Military & Aerospace

Higher Defence Management through Effective Civil-Military Relations
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Issue Vol. 27.4 Oct-Dec 2012 | Date : 10 Dec , 2012

“He (the soldier) is thus the very basis and silent, barely visible cornerstone of our fame, culture, physical well-being and prosperity; in short, of the entire nation building activity. He does not perform any of these chores himself directly. He enables the rest of us to perform these without let, hindrance or worry (‘nirbhheek and nishchinta’).

Our military sinews, on the other hand, lend credibility to our pronouncements of adherence to good Dharma, our goodwill, amiability and peaceful intentions towards all our neighbour nations (‘sarve bhavantu sukhinaha, sarve santu niramayaha…’) as also those far away and beyond. These also serve as a powerful deterrent against military misadventure by any one of them against us.”—Chanakyaniti

Civil-military relationship, a very broad-based term, describes the link between civil society at large and the military, an organisation that has been specifically created to protect it. When considered in a narrow perspective, it is the rapport or the lack of it, between the civil authority of any given society and the military authority. The matter has been a subject of study and controversy since the times of Sun Tzu1 and Clausewitz2, both of whom argued that the military was primarily a servant of the State, basing it on an assumption that civilian control of a State is preferable to military control.

Of late, instances of friction in civil-military relations have increased…

The issue was discussed at large amongst students of political science and sociology in the first half of the twentieth century, more so at the end of the Second World War (WW II) which also marked the beginning of the Cold War. Fears of growing militarism in the American society prompted the studies and produced influential readings from renowned authors as Samuel Huntington and Morris Janowitz. Debate has continued even after the end of the Cold War. The turn of the century witnessed increased incidents of military coup d’état in various parts of the world and discussions revolved around the declining power of the State and the necessity of a certain level of civilian control over the military.

The history of Higher Defence Management in India begins with the country’s independence and has been more than adequately influenced by the happenings in the world at that time. The Indian Civil Service played its role in marginalising the police and the military with the drafting of a framework for higher defence organisation. Over the last 65 years, this has been honed to suit the requirements of the bureaucrats of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Irrespective of the wars fought and the recommendations of various Committees including the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, the IAS has stubbornly managed to keep the Indian Armed Forces out of the higher decision-making loop.

Strategic culture is a product of a nation’s political culture…

American Theory

Huntington, in his book, The Soldier and the State (1957), has differentiated between the civil and military worlds, as dissimilarity between attitudes and values; conservative as held by the military and liberal by the civilians. Each has its own function and he called the officer corps as professionals as against the soldiers, whom he termed as “skilled craftsmen”. He advised professionalising the military, starting from the officer corps, emphasising important areas as discipline, order and self-sacrifice, training it to submit itself to civilian authority. To maintain control over the military, his advice to the civil authority was to direct the military without going against their privileges in order to avoid a reaction. This was termed as “objective control” as compared to “subjective control” which would be more intrusive.

That was in 1957 when the Cold War was approaching its prime and post-War, the USA was emerging as a liberalised society. Morris Janowitz, while agreeing with Huntington on the differences between the civil and military worlds, prompted a debate with his book, The Professional Soldier (1960). He argued that since the military was conservative, it would resist liberal societal changes and hence may also resist civilian control. He advised either a civilianisation of the military or a militarisation of the civilian society. Janowitz recommended the military be filled with entries into the officer corps not just from the training academies but from a military training programme to be initiated in elite universities. This would ensure a mix of civil-military culture and narrow the chasm between the two worlds.

The debate that was initiated by the two books decades ago continues to rage. The American military of today is different from the military of the yesteryears. Having fought many a war, it has gone through various theories of how to either maintain or reduce the gap between the two worlds. Commentators routinely moan about the gap, citing statistics of how the American Congress has fewer veterans ever since WW II. Former Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, also complained while speaking to an audience at Duke University in September 2010, “For a growing number of Americans, service in the military, no matter how laudable, has become something for other people to do.”3 This gap is visible not just in the reducing numbers joining the military but also in the rising numbers, Generals included, leaving the military due to differences in the two societies and between those who run them.

The fear of a non-existent take-over of the nation by the military has been continuously stoked by the bureaucracy…

Civil-Military Relationship in India

Direction in the civil-military relationship in any democracy is strictly the right of the political leadership. In India, however, in the decades since Independence, the word ‘civil’ has been misinterpreted and distorted to have the relationship being run by the bureaucrats, rather than the political class, the latter seemingly having voluntarily withdrawn in favour of the former. As a result, over the years, the Indian military has been subjected to a structure where it has been kept out or denied any meaningful role in Higher Defence Management or policy formulation being baptised by fire immediately after Independence notwithstanding. This has been brought to the attention of the powers-that-be by many a strategist and military chief but to no avail. During his lifetime the late K Subrahmanyam drew attention to this inconsistency and ironically, even after his demise, in essays published in a national daily (Indian Express, 04 February 2012).

Strategic culture is a product of a nation’s political culture and if it is founded on a flawed premise, it cannot but have an impact on the overall strategic disposition of the nation. In many important ways, strategic culture is also reflected in the quality of civil-military relations that exist. The Indian political establishment has laid down the principle of civil supremacy over the military. The Indian military has accepted it and operates under the provisions of the policy. Of late however, instances of friction in civil-military relations have increased.

“The Government of India Allocation of Business Rules”, published in 1961, is the Bible based on which the Indian State is administered. These Rules specify that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is comprised of four departments namely, the Department of Defence, the Department of Defence Production and Supply, the Department of Defence Research and Development and the Department of ex-Servicemen Welfare, along with a Finance Division. The three Service HQs are mentioned only as ‘Attached Offices’ of the Department of Defence and placed subordinate to it. The three Service Chiefs find no mention in the Rules and neither are they allocated any responsibilities! Rightly so, Admiral (Retd) Arun Prakash has bestowed the status of ‘invisible’ to them (“The Three Invisible Men”, Defence Watch, February 2012). As all the Departments are headed by civilian officers of the rank of Secretary, the military in India is, therefore, subordinate to the bureaucracy.

The reason for this skewed interpretation of civilian control of the military has its genesis in the immediate aftermath of Independence and it has only worsened in the succeeding years. The fear of a non-existent take-over of the nation by the military has been continuously stoked by the bureaucracy. The ill-informed political class has found it only too convenient to keep the military at bay. Since Independence, the many instances of civil-military discord from Nehru-Cariappa and Krishna Menon-Thimayya to the more recent one of Antony-VK Singh are indicative of the unrest and dissatisfaction in the military. Added to this are the anomalies of the Sixth Pay Commission which are yet to be resolved even after six years. Even after the shoddy treatment meted out to it, the military in India continues to serve the nation in its best traditions!

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Air Marshal Dhiraj Kukreja

former Air Officer Commanding in Chief of Training Command.

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