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HVK Archives: Meeting of national minds

Meeting of national minds - The Telegraph

J. N. Dixit ()
May 25, 198

Title: Meeting of national minds
Author: J. N. Dixit
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: May 25, 198

The Bharatiya Janata Party's election manifesto promises to
revamp the institutional management of India's national security
problems. The elaboration of this promise in the national agenda
for governance has generated debate on how these institutions
should be organized and what their functions should be. Both the
manifesto and the agenda for national governance commit to the
establishment of a national security council. The council would
constantly analyze security, political and economic threats to
the country and render continuous advice to the government. The
council will undertake India's first security strategic defence

Another promise made by the ruling coalition is to establish a
national commission to study trends in defence technology and
advise the government on the development and induction of defence
weapons. The Atal Behari Vajpayee government has appointed a
committee chaired by K.C. Pant to recommend how to constitute a
national security council. Its recommendations are likely to be
submitted to the prime minister by mid-May.

Though I may arouse the ire of think tanks, I think all I have
read on the subject is focussed on narrow military aspects of
national security. Some writings have had a narrower focus: the
ramifications of India's exercising its nuclear cum missile
options. This approach is patently inadequate. Before looking at
the composition of the council and its terms of reference, it is
pertinent to define national security conceptually

It would also be relevant to ask whether the absence of a council
has subjected India to major national security failures over the
last 50 years. When assessing the security concerns and threat
perceptions of any country, the conventional approach is to
examine the political and military security environment of its
region, its relations with and its attitude towards neighbours
and vice versa, and the military doctrines, force deployment and
weapons systems of the countries in the region. The interests and
policy objectives of the great powers are also inherent in this

This approach of defining security concerns is both limited and
inadequate. A broader idea of security in terms of definition and
concept is necessary.

These are the constituent elements of this definition. First,
the creation of conditions which will contribute to and sustain
India's political and social consolidation and its territorial
integrity Second, efforts at safeguarding the options and
capacities of India to survive in a changing and volatile
international environment.

Ensuring national security, therefore, transcends military
factors and their importance. This involves political, economic,
social and technological factors and inputs. The validity of this
argument has acquired added relevance because of the incremental,
discriminatory international regulatory regimes being put in
place to control activities in the spheres of technology, space
exploration, nuclear energy, human rights and the environment.
These regimes have mostly been created by the advanced countries.
Such is the context in' which India's security concerns and
threat perceptions are evolving. These concerns should determine
the composition and terms of reference of the proposed council's

It has been claimed the absence of a national security council
has resulted in India repeatedly failing to uphold its security
interests because the entire decision making process was
compartmentalized and affected by sycophancy. This is an abrupt,
judgmental comment. There may have been policy contradictions and
wrong predictions. But India has managed to meet its fundamental
security interests, barring some exceptions.

Consider just the military aspects central to the type of
thinking which I have' doubts about. India was involved in wars
in 1948,1962,1965,1971 and 1987. India has also faced externally
supported secessionism in Punjab, Kashmir and the Northeast.
Except in 1962 and 1987-90, India emerged successful in all these
conflicts. As far as insurgency goes, New Delhi has controlled
and managed these situations. Except in 1948 and 1962, no
territory was lost. These crises were managed without a national
security council. Between 1993 and 1998, without even a
functional cabinet committee for political affairs, the
government managed major political and security transitions. It
also made strides in space and nuclear. technology

Neither the political leadership nor the civil or military
services behaved like courtiers or proved wanting in ensuring
India's security. There were contradictions and competitions for
turf. There was no integrated national approach to security. It
is these shortcomings which created the consensus about the
desirability of setting up a council and related mechanisms. This
found expression in governmental decisions from V.P. Singh's time
onwards. These decisions were not implemented because of the
threats they posed to the jurisdictions of the external affairs,
defence and home ministries, the intelligence agencies and the
cabinet secretary's office.

Two proposals made by civil servants between 1991 and early 1994
about the structure of a proposed council were not implemented by
the government because of departmental resistance.
Interestingly, both these proposals suggested the creation of an
autonomous national security advisor's secretariat attached to
the prime minister's office without suggesting any reduction of
or intrusions into the jurisdiction of the other government
departments. But even this did not work.

What is the solution? First, it must be clearly understood the
council and its secretariat should be mechanisms independent of
governmental departments dealing with day to day security
functions and operations. Designating the joint intelligence
committee or the defence planning staff as the secretariat for
this council will not do. They have their own responsibilities.
The purpose should be an institution which will assist the prime
minister and the relevant cabinet committee to take a
comprehensive view of India's security interests. As the BJP
manifesto states, the council will have the responsibility of
"constantly analysing the security, political, economic threats
and technological requirements and to render continuous advice to
the government in terms of reviewing policies and suggesting
options in a coordinated and integrated manner".

My view is the council should be organized on a pattern similar
to that of the United States or the comparatively informal
arrangements of the United Kingdom. A single cabinet committee on
political and defence affairs should be created and a national
security advisor should be appointed with a supporting

The advisor's office and the council's secretariat should be an
institutional adjunct of the prime minister's office. The advisor
should be designated on the basis of his multidimensional
knowledge about security problems and, more importantly, his
political acceptability to the ruling political party

The council itself should consist of the cabinet committee, the
national security advisor, the three service chiefs, the heads of
the nuclear, space and defence research organizations, the
foreign secretary, the defence secretary, the home secretary, the
principal secretary to the prime minister, the cabinet secretary,
the chiefs of the research and analysis wing, the intelligence
agency and the chairman of the joint intelligence committee.
Other experts and senior civil servants should be invited to
participate in deliberations as invitees.

The advisor should have an appropriately senior political status
to perform his coordinating and advisory role to the cabinet
committee. The secretariat of the council should be compact and
draw one or two representatives from the departments and
ministries and agencies, the heads of which I have mentioned
above. These should be middle level officers with expertise in
their subjects and 18 to 25 years experience in the government.
This secretariat should function under the advisor and the
cabinet committee. It should be a link and a catalyst, drawing
information from all specialized government departments, the
armed forces, intelligence and operational agencies.

Most important, experience since 1989 shows that the creation of
the council should not get enmeshed in prolonged
interdepartmental and political consultations. Being a coalition
government, the prime minister would certainly have to discuss
the position and functions of the council with a cross section of
political leaders. But the decision regarding the establishment,
the position and the orders allocating responsibility to the
council has to be taken directly by the prime minister. He should
be the nodal entity controlling the establishment of the council
and its consolidation as an effective instrument.

(The author is former foreign secretary of India)

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