National Security Planning : A Talk by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director of Vivekananda International Foundation, at the National Defence College on 8 September 2021

The National Security planning begins with anaccurate assessment of the nation’s security environment, its responses based upon the doctrines in place and the availability of material resources and manpower.


Since 1999, India has a National Security Council, headed by the Prime Minister. Before that national security was handled in a fragmented fashion. The MOD, Intelligence agencies and the MHA would do their own thing. There was little coordination among them. The Joint Intelligence Committee had roots in the military and was set up in the 1950s. Later on, it was placed under the Cabinet Secretariat. It was heavily conditioned by the inputs it received from the intelligence agencies. It was charged with producing strategic intelligence. However, Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) was a low key institution, more or less dependent upon the intelligence reports given by the different intelligence agencies.

The NSC and its structures have been created by an executive order and not by an act of Parliament. The National Security Council is an advisory body. The decisions on national security are taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security.


The National Security Adviser (NSA), a vital part of national security structures, was defined as a ‘channel’ to the government at the highest level on security matters. Over the years, the profile of the national security adviser has grown significantly. He is involved in most decisions on national security. In August 2019, the government amended the 1961 allocation of business rules and included the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) in the list of government departments. In that amendment, the National Security Adviser was defined as the principal advisor on national security matters to the Prime Minister and the National Security Council. The inclusion of the NSCS in the allocation of business rules is a step forward as this important institution now has been brought at par with other government departments.

The National Security Adviser also heads several institutions which are part of national security planning. For instance, he is the head of the Strategic Policy Group, the Executive Committee of the Nuclear Command Authority. He also heads the National information Board, the Technical Cooperation Group, the National Intelligence Board, the Defence Planning Committee etc. He guides the National Security Advisory Board, which comprises independent experts. He also directs the National Security Council Secretariat which currently has three deputy national security advisers and a military adviser working. They look after external security, internal security, technology issues, military issues etc.

The National Security Adviser also oversees the work of the National Cyber Security Coordinator which is located in the National Security Council Secretariat.

The National Security Adviser is closely involved with other departments like space and atomic energy. Although these departments have their respective chains of command for decision-making, it is inevitable that on national security issues, the National Security Adviser and other components of the National Security Council get involved. The National Security Adviser is also able to iron out interdepartmental issues which arise in the course of decision-making on national security.

Apart from dealing with the security issues that arise in the framework of the government, the NSA has also emerged as a pivot point for engagement on national security issues with other countries. He and the Deputy National Security Advisers conduct discussions with counterpart institutions in other countries. Thus, the NSA and the External Affairs Minister coordinate their positions when it comes to diplomacy on national security.

Other Departments

National security has several components. The Home Ministry is responsible for internal security matters while the Defence Ministry looks after the Armed Forces of the country. The Ministry of External Affairs is in charge of diplomacy. Each Ministry has numerous organisations and agencies which look into thedifferent aspects of national security. The Home Ministry for instance is responsible for border management but this also impacts the Defence Ministry. The work of the space and atomic energy departments has an impact on other departments. Thus, close coordination amongst different ministries is required. The National Security Council, the NSA, the National Security Council Secretariat or well-positioned to do this coordination. For India which has multiple agencies, security cordntion would be a highly desirable delverbale which wold act as a force multiplier and a confidence builder.

India has sought to reform its national security system in response to the numerous security challenges it has faced first. For instance, the Kargil attack the Kargil war of 1999, led to the setting up of the Group Of Ministers which looked into internal security, defence, intelligence and border management issues. The GoM report made over 300 recommendations aimed at reforming the national security management systems. This process is dynamic and is continuing.

New Institutions

As a result of the GoM recommendations, several new institutions were set up. Some of these are the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), Defence Intelligence Agency, National Technical Research Organisation, National Information Board, the Department of Border Management and so on. In response to the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, the Uri attacks in 2016 and the Pulwama attacks in 2019, major changes were made in the national security system. For instance, the counterterrorism system has been upgraded by framing the laws, the creation of a National Investigation Agency, modernisation of police, rationalisation of border management, modernisation of Central Armed Police Forces, increased emphasis on training and capacity building, absorption of modern technology, the focus on the indigenous defence industry. A series of defence reforms (jointness among armed forces, make in India, FDI in the defence sector, defence production corridors, indigenisation, defence exports, procurement, OFB corporatisation, CDS, defence planning committee, defence diplomacy and the like) have been promulgated in recent years.


