The Indian system at the political level comprises the National Security Council and the Political Council of the Nuclear Command Authority. The change from the Draft was in a Council authorising nuclear use, while in the Draft, it was the prime minister. In this case, the prime minister does so as head of the Political Council. The composition of the Political Council has not been given. However, it is expected to be the same as that of the Cabinet Committee on Security and the National Security Council.25 The defence aspect is represented by the defence minister at this level. At the strategic level is the Executive Council, headed by the NSA. The three chiefs form part of the Executive Council.
There has been no parliamentary legislation on the NSC system”¦Since this vital component of national security is outside of defence, comprising as it does the nuclear complex, it is controlled at the level of the prime minister.
Alongside are the NSC system comprising the NSC Secretariat (NSCS), the Strategic Policy Group (SPG), the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), the Core Group (Committee of Secretaries), the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Cabinet Secretariat. The command post and alternate command post have reportedly been readied. The intelligence system comprises both civilian and military agencies such as National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), which oversees signal intelligence, the Defence Imagery Processing and Assessment Center, Research and Analyses Wing (R&AW), Technical Coordination Group (TCG) and the Intelligence Coordination Group (ICG).
At the operational (Military-Technical) level is the Strategic Forces Command (SFC), Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), Chief of Staff to the COSC (CISC) and Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS). At the executive level are the armaments in the joint custody of the military, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The associated agencies are Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA).
On the SFC, former COSC Admiral Suresh Mehta, opined, “The Strategic Forces Command is a good example of how the Services can work together seamlessly and synergistically, in a ‘Functional’ Command.”26 The SFC has the nuclear assets under operational control, including those with dual capability. These assets are under the administrative control of respective service. Air force assets include Mirage 2000 and Su 30s. News reports have it that the army has a few regiments of Prithvi, Agni I and II ballistic missiles and the Brahmos cruise missiles. Agni III, Sagarika and Shaurya are under development. The nuclear-capable cruise missile Brahmos has been deployed with both the navy and the army. The navy has the ships Suvarna and Subhadra as platforms for the Dhanush missile. The triad is well underway with the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) likely to be in position by mid-decade.
Given the extraordinary power of nuclear weapons and the power that those handling these systems could acquire, it could imbalance the system of democratic checks and balances. It would overcome the lacuna in strategic oversight.
The SFC provisions the primary and alternative command posts, operations rooms and communication links and maintains an interface with the AEC and DRDO. The challenge to C2 in conflict would mainly be communication with ship, submersible, ballistic, nuclear (SSBN) submarines and assets on the move and working through attack, including its electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects. The nascent organisation has the advantage of setting the highest standards of safety and security both procedurally and technologically. This would require that its personnel selection and training be of the highest order. The security of the assets is entrusted to the respective service, where assets are with the service, and the Defence Security Corps for the rest. The safety of nuclear systems, a major issue of nuclear C2 concern, is with the AEC and DRDO of weapons parts in respective custody, and of delivery systems with the user.27
There has been no parliamentary legislation on the NSC system. It was created by a Cabinet Secretariat order of April 1999. Since this vital component of national security is outside of defence, comprising as it does the nuclear complex, it is controlled at the level of the prime minister. The Atomic Energy Act of 1961 provides the legislative cover. However, the arrangement could be improved with greater institutionalisation of oversight. The nuclear dimension of the NSC system requires a parliamentary committee to oversee its working. Streamlining of responsibility that an act can bring about is essential to build in accountability. While the system was growing, there was the requirement of secrecy. It was small and, therefore, was easier to control, even by an overworked prime minister. However, this is not the case since 1998. India has no cause to be secretive or defensive of its existence. The complexity is also growing. Therefore, lines of authority need to be outlined in an act for the purpose. In case of nuclear accidents or nuclear use against or by India, there would be a requirement for an accounting to affix responsibility for both credit or errors of omission and commission. The system today is of strategic reticence and aversion to the written record. This dates to the 1974 tests.28 This can be brought about by deepening of institutionalisation, beginning with national legislation on the strategic nuclear complex.29
The creation of the appointment is overdue, given that the nuclear capability is now two decades old and overt nuclearisation over a decade old. India may create this appointment in due course.
Given the extraordinary power of nuclear weapons and the power that those handling these systems could acquire, it could imbalance the system of democratic checks and balances. It would overcome the lacuna in strategic oversight. Currently, the Political Council is charged with decision making related to nuclear use. This does not have any military representative in keeping with the tradition in civil-military relations of noninclusion of service chiefs in nuclear decision making. This is no longer tenable since military operations are the military’s domain. The nuclear dimension is now intrinsic to the military sphere. Any conventional conflict would have the nuclear backdrop. This, to some, entails that the service chiefs or the chief of defence staff (CDS) in future should figure in the Political Council as statutorily mandated permanent invitees.30 This would have their advice immediately available, alongside that of the NSA, who is the secretary of the Political Council. The disadvantage of this is the danger of the military dimension overshadowing the political in decision making related to nuclear use.31 The aspect certainly needs greater debate than attends it at the moment.