National Security Council: Role and Function


Lt.Gen.E.A.Vas (Retd)

After World War I (1918), our leaders began demanding freedom from colonial rule. Because they lacked military power, they were forced to confine themselves to the non-military aspects of strategy. Thus the Freedom Movement adopted a non-violent Satyagraha approach. This was a skilful strategy and it was able to confront and survive British military power because of Mahatama Gandhi's moral leadership, and because our opponents were not ruthless barbarians; such a strategy would never have worked against a Stalin or a Hitler.

Lawyers dominated the 1947 political scene. They were well informed about the social, economic and cultural problems of the nation. They were less familiar with politico-military issues. Jawaharlal Nehru took little interest in the Indianisation of the armed forces, recruitment policies and basic concepts of politico-military management. Nehru hoped to create a world where nations, instead of forming groups to act against each other, would learn to shun conflict and settle their disputes in a peaceful manner. He placed his faith in the United Nations (UN). Overlying his idealism was his hatred of war and all things military. Thus, his intellectual make-up lacked an important dimension; he gave no deep thought to politico-military matters. Nehru's disinterest in military affairs affected the thoughts and prejudices of four decades of politicians, intellectuals and civil servants who, taking their cue from him, failed to acquire an adequate understanding of the legitimate role of military force in democratic governance.

We all accept that in a democracy, the military remains apolitical; that the military must always be subordinate to elected political leaders.. History tells us that military force cannot resolve some political issues. The corollary to this is that certain political actions, which are not backed by military force, may not always be effective. But many of our intellectuals and leaders have misconceptions about other basic security issues Any policy which could result in hostilities is a security plan.. Security plans are based on non-military and military factors. It is therefore evident that the armed forces have a legitimate role in the formulation of any national security plan. A false cloak of secrecy, which shrouds security issues prevents public discussion of these matters that should be openly debated. Thus, fundamental concepts and axioms of democratic governance with regard to politico-military decision-making have been ignored for the past many years.

After attaining independence, the government inherited a politico-military defence structure fashioned during the Kitchner-Curzon era. In this colonial system, the army chief and the civil secretariat operated in separate watertight compartments. The army chief was supreme. The navy and air force were token forces headed by junior officers who were subordinates of the army chief. Changes had to be introduced to raise the force levels of the navy and air force, to set up a system by which the three services could be co-ordinated, and to provide for the supremacy of an elected government over the three services. Nehru left these important decisions to Lord Mountbatten.

At that time, because of partition, each of the three Services was being split into two. The residual army was deeply involved in the maintenance of law and order on the eastern and western borders whilst millions of refugees crossed over to either side. In view of the unstable internal situation prevailing, Mountbatten could not suggest many desirable changes Thus he did not recommend the integration of the defence ministry and the three Service headquarters, an essential managerial step, which had been introduced in Britain after World War I. (That aspect of reorganisation will not be discussed in this paper which is confined to the question of the setting up of a National Security Council.)

In a parliamentary-cabinet system of government, the apex political decision-making body is the Cabinet Committee of Political Affairs (CCPA). No major national decision can be made without the consent of this body. The British experience over two World Wars had taught them that the CCPA was too cumbersome to deal with security details in a crisis. After World War I (1918) the government created a sub-committee of the Cabinet, the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC), presided over by the Prime Minister and selected ministers including the defence minister as members; the service chiefs, defence secretary and financial adviser were to be in attendance at all meetings. When first set up in 1923, the step was considered revolutionary by other democracies. For the first time, elected politicians were interacting directly with the military high command in the formulation of security plans, which had till then remained the sole prerogative of the politician and the civilian bureaucrat.

The DCC system worked very well during World War II and impressed the Americans who had no equivalent system to formulate and co-ordinate their strategic plans. They could not copy the DCC in toto, as the American presidential system did not cater for a cabinet composed of elected members. Fortunately, the US Chief of Army Staff, General George Marshal, was an outstanding soldier and administrator. He set up a makeshift Security Council, which functioned under the President as America's equivalent of a DCC. After World War II, this was expanded and restructured as the National Security Council.