One of the most important reforms that were recommended 20 years ago but happened only in 2020 was the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The Department of Military Affairs headed by the CDS has been set up in the Ministry of defence. The CDS has a wide remit that includes promoting jointness among the Armed Forces and prioritisation of procurements. The appointment of the CDS and the DMA is a game-changer. It is sure to change the shape of the Armed Forces and will have an impact on how they work.


The CDS is ex officio the Permanent Chairman of the Chief of Staff Committee and also the secretary of the Department of Military Affairs. The DMA will, inter alia, deal with services related procurement issues, joint trainingand planning, restructuring of military commands, the establishment of joint/theatre , commands. The subjects under CDS include military operations, deployments, border intelligence, neighbourhood countries, organisation and manpower planning, pay and allowances, personal management, recruitment policies, training, communication and roads, maintenance of platforms et cetera.

It has been reported that the government is now seriously working on creating integrated tri-service commands. This will be a new experiment although a tri-service command was created for Andaman and Nicobars almost two decades ago. That experience will help. The creation of joint commands will bring about fundamental changes in the Armed Forces and warfighting doctrines. In so far as theaterisation is concerned, we need to proceed with great caution in this direction.

The Armed Forces face the challenge of hybrid warfare which requires an altogether different approach. The Chief of Defence Staff and the Department of Military Affairs are the drivers of these changes. The shape and structure of the Armed Forces is likely to change in the coming years.

The government also set up a Defence Planning Committee under the National Security Adviser a few years ago. The innovative part of this reform was that key officials like the Foreign Secretary, Finance Secretary and Defence Secretary are members of the committee. The CDS is also a member.

The challenge of cyber and space security is growing by the day. India has set up a Cyber Defence Agency and Space Agency to look into these issues. We need to step up our ISR capabilities, space domain awareness, cyber defence, and cyber offence. This will require a new approach. The Armed Forces have the challenge of absorbing the latest technologies, training their men and officers inthe latest technologies.

Multidomain Capabilities

Over the decades, the Indian Army has fought cross-border terrorism. It has emerged as well oiled efficient counterterrorism force. This has impacted the ethos and functioning of the Armed Forces. However, the Galwan crisis with China in 2020 revealed that the Armed Forces will have to have

multiple capacities to deal with multiple challenges ranging from conventional warfighting to hybrid warfare

. The Indian Army mobilised two divisions, heavy artillery et cetera at formidable heights. It also built strategic roads and other infrastructure in record times. This was a new experience. This speaks for the resilience of the Armed Forces. It underlines the fact that the conventional challenge of fighting an enemy on the borders has not changed.

In the past few years, another truth has emerged. The Indian Armed Forces would have to be proficient in all domains, including the maritime domain. Thus, continental and maritime aspects of national security would have to be seen together. It is interesting that in their public statements even Army Chiefs have called for the strengthening of the Indian Navy.

Today, India has India is a member of the

Quad Security

Dialogue which includes the United States, Australia and Japan. The Malabar exercises amongst the four countries have grown in scope and complexity. Following the enunciation of an Indo Pacific Oceans Initiative, India’s security strategy now gives prominence to the maritime dimension.

Maritime security is a highly complex and challenging task. According to reports, India may be setting up a

maritime security adviser

soon. This is a much-needed step. We need to have a proper synergy between the continental and maritime security dimensions. Airpower can play a role both in the continent and in the seas. Thus, we need to evolve over security doctrines accordingly keeping in mind not only the Continental and maritime aspects but also cyber and space.

The evacuation of stranded citizens from conflict zones and disaster stricken areas is becoming a norm. Indian Armed Forces have lately been involved in massive evacuation exercises, HADR, and even in the fight against the pandemic. Thus, even in peacetime, the Armed Forces have been active. Although India does not have an expeditionary force, it has played a major role in the Tsunami of 2004 and, antipiracy operations in the Gulf. On many occasions, the Indian Armed Forces are required to work beyond India’s borders. The out–of–area contingency operations are also an essential part of the Armed Forces functioning.

Natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more intense. They wreak havoc on lives and properties. In the last two years as India was fighting covid, it was also struck with massive hurricanes on East as well as West coasts. The Indian forces have been involved in search and rescue missions and also providing relief. HADR will become an important part of India’s military doctrines. The involvement of the Indian Armed Forces in disaster relief is episodic. The

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)

, headed by the Prime Minister, is the right forum to deal with natural disasters and their aftermath. However, there has to be proper coordination between the NDMA, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the state and central institutions. More attention should be given to the resilience of respect which is an integral part of national security management.

