National security policy


A nation’s national security policy (NSP) is a national vade mecum or ‘grand national strategy’ which helps draft various sectoral strategies or policies which lead to operational strategies and action plans. Americans and the British call it ‘national security strategy’ and ‘grand national strategy’ respectively.

Leaving nomenclature aside, its nature remains the same – to lay out a national vision in pursuit of national interests in line with national values. National traditions and historical practices influence, to a considerable degree, a national security strategy. A nation, for instance, that sets great store by liberal internationalism would be comfortable with a strategy of multilateral security alliances to achieve its security objectives compared to a nation that is used to unilateralism.

In simpler terms, an NSP is a set of broad guidelines that creates strategies, binding different elements of national power potential in a long list of doable plans. It, therefore, is a vehicle that imparts traction as well as coherence to an overarching national policy which leads to another set of policies – defence, economic, foreign, information and internal security policies. The terms ‘national strategy’ and NSP are sometimes used interchangeably. In the US, it – referred to as ‘national security strategy – is prepared annually at the National Security Council under the White House. Its purpose is to promote a common understanding between Congress and the executive branch, thereby legitimising the requests for resources, besides communicating the executive’s strategic vision to foreign constituencies and allies.

American presidents have been successfully laying out their grand strategic vision through their annual National Security Strategy documents. Obama famously made a transition towards human security by prioritising the economy, non-proliferation, and climate threats in the national security document of 2010. In the 2015 strategy document, under the weight of neo-con oppositionists, he had to modify his priorities to accommodate increased competitiveness vis a vis global challengers to US supremacy, through a rule-based international order under the US leadership.

Trump in 2017 named China and Russia as revisionist powers, removed the climate threat from the national security priorities and preferred competition over communities of interest in the international arena. Biden in his interim national security strategy has reengaged the US with the Nato alliance and professed to support democracies against autocracies, emphasising the continuance of competitive politics started by Trump.

Government branches prepare their strategies based on a national security strategy. For example, the National Defence Strategy is adopted as a guideline by the office of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee for preparation of a national military strategy which leads to operational plans formulated by respective service arms of the military like the army, air force, and navy.

The above explanation was necessary to put the currently introduced NSP in Pakistan by the National Security Division under the stewardship of the national security adviser (NSA) in proper context. The process of strategic policy formulation in Pakistan had followed a desultory approach with every government ministry framing its policy in the light of general guidelines by the executive.

Due to the country’s non-democratic interregnums and weak democratic regimes preoccupied with their survival, the politics of expediency trumped an institutionalised national policy formulation process. The subordinate government ministries and organisations developed a tendency to frame independent policies privileging organisational interests over national interests.

The power imbalance between political and non-political institutions was a consequence of weak democratic regimes, civil-military dissonance and frequent derailment of democracy. The proclivity to rule by fiat permeated the governance environment, leading towards a culture of personalised decision-making without the benefit of an institutionalised decision-making process.

It has taken the country seven years starting in 2014 to formulate the first NSP in 2021. The policy formulation process acquired traction under the current NSA in 2019, and after three years of a sedulous consultative process with relevant government ministries, institutions, academics, professionals and council of experts, a consensus draft has been prepared. In a country where unelected institutions and political governments remain daggers drawn the emergence of a consensus document is a big achievement.

The most important development is the civil-military concordance that has made this document a reality. The military component of the state’s involvement in the process not only has given it the right ballast to the credibility equation but has indicated the military’s…



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