Mountbatten, relying on his British experience, recommended that India also have a DCC composed on the same lines as in Britain, with the three Service Chiefs in attendance. Below this would function the Defence Minister's Committee presided over by the Defence Minister with the three chiefs as members.[See Figure 1] These two apex bodies would be serviced by a separate Military Wings to be created as part of the Cabinet Secretariat. The Indian Cabinet accepted these recommendations. It is unlikely many understood the implications of this structure. Nor did many realise the need to integrate the three service headquarters and the defence ministry, proposals which Mountbatten did not press at this stage because of the prevailing internal situation. {This aspect of integration is not discussed in this paper.} It must be emphasised that at this time, apart from the politicians, very few military officers understood the nuances of politico-military decision- making.

Tied up with our traditional neglect and ignorance of the military is a fear of the military. After World War II, the military frequently played a key role in revolutionary situations in newly liberated African and Asian colonies. In Pakistan in 1951,a leftist political group supported by a few military officers plotted to assassinate the Prime Minister and the C-in-C, a British officer. This was a political and not a military coup. It was crushed by the loyal support of the army. But fear of an army coup persisted in some minds in India. All political systems have to face the dual problem of developing and controlling military power. In India's formative years, a military coup was tactically feasible. This would have then meant taking over six centres of power: North and South Blocks, All India Radio and four international airports. It was therefore prudent for the government to keep a watch on the armed forces

In mid-50 there were formal proposals from the army to modernise the defence system, reorganise the three service headquarters and merge this with the defence ministry. Bureaucrats in the Defence Ministry were against making any changes to the system because they were occupying key appointments where they enjoy authority without responsibility. They played on the fears of the politicians. Nevertheless some members of parliament (MPs) took up the army's proposals

Nehru sensed the pressure for reform. In March 1955, he announced in Parliament the change in designation of the three service chiefs from Commander-in-Chief to Chief of Staff. It is a misnomer to call our service heads chiefs of their respective service staffs, without carrying out reforms and forming integrated service councils. This verbal smoke screen confused the issue and silenced the critics. While announcing the change in designation of the service chiefs, Nehru also stated that as in other democratic countries, India too would be having a defence council. The House loudly cheered this statement. Few understood what was being announced. No defence council was formed.

By the early 60s it was evident that India and China had both adopted a forward policy along the disputed northern border. It was necessary that India display its flag wherever it staked its claims. From that point of view, Nehru's forward policy was strategically pragmatic. Chinese border posts were backed by administrative bases on the Tibetan plateau and were supported by road transport. Indian posts were isolated, widely separated and in most cases located about ten days-marching time away from the nearest road head. Concerned field commanders pointed out the tactical danger facing these posts.

At every session of the DCC or DMC, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) accepted the need for a forward policy but urged that our outposts be backed by defences in depth. This was sound military advice. The COAS was assured that China would not attack India. Civil servants and intelligence officers at the meeting agreed with the Defence Minister. The COAS was overruled and told, "This is a political decision, don't interfere. Obey orders." So vital tactical decisions were made by civil servants and politicians who were ignorant of the realities of military power. The COAS's dissent was recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

General K.S.Thimayya, the COAS, was a charismatic and very popular leader, qualities which Mr Krishna Menon, the Defence Minister, lacked. Menon feared that Nehru would be swayed by the General and that this would undermine his position as Defence Minister. He concocted a story that the COAS was planning a military coup against Nehru. If there was any officer wholly disinterested in politics, it was Thimayya. Menon's action is explicable only on the theory that he did not want anybody other than himself to have the ear of the Prime Minister on defence matters. Menon did not succeed in getting Thimayya dismissed, but he added fuel to the Prime Minister's suspicions of the military, and in the course of time undermined the solidarity and morale of the officer corps. This period saw the rise of Lt. Gen. B.M.Kaul, a man with a brisk military style who owed his advancement to his capacity for political accommodation rather than military knowledge or experience of which he had almost none.

Thimayya's resignation as COAS in 1961 created a national furore. Rumours circulated that he had resigned in protest over the government's forward policy. But Thimayya had resigned because the Defence Ministry kept overruling Army Headquarters on certain key appointments. Nehru sent for Thimayya and persuaded him to withdraw his resignation, which he did. Later, whilst answering questions in Parliament, the Prime Minister referred to Thimayya's resignation and subsequent withdrawal as "childish gestures" of no consequence. Shortly after this, Kaul took over the key assignment of Chief of the General Staff. Field commanders who objected to Kaul's unsound tactical orders for implementing a forward policy were sidelined and willing sycophants were found to replace them.

