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National Security Council and Foreign Policy

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national security council meeting
NSC Meeting in 2019


The National Security Council (NSC) is a government body, which advises it on matters of national security, foreign policy, and defence. Although the final decisions rest with the prime minister and the Cabinet, National Security Council has emerged as an important stakeholder in recent years.

The NSC consists of the prime minister, minister of external affairs, defense, home, finance, the National Security Advisor(NSA), and the deputy chairman of Niti Ayog. While PM chairs NSC, NSA acts as a secretary. The council also consists of eminent professionals and possesses the immense potential to influence national policy decisions.

The foreign policy of a country is adjunct to its domestic policies and is aimed at protecting and advancing the national interests at the international level. For India, the principal goals can be described as poverty reduction, inclusive growth, security, and harmony in the country, in the region, and across the globe. The purpose of foreign policy is then, to aid and strengthen the measures our country adopts in pursuit of these goals while dealing with the global community.

National interest is the most important aspect of foreign policy. Apart from just enduring, it also has geographical content and varies from nation to nation. The task of any government in power is to employ all its elements of power in furthering its national interests.

Decision-making in foreign policy is a complex process and needs multiple specialized agencies, individuals, and institutions to deal with a range of issues with different subjects. These actors need to work together and find solutions. The National Security Council does exactly the same.

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Structure of NSC

NSC is a three-tier organization consisting of the Strategic Planning Group, the National Security Advisory Board, and the Joint Intelligence Committee.

Strategic Planning Group (SPG) is the topmost decision-making body at the bureaucratic level and is responsible for formulating and implementing strategic policies. It is headed by the cabinet secretary. The SPG is also assigned to make long-term strategies for India’s military doctrine. Its members include the secretaries of all important ministries and departments like Home, Defense, External Affairs, Defense Production, Revenue, Atomic Energy, Space, the heads of R&AW and IB, the Chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force, Chairman CBDT, RBI Governor, Scientific Advisor to RM and Chairman JIC. This Group meets periodically. It continuously observes the national and international security environment and takes necessary steps to neutralize possible threats.

National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) consists of members from outside the government. It advises the government on matters related to national security and development. It does a long-term analysis and provides perspectives on issues of national security. Its membership includes eminent professionals, academics, scientists, administrative experts, and retired bureaucrats.

Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) receives intelligence inputs from the IB, R&AW, and the directorates of military, naval, and air intelligence. It is the highest intelligence assessment organization in the country and is tasked with inter-agency coordination, collection, and analysis of intelligence data. The JIC has representatives from MEA, MoD, MHA, IB, R&AW, etc. It sometimes directs the relevant intelligence agencies to conduct certain intelligence-gathering tasks, based on the input or demand from the government. The JIC is an important and effective advisory body to the PM and Cabinet in decision-making on matters related to foreign affairs and defense and the nucleus of the secretariat of NSC is provided by the Joint Intelligence Committee.

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Various issues around it

The recent internal and external security threats have forced us to dwell on the expectations with which the council was formed and whether it has achieved its purpose or proven to be a futile exercise. Further, it is crucial to locate the various loopholes and discrepancies within the council and ponder upon its utility as a national security decision-making organ.

The foreign policy of a nation would only be effective if all its elements of power act in unison. In such an action, there must be an internal mechanism within the country, where heads of these individual entities share views and debate options. Ideally, this should be the expanded Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). However, with political leaders seeking to keep the armed forces at bay, the present CCS has only a political bias, supported by intelligence experts.

Due to significant structural laws in the National Security Council, it functions ineffectively. The NSC has not been adequately structured to carry out functions of formulating national security strategies. It is also inadequate to evaluate strategic information and suggest government agencies and armed forces.

The discrepancy in the Strategic Planning Group lies in the appointment of the senior officials, which are mostly the top bureaucrats of the country. These are usually serving officials who are not appointed based on their expertise in strategic issues but based on their appointments as bureaucrats. The appointments raise serious questions on the nature of the contribution made by these members. Since the members are serving bureaucrats, their capability to spend time strategizing on national security issues is skeptical. They have also been alleged to lack of inclination to delve into intricate security issues.

The discrepancy related to NSAB is that it lacks a clearly defined purpose evident from its ever-changing size and shape. It has been reconstituted thrice within three years of its existence. Also, the composition of the board is too large and has often proved unwieldy.

Although the formation of the board was expected to gather input from the best minds of the country, it has slowly led to ego clashes failing to achieve its intended purpose. Due to a lack of access to classified information, the inputs of the board members are highly sceptical. The board comprises ex-bureaucrats which are themselves responsible for most of the mess created. It is due to all these factors that the effectiveness of such a non-official board is questioned.

Another discrepancy lies in the fact that although JIC has been converted into NSC secretariat, it continues to perform its earlier functions along with discharging other functions allotted to it. It was due to these merging roles that the NSC was later integrated into the Prime Minister’s Office in 2002, which further eroded the purpose for which it was set up.

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India is a growing economic power. The world is rushing in to engage with India. India’s economic growth is a fallout of its secure internal democratic institutions as also managing its external military threats. India is also expected to fulfill its global aspirations in the security field if it seeks to project itself as a nation suitable for a seat in the UN Security Council.

Simultaneously, the nation is enhancing its outreach by seeking to be an effective member of multiple international groupings. It is expanding its military engagements across the globe. As Indian investments in South East Asia or Africa increase, it must enhance its military power to protect them

In such a scenario, The maintenance of a properly formulated foreign policy helps India not to lose its position and respect in world affairs and will eventually able to achieve its aims and basic national interest. It is in the best interests of the country that the National Security Council needs to be overhauled with some effective reforms as it plays a significant role in making Indian foreign policy.

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