Tuesday, May 14, 2019

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National Security needs a defined constitutional and legal status

Non-military aspects should also be included in its scope

The reality is with change of government people in defence administration also change and the only way to have some permanency and continuity in the system is by having a national security administration defined by law, so that it will be mandatory for all elected governments to honour it irrespective of personal preference of the leaders.

By Gamini Abeywardane

It is no secret that disunity at the highest levels and insufficient priority for the subject of national security had largely contributed to the failures on the part of the government to prevent or mitigate the effects of dastardly terrorist attack on Easter Sunday.
Blaming and shaming apart we need to now find some way of avoiding the repetition of such things in the future. One thing that is now clear is that the National Security Council (NSC), the highest body responsible for the country’s security failed to act upon the warnings given by the intelligence services.

There are also allegations that some of the vital members of the NSC were not invited to several meetings because of the personality clashes at the top level of the political leadership.
This is fundamentally because the current Constitution makes it possible to have the President and the Prime Minister from two different political parties leading to friction at the highest level.

A legal basis for national security
Preventing such a situation of dual governance is not possible without a major constitutional change which is unlikely to happen in the near future. Rather than waiting for the impossible it is prudent to resolve this within a reasonable time.  

However, deleterious effects of such political developments on national security can be prevented, if the NSC is given a more defined legal status with a wider membership, scope and mandatory provisions regarding how it should function.
For example, the United States National Security Council has been established by the National Security Act of 1947 and has a well-defined structure. Chaired by the President, the NSC has five statutory attendees, regular attendees and additional participants.

In addition to the President, the statutory attendees are Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Energy and Secretary of the Treasury. It is also supported by a system of committees which includes Principals Committee, Deputies Committee and several Policy Coordination Committees.
In addition to the defence and intelligence officials the system also ensures the participation of other relevant officials such as the Attorney General, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, Ambassador to the United Nations, Director of Office of Management and Budget whose expertise and views are important for the country’s national security and there is no room for shutting out anybody on personal grounds.

Status of the country’s security does not depend on who is in the presidency or which political party controls the Senate or the House of representatives because the system by law enables the sitting President to have total control over the national security establishment.
Though there is no such a regular mechanism prescribed by law in our country it is well known that national security and intelligence matters were quite adroitly handled by the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa during the previous government.

It was a rare combination of a committed group of military and non-military personnel which ensured the successful conduct of the war against the LTTE terrorism. And the type of security coordination prevailed at the time has been commended worldwide and even most recently by former US ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake.

However, the reality is that with change of government people in defence administration also change and the only way to have some permanency and continuity in the system is by having a national security administration defined by law, so that it will be mandatory for all elected governments to honour it irrespective of personal preference of the leaders.

Need for revamping
Now with the current developments the need has also arisen to revamp the entire national security system and widen its scope taking into consideration both internal and external threats. New improved ways of intelligence gathering and processing have become necessary.

With external threats, there is also a strong need to include non-military aspects of national security.  Although originally conceived as protection against military attack, national security is now widely understood to include non-military dimensions, including the security from terrorism and crime, economic security, energy security, environmental security, food security, cyber security and so forth.
Such expansion in the scope of national security will also require the services of a wide range of experts and technocrats. This will entail a major overhaul in the national security system and the best way would be for all that to be detailed in a properly drafted national security law.

Another important aspect in such a system would be to provide the necessary facilities and the freedom of operation and even immunity where necessary for the intelligence agencies and their operatives to accomplish their tasks without political interference.
Our country has faced three types of terrorism, each time involving one of the three main communities. Two insurrections by the JVP, nearly three decades of LTTE terrorism and now Islamist terrorism which has international routes. Historically each time we crushed one type of terrorism we had become complaisant assuming that terrorism would not raise its head again.

With the latest developments it is clear that terrorism with its global dimensions is going to be a permanent threat to human life. Thus eternal vigilance should be a precondition in our country if we are to achieve any progress, be it economic, social or cultural.
All this will need a practical approach and simply fighting with each other and dwelling in theoretical imaginations about future economic progress based only on regional development will not carry us anywhere. The security of the nation has to be a paramount consideration in the whole equation and it should be kept above mundane party politics. (Writer can be contacted on gamini4@gmail.com)















1 comment:

  1. The writer has hit the nail on the head when he says that disunity at highest levels and insufficient priority for national security led to the failure on the part of the government to prevent the Easter Sunday bombings. He also succinctly points to the moral that should be learnt from this costly experience: The security of the nation … should be kept be kept above mundane politics. Have they learnt it at least now?