National security goes well beyond defending the borders and maintaining law and order.

Fighting terrorism, militancy and insurgencies

has emerged as a major task for the Indian Armed Forces and the Central police forces and police. The role of intelligence in preventing such attacks cannot be overstated. The return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan is expected to give a boost to the jihadi groups and networks across the world. India will have to be aware and sensitised to the growing threat of terrorism and radicalisation.

Dealing with terrorism requires not just law enforcement agencies but also coordination with agencies of the Ministry of Finance. Terror finance is a major headache. Narcotics and trafficking also feed into terrorism. Thus, the Ministry of Finance and its agencies which deal with banking systems, narcotics control, money laundering issues etc will also have to be involved.

The challenge of national security planning is to include non-traditional security threats into overall planning. The Economic Intelligence Council, headed by the Finance Minister, looks into some of the aspects of economic security. However, the remit of the EIC has been limited only to a few issues like counterfeit currency, money laundering et cetera. The economic dimension of national security must be integrated with the traditional dimension of national security.

National Security Planning in India is still a departmental exercise. silos. NSC is not a planning body. It is an advisory body on national security. Its key role has been assessment, coordination and advice. Each Ministry has its plans. They work as per their understanding of national security threats. While National Security Council has made some difference, we need to strengthen the institution and give it more powers to ensure and enforce coordination.
It is a bit surprising that India has not yet come out with a public statement of its National Security Strategy in the form of an authoritative document. Many countries have this practice. One reason could be that the National Security Council is an advisory body whose recommendations are not binding. This may be changing though. Recently, the National Security Council Secretariat came up with a National Security Directive For Telecom Sector mandating the telecom service providers to use only trusted and safe products in their networks. The system of issuing national security directives should be taken forward. However, care must be taken that the National Security Council has the necessary authority and wherewithal of enforcing such directives.

Many knowledgeable people feel that India’s

national security management system is lacking

in relation to the threats it faces. The intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination needs to be improved. The

coordination amongst intelligence agencies

is also a matter of concern. India needs to improve its methodologies of national security assessments. Modern methods like scenario building and planning, big data analytics, net assessment et cetera need to be adopted.

One problem is the shortage of domain experts. We need experts in national security. National security issues should also be included in the curricula of the universities. The awareness of national security should be enhanced. It is also essential that the feeling of one India, civilisational India and a successful India should be inculcated right from the school level. Organisation like the NCC can be strengthened further to enhance their outreach to schools and colleges.

A more serious problem is the lack of coordination with the states. The states have responsibility for law and order which they discharged through the police forces. The Centre has the responsibility for overall national security. Proper coordination between the Centre and the states is important. If you must, ways and means should be found to involve the states in national security management in a formal way.

There is a need to strengthen national security planning in India. The following measures are suggested:

  • We should take national security planning to a higher level. Coordination by itself should be regarded as a desirable deliverable.
  • Strengthen the role of the National Security Council, both as a body that authenticates the national security environment but also ensures coordination amongst numerous institutions involved in national security. The turf issues among different institutions must be smoothed out by the National Security Council.
  • Address the shortages of domain experts. We need greater expertise in languages, technologies, national security disciplines et cetera. Training and capacity building issues should be addressed.
  • There is an urgent need to facilitate the absorption of technology across the board in national security institutions. This is a challenging task that cannot be deferred anymore.
  • We must develop indigenous defence manufacturing and indigenous technology in the wider security domain, particularly in the defence area.
  • We must have a mechanism to take on board the non-traditional security issues like climate change, food energy and water security, economic security, health security et cetera. The National Security Council can be the right forum to debate discussing these issues and to make proper recommendations.
  • Improve coordination between the Centre and the states on national security issues.
  • The government should have a regular engagement with the opposition on security threats and responses. Refrain from politicising national security issues.
  • In the changing environment, China Pakistan nexus can be debilitating for India. Our diplomacy must take into account the new challenges. Now we can add the Taliban to the list. They should be synergy between the Ministry of External Affairs, the Minister of Defence, the Ministry of Home Affairs and other ministries. The National Security Council can be the right forum for such coordination.
  • The National Security Council must come up with a national security strategy periodically.
  • Thank you.

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