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George Iype in New Delhi
Nearly four months after India conducted its nuclear tests, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government has not taken any concrete steps to set up the proposed National Security Council and establish a nuclear command system despite repeated requests from the Chiefs of Staff Committee.
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said instituting these apex security bodies is getting delayed because it is "an intricate and time-consuming process".
"Setting up the top security apparatus also involves huge budgetary allocation. The government therefore plans to study how a nuclear command authority operates in other nuclear countries," an official associated with the plan told Rediff On The NeT.
Prime Minister Vajpayee is expected to constitute a committee of
ministers comprising the defence, external affairs, finance and home ministers soon to concretise plans for these security projects. An expert group of officials will study the nuclear command system in countries like the United States and Russia, sources said.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party government is still uncertain about whose finger should be on the nuclear button, the chiefs of the army, navy and air force -- impatient about the delay -- have once again submitted their proposals on the subject to the prime minister.
In a recent communication, the service chiefs called upon the Vajpayee
government to immediately form a strategic national organisation to handle
Their proposal says the country's top political authority supported by
the military leadership should control the deployment of nuclear weapons.
It has recommended the constitution of a National Command Authority which
will ultimately be responsible for taking vital decisions on the use of nuclear
weapons in times of war. While the NCA should comprise the prime minister and
defence, external affairs, finance and home ministers, the Chiefs
of Staff Committee will act as military advisors.
The NCA should be replicated at various levels in order for it to be adequately
functional and effective, it says.
The proposal from the service chiefs is not new. In April 1996, the Chiefs of
Staff Committee had recommended to the government, the need to set up an NCA
to handle any nuclear contingency.
"The armed forces have been submitting similar recommendations ever
since India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974. But these proposals have
been relegated to dusty files by the successive governments," a defence
ministry official told Rediff On The NeT.
"The Vajpayee government has at least understood that the formation of a
strategic nuclear command system is a necessity now that India is a nuclear
power," he stated.
However, the official added that the only issue confronting the Vajpayee
government is the nature and shape of a nuclear command
authority -- whether it should be military or non-military.
Ever since the Pokhran tests in May, security experts have been
voicing concern over the need for a nuclear command authority that would be the
ultimate repository of decision making in times of a nuclear crisis.
In the current political and military framework, there is no
institutionalised structure for handling a nuclear crisis. If India's
political leadership in New Delhi happens to be a victim of a nuclear strike,
there would then be no political or military authority in place to assume
command of the situation in the country.
Therefore, security analysts insist that with India committed to a nuclear
no-first use policy, a staggered and hierarchical nuclear command system is a
While the chiefs of army, navy and airforce are said not to be interested
in the government's plan to study the nuclear command systems of other nuclear
nations, officials say the administraion should set up the proposed National Security Council.
In June, the prime minister's task force headed by former defence
minister K C Pant submitted a comprehensive report to Vajpayee recommending the
immediate setting up of the NSC to take all decisions with regard to all
The task force recommended that the NSC -- comprising three
divisions -- should be headed by a Cabinet rank national security advisor to the
prime minister. The first division will look after long-term strategic planning
and formulation of national security strategy, the second co-ordination of
current decision making and follow-up policy implementation and the third,
coordinated intelligence assessment for national security planning and
While Pant was reported to have emerged as a top contender for the national security advisor's job, the government has not decided the exact
nature of the NSC.
Officials point out that while Defence Minister George Fernandes has been
articulating the need to set up a top political-military nuclear authority to
control the nuclear button, he has not yet cared to place this security agenda at recent Cabinet meetings.
"Everyone knows the need to set up the NCA and NSC. But it seems these
security projects have been relegated to the sidelines," a senior official
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