Articles and Commentaries |
September 10, 2018

Integrated National Command Structure


It is said that the study of history is necessary to understand behaviour of a country in any given situation, particularly the ones related to security. A good understanding of history is therefore an important ingredient of statecraft. In the present context of ‘Integration of Command Structures’ we need to look into some historical perspectives on war strategies since this will be the bedrock of any larger national command structure. Wars are a manifestation of the political will of a country and therefore when one talks of integration, it should not be limited to Armed Forces structure alone, but that of entire organ of the state which shapes political will.

Future conflict is not akin to the wars of yesteryears. There is more and more focus on non contact wars which are fought in new mediums and domains such as cyber, space, electronics, trade and communication.  New wars unlike contact wars tend to minimise loss of human lives and the emphasis is to cripple daily usage infrastructure like transportation, power, automobile, information support systems and, communication; the broad intention being to bring everyday functioning of the state to standstill and create public unrest. This does not mean that there would be no contact warfare. Countries which have not migrated to technically advanced systems will still have to rely on proven methods, and countries like India, which are in transition, will resort to hybrid warfares, and a combination of contact and non contact warfare. Wars always impact country’s economy, trade and the daily lives of people and therefore it is necessary to exhaustively study the impact of war before a country jumps into the fray. The National Command Structure which assesses the impacts of war must include those organs of state which are stakeholders in national security apparatus; war has to be a nation’s war and not Armed Force’s war, which was the case earlier, in which it used to be fought far removed from civil areas. Today’s wars impact people’s daily lives. Some are low cost and yet cause large public impact, like the Mumbai terror attack which kept the entire government machinery engaged for four days in which ten attackers killed over 157 people. It is with this backdrop that an integrated national command structure approach will automatically lead to resultant reforms in many other institutions of governance including the Armed Forces.

Ram Madhav in his book “Uneasy Neighbours” makes a comparison between two games played on board – Chess and Wei Che – and says that “Chess is a game of single minded pursuit of victory over the enemy. In this game each player attempts to secure a comprehensive victory over the other by removing his army and check mating the king. Chess is all about total victory or a draw when both sides withdraw abandoning the hope for victory.” He adds, “… on the contrary, the Chinese game of Wei Che is all about strategic encirclement. In Wei Che, there is a board with nineteen by nineteen lines, and each player tries to fill the slots by placing his pieces- 180 per player. Each side slowly builds up positions at various places on the board by encircling and capturing the enemy’s pieces. Multiple contests take place simultaneously at different places on the board. At the end of a well played game, the board is filled by partially interlocked areas of strength. To an untrained eye, the identity of the winner is not always immediately obvious.”

Today, the nature of warfare has changed and is unlike the game of chess, which is akin to wars fought in yesteryears. We are witnessing cyber, space, nuclear, electronics, communication, optical and light being used as medium of warfare to prove a country’s supremacy. These mediums of war need large scale planning involving all organs of the state, each working in concert for a common cause of ensuring peace and prosperity for their citizens.

Ram Madhav also quotes Henry Kissinger from his magnum opus ‘On China’, who says “If chess is about decisive battle, Wei Che is about the protracted campaign. The chess player aims for total victory. The Wei Che player seeks relative advantage.”

He goes on to say, “skilful chess player aims to eliminate his opponent’s pieces in a series of head on clashes, a talented Wei Che player moves into ‘empty’ spaces on the board, gradually mitigating the strategic potential of his opponent’s pieces. Chess produces single mindedness; Wei Che generates strategic flexibility.”

Thus, if chess is about Clausewitzian concept of centre of gravity and decisive point then Wei Che is art of strategic encirclement. Today, we are witnessing a clear shift from chess like ‘elimination of the enemy’ to ‘encircle the enemy’ and leave no option but for him to follow your directions.

