a mechanism for  thinking, and another for decision-making. The NSC row constituted will have serious problems in both areas.



The Council will have the Prime Minister at the top with ministers for Home, Defense, Finance External Affairs and the Dy  Chairman of the Planning Commission as it’s members. Below It will be a three-tiered structure, consisting of the Strategic Policy Group, the National Security Advisory Board, and the Joint Intelligence Committee as its Secretariat. The National Security Adviser, who is also the Principal Secretary to the PM , will be the link between the NSC and its subordinate constituents.



The  thinking process is intended to be carried out  in the Strategic Policy Group by seventeen members who are Secretaries to key ministries, and include the three Chief of  Staff, RBI Governor, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister and Chairman, JIC. This group is no different from an enlarged Committee of Secretaries, which is already in existence their deliberations are not known to be distinguished  by intellectual freshness or innovative depth, or most members of the Committee of Secretaries are innocent of holistic conceptions.  They usually display predetermined loyalties and a tenacity for departmental attachments. They excel in turf  battles . The level of thinking and expertise needed for a body like the NSC is simply not be the endowment of most of these luminaries.



It is the National Security Advisory Board on which persons of eminence in various fields outside the Government will serve, which really qualifies to be the think tank for the NSC. However, one must keep the realities of life in view, while pondering over its efficiency and value. In India the reports of most such Boards keep gathering dust, perhaps the report of the task force set up to formulate this NSC five months ago would have met the same fate, but for the imperatives created by the continuing Jaswant Singh- Talbott exchanges. Further more, it may be noted that the Indian bureaucracy is extremely  reluctant to share information even amongst themselves. Will they permit transmission of intelligence or information to outsiders in the National Security Advisory Board , if the past is any guide, the answer must be a NO. Bereft of key inputs, the product of such a Board cannot be very different from what is already available in the media or to academia.



The Joint Intelligence Committee has been a useful organisation for evaluation and estimates. Its studies do represent the combined wisdom of  various Government agencies. But it is one thing to produce a thought-provoking report, and quite another to have it influence minds which should be receptive and eager. Overtime the JIC has broadened its areas of inquiry to throw light on the stature it enjoys with Government . It has remained  without a head for almost a JIC is to be revamped to handle its new role of a Secretariat for the NSC. The speed with which this revamping takes place and how it is effected  will indicate how serious the Government is about this NSC.



Decision making has been vested in a body cabinet of cabinet Ministers  handed by the PM. This body is no different from the Cabinet Committee for Political Affairs, which has sometimes functioned in the country. Its shortcomings would therefore continue. Often, a strong PM has been a lone decision maker, with others in the group nodding their heads in agreement. Many flawed decisions were thus made in the past for which a heavy price had to be paid.



The nomination of the Principal Secretary to the PM to be also the National Security Advisor, provides the final proof that this NSC is not expected to function, but is only intended to be a showpiece. The Principle Secretary to the PM and National Security Advisor are two full-time, heavy- duty jobs. While the present incumbent in the Principal Secretary’s assignment is a very highly rated official, the National Security Advisor should have been a separate individual. By combining the two posts in one person a bureaucratic gridlock has been created. The Cabinet Secretary , who heads the civil services of the country , will play second fiddle as just another member of the Strategic Policy Group.



Foreigners have often commented that India lacks a National Security Culture creation of such a NSC reconfirms this view