The National Security Advisor (NSA) will now chair the Strategic Planning Group (SPG) as well, with Cabinet Secretary only as its member.
The decision reflects a lack of understanding of the nature and complexity of security challenges the country faces.
What is the existing security architecture?
- Soon after India became a nuclear-weapon state in May 1998, the national security architecture underwent a significant change.
- At the apex, a National Security Council (NSC) was set up with the Prime Minister (PM) as the chairman.
- Its permanent members included ministers of home, defence, external affairs and finance.
- The NSC was provided with a secretariat.
- A new post of National Security Advisor (NSA – currently Mr. Ajit Doval) was created to serve as the Secretary of the NSC.
- In addition, a Strategic Planning Group (SPG) was established under the chairmanship of the Cabinet Secretary.
- The SPG included
- all the key secretaries to the government
- the three armed forces chiefs
- the head of the external intelligence (R&AW)
- the Director of the Intelligence Bureau
- A National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) was also set up.
- It comprised of a number of retired civil and military officials, and it had direct access to the PM.
- After the Kargil war in 1999, a Defence Intelligence Agency was set up to coordinate military-related intelligence.
- Also, a Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) was set up to manage India’s nuclear weapon arsenal.
- In essence, the stress was on providing political leadership with multiple sources of information on security issues.
How is the NSA’s role evolving?
- The role of the NSA was that of a key advisor to the government on longer-term strategic issues.
- The NSA did not have a say in the day-to-day security issues.
- However, in recent years, the NSA, by virtue of location in the PM’s Office, has become an influential figure.
- This remains the case even though there is no constitutional sanction for the post.
- The NSA’s responsibilities have been expanded sharply.
- He now chairs the Defence Planning Group, with responsibility for military planning, even as the NSAB’s role has been downgraded.
- Further, the role of the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, too, has been downgraded.
- The NSA is also the head of the Executive Council of the NCA.
- So in essence, the political leadership will have intelligence inputs and security assessments processed at the level of NSA.
What is the concern now?
- The inadequate response to the 2008 Mumbai terror attack is to be noted in this regard.
- In this case, ad hoc decisions were taken, and no single individual could manage such diverse and fast-changing situations.
- Given this, the increased reliance on the NSA raises serious questions as NSA is merely an advisor.
- If he goes wrong, it is unclear where the accountability would lie.
- Also, there might not be an opportunity for dissenting opinions being placed.
- It is thus essential for the government to realise that even a highly centralised state could not afford to have a singular channel for the flow of such critical information.