Whenever the DMC met in Delhi, Thimayya continued to point out the dangers facing our forward posts and their precarious tactical posture. Menon ignored those warnings and assured the Committee that "the Chinese are playing a cartographic game and there would be no hostilities." The minutes of those meetings are on record. Thimayya retired in early 1961. General P.N. Thappar was appointed the COAS.

In September 1962, Kaul was appointed to command the corps responsible for the defence of the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA). [This was later made a state and renamed Arunachal Pradesh.] At that time, Indian and Chinese troops confronted each other along a disputed portion of the McMahon Line in Tawang. Nehru, in one of his public statements said the he had ordered the Indian forces "to throw the Chinese out" if they crossed into India. When a brigade began to move forward on to Tagla ridge in Tawang district of NEFA, the Chinese retaliated with force, overran the scattered brigade positions and occupied Tawang. They simultaneously attacked forward positions elsewhere in NEFA and Ladhak. After a fortnight's pause, they continued their offensive and occupied the whole of NEFA up to its border with Assam. Our army's defeat was total. If they wanted to, the Chinese could have then walked into Assam without any opposition. In December 1962, China unilaterally withdrew across the McMahon Line and vacated NEFA. Shocked by China's success, Nehru admitted in Parliament that he had lived "in an artificial world of our own creation". He accepted that the debacle was due to his ignorance of military affairs. To offset his political opponents, he proclaimed the formation of a National Defence Council composed of all the chief ministers, some retired service officers and others. This was intended to pacify public opinion. Such a body is incapable of exercising strategic control and it subsequently died a natural death.

Menon, the COAS and Kaul resigned after the debacle. (Significantly not a single civil servant resigned. After all why should they? They enjoy power without responsibility and are never accountable.) General JN Chaudhri took over as COAS, and YB Chavan as the Defence Minister. The government realised that the intelligence set up was faulty. This was divided into two: The Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) for external intelligence and Intelligence Bureau (IB) for internal intelligence. This was a progressive step. . The army began rectifying its material deficiencies. But the larger and more important problem of restructuring the antiquated defence system was not undertaken. On the contrary, meetings of the DCC and the DNC were discontinued after the Chinese attack. This was a step backwards as these were the only two institutions which give the Service Chiefs an opportunity to meet their political masters face to face, to discuss security issues and record their opinions. It seemed that the politicians were afraid of a formal agenda, dissent and recorded minutes, as these could become evidence for future historians.

The Defence Minister started holding regular morning meetings with the defence secretary and the three service chiefs. No agenda was issued nor were any formal papers asked for or discussed. These meetings were useful in their own way but were no substitute for formal meetings of the DMC and the DCC. However senior politicians and military officers had come to realise that threats to India's security have to be faced on five fronts: the diplomatic, economic, social, psychological and military fronts. The diplomatic front is the concern of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) the economic front involves the Finance, Industry and Commerce Ministries. The social and psychological fronts are the concern of the Home and Human Resources Ministries. Defence and Home Ministries deal with issues arising from external and internal threats of force. These fronts or human activities do not operate in watertight compartments. They often merge into one another. Thus any national security plan entails the co-ordination and orchestration by the Prime Minister of five fronts which are controlled by several different ministries.

The DCC formulates strategic policy and the civil-administration-cum military have to prepare plans to fulfil the policy. If strategy was a simple one-time process of preparing a plan, then the DCC could sit down and make a national security plan, and issue this to all concerned for action. Unfortunately, the factors affecting a strategic plan are changing continually due to an opponent's reactions, political pressures, rapid advances in science and technology and other reasons. A strategic aim will remain constant, but in order to fulfil the aim, strategic control has to be a flexible on-going process requiring full-time attention. Pre-hostility strategic control entails exercising non-violent action to persuade, hinder and coerce an opponent by the concerned ministries on all the five fronts. Military action is undertaken only when non-violent control fails. In a crisis situation, such as we saw recently in Kargil, control has to be exercised on a day-to-day basis on all five fronts. This can only be done by the DCC.

