18 May 2004

Brajesh Mishra's successor as NSA can't wait

18 May 2004
The Times of India

Brajesh's successor can't wait

By Siddharth Varadarajan
Times News Network

New Delhi: While Sonia Gandhi can afford to take a few days deciding whom to appoint as ministers of external affairs, finance and defence, there is one high-level appointment that has to be made as soon as she is sworn in as Prime Minister: that of the national security advisor (NSA).

This is because NSA is central to the continuity of the existing command structure on nuclear arsenal.

On January 4, 2003 , the Vajpayee government announced the formation of a two-tiered Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) consisting of a Political Council and an Executive Council.

The Political Council, which is headed by the PM, "is the sole body which can authorise the use of nuclear weapons", an official communique at the time stated.

The NSA heads the Executive Council, which "provides inputs for decision-making by the NCA and executes the directives given to it by the Political Council".

Simply put, the NSA is the interface between the PM and military's Strategic Forces Command, under whose charge all nuclear assets are placed.

Says noted strategic affairs analyst K Subrahmanyam, "This will be the first transfer which will be effected since India became a nuclear weapons state". Under these circumstances, the transition has to demonstrate a "continuity of command".

Since the NSA is a political appointee, Subrahmanyam in fact favours him being named as soon as possible, even before the PM takes oath.

The present incumbent is Brajesh Mishra, who also doubles up as the PM's principal secretary. Former foreign secretary J N Dixit is considered a front-runner for the incoming government's NSA.

Though the Congress manifesto does not commit to separating the NSA's post from that of the PM's principal secretary, the party has in the past endorsed the Kargil Review Committee's suggestion that the two jobs be split.

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