Thursday, June 20, 2013
Does India need a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)?
by V Mahalingam
K Subramanyam the doyen of India’s strategic affairs community and an expert recommended it; a Group of Ministers approved it and the all-knowing Indian bureaucracy dumped it. So goes the story of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). If the news report titled “Govt develops cold feet over General No 1” published in a newspaper is to be believed, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has not felt the need for any change in the present system or for affecting some of the critical reforms in the Higher Defence Management suggested by the Kargil Review Committee (KRC). The proposal was stalled under the pretext that there is a need to arrive at a political consensus. Opposition to the proposal from the Air Force only aided the bureaucracy in blocking the proposal to protect its turf interests.
Committee on Committee on Committee
Committees are appointed to carryout in depth analysis of an issue by a team of experts. When committees so appointed come out with inconvenient recommendations, the Indian bureaucracy procrastinates over it till the issue dies a natural death. Thus, having sat on the KRC report for over a decade and not being able to kill the idea, yet another committee, the Naresh Chandra Committee on Security Reforms was constituted. This committee watered down the CDS proposal to suggest a permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC). Neither of these reports has been made public thereby thwarting any worthwhile professional or public debate. No one knows what efforts were made to bring about the so called political consensus. The objections raised by the Air Force were neither made public nor were they questioned. Now the MOD seems to have come to a conclusion that there is no need for a CDS, CoSC or the other reforms. On what basis such a decision was arrived at, is mystifying. Thirteen valuable years have thus been squandered.
Speaking at Pune subsequently, the defence minister stated that he has referred the matter to an independent committee and based on their advice the matter will be referred to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). One more committee with another committee to follow! Does that imply that the KRC and the Naresh Chandra Committee were not independent and were biased or subjective?
Objections from the Air Force
Though the specific objections of the Air Force to the proposal has not been made public, media reports suggest that the then Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal Naik had raised three issues in this context. Coming from a stake holder it needs consideration. The first point being that he “does not want the CDS in the present form”. He however did not elaborate the shortcomings in the model suggested or make any alternate proposal. The second question was “what role model of CDS do we want?" No one knows what role model he had in his mind. If he did have one, the people of this country are unable to read his mind. The third objection was, “we don't need a CDS for the next five to ten years." So they are needed after five to ten years? What changes in warfare or in our security scenario does he anticipate that such an institution will be required only after that period? On the face of it, these misgivings do not seem relevant but isn’t it the job of the MOD to examine these issues or allow public discussion to arrive at some clarity?
Apprehensions that the creation of the CDS would establish army’s domination over the other services have also been articulated. Such views stem from one’s inability to visualize the role of the CDS in future conflicts and the way battles are expected to be directed and fought.
CDS or Joint Chiefs of Staff
Does the country need a CDS or a Joint Chiefs of Staff? The answer lies in how future conflicts are expected to unfold and the way they are planned to be countered and managed. Which service would decide on the objective, priorities of targets, allocate resources, and decide on other pressure points to be coerced? Who would have the macro view of the overall situation not only in areas of land battle but also in other domains? Who would be able to exploit success in one theater to achieve a favorable outcome overall, while the setbacks in another theater is being contained? Is it enough to have senior officer collect information from the various services and pass it on to the political heads? CDS obviously is the professional requirement in any future conflict scenario.
The Government of India Allocation of Business Rules and the Government of India Transaction of Business Rules framed in 1961 has no place for the service chiefs. According to these rules, the defence secretary is responsible for the "Defence of India and every part thereof." He represents the Service Chiefs in forums requiring professional military advice. India is perhaps the only major democracy where the Service Headquarters are outside the governmental structure. Though the Government changed the nomenclature of the service headquarters to Integrated Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence, nothing has changed in its structure or functioning.
In the present set up, the Chiefs of Staff have assumed the role of operational commanders of their respective forces rather than that of Chiefs of Staff to the political heads. They discharge the roles of operational commanders and planners in relation to future equipment and force structures. With the Service Chiefs kept out of the decision making process and the Defence Secretary assuming the role of advisor to the political head, the Prime Minister and Defence Minister have been deprived of professional views on matters military.
Why doesn’t the bureaucracy see logic? Illiteracy and knowledge vacuum prevents the bureaucracy to see beyond parochial interests. Notwithstanding the Government of India Allocation of business rules, the bureaucracy is aware; failures will not be attributed to their inefficiency or flawed policies. In any case they are not required to face the bullet when the balloon goes up. The military and its commanders can always be made the scapegoats. These preys cannot speak and even if they do, they will only be castigated. Remember what happened to General VK Singh when he spoke about operational state of the Army?
Modern conflict has changed in many ways. These changes have been marked by multiple varieties of targets, objectives and evolution of new war fighting techniques and capabilities. Technology has provided unimaginable capabilities but it has placed upon a military commander the onus of placing such changes in proper strategic context and managing war in all its dimensions. These transformations will have to be objectively directed rather than events imposing itself on the country. Under such circumstances the need for synergy amongst different services is fundamental.
Defending a country’s sovereignty and integrity even under nuclear backdrop and in a limited war scenario requires the employment multiple forces including the Strategic Forces to pressure or strangulate the opponent in a joint way. An asymmetrical war may be forced on the country in conjunction with an incursion. The weight of the military may have to be applied at points widely separated or even on targets different in nature by calculated collaborative efforts to divert his strengths and to make him realize the cost of a war. Such situations will go beyond the capabilities of a single service. In such a scenario, there is a need for a professional institution with its head to assess intelligence inputs, prioritize military actions, conceive a joint operations plan, allocate war efforts and get the plan executed in accordance with a time plan.
In peace time there is a need to evaluate threat perceptions, visualize operational roles of various services, equip them based on priorities and put them through joint training to enable them to learn to work as a joint body.
It is now the peoples’ call
Committees have become a joke. Secrecy in defence related issues and the freedom of speech snatched from a soldier are the alibis for skirting professional concerns and keeping them under the wrap at the cost of the national interests. Avoiding public debate when so much has been written and spoken about in the media under the pretext of secrecy fools no one. It exposes the government’s assumption that strategic issues and defence matters are beyond the capabilities of the people to comprehend.
The Daulat Beg Oldie incident exposed the competences of the Ministry of Defence who panicked and handed over the situation to the China Study Group (CSG) when 30 Chinese soldiers come into our territory, pitched up tents and decided to stay on. What will happen if Chinese decide to go on the offensive is for the people to imagine.
Even if we adopt meaningful reforms today, it will take at least five years for the idea to sink in, in the minds of junior leaders, commanders and the troops. It is now for the people to decide if they want to maintain status quo or move ahead. The choice is entirely theirs. Don’t blame the defence services later.