As the foundation stone of INDU (Indian National Defense University) forlorn on a field in Haryana and the INDU Bill languishes in the Lok Sabha, Pakistan’s National Defense University (NDU) has gained prominence over the years. INDU and NDU were both convinced in the same era before the Bangladesh liberation war.
The history of INDU or IDU is somewhat sad – a university of utmost national importance caught in a tug of war between military and bureaucracy with accountants playing cheerleaders. It was on 23rd May 2013, at Binola, Gurugram, then PM Manmohan Singh laid the foundation, and in 2017, HQ IDS (Integrated Defense Staff) finalized the IDU, but since then, the bill has been lying with the PMO for over two and a half years. Meanwhile, the government is mooting over RRU (Rashtriya Raksha University), primarily established as a ‘police university’as a credible alternative to IDU. As it stands, India does not have a Nodal University comprising field experts from Intelligence, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), Industry, Armed Forces, Academia, CAPFs, Financial and Legal experts, and Linguists.
National security academic programmes in India are deficient in number, dominated by Central universities and few private universities. There are 40+ departments across the country offering courses in DSS / NSS. For academicians, BA and MA defense and strategic studies programmes are theoretical in Military history, War studies, and Military science and help in the critical understanding of the region but lack the empirical data-driven analysis and war gaming. There is a stark contrast between what the employer (Intelligence agencies, Think tanks, and STEM) looking for and what the students are taught. NSA Ajit Doval alluded to this on a recent visit to RRU, “The University should adopt an empirical research model and develop a solutions-oriented approach to map and understand the nation’s most pressing security challenges.”
Language and Technical competence are two barriers to graduates of security studies in India; secondly, even if given language and technical skills, there is no lateral absorption of specialists in the Armed Forces or intelligence agencies, leading to further woes. There is some exceptional research happening at think tanks like CAPS, CLAWS, IDSA, and ORF, but there is a greater need to expand our academic engagement with the world to cement our narrative. Although we have the world’s third-largest Army and the largest contributor to UN Peacekeeping operations, yet we don’t have our school of thought like the Copenhagen School of Security Studies or the Paris School of Security Studies. However, the situation has changed drastically for STEM experts with hackathons-based solution-oriented competitions, a renewed focus on indigenization, and grants for project development under the aegis of the Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO). The situation in the Armed Forces and intelligentsia setup is much better with services and agencies having separate courses at junior, senior, and higher levels of command and working groups for specialization and having their own style of interaction with specialists of the various domains through overt and covert means. It is not that we do not have dedicated infrastructure or the wherewithal to have one. Still, the proof of the pudding lies in the holistic approach to national security, the synergy between the different actors, and how fast they can achieve national objectives and strategic goals through enhanced collaborations within and outside government.
Need for expansion of NSCS and Strategic Communications Command
The induction of agniveers into the Armed Forces cannot be the last Politico-Military objective of a long list of reforms since 2014. In a long drawn process, we have been able to rectify the analogies of the national security management system, the process that began with the OROP, the evolution of National Security Architecture, the Make-in-India initiative, OFB reforms, and ToD, but the buck should not stop here. There lies a need to revisit and review mandates of groups like the Economic Intelligence Council (EIC) and Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Multi-Agency Centre (MAC), and Subsidiary Multi-Agency Centre (SMAC). Bodies like Intelligence Coordination Group (ICG) and Technology Coordination Group (TCG) need specialists from within the government or outside on permanent postings and not done by people on 2–3 year tenure.
With the advent of newer technologies like 5G and challenges like Grey zone and Salami-slicing, the expansion of NSCS (National Security Council Secretariat) is a must. Currently, NSCS consists of four verticals, three-headed by Deputy NSAs and the fourth by the Military advisor, that service the NSC (National Security Council), NSAB (National Security Advisory Board), and SPG (Strategic Policy Group). NSCS deals with verticals that host issues ranging from internal security to civil-military fusion. When expanded, NSCS can provide an excellent opportunity for young proficient individuals with the skillset to tap into the experience of learning from the field experts as well as it helps NSCS to retain and groom specialists as they can further act as a feeder system for the SPG and NSAB (National Security Advisory Board). NSCS not only requires an expansion in strength and capacity but also needs to act as a bridge between the national security establishment and think tanks/research institutions working on national security and strategic studies. Raising a Strategic Communication Command (SCC) similar to Pakistan’s ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations) can serve the required purpose. The command can work both as an information warfare formation in conflict-ridden areas and as a command at the national level. Regional offices could be formulated in regions/states to look after local issues of national security and take in local inputs required to play the narratives regionally. Sub-offices can also look after the role of OSINT (open-source intelligence), recruiting talent, and addressing ever-rising honeytrap cases.
National security today requires a broad canvas of domain specialists, selected based on merit and not on the traditional government selection procedures, with attractive remuneration packages to maximize the efforts. They will also need to challenge the systemic complacencies that have plagued our systems for years and would need to move away from turf wars and resistance from existing silos. NSCS will also have to address the argument of the bureaucracy sidelining and filtering the military. We also need to devise new undergraduate and post graduate courses for IITs, IIMs, and Central universities in the field of national security with paramount emphasis on disruptive technology and Language skills and providing them with good career options to pursue in this field. The first step towards mainstreaming national security studies starts with a dedicated university, as proposed by HQ IDS, with 33 percent allocation to people from all walks of life and the rest reserved for Armed Forces, IB, and RA&W run by NSAB to avoid civil-military logjam over the authority.