NSC: Why It Has Failed To Come About In India

17 Apr, 1998    ·   78

A. K. Verma discusses previous failed efforts to form a National Security Council.

Few knowledgeable persons will disagree that the failure to arrive at correct decisions has been responsible for several problems that have bedeviled India ever since it achieved independence 50 years ago. The list starts with the Kashmir issue and can go on to events relating to the misreading of China’s intentions in 1962, alienation of Sikhs, and the declaration of emergency and dispatch of troops to Sri Lanka. No doubt the concerned Indian leaders could have taken the advice of some knowledgeable persons. But these decisions were in reality made ad hoc, uninformed by expert advice, and with insufficient awareness about their long-term impact.



Early in the last decade the Government woke to the fact that such ad-hocism did not result in correct policies and started groping for a mechanism which would enable the authorities to arrive at well-integrated decisions after their nuance has been expertly examined and all implications fully evaluated. The quest for such a mechanism still continues.



Actually the problem starts with the top political leadership itself. Whilst all would agree that maintenance of national security is the fundamental duty of every Government, the concept of national security remains undefined and unfocused. The result is that no government in India has come out with a pervasive and self-sufficient national security doctrine.



The political executive can thus be faulted for not having provided the required impetus and direction for evolving this national security doctrine, and setting up a mechanism for the purpose. But perhaps the larger blame lies with the entrenched bureaucracy, which saw this idea as a threat to its prerogative and jealously guarded jurisdictions. It has, therefore, not allowed any arrangement that would erode its continued supremacy over the system. This approach is totally anachronistic and self-defeating. In fact, this attitude of the bureaucracy is a greater menace than the absence of a political will among the political elite. For, if the bureaucracy is allowed to have its way, it will never allow a mechanism to be created that will purposively and truly serve the interests of national security.



The bureaucracy in India does not comprehend the national security process. The reason is simple. There has been no national security process in the country, except in a very rudimentary form. Therefore, there has been no opportunity for them to acquire any worthwhile experience. Also, the structure of the bureaucracy being what it is, acquisition of experience is always at a discount.



In the US , functionaries of the National Security Council have nearly always had a lifetime of specialisation behind them. And while bureaucrats are not barred from admittance provided they have the requisite merit, the field is open to anyone and everyone with the required expertise. The NSC there is filled with people with distinguished records in the worlds of academia, law, sciences, services and intelligence. The personnel in the NSC of the USA truly constitute a think tank, which regularly bring up a distillate of options on every security-related issue referred to it. Their recommendations go towards the making of policy. They also act as performance monitors, providing correctives whenever and wherever needed. And yet these personnel are not the makers of decisions; these are made by the President alone. The role of the NSC staff is that of coordination, innovation, and creativity.



The BJP Government, by setting up a Task Force on national security, has given a firm signal about its political will. The job ahead calls for a determined approach on two counts: one, creation of a National Security Council in conformity with the ethos of a parliamentary democracy, which will be able to address effectively the widely varying and complex issues of our security; and two, neutralizing the resistance which will appear from many quarters to the creation of a truly effective structure. All efforts in the past have proved abortive. It is hoped that the BJP’s effort will not meet the same fate.