The fourth national security adviser (NSA) for the country has finally been appointed, and the job role has been reverted to a retired foreign service officer.
In the days preceding Shivshankar Menon’s appointment, there were a lot of comments about the role of the NSA, and most of the opinions centred on the debate about how much of an intelligence boss rather than a diplomatic adviser the NSA should be, and how far he can go without direct accountability to Parliament in a parliamentary democracy. The references primarily drew to former NSA M.K. Narayanan, a retired police officer who had a larger role as boss of the internal and external intelligence chiefs.
After 26/11, there have been a number of changes in the internal security set-up in the country.
P. Chidambaram took charge as home minister and started leading from the front, unlike his predecessor. He took steps towards setting up the National Investigative Agency, the establishment of four National Security Guard hubs at Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai, and activating the Multi-Agency Centre (MAC) where all the intelligence agencies are required to share information on a common platform. Most significantly, while delivering the Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment lecture in December, he proposed that the home minister be solely devoted to internal security issues, and all other divisions and desks be handled by a separate ministry or a separate department under the home ministry. Clearly, Chidambaram’s remarks stemmed from his year-long experience at the ministry— involving his hands-on approach and brainstorming over various issues in the current context of security—and not from any political motive.
Photo: Vijay Kumar Joshi / PTI
It is important to note that national security largely encompasses both internal and external security as well as a few related areas where a great deal of forward thinking is required. The Prime Minister thus needs to have special advisory in a consolidated manner on the whole gamut of issues. So the role of an NSA does not simply go away.
Also, the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) defines a role for the NSA as head of its executive council to advise the Prime Minister, who in turn chairs NCA’s political council. Both Brajesh Mishra—the first NSA—and Narayanan, by virtue of their proximity to the prime ministers of their time, played a very useful role and were involved in dealing with sensitive matters that needed deft handling.
This does not mean that the NSA diminishes the role of the defence ministry, which deals with threats from external forces with active support from the external affairs ministry, or the home ministry, which is in control of the internal security scenario. Likewise, the responsibility of the Cabinet Committee on Security does not diminish; the NSA, along with the National Security Council, only helps the committee be better equipped and supported.
Today, compared with external threats, the threats from terrorism, Naxalism and religious and ideological extremism have become much more pronounced, and this calls for a more effective system where intelligence, investigations and operations have a responsible role to play. Even economic, climatic and other non-traditional security issues now play a key role in the national security scenario. These threats are getting more complex day by day and need to be dealt with on almost a daily basis at the highest levels. Hence the intelligence chiefs’ regular direct briefing to the Prime Minister remains critical. Apart from this, the concept of MAC needs to be comprehensively enhanced so that the existing intelligence agencies, including those of the defence and the financial and revenue sectors, are well entrenched in the system.
While all the opinions on national security management have been going around, vice-president Hamid Ansari has suggested a parliamentary standing committee on intelligence, and this has added another angle to the whole debate. The idea could have been modelled on the US and the UK, where intelligence accountability is carefully observed by the legislatures, but this can be implemented later in India as the intelligence establishment at the moment needs reforms and resources to cover the prevailing gaps rather than more oversight. More executive actions are needed in the form of quality networks, databases and footprints to assimilate actionable intelligence and respond to the threats effectively.
In many ways, the fact that these issues are being raised is useful—they allow the thinking across sectors that national security needs to be more closely addressed. This will lead to a much better judged appraisal of how we conduct the management of security issues without much of a turf battle. There is no dearth of organizations already on the field— the need of the hour is optimal performance from each of them so that the vulnerability of the nation to such threats is understood and dealt with. The Prime Minister needs to be best served by the brilliant new NSA and the ever-active home minister.
Subimal Bhattacharjee is country head in India for General Dynamics. These are his personal views. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org