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Strategic Intelligence and National Security: The Role of Think Tanks

Shivananda H. is Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • April 08, 2011

    Sun Tzu’s dictum ‘Know your enemy’ has great significance for dealing with the challenges of the 21st century. Whether it is the maintenance of politico-economic relationships or offensive-defensive military operations, the explorability of the scenario lies with the country that has better analysts with greater experience in Strategic Intelligence (STRATINT). STRATINT relates to the creation of a databank based on planning, collection, processing, analysis and dissemination of intelligence that is required for formulating policies. It is associated with the elements of foresight, visioning, systematic thinking, motivating and generating the potential to strengthen the decision-making approach of a country.

    STRATINT is a well-established form of intelligence, principally an output of think tanks, which is different from targeted intelligence at the tactical and the operational levels. It differs from other intelligence sources, in that the source of information primarily comes from Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and provides a broad net assessed picture of the security environment. In addition, intelligence and analysis of risk-assessment covers a wide range of issues involving data collection, analysis, interpretation and speculative consideration of future threat perceptions.

    Think tanks have a particularly important role in a world that is increasingly being shaped by information technology and in a world that is becoming more and more complex. According to a survey conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, there are 5465 think tanks in the world. North America has 34.25 per cent of the world’s think tanks; Western Europe has 22.10 per cent, Asia 11.95 per cent, Eastern Europe 9.14 per cent, Latin America and the Caribbean 9.84 per cent, Africa 7.76 per cent and the Middle East and North Africa 3.99 per cent. Policy-makers across the world have begun to rely more and more on the analyses and risk-assessments of these think tanks.

    China, for example, has 428 think tanks, the second largest number in the world after the United States which has 1777 think tanks. Chinese think tanks have, by and large, supported and influenced China’s growing presence on the international scene. President Hu Jintao’s national doctrine on “Greater Peripheral” strategy was designed by Dr. Chen Yang, a former Deputy Director of the Strategic Research Centre of the China Institute for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), which is a think tank of China’s external intelligence agency, the Ministry of State Security. Similarly, the August 2009 article in the website of the China Institute for Strategic Studies (which advises Beijing on global and strategic issues) about Chinese action causing a break up of India into 20 or 30 parts could well reflect official Chinese thinking. Apart from providing expertise, Chinese think tanks are also vital instruments of public diplomacy communicating the government’s perspective to international audiences.

    In the national security framework of India, the armed forces make use of STRATINT more than other agencies. However, the usage of STRATINT in India is not sufficient, since such reports are rarely seen by political leaders who decide the course of national strategy. For instance, the 1999 Kargil War demonstrated the inability of higher commanders and decision-makers to foresee, analyse and incorporate the scattered reports on the intrusion of Pakistani troops in the Kargil sector. The 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai could also not be foreseen due to lack of analytical strategic intelligence inputs.

    In the emerging, complex, security environment, STRATINT serves as a tool not only for commanders but also for policy-makers. No policy-maker can function effectively in the absence of factual data and a synergized understanding of the relevant problem for policy implementation. STRATINT and analysis are a key element in providing an enhanced level of understanding of the changing scenarios to both military and non-military leaders. Besides, it enables the transformation of the information input available into a comprehensively analysed strategic output for the decision making process.

    Nevertheless, while applying STRATINT, a broad distinction must be made between intelligence failure and policy failure. Otherwise, it will be quite difficult to identify the point of key information failure. Moreover, there is a need for setting up a knowledge bank for policy formulation based on the ground realities. Here, think tanks can play a significant role and thus enable the generation of Strategic Intelligence.