National Defence University – An Analysis
This is the first of a series of articles on the recently inaugurated Indian National Defence University. It covers the major aspects to be considered to initiate the process. Analysis of curricula, faculty and participation by academia and industry shall be covered as more details are forthcoming.
Finally, after years of drawing board exercises, the Indian National Defence University (INDU) has taken off the ground, literally. With the Prime Minister laying the foundation stone of INDU at Binola near Gurgaon, on 23 May 2013, some twelve years after the Kargil Review Committee recommended building of such a facility to develop strategic culture in the country.
INDU is proposed to have four colleges to come up on the university campus in addition to adding National Defence College(NDC), College of Defence Management (CDM), Defence Services staff College(DSSC) Wellington and NDA under its ambit, while retaining their autonomy. While President would act as the Visitor, the Defence Minister would be the Chancellor and an officer of the rank of Army Commander from Air Force or Navy, selected on merit, would be the Vice Chancellor or the President. The faculty shall comprise defence officers (65%) and a civil faculty comprising civil services, foreign countries, diplomats, academics and strategic planners.
Detailed modalities of INDU including its hierarchy, time schedules, staffing patterns and curriculum would have been or would be under development and refinement at Integrated Defence Staff Headquarters (HQ IDS) in consultation with MoD. However, at this juncture as the infrastructure development is still five (or more) years away there is a need to look at some macro issues designed to meet the needs of challenges to National Security.
First off, it is incumbent to clearly define the “autonomous” status of the university if it has to adopt an independent research based approach to policy formulation and execution. In theory, therefore, it would be mandatory to have INDU free from encumbrance of government interference in its academic/research work.
For INDU to retain its independence with firm control over critical analysis of existing policies and suggest alternatives such linkages with the government over its administrative and financial control may sabotage the basic role set out for it. Purely from this perspective having the Defence Minister as the Chancellor would subordinate the university to official interference. Experiences of autonomous bodies such as CBI, CAG etc vindicate these fears.
Secondly, the advisory and consultative role of INDU in providing vital considered inputs for strategic planning and execution must be formalised and promulgated to mesh in with the higher defence organisation’s needs. The policy making apparatus such as the Cabinet Committee on Security should be able to lean on INDU to provide it holistic perspectives on all aspects of National security – a perspective needed to provide coherence to the National Security Strategy.
Thirdly, INDU must be fashioned and designed to generate policy options to meet the full range of national security perspective. The current system of governance for meeting the complex threats that face the nation lacks critical academically reasoned inputs to formulate and execute policy. INDU could fill this gap.
However, there is a big “IF” as quality of research, scenario building and developing of suitable options and leverages would largely depend on autonomy in funding, interaction with global academia and security experts as also high quality of leadership provided by the INDU. To attract the best talent at INDU the policy to develop and retain suitable cadres must mandate that research and development of thought becomes a well paying avenue.
Despite these imperatives the present arrangement is found wanting on many fronts. At the outset, in a feudal and hierarchy conscious society like ours, given the rank oriented structure, the entire organisation may become hierarchical and breed mediocrity which will once again rule meritocracy severely restricting academic research. Indian bureaucracy is structured and organised to promote mediocrity (generalists over specialists). Same is the case with the armed forces.
Alok Bansal, who recently participated in a TV discussion on the subject with a retired defence secretary, who claims to have presided over the issue of Defence University, expressed deep shock when the bureaucrat believed that INDU could replace DRDO in inventing new weapons. With such shallow understanding of the mandate and charter by those at the helm, INDU may again flounder like many other government ventures.
Unless we can get the best people to man it (no quotas, no rotation but only talent) the future of INDU is sealed from the word go. Selection of right personnel is key to getting the INDU with the necessary heft. What VKRV Rao could do to Delhi School of Economics, despite having to function within the restrictions of Delhi University, is what INDU requires instead of getting bogged down on whether a civilian or general should head it. It has to move out of this sterile argument if it is to be any good.
Dr Gautam Sen, an accomplished academic in the field of professional military education, articulates that the most important issue is that INDU cannot guarantee that all wisdom will flow out from its portal nor can it be a repository of all knowledge. At best, it can be a facilitator.
Quoting Air Chief Marshal Browne, Dr Sen points to two critical areas. Firstly, the need to invest in our most important resource ie people in the field of higher professional military education is paramount. Secondly, INDU can indeed usher an important chapter in India’s quest towards enhancing comprehensive national power. If imaginatively conceived and managed INDU may usher in reform processes and provide a more focussed and coherent approach to transformational strategic education.
For INDU to be a university, it would require it to understand the notion of transparency which would allow those within to be able to interact freely with the outside and that the campus itself becomes open to one and all. Infrastructure and affiliations are a matter of detail. The key argument must remain adoption of INDU by the academic and intellectual community for which it will require the vision and sagacity of the Chancellor/Vice Chancellor to reach out, allow the freedom to interact and develop credibility based on independent research.
Despite the earlier argument, no amount of autonomy granted can fill the gap between the realm of ideas and the domain of policy making. Ideas which have moved politics, the course of history, polity, use of technology and innovation even in strategic thinking ( Herman Khan, Raymond Aron, Hans Morgenthou, Kenneth Waltz etc) have all and will continue to be generated from thinkers in Institutes of higher education.