New Delhi: The role of the national security advisor is often misunderstood and misdirected in countries that have copied the US model, and this is the case with India as well. Abuse of the NSA’s office has also been witnessed in the United States, abuser number one having been Henry Kissinger in the recent past and Zbigniew Brzezinski a close second. While one ran rings around a president weakened by an international crisis (Jimmy Carter; the Iran hostage affair), the other skewed advices received from other departments while transmitting them to his street-fighter boss (Richard Nixon). The NSA’s office was designed to receive national security inputs from the departments of state, defence, the covert services, listening agencies, and so forth, and place them in chewed and digested form before the president. Rarely did an NSA colour the advice to fit his or her private perception as Kissinger did, and NSAs were also wary of bright presidents and brighter secretaries of state and defence with independent lines of communication with the White House. The NSA’s office was primarily conceived as a clearing house but its creativity was occasionally tested when it had to reconcile conflicting analyses and opinions on critical matters and present the president with choices and outcomes. As an unsurpassed Major Power, the United States could claim success for its national security institutions, including the office of the NSA. But the fact remains that Henry Kissinger was at least partly responsible for expanding the Vietnam War and burying the United States deeper in the bog, while Brzezinski will always be associated with the evil which gripped Afghanistan with the “mujahideen wars”.

How has the NSA’s office in India fared?


Having progressively worsened since the NSA’s office was established in 1998, it has touched bottom with the incumbent, Ajit Doval. The blame, however, does not primarily or even substantially rest with him. The realm of national security is seen as esoteric; impenetrable to anyone but “experts”; and anyone who has worn any kind of uniform (even that of a postman) or moved up the diplomatic rungs without showing the smallest of talents is automatically classed as an “expert” and given geopolitical carte blanche. The trouble is not with the so-called experts. They don’t know better and cannot be expected to perform like geniuses. Political authority generally has scant interest in geopolitics or geo-economics unless they are of a rare kind like Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, P. V. Narasimha Rao or A. B. Vajpayee. When megalomaniacs seize power, their primary interest is in perpetuating their rule. They are obsessed with domestic politics and keen to stay on top forever. In consequence, they outsource national security to “experts” who cannot come out of the rut of their own limited service experience. Since India has never been a world power, it does not have institutional experience of the world like the United States does or the UK, France and even Japan. Therefore, national security is conceived in constricted terms of hard power, a police state, conventional weapons, calamitous decisiveness, “surgical strikes”, stable majority governments, everlasting allies and enduring enemies, and all the other constructs of the pre-nuclear and geo-economic ages. Indian NSAs speak as though the world is struck in the Thirty’ Years War. For all they know, the Peace of Westphalia never occurred. This was the delusion that Joseph Goebbels spread mesmerized by Adolf Hitler’s manic ambitions of world dominion. Indian NSAs, retired and serving, have not understood the phenomenon called Donald Trump. He has upturned most tenets of geopolitics and combined the imperatives of the nuclear age with the hegemonies inhering in geo-economics. How possibly can the Colonel Blimps of the world ever fathom his complexities?

It is no more than the truth to state that India has lost its way in the geostrategic jungle. India lags in understanding a rapidly changing global order. The worst of two worlds has come together in this regime. The head of government, Narendra Modi, understands neither geopolitics nor geo-economics; and persists with confusing event management for geostrategy. His NSA has never outgrown field operations and has followed his worst natural instincts in the CBI scandal. You cannot sleep easy at night with such rustics at the helm.