National security is an all-time relevant and intriguing concept for humankind. The term has a certain aura of its own, veiled in a cloak of secrecy and sophistication. It’s generally believed that national security and its related issues should be left to the armed forces, security agencies and political leadership. But as one legend (Brigadier General Jack D Ripper) pointed out, “War is too important to be left to politicians…”
The modern world demands divergence from the abovementioned limited understanding of ‘national security’ only in terms of war or military conflict. The advent of media and democracy has blurred many boundaries, thereby increasing the number of stakeholders in national security. The digital revolution has also democratised the domains of security, defence, international affairs, intelligence and spy-craft etc. Therefore, as the discussions around issues of security and strategy become more open, the opportunity to study it from an academic perspective as a full-time course should not be missed. And that’s exactly what courses in many Indian universities are offering. These courses are: Defence and Strategic Studies or National Security Studies.
As of now, admissions are opened for anybody who has a genuine interest in this field and wants to pursue a full-time career in the same. The subject can also be studied purely based on subject interest and to build up one’s capacity and knowledge even if your career plans are different. It is a highly multidisciplinary subject and the course gives you a bird’s eye view of the global happenings and their causalities. This course not only provides one an opportunity to learn and research on strategic issues but also supports stakeholders and security establishments in planning security and strategic policies of the nation (Prof Asif Ahmed).
The subject is being offered at the MA level by most universities and colleges, while very few have also started BA courses on the same. There is also a five-year integrated course of BA + MA and topic-specific diploma courses. Some colleges have also started including a course on military history, war studies, military science etc. based on their own patterns of teaching. The AICTE, in partnership with the DRDO, has recently urged universities to start a full-scale engineering course on Defence Technology and has agreed to provide all the support for the same.
Some newly established Central universities are offering this course now as National Security Studies (NSS) in India after the Jasjit Singh Committee report in 2010. Some of them follow the ‘school system’ instead of the older ‘departmental system’ under which a ‘School of National Security Studies’ is established to give students a broad choice of subjects. These courses have a good scope as the UGC conducts NET JRF exams for DSS/NSS and students can now directly go for a PhD as MPhil has been removed under the NEP 2022.
As of now, 40+ departments across the country are offering courses in DSS/NSS, some of which were established almost 50 years ago and have created reputed scholars and academicians. Some private and deemed-to-be universities have also started similar courses that cover subjects including military history, diplomacy, disarmament, peace and conflict studies, defence economics, foreign policy etc. These subjects have been a part of the military curriculum in our military institutions even before independence. For eg: the OTA Chennai offers a PG Diploma in Defence Studies.
But as the field expanded, civilian institutes that were otherwise focused on political science and international relations also picked up courses in defence studies. The UGC has also brought in the concept of area studies, wherein region-specific courses such as American Studies, African Studies etc. have been started on many campuses. But as these are quite narrow and specialised courses, one misses out on the bigger picture.
The INDU (Indian National Defence University) was supposed to be established by the Central government to provide higher education for the management of defence forces, develop and propagate higher education in defence studies, defence management, defence science and technology, and promote policy-oriented research related to defence. It had many other ambitious aims and objectives, but as of now, the project has been stalled due to various issues, with only the land acquisition process completed in the last 10 years. It must be mentioned that the KRC (Kargil Review Committee) had also recommended the establishment of a university to exclusively deal with defence and strategic matters, but nothing has been developed on that so far.
The civil-military relations in India have been a rollercoaster ride over the last 75 years, with issues of dominance, secrecy, domain control etc. hampering quick decision-making on strategic issues. There is a lack of a well-informed public opinion on defence and security-related matters. We also do not have a full-scale national security doctrine document. And our media lacks the maturity to create genuine public awareness on security issues. They overdo their job most of the time and are happy with their storytelling.
A common citizen tends to idealise the role of security establishment based on films, media reports or other misrepresented exposure, thereby creating a dangerous condition of “respect without knowledge”. To fill all these gaps and create a conscious public mindset on security issues are the two aims of studying this subject neutrally and academically. This also helps to make those in power more accountable and responsible. This course helps to understand the multi-faced discipline of security and international politics, thereby broadening one’s mindset and critical thinking, and helps build informed choices. Such individuals can then go on to handle policy-making responsibilities within and outside the government’s apparatus.
Today’s era is of hyper-specialisation, wherein you have separate doctors for the right and the left eye, although both are situated side-by-side, should tell you the importance of informed decision-making in sensitive issues such as national security. It also includes an understanding of the history of the Indian military, the HDO (Higher Defence Organisation), India’s national security, the psychology of military, strategic culture, military economics, indigenisation etc.
Our bureaucrats, politicians and even armed forces (sometimes) lack the overall expertise to deal with security issues. Security forces have huge accountability and responsibility, but no power; the bureaucrat has power but no expertise and accountability; while the politician has the decision-making authority without any subject knowledge. This is not to say that a 2-5-year degree course will make you understand everything that is to know in the security sector. It does take time to become an expert and the real output comes after many consistent years of hard work. A degree in DSS/NSS is only a launching platform for the future that can propel you in the right orbit.
This course comes under the humanities stream and is a good choice over conventional degrees such as a BA/MA in simply history or political science, for example. A multi-disciplinary approach of a course ensures that it is helpful in competitive examinations such as UPSC-CSE, UPSC-CDSE , AFCAT, IB ACIO etc. But having a degree in DSS/NSS gives you an edge over other candidates in understanding the service that you are opting for. Security and IR also forms a part of the syllabus of UPSC-CSE exam.
Other than that, one can pursue an academic or journalism career in national security. People usually go for research institutes, think tanks, university lecturers or as defence journalists. Another emerging field is that of content creation, wherein you can provide informed inputs to writers of a web series, film, documentary etc. that features military issues who require a subject expert. Having extra qualifications in the field of psychology, medicine, engineering etc. can also open up more opportunities within your main sector. In fact, India’s top security brasses come from the experience of premier think tanks, college teaching and even private industries.
If you achieve good expertise in this field, you have a chance to join the NSAB (National Security Advisory Board) of the Central government that takes on board outside experts on the subject to give policy advice to the NSC (National Security Council). I will be soon putting up a separate article on the list of think tanks, research firms and universities that you can join for a good career in defence studies.
Candidates who have passed the 10+2 examination in any discipline are eligible to pursue this course at the UG level as BSc/BA. Candidates who have passed a Bachelor’s degree in Military/Defence Studies or in any other discipline can pursue an MA/MSc degree in DSS/NSS. Some universities such as the SPPU has made military studies a compulsory subject at the graduation level to enter the course at PG level.
Just completing the course and then resting happily isn’t a choice here. To stay relevant, you have to read a lot, keep a tab on current affairs, and stay updated on the latest developments. Also at a student-level, it is important to pursue the course from a good university. It is not just about the course but the overall campus experience that you get while studying, and what you ultimately learn from it stays with you all your life.
I hope that this article made you aware of the basics of DSS and put you in a better position to make a career choice in this field.