At all stages of the Sino-Indian Conflict (1962), China displayed an impressive degree of strategic and tactical control. It reacted to India's forward policy with carefully orchestrated non-violent moves designed to persuade, hinder and coerce. New Delhi had no system to match this approach. Not only were Chinese signals misunderstood and countered by official bluster, they were sometimes even ignored. Those who lacked military common-sense and rudimentary strategic knowledge, persisted in their romantic delusion that the Chinese were playing a cartographic game. When non-violent action failed, and the international situation favoured them, the Chinese the Chinese used force. Mrs Gandhi was a silent spectator of these tragic events and the impact of this on her father. She was quick to learn. She kept her thoughts to herself.

In April 1965 when Pakistan moved a regiment of tanks into a disputed portion of the Rann of Kutch, the COAS advised the government not to react militarily to this threat as we had no tanks in that area and main military resources should remain concentrated in Punjab The Prime Minister (PM) heeded this advise and agreed to resolve the problem through arbitration. This was misinterpreted by some Pakistanis. They believed that India lacked political will to fight, and that its armed forces were low in morale. Ignoring a warning by PM Shastri that any aggression in J&K would be treated as an attack on India, Pakistan began infiltrating guerrillas in the Valley and later armoured forces to threaten Akhnoor. Shastri ordered the armed forces to cross the international border and attack Pakistan. This order, reminiscent of Nehru's fateful command in 1962, "Throw the Chinese out", was unreal. The armed forces barely had the capacity to defend our borders.

The government, conscious of the 1962 debacle and the dangers of political interference, went to the other extreme and gave the armed forces a free hand to do what they pleased. There was no coherent political or military strategy nor any strategic control. The Indo-Pak War of 1965 was short and intense. It resulted in an indirect victory for India when the UN imposed a cease-fire. But perceptive observers knew that India had been lucky at the Battle of Khem Karan. Mr Shastri died shortly after signing the Tashkent Agreement, which involved vital security aspects that were decided without adequate military inputs.

When Mrs Indira Gandhi took over as PM, she knew that India did not need an American type National Security Council because the DCC performs that role. But she also knew that the DCC lacked proper managerial support. She attempted to overcome this handicap by forming a group, which she termed The Apex Body. This was a progressive step. Unfortunately that organisation's role and functions were confused and the Apex Body never really took shape. During the Indo-Pak War of 1971, Mrs Gandhi's strategic perception and control were superb. She held informal meetings of the DCC with the service chiefs in attendance, and used this to persuade, hinder and coerce Pakistan on all five fronts without opening hostilities. Force was only used as a last resort when Pakistan, out of sheer frustration, launched an air attack on the western front. The three services displayed tactical skill and initiative of a high order. The War culminated in the surrender of 92,000 Pakistani prisoners of war. It was a triumph for Mrs Gandhi who transcended an out-of-date security decision-making system. Later, a meeting between the two PMs resulted in the Simla Accord. Regrettably, this Accord, which involved vital security aspects, was finalised without adequate military inputs. Once again the, military was denied its legitimate role in politico-military decision-making.

Our victory in 1971 could not conceal that we were faced with serious internal social and political problems. Between 1951 and 1970, the armed forces had been summoned to aid civil governance on 476 occasions.. The number of armed police and paramilitary forces deployed on internal security duties exceeded the army infantry's total strength. Apart from this, rebels in the north-eastern states had been keeping the army busy on low intensity operations. Co-ordinating and supervising this mixture of forces, in different types of conflict, through different agencies in different ministries at the centre and in the states posed managerial problems for the Cabinet. (Formal meetings of the DCC had still not been revived, even though its efficacy in the Indo-Pak War of 1971 had been amply demonstrated.). Mrs Gandhi formed a Policy Advisory Group (PAG) to assist the DCC in that task. Its role and concept was not clearly defined, nor was it properly manned. The PAG never worked. This second attempt to form some security advisory group failed.

Mrs Gandhi who transcended an out-of-date security decision-making system. Later, a meeting between the two PMs resulted in the Simla Accord. Regrettably, this Accord, which involved vital security aspects, was finalised without adequate military inputs. Once again the, military was denied its legitimate role in politico-military decision-making.

