The institution of a National Security Adviser (NSA) came into being in the US in the wake of the absence of inter-departmental co-ordination in defence-related policy-making that prevailed during and before the Second World War. The NSA’s role was to harmonise the views and inputs of different departments and project to the President the available options which had inter-departmental support. Once the President chose the option, it was the task of the NSA to co-ordinate the implementation. Thus, the NSA was essentially a policy synthesizer and co-ordinator and not a policy innovator.
As the National Security Council (NSC) of which the President was the political head and the NSA the executive head grew up in strength and power, different NSAs started imparting to the institution of the NSA their own individual stamp. Under Dr Henry Kissinger, who was the NSA under President Richard Nixon, the NSA became a policy innovator, who often gave to the President policy options, which were not necessarily the product of inter-departmental synthesis. He left the responsibility for the co-ordination of the implementation of the policy approved by the President largely to his juniors.
Since then, there have been other instances of NSAs venturing out from the domain of policy co-ordination to that of innovation. Zbigniew Brzezinski who was the NSA under President Jimmy Carter, is an example. NSAs, who kept themselves strictly confined to the original role of co-ordinator, hardly left their mark in the history of policy-making. Not so policy innovators, who are remembered even today.
NSAs are members of the executive staff ( White House staff ) of the President. Their appointment by the President is not subject to confirmation by the Senate. They do not enjoy the same position in the Administration as the independent heads of different departments such as the Secretary of State, of Defence etc. They do not have the same political clout as the departmental heads, who are in a better position to introduce policy innovation than the NSA. Some NSAs really shone in their brilliance when they gravitated from the office of the NSA to that of the Secretary of State. Kissinger and Ms. Condoleezza Rice were examples. How many remember the role of Rice as the NSA during the first term of George Bush as the President? Her initiative and original ideas in policy-making came into their own only after she became the Secretary of State during Bush’s second term.
In India, till 1989, the responsibility for policy co-ordination in national security related matters was shared by the Cabinet Secretary and the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, both of whom came directly under the Prime Minister. They performed jointly the task of policy synthesis, formulation and implementation. In times of crisis, they became policy innovators instead of remaining merely policy co-ordinators. One saw this under Mrs.Indira Gandhi in the months before and during the Indo-Pak war of 1971.
A post of NSA to co-ordinate policy-making in national security matters was created when V.P.Singh was the Prime Minister. M.K.Narayanan, who was the Director of the Intelligence Bureau under Rajiv Gandhi, held this post for less than a year. It ceased to exist till 1999 when it was re-created along with a full-fledged National Security Council mechanism by the Government of Atal Behari Vajpayee in pursuance of recommendations made by a Task Force headed by K.C.Pant, the then Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission.
The Task Force was reportedly in favour of the creation of an independent NSA, who will function along with the CS and the Principal Secretary under the Prime Minister. It envisaged a policy-making and co-ordinating troika advising the Prime Minister. Vajpayee approved the re-creation of the post of the NSA, but instead of appointing an independent person to hold it, he asked Brajesh Mishra, his Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, to wear a second hat as the NSA. Many questioned the wisdom of this decision and felt that national security policy-making would not get undivided attention if the post is not held by an independent person. Despite this, Vajpayee felt that there would be advantages if the Principal Secretary also functioned as the NSA.
In the US, the NSA has no substantive role as the co-ordinator and/or innovator of intelligence-related policy-making. Before 2004, this task was being performed by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in his additional role as the Director, Central Intelligence, in which capacity he was the principal adviser to the President in intelligence-related matters. In 2004, Bush accepted a recommendation of the National Commission, which enquired into the 9/11 terrorist strikes, to create a post of Director, National Intelligence, to function directly under the President and co-ordinate the functioning of the multiplicity of intelligence agencies and their policy-making. This responsibility is no longer exercised by the Director of the CIA.
In India, the administrative co-ordination of the functioning of the intelligence agencies was being and is even now exercised by the CS. There was no formal mechanism for operational co-ordination. The Task Force for the revamping of the intelligence apparatus under G.C.Saxena, former head of the R&AW, set up by the Vajpayee government in 2000 suggested that the Principal Secretary to the PM should exercise this function in his capacity as the NSA. This was accepted.
When Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister in 2004, he split the functions of the NSA from those of the Principal Secretary and made J.N.Dixit, former Foreign Secretary, as an independent NSA. He also appointed Narayanan as the Internal Security Adviser. In addition to advising the PM on all matters relating to external policy-making, Dixit also exercised the function of operational intelligence co-ordinator. Narayanan, as the Internal Security Adviser, had no formal role in intelligence co-ordination.
After the death of Dixit in January 2005, Narayanan was designated as the NSA exercising all functions relating to external and internal security and intelligence co-ordination. Questions have been raised since then by some about the wisdom of appointing an expert in internal security matters to be in charge of external-policy making where, it was argued, experience in diplomacy was essential.
In the US, after 9/11, a post of Adviser to the President on Homeland Security has been created to advise the President on all homeland security matters from his office in the White House. Thus, there are two posts-- the Secretary for Homeland Security, who is the political head of the Homeland Security Department, and the Adviser on Homeland Security, who is a member of the executive staff of the President.
The introduction of this arrangement is justified because internal or homeland security requires a kind of expertise different from external policy making and the ability to co-ordinate the internal security functions of not only all the federal Departments, but also of the States. A person with a purely academic or diplomatic experience may not be able to do justice to this.
In India too, external and internal policy making in national security matters require two different kinds of professional background, expertise and professional networking at the central and state levels. There have been reports that the government is contemplating the appointment of a new NSA.
If so, this is also the right time to consider the following questions: Would it be advisable to have a separate adviser for internal security working in the PMO? Who will be responsible for intelligence co-ordination and policy-making? Should India also have a separate intelligence adviser and co-ordinator working directly under the Prime Minister similar to the arrangement in many countries, including the USA and the UK?
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.