Even older theorists and strategists have spoken about wars and battles. The 400 BCE theorist Sun Tzu talked about defeating the enemy without resorting to a clash of arms. For him combat was literally the last resort.  Quintas Fabius (280 BCE – 203 BCE) talked about the strategy of “fleet in being”, in which the presence of an enemy fleet is sufficient to influence an opponent’s strategy, even though that fleet rarely, if ever, leaves port. Closer to home, Kautilya has mentioned four kinds of war –  ‘Mantrayuddha’, war by counsel (exercise diplomacy); ‘Prakasa-yuddha’, open warfare at a time and place of your choosing; ‘Kutayuddha’, concealed or psychological warfare, instigating treachery in an enemy camp; and ‘Gudayuddha’, clandestine war, using covert methods to achieve objectives without waging a battle. This could include the usage of agents, double agents, allies and supporters of the enemy. In fact, Kautilya goes on to say that by adopting appropriate foreign policy a head of state can bring prosperity for its people.

The focus of this article is to examine the national command structures of leading powers in the world which makes them effective Wei Che practitioners.  Is it time for India to have a comprehensive national command structure or only compartmentalised military reform? If we have Wei Che like national objective and also a structure to support it, then there would necessarily be a need to reform higher Defence Organisation as a component of larger reform.

Synergy in National
Security Structures

A study of the United State’s security system reveals that number of reforms over the years have led to evolution of the present national command structure. An evolved US administration structure also necessitated reforms in the Armed Forces structures. In 1946, the US established the National Intelligence Authority under President Truman. After WW II the international order was aligning itself into two power blocks led by the USA and the Soviet Union, each representing a different political system. The US, the western power, was leader of the free democratic world and USSR, the eastern power was the leader of a communist system. One was a practitioner of free market economy, and the other of state controlled economy. Each bloc represented different ideological themes based on their history of struggle. Yet the comparison between the East and the West military powers reflected a degree of parity whereas economic power was at large variance, commercial practices being vastly different.

The two power blocs, were always suspicious of each other and closely spied on developments in technology and economy. There was always an apprehension in the minds of the leaders of each bloc that the other may widen the power asymmetry and upset the leadership balance. The US considered it necessary to synergise its entire organ of state to retain leadership of the free world. The US and its allies also considered it necessary to prevent the spread of communism, since in their opinion it violated fundamental right of citizens, namely, freedom of speech. Diplomacy alone was inadequate to contain the Soviet Bloc. With this backdrop National Security Council Act in the US was brought in force which forms the basis of the present National Security Council structure. Indeed, with the passage of time there has been restructuring to accommodate the realities of a changing world and its geopolitics. Entire structure of NSC represents body of synergised organs of state which helps the US Administration exercise comprehensive national power worldwide.

Much of Indian contemporary writings have debated and argued restructuring of Higher Defence Organisation. In the contemporary context, Defence restructuring, i.e., CDS and MoD integration etc should be a subset of a  larger reformed Integrated National Command Structure, and that needs to be given due consideration. We need to become a Wei Chi player and not remain a chess player in geo-strategic game.

Who are we to restructure for? Is it country specific? Not really, it is for India to exploit her full potential and place the country in her rightful place in the world. If we have integrated national structure which synergises long term objectives and strategies, is inclusive of stakeholders in national security, we probably may not have to take knee jerk reactions. Most of our neighbouring states are on the path of economic progress and therefore they would avoid full fledged conflict, else it could retard their own progress.  Recent official study by the US Defence Department has concluded that China is increasingly employing coercive measures, which are backed by its growing economic, diplomatic and military clout to advance its interests. At the same time it does not wish to destabilise regional stability by provoking full fledged war which could impact its own economic development. China’s intentions to replace the US from established world order is well known but it encompasses its tactics of salami slicing on land borders with India and in the East Sea/ South China Sea where it openly flouts internationally agreed laws. What the world is witnessing is a synergistic National Command Structure of China where its leader having absolute power is challenging international rule based world order.

Let us take a look at the two models of National Command Structures. Firstly the USA NSC structure is designed as the basic organisation to provide advice to the Head of State (the President) in all matters of national security, i,e, military and foreign policy. The Council is the principal arm for coordinating the policies among various government agencies and monitor its implementation as well as assess its success or failure.