From 1972 onwards, internal unrest and violent dissent increased. Poor governance was allowing political and social confrontations to develop into a crisis. Critical situtations were allowed to deteriorate to the point where the administration and police threw up their hands and the army, whilst carrying out its primary task of defending the borders against external aggression, began getting drawn into messy internal situations. In 1975, Mrs Gandhi was preoccupied with her desire to cling to power and also deal with a deteriorating law and order situation. She declared an Emergency. This was a political coup, which resulted in totalitarian rule. Throughout the Emergency, the armed forces upheld their apolitical tradition. Mrs Gandhi soon realised that India could not be ruled for long by dictates alone. When she called for a general election, the people showed that they cared a great deal about freedom by throwing out Mrs Gandhi and her party. The Janata Party, which took over in Delhi, ruled shakily for a while and then collapsed due to its inner contradictions. Mrs Gandhi and the Congress were voted back to power.

During this time, Pakistani mountaineers were observed organising expeditions in the Siachen glacier area, north of the demarcated LOC. Local army commanders moved patrols into the area to prevent Pakistani intrusions. In the weeks that followed, Pakistani and Indian patrols clashed and Pakistan suffered heavy casualties. We reinforced the area where an uneasy peace prevails. Siachen is a good example of how local conflicts can escalate into a major national confrontation when no proper modern politico-military decision-making system is functioning, and where no effective strategic controls are in force.

Three wars and the clash at Siachen had made Pakistani strategists realise that a direct confrontation with India does no pay. They decided to engage India indirectly. They planned to arm and train dissident elements in Punjab and J&K, and foster unrest and terrorism wherever possible. This long-term strategy was set into motion by their Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). The 80s saw many acts of terrorism in J&K and Punjab. Events reached a peak in Punjab when hundreds of armed rebels, murderers and proclaimed criminals occupied the Golden Temple and challenged the Government to oust them. The army was employed in Operation Blue Star (1984), which was a tragic internal security task arising from a failure of timely governance.

When Mrs Gandhi was assassinated, her son Rajiv Gandhi took over as Prime Minister. He scrapped the PAG. He thereafter apparently relied on a few select civil servant and cronies to advise him on security matters. Operations in Sri Lanka were a failure of political judgement and intelligence. Our armed forces ended up fighting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and suffering heavy casualties. The armed forces were later withdrawn at the request of the Sri Lankan government. This failure was followed by successful joint operations by the three Services against rebels in Maldives.

Operations in Sri Lanka and Maldives indicated a strategic shift in the traditional role of the armed force. They were now being ordered to defend India's interests beyond our geographical borders. This radical change of role was decided without even a debate in Parliament. It was done on the whims of an immature PM based on the perceptions and advice of bureaucrats who lacked responsibility or accountability. Mr Arun Singh, Minister of State for Defence, was conscious of the need to reform the defence system. He resigned ostensibly because of differences of opinion with the PM.

When the Congress government was voted out of power and a Janata Dal government took over in Delhi, the PM, Mr V.P.Singh invited Mr Arun Singh, the ex-Minister of State for Defence, to preside over a Committee of Defence Expenditure. The Committee was given wide scope and made recommendations that would have modernised the system, removed civil-military friction and saved crores of rupees annually. Unfortunately the government was voted out of power before his recommendations could be implemented.

However, by now it was evident that many MPs belonging to different political parties were unhappy with the politico-military decision-making system. They spoke publicly of the need for some institutionalised form of security advisory board. The Bharatya Janta Party (BJP), in its 1998 election manifesto, said that it would set up a National Security Council and review India's nuclear strategy. When a BJP-led coalition came into power, Mr George Fernandes, the new Defence Minister, was quick to sense the resentment underlying the relationship between the civil servants of his Ministry and the military. In March 1998 he announced the revival of the DMC, after a gap of 26 years. This was a wise decision. However no one spoke of the equally urgent need to modernise the antiquated defence system at the service headquarters/defence ministry level. The Arun Singh Report continued to gather dust in the cupboards of South Block. In April 1998, in order to fulfil its election manifesto, the government appointed a special Task Force under the Chairmanship of Mr K.C.Pant, to make recommendations on a proposed National Security Council (NSC). In May 1998 a series of underground nuclear test explosions were carried out at Pokhran. This momentous decision was taken solely on the advice of clever scientists and bureaucrats who lacked constitutional responsibility or accountability. The military chiefs were not in attendance when this matter, which had far reaching security consequences, was being discussed by the DCC.. Pokhran II was followed by a period of confusion with several ministers making irresponsible and contradictory statements. One year later, the Government announced the constitution of a three-tier national security system. This announcement was over-shadowed by military events, which followed. Pakistani intrusions across the Line of Control (LOC) into Kargil. It was only after a cease-fire in July that public attention could be given to the proposed National Security system, which had been functioning during the Kargil crisis. [See Figure 2]

