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NSC: TAKE-OFF IN WRONG DIRECTION

Note No. 49

The National Security Council (NSC) completed one year last month. December is expected to see the submission of the report by the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) and the finalisation of the draft of the strategic defence review (SDR) by the National Security Advisory Board.

When the BJP-led coalition came to power last year, it had indicated its order of priorities as the setting-up of the NSC, the SDR, a decision on the nuclear tests after the examination of the SDR and the draft nuclear doctrine.

Instead, it carried out the nuclear tests first, then set up the NSC, released the draft nuclear doctrine before the elections and the SDR is yet to come. The changed order of priorities gave rise to strong suspicions of a politicised approach to national security issues, more with an eye on the likely political dividends than with a view to improving the national security management.

The post-Pokhran II euphoria and the delusions of a new strategic equation vis-à-vis Pakistan were shattered by the rapidity with which Pakistan carried out its Chagai tests and by the subsequent Kargil fighting.

The successful Chagai tests denied India the advantage of any psychological lead over Pakistan and the Kargil conflict exposed deficiencies in our national security management and would hopefully bring home the wisdom that nuclear deterrence cannot be a panacea for all national security problems.

The BJP has always claimed that it had a better understanding of national security issues than other political formations and its success in attracting to its fold a large number of retired public servants, who had served in the armed forces and the security bureaucracy, reflected their belief that this was so.

After seeing the BJP's national security management for the last 18 months, it should not be surprising that those given to independent thinking have started having nagging doubts in this matter.

The defining characteristics of this management have been:

* An excessive preoccupation with nuclear threats to national security, which are long-term and hypothetical, to the detriment of attention to non-nuclear threats, which are immediate and already staring us in our face in Kashmir, the North-East and elsewhere;

* A lack of appreciation of the civil defence and disaster management implications of a reliance on the nuclear deterrence and of the required follow-up action. After seeing the ineptitude with which one handled the disaster management after the Orissa cyclone despite the advance warning, one should be nervous over the adequacy of our disaster management capabilities in the event of a nuclear accident or strike by an adversary.

* A reliance more on headline-winning form than on substance in its attempts to improve national security management, as evidenced by the fanfare with which the NSC was set up and the draft nuclear doctrine of its Advisory Board released before the elections and by the quiet sidelining of the NSC apparatus during the Kargil conflict and the post-election downplaying of the significance of the draft nuclear doctrine. The one meeting of the NSC apparatus, which was convened during the Kargil conflict, was allegedly a proforma exercise, with the Advisory Board members being told they should confine their interventions, if any, to three minutes each to voice only constructive suggestions for the future with no criticism of the past handling.

* A lack of transparency, with the Parliament, the media and the public having little idea of how the NSC apparatus functions, what is its agenda, why the SDR has taken such a long time and whether there has been any improvement in the national security management after one year of the NSC.

* The monopolising of the management by the BJP, as if it had the sole wisdom in this matter, with the coalition partners playing practically no role in policy and decision-making and with only an eyewash of consultations with the opposition.

* The New Delhi-centric approach of the Advisory Board, with very little inputs from and interactions with the security bureacracies of the State Governments, which have to confront the non-nuclear, covert threats to security in their territory, and with non-governmental experts located in different parts of the country.

One gets an uncomfortable feeling of similar distortions creeping into the proceedings of the KRC, with disproportionate time and attention reportedly devoted to finding out why past Governments avoided or delayed the weaponisation of our nuclear capability, as if the post-1989 Pakistani proxy war in Kashmir with its inevitable 1999 Kargil bye-product could have been avoided if only the Indira Gandhi Government had gone ahead with the nuclear weaponisation much before Pakistan acquired the military nuclear capability, thereby denying it a psychological parity with India..

This seems to be a clever way of circumventing the inconvenient argument that Kargil was an inevitable consequence of the Pakistani military establishment's newly-found post-Chagai self-confidence.

The Kargil post-mortem, to be meaningful, should cover three aspects--the intelligence collection by the intelligence community, assessments by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and the Advisory Board and the adequacies of operational actions by the armed forces to guard the sensitive Kargil area.

To facilitate a balanced attention to all these aspects, either the Committee should have consisted of independent experts unconnected with the intelligence producing, assessing and using agencies as is the practice with such post-mortems in the UK or all these organisations should have been equally represented on the Committee.

Instead, the KRC consists only of representatives of the JIC, the Advisory Board and the armed forces, with the intelligence community, despite the public defence of its performance by the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister, left, consciously or unconsciously, unrepresented with no opportunity to listen first-hand to the criticisms, if any, levelled against it and set right the record then and there.

It is said that a strong case been made out before the Committee for an increased role for the armed forces in intelligence collection. Till now, the Indian intelligence collection apparatus has been modeled after the British.

The armed forces, who have been attracted by the US model, have been strongly pressing their suggestions for a grafting of the US model, with the creation of a Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) to be controlled by the armed forces and with the military being made exclusively responsible for communications and other technical intelligence and satellite image intelligence having a bearing on national security, through the creation of appropriate, separate agencies for the purpose.

While one should not hesitate to adopt the positive aspects, if any, of the US model, the following points need to be carefully considered by the KRC and the Government before deciding:

* The DIA is essentially a military intelligence assessment agency and not a replica of the erstwhile USSR's GRU, the military intelligence agency, which independently ran its own clandestine operations. The DIA was the outcome of the dissatisfaction of the then US President, Dwight Eisenhower, himself a former distinguished army officer, and Mr.Robert McNamara, Defence Secretary under Mr.John Kennedy, over the perceived tendencies of the military intelligence directorates of the three services to let their assessments be influenced by the service chiefs in order to buttress their case for increased budgetary allocations. Mr.McNamara, therefore, wanted the DIA to report directly to him and not through the service chiefs. After considerable resistance from the service chiefs to this idea, it was ultimately placed under the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.

* Director, Central Intelligence Agency, in his additional capacity as the Director, Central Intelligence, and adviser to the President on intelligence matters, exercises budgetary and operational oversight even in respect of the intelligence agencies forming part of the Pentagon, thereby ensuring non-military primacy over the intelligence collection apparatus. Congressional oversight further strengthens the civilian primacy.

Any trend towards the excessive militarisation of the intelligence collection apparatus in the name of strengthening national security, as a result of the deliberations of the KRC, could prove counter-productive in the long run, as one had seen from the serious damage to the democratic politic processes in Pakistan due to a similar excessive militarisation and dilution of the civilian control over the intelligence machinery.

 

B.RAMAN                                                     (3-12-99)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India,and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.
E-Mail: corde@vsnl.com)

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