Post 9/11, the US created Homeland Security Council but later in October 2009 the HSC and NSC were merged into one National Security Staff (in the White House). In 2014 the name of the staff supporting the organisation was changed back to NSC Staff. Essentially there are three committees in the NSC:-

(a)  Principals Committee –  Normally, the NSA (who has cabinet rank status) chairs the meeting and the attendees are, Secretaries of State, Treasury, Defence, Energy, Homeland Security, Attorney General, COS White House, Director National Intelligence, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Director CIA, Homeland Security Advisor and the US Ambassador to the UN. When considering international economic issues, the Principals Committee’s regular attendees also include Secretary of Commerce , US Trade Representative and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy.

(b)  Deputies Committee – It is the senior sub-Cabinet interagency forum for reviewing and monitoring the National Security process and directing the Policy Coordination Committees. The Deputies Committee is chaired by Deputy NSA or Deputy Homeland Security Advisor and attended by Deputy NSA for Strategies, Deputy Secretary of State, Deputy Secretaries of Treasury, Defence, Energy, Homeland Security, Deputy Director of Management and Budget, Deputy Director National Intelligence, Vice Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, NSA to Vice President, Administrator of US Agency for International Development and Deputy Director CIA. Depending upon the issues the Deputy or Assistant Secretaries of executive departments and agencies are called. Generally, Deputy White House Counsel and Executive Secretary attend all meetings.

( c)           Policy Coordination Committees – These committees are directed by the Deputies Committee and are responsible for management of the development and implementation of NSC policies through Inter Agency  Policy Coordination Committees. They are the coordinators for day-to-day activities pertaining to their areas of responsibility. These committees analyse implementation and aide the Deputies and Principal Committee. The Coordination Committees are chaired by respective Directors of NSC or National Economic Council Staff. Attendees are generally Assistant Secretary level officials of relevant departments.

It can be observed that the departments which directly contribute to National Security are part of the structure which makes plans, implements, coordinates, monitors and analyses the progress and provides feedback to the higher committees. It is Integrated Command Structure of a country synergised to take decisions on national security issues (not necessarily military security, for example trade war against China, sanctions on Russia and Iran etc). The approach is inclusive, wherein most organs of the state are participants in decision making process and ensure its implementation. There are coordination agencies for each set of activities. This agency also conducts impact analysis to aid the principal participants in taking further necessary steps. The National Security Council, as a full council which includes all three layers at times, is always chaired by the the head of state, the President in the instant case, and the Vice President is a statutory attendee.

The second model is the Israeli National Security Structure.It is worth examining the Israeli structure since the country has survived numerous continuous threats from its inception. Israeli system is quick to react and it reacts boldly since advancements in niche technology has made it a manufacturer of highly effective modern weapon systems. It was only after the Yom Kippur war that Israel established NSC as part of its Prime Minister’s Office in 1999. The objective of the NSC is to serve as a centralised advisory body to the Prime Minister and the government regarding issues of national security. NSC derives its authority from the government and operates on the directives of the Prime Minister. Broadly, the roles are:

l  Make Senior Council forums and advice the PM (and the government) on all matters of national security

l  Make integrative assessment of the trends in national security

l  Increase coordination and integration amongst operational staff and authorities

l  Advise the government on all matters of policy on security

l  Prepare long term perspective of the country and make plans for action by synergising elements of state, see its implementation, follow up and provide updates on activities

l  Maintain cooperation and coordination with similar organisations of friendly countries.

The NSC has three wings – Security Policy, Foreign Policy and Counter Terrorism Bureau. There are two advisers, legal and economic. The charter of Security Policy wing and Counter Terrorism Bureau is classified. The Foreign Policy Wing carries out political situation assessment in the region, recommends appropriate Israel’s policy towards these situations and also coordinates strategic dialogue with similar organisations of friendly countries. The differences between the two National Command Structures – the US and Israel – are stark and these are based on differing political intentions. And these political intentions are a reflection of the history of struggles that the countries underwent and hence it determines the path to be followed to ensure peace and stability for secured and better living standards of its citizens. It also reflects the pedestal of development to which the country has climbed and to the extent it intends using powers at its disposal for retaining its supremacy.