At the apex was the former DCC which had been renamed the National Security Council (NSC). The ministerial composition of this body remains unchanged but for the addition of the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and the PM's principal secretary who functions as the National Security Adviser in addition to his duties as principal secretary. The NSC is expected to deal with broad subject areas: external security environment and threat scenarios; threats involving atomic energy, space and high technology; economy threats in the areas of energy, foreign trade, food, finance and ecology; internal security including counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence; patterns of alienation emerging in the country, especially those with a social, communal or regional dimension; threats posed by trans-border crimes such as smuggling and traffic in arms, drugs and narcotics; and co-ordination in intelligence collection and tasking of intelligence agencies so as to ensure that intelligence is focussed on areas of concern for the nation

The listed role and functions of the NSC are unexceptional. However, there are two criticisms on its composition. Firstly, the PM's principal secretary is expected to perform two full-time jobs which are both taxing. He needs a separate full-time security assistant. Secondly, the three service chiefs are no longer to be in attendance as a matter of course; they would be invited only when required. That omission is unfortunate, because, as already discussed, the chiefs ought to be present when any security plans are being evolved which could result in hostile action. (See not 1.) The omission is also meaningless because the chiefs would have to be present at every meeting of the National Security Council during a crisis as happened throughout the three-month long Kargil episode. That being the case, surely it would have been a trust-evoking gesture to mention their inclusion, in attendance, in clear terms, thus making a virtue of necessity. The Indian political system has surely outlived its fear of a military coup. (See note 2.)

The second level has been defined as the Strategic Policy Group (SPG). Its priority task will be to undertake the long-term strategic defence review. This document, when approved by the NSC, will enunciate India's strategic aims. It will be the principal mechanism for inter-ministerial co-ordination and integration of relevant inputs in the formulation of national security policies. The SPG will be chaired by the Cabinet Secretary and consists of the three service chiefs, governor of the Reserve Bank of India, foreign, home, finance and defence secretaries, secretary department of defence production and supplies, scientific adviser to the defence minister, and several other secretaries of the cabinet secretariat, and the departments of revenue, atomic energy, space, and the director Intelligence Bureau. The SPG is an expanded version of the Secretaries Committee to which has been added the three service chiefs and some others. Civil secretaries are accustomed to making generalist comments on papers produced by others. It will be interesting to see how they produce original work to cover their respective "fronts" in an integrated and co-ordinated long-term strategic defence review.

The existing Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) has been restructured and renamed as the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS). This is headed by a Secretary The erstwhile functions of the JIC relating to intelligence analysis and assessment will continue to be performed by the NSCS. In addition to that, it will function as the NSC's secretariat. All ministries/departments will consult the Secretariat on matters relating to national security. The NSCS will prepare papers for consideration of the NSC and SPG, and also for the third tier of the system.

After the 1962 debacle, the JIC was made an autonomous assessment body in the Cabinet Secretariat. However, the inability of ministers and senior civil servants to appreciate that long-range intelligence assessments are essential inputs for policy making, resulted in poor staffing which effected the efficiency of the JIC. The tendency to treat the JIC as a temporary tenure for senior police officers, and of intelligence agencies to withhold information from the JIC, further undermined the efficiency of the JIC. Now the JIC has been given the responsibility of functioning as a secretariat to the NSC. This step will result in the neglect of both short- and long-term intelligence analysis and assessments. This is bound to adversely effect strategic review which instead of being based on solid professional assessments will have to rely on the ad hoc views of individuals. We have seen how damaging this was in the Kargil episode. It is imperative that the JIC be preserved in its original form and be properly manned and equipped to enable it to shoulder its responsibilities in an information age where the rapid and voluminous in-flow of intelligence will be a battle-winning factor..

