SHOULD THE MANDARIN SPEAKING NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR RESIGN?
There was a Pakistani intrusion into Indian territory in 1999 in Kargil in J&K. It was considered as an intelligence failure of Himalayan proportions. Post-Kargil, an expert committee was appointed by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee under the chairmanship of Late Shri K. Subramaniam, former Defense Secretary and a respected strategy and security expert that made a number of recommendations. One of the suggestions was to establish the office of the National Security Advisor who would render overall advice to the Government of India (read PMO) on security matters so as to avoid the kind of intelligence failure we saw during the Kargil fiasco.
India’s current National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon is a Mandarin speaking former foreign secretary who has held the office of NSA since 17th January 2010. He has been a former Indian Ambassador to China who has generally a good image as a diplomat having succeeded in getting NSG approval for the US-India Civil Nuclear Energy Deal. He comes from a family of accomplished diplomats; his father Parappil Narayana Menon served as the ambassador to Yugoslavia in his last days. His grandfather K. P. S. Menon (senior) was India’s first Foreign Secretary, while his uncle K. P. S. Menon (junior) was the former Indian ambassador to China. From these impeccable credentials it appears that diplomacy runs in his genes. It also seems that being the foreign secretary to the Government of India as well as being the ambassador to China runs in his genes from the paternal side of his family. He has generally taken a very conciliatory stance towards China in his public pronouncements.
We are facing again a situation analogous to both 1999 Kargil fiasco as well as 1962 Chinese war against India in regards to the recent Chinese intrusion in the Daulat Beg Oldi sector in the Ladakh district of J&K. There were ample warnings about multiple Chinese intrusions into Indian territory across the Line of Actual Control during the last few years. All branches of the PLA (army, air-force and navy) have repeatedly intruded into Indian territory during the last few years. In fact the former Chief of Army retired General VK Singh had amply warned the Government of India about lack of military preparedness on our northern border against a very hostile adversary. Our security establishment as well as the government of the day minimized these brazen incidents. False and dastardly malicious rumors were spread about the possibility of an army coup being staged by the retired General VK Singh.
Certainly, it appears that the current NSA has failed miserably in properly advising the Government of India about the magnitude of the threat perception from China though he has been in office for more than three years. There has been a serious failure of overall threat assessment as well as of threat perception from China by the office of NSA. It would be honorable for the NSA Shiv Shankar Menon to submit his resignation and own up the moral responsibility for the dismal failure of his office. One wonders whether he was reading the Chinese (Mandarin) press at all during the last three years?
This brings us to two more pertinent issues regarding management of India’s security establishment.
First has to do with the credentials for appointment to the post of National Security Advisor. Why it is that only retired IFS officers are deemed worthy and capable enough of leading the office of the NSA? Why does not the Government of the day rely on security and strategic expertise outside the “clubby” community of retired civil servants. Why can we not have a retired defense officer appointed as the National Security Advisor?
Second relevant issue is about the non-implementation of the K Subramaniam Committee’s recommendation about the appointment of a Chief of Defense Staff (CDS). When will the Government of India consider appointing a CDS? Perhaps after the PLA reaches New Delhi?
George Santayana once famously said: “Those who fail to learn from the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it!
THE COUNCIL FOR STRATEGIC AFFAIRS, NEW DELHI