Integrated Command
Structure – India’s Case

Do we have an effective structure to meet our aspirations? After all, the country is on the path of major economic progress. It has avoided any major conflict, foreign policy has been effective in overcoming occasional turbulences on borders and we have a policy to increase indigenous content in our defense equipment.

India’s former Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, has said that the desired levels of integration amongst stakeholders are achieved in solving a number of complex situations. Is our institution of Cabinet Committee on Security adequately supported by multi-disciplinary body to implement the policy decisions or are there layers which delay decision making or implementation? These are important aspects which need exhaustive study. Is the National Security Council Secretariat manned with domain specialists and what is their equation with Foreign Office and the Armed Forces headquarters who ultimately convert policies into action? How about major commercial and trade decisions which have direct impact on national security?  Is it being discussed across the table and who monitors these policy implementations and provides feedback to the CCS? Are the Departments of Finance, Expenditure, Communication, IT, Space, Public and Private Sector Defence equipment manufacturers etc represented? One such model may be worthy of consideration.

Integrated National Command Structure or whatever else be its nomenclature, would be headed by the PM. It could consist of:

l  Ministers of External Affairs, Defence, Home, Finance, Communication, Surface Transport, Civil Aviation, Atomic Energy, Space, Information Technology, Railways, NSA, Chairman Chiefs of Staff (or CDS when appointed) and Chiefs of Armed Forces.

The second layer could comprise of :

l  Deputy NSA (Coordination), Secretaries of Ministries whose ministers are on the Council, Three Vice Chiefs, CISC, Chairman NTRO, Atomic Energy Commission, Secretary (R) , Director Intelligence Bureau, C-in-C SFC, Chairman ISRO, DG DRDO.

The third layer of implementation and coordination Committees:

l  Could be headed by  respective Deputy NSAs (There should be following Deputy NSAs with domain specialisation :-  Foreign Policy, Military Affairs, Maritime Affairs, Border Management, Internal Security, Trade/Commerce/Economy, SFC, Space/ Cyber/Communication.)

l  Each Deputy NSA to be supported by Director Level Officers from their own domains (eg. Military Operations, Maritime Operations, Air Operations; MEA’s Policy Division, Border Management from Home Ministry, Cyber from NTRO, Joint Director IB, ISRO, DRDO etc.).

The composition of each of the layers and their components could be deliberated and conclusions could be translated into an act of Parliament. Many decisions of this body may be based on concurrent studies of the present NSCS. The third layer of implementation committees will also have the responsibility of analysis and feedback to the higher committees.

Looking at the broader framework, one can observe that national decision making body also has implementation wing of the government integrated within. The Ministries, Service headquarters, Departments specialising in future areas of warfare will have to reform themselves to accommodate these structures. Many decisions could be strategic in nature and the country may have to bide its time before its capabilities become at par with adversaries.


Attempt has been made to modify our existing system to accommodate the new realities in geopolitics. The civil and military infrastructures are intertwined and any disruption in one would have an impact on the other. For example, ease of doing business in communication and IT sector with a particular country may be lucrative and cheap but it could run the risk of cyber attacks which would impact matters military. These are times of dual usage technologies and therefore decisions of doing business with any foreign country cannot be done on commercial considerations alone. For our development to run on fast track we have to have inclusive institutions which would study, analyse, decide, implement, monitor and provide feedback for reassessment. The option of segregated small organisations is not a choice anymore. India is a vast country, an elephant and when the elephant rises it walks. When the elephant finds a dragon it runs towards it and forces him to vacate the space. Let us remember that we should have all the arrangements for a Wei Chi game now, to confront future challenges.

(Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha is a Trustee of India Foundation. He is a former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff & former Commander in Chief of Western Naval Command.)

(This article is carried in the print edition of September-October 2018 issue of India Foundation Journal.)

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