It is time that a high-level review of all aspects of intelligence is undertaken. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) carry out the same basic tasks, collecting, collating, assessing and distributing information. The former functions internally and the latter externally. Whereas many of these tasks are best performed by police officers, it is debatable whether RAW and IB and JIC ought to be headed by police officers as a matter of routine, which is the case today. This is not a reflection on the character or ability of present incumbents or police officers in general. Experience shows that police officers, by their training, experience and environmental duties, develop a temperament, outlook and aptitude which is ideal for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or Criminal Investigation Department (CID), but not for soime aspects of intelligence work. The time has come for these sensitive appointments to be staffed by appropriately qualified officers. Only candidates having the requisite profile should be screened by a mixed board composed of ruling and opposition MPs. The same procedure should be used to select a qualified National Security Assistant.

The third tier of the security system is the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), which consists of a Convenor, Dr K. Subramanium, and thirty other members of eminence with experience in the fields of foreign affairs, external security, defence and armed forces, strategic analysis, economics, science and technology, internal security, and related areas. The function of the Board is to advise the NSC on issues relating to security, which may be referred to it by the NSC

The National Security Adviser has assigned the NSAB two tasks. The completion of its first task was announced with the release on 16 August of a draft Nuclear Doctrine.. The Draft has been characterised as a mixture of Cold War deterrence clichés and a wish list. This has not enhanced the credibility of the NSAB. The public release of the doctrine so close to the general election annoyed some members who say that the NSAB should guard against becoming an adjunct of the government or it willlose c ridibility.

The NSAB is currently busy attempting to complete its second assigned task, a draft Strategic Defence Review. Reportedly some 60 research papers each of about 50 pages have been prepared and are in the process of being sifted by separate teams. Members complain that the NSAB is too large a group and is faced with a generation gap; only five members are under 50 years of age, the remaining members are geriatrics. Some feel that they are temporary consultants whereas the task requires full-time incumbents for good results. The one-year term of the Board comes to an end on 3 December and there is speculation about its reconstitution. Whatever be our individual views on the current system, it must be admitted that this third attempt at reforming the system has been deliberate. We should try to further improve the system.(See Figure 3.)

Whilst so doing, nine points must be kept in mind :-
  1. Free India has always had a NSC functioning under the designation DCC.
  2. The NSC cannot delegate its functional responsibilities to others.It is imperative that the three Service Chiefs be in attendance when security plans are being discussed. (See note1) To be effective, the NSC must enhance its inputs; this is a managerial problem.
  3. Based on JIC's analysis and assessments, and individual perceptions of members, the NSC defines the national aim and threats.
  4. Based on NSC's perceptions, the SPG prepares a draft Strategic Defence Review (SDR).
  5. The NSC issues an approved SDR to all concerned. This need not be a secret document. On the contrary this should be debated in parliament to ensure national consensus.
  6. Based on the SDR, each ministry prepares separate operational plans for its respective sphere of responsibility to ensure that the national aim is fulfilled. This should be kept secret.
  7. As the strategic scene develops, the NSC needs three inputs in order to exercise proper strategic control A Long- and short-term intelligence analysis. (This is the JIC's role) B Advice on non-violent action to persuade, hinder and coerce an opponent during a crisis before hostilities commence A dynamic NSAB (See note 3) must be created to meet this requirement. This should be compact (See note 4.) C Advice on military action when hostilities are imminent. (This is the role of the Chiefs/ Defence Planning Staff.)
  8. The National Security Adviser wears two hats. He needs a Security Assistant to sift the in-flow of advice and help co-ordinate ministerial actions.
  9. The creation of a separate NSC Secretariat is unavoidable to ensure efficient managerial support. (See note 5.) In conclusion we should note that an efficient security system has many indivisible components. We have only discussed the setting up of the apex body; the NSC, and its associated managerial in-puts It is irrational to modernise this level and neglect the middle and lower levels of the security system. That is as futile as developing a hi-tech car engine and fitting it to a chassis with an antiquated transmission and suspension system. Such a car will never attain world standards. Indirect references of the need to modernise and integrate the defence ministry and service headquarters have been made. However that aspect is beyond the scope of this paper.


  1. Drawback of not having the Chiefs in attendance

    If those who are making India's security plans, ignore the service chiefs, then they rely on the advice of bureaucrats and scientists who do not have a constitutional role in military planning. All hope that errors, if any, will remain hidden from Parliament under the cover of the magic words "national secrets". Obviously, Service Chiefs have to be consulted on such basic issues as to which type of guns, aircraft, ships or tanks has to be purchased. But there are many other vital long-term security matters on which the professional military view is never taken, nor are the Chiefs even invited to be in attendance when the Cabinet discusses these. To give a few examples: decisions on the Tashkent Agreement, Simla Accord, our nuclear strategy, our missile programme and its proposed relationship with nuclear strategy, the extension of the role of the armed forces to include the defence of vital national interests beyond India's geographical borders, our stand on the Non-proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and so on.

    Some will object to this broad list of legitimate military interests. The point being made is that in a democracy, the military has a legitimate role to play in the formulation of policies, which have a security content. The Cabinet need not seek military advice even if the chiefs are in attendance. But if the Service Chiefs are not present, then the military is kept ignorant of the detailed political considerations underliying a security policy. This is a handicap when the armed forces are called to undertake the military option at short notice. It is therefore necessary and wise for an elected government to have its military advisers in attendance whenever the cabinet is discussing such policies. And that is the crux of democratic security planning. The nation has the right to know who provides the military inputs in the absence of responsible appointed military chiefs.

    It is not being suggested that the government must blindly follow military advice on security policy issues. If military advisers are present, they may or may not be consulted, that is the PM's privilege. If consulted, it is the PM's prerogative to accept or reject their advice. This form of politico-military interaction and involvement reflects trust and is sound democratic management. This is not a constitutional requirement but a question of institutionalised conventions. Such a convention prevails in all democracies. Such a procedure functioned in South Block from 1947 to 1962. The nation should be told why this was discontinued. The practice of distancing the military from the security planning process undermines the self-respect and authority of the three Service Chiefs because they are being kept outside the system whilst amateurs pre-empt their lawful military tasks and authority. Perceptive subordinates who can see this, and they know that their seniors are merely required to perform the duties of highly paid chowkidars. This perception is detrimental to service morale.

  2. Why Fears about a Military Coup are Unjustified

    Fears of a military coup in the early years of our independence were perhaps justified. However, to persist in those fears fifty years after attaining freedom displays an abject lack of political self-confidence This prevents a healthy growth of military power under responsible institutionalised political control. This is not to claim that military officers have somehow been transformed into democratic saints, but only to emphasise that Indian democracy had matured.

    Over the years, India has established numerous, strong and separate centres of government, quasi-government and non-governmental power: state assemblies, radio and television stations, a free press, trade-industrial-commercial agencies, the judiciary, educational centres, labour unions, municipal corporations, district and village panchayats, police and paramilitary forces- the list is endless. Each of these institutions is decision-making centres and. represent vested interest. At the same time we have held a number of free and fair elections to parliament, state assemblies and local bodies. The people have learnt to value their voting power and cherish their constitutional rights. Today, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for any single military or political dictator to control each one of these centres of power without the consent of the people. India is not unique. It is the same in the USA, France, Britain or any other mature democracy. Mrs Gandhi overlooked this truth when she proclaimed an Emergency in 1975.

  3. Role of the NSAB

    To function as a dynamic think-tank for the NSC.

    To advise on specific tasks e.g .nuclear doctrine, post-Kargil scenarios, our likely stand on the Fissile Material Control Treaty (FMCT) and other connected matters as assigned by the National Security Adviser.

    To advise on non-violent options to persuade, coerce and hinder an opponent during a crisis situation before hostilities commence.

    To tap talent both in India and abroad for ideas. A liberal budget allocations must be made available to enable prompt payment as consultation fees.

  4. Composition of the NSAB

    This should be composed of not more than one co-ordinator, who could be the3 National Security Assistant and about nine other members, each selected on the same basis as has been recommended for choosing the heads of RAW. IB, JIC and the National Security Assistant. Each of the members must be a specialist in one of the five fronts, diplomatic, economic, social, psychological and military fronts. Additional qualifications of political science and international relations will be preferred. Members should be appointed for full time work for a minimum period of five years. A tenure may be terminated with three months notice by either party. Members should be below the age of 60 years. The Co-ordinator and National Security Assistant should also be below the age of 60 years.

  5. National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS)

    Without attempting to duplicate a military operations room, the Secretariat should be capable of housing a full session of the NSC and displaying all relevant information during discussions. This is not difficult to do in a computer age. The secretariat will function as a National Security information and research data bank and assist the NSG and concerned ministries in their efforts to co-ordinate and integrate approved security plans and actions. Access to the NCSC and its computer data banks must be restricted and strictly monitored.