The armed forces of a country are a manifestation of the Government’s commitment to the people it represents of its concern for the pursuing the country’s national interests, for providing people security and creating a safe environment for the people to achieve individual success and growth. The armed forces require constant nurturing and involvement of the executive authority. Well-trained and modernised armed forces cannot be bought off the shelf. The issues enumerated here are not a vague notional wishlist but fundamentals that impact various facets of security and the related modernisation of the Army. It is the right of every citizen to demand of the Government to ensure the territorial integrity of the nation and a peaceful internal environment for the well being of the people. The armed forces pay back fully in sweat and blood.
There is no structured system for regular interaction between the generalist bureaucracy and the numerous ‘Experts Groups’ and ‘Think Tanks’…
Lately there has been a profusion of views, reviews, recommendations, suggestions and advice related to national security put forward for the express attention of the new Government in power. The issues highlighted range from weapon systems procurement to foreign policy. No doubt these are relevant and do need serious consideration. The people-oriented transformation to a more receptive political environment is likely to see these more favourably.
Anna Hazare’s ‘Anshan’ undoubtedly has brought Indian democracy to a point of inflection after which the role of public opinion and the will of civil society came to matter. Till then, the Indian Parliament functioned like an insulated oligarchy. No Member of Parliament thought it necessary to interact with the people of their respective constituencies on any matter of import or even those that had a direct bearing on the lives of the people. These elected members took it for granted that they knew what was best for these ‘dumb’ voters. Consultative participation was considered unnecessary and a waste of time. This was evident from the dismissive pontificating attitude adopted by some of the oligarchic spokespersons of the then Government in power who rubbished the idea of the protest.
There is a similar malady afflicting the Indian bureaucracy. There is no structured system in place for regular interaction between the generalist bureaucracy and the numerous ‘Experts Groups’ and ‘Think Tanks’. Mid and long term policy issues that can be hived to these groups to comprehensively debate these and suggest options or alternatives, are kept close to their chest as they equate information to power. It is a matter of fact that the bureaucrat is so heavily engaged in the routine day-to-day matters and errands that it is not feasible for him to address professional matters on security, economy, commerce or the other numerous specialised issues which, in the first place, are not his domain of expertise. The country’s bureaucracy needs to maturely accept such change. It is in this spirit that these views are put forth.
India was rudely jarred into the arena of ‘real politik’ when USA shared information with the adversary named therein…
National Security Doctrine
During the previous NDA government’s tenure, expecting confidentiality, India had shared its threat perception with the USA clearly naming its primary adversary. India was rudely jarred into the arena of ‘real politik’ when USA shared this information with the adversary named therein. That particular incident of naivety notwithstanding, the Government should identify the threats it perceives impinging on its security on a wide canvas and clearly define the role it wishes to assign to the Armed Forces in securing the country’s national interests and safeguarding the nations’ core values and attributes. Such a clearly defined role will dictate the size, organisational framework and equipment profile for the Armed Forces.
Alliances and Regional Security Grouping
In 2013, the NSA’s Secretariat put forth a Policy Document titled “Non-Alignment 2.0”. The Document states, “India’s engagement in the construction of an international order will be through a variety of instruments: participation in regional and global institutions and possible participation with groups of countries.” It also mentions that though India is “sought after in great power competition” it has been “uneasy about formal alliances”. India needs to clearly indicate its preferred policy line and whether it is willing to go for any out of area contingency task beyond UN Peacekeeping assignments. Is it content with mere diplomatic support in the UN forum? The recent incident in the South China Sea involving China and Vietnam is the test case to the extent India is prepared to go and be a player in balance of power role in South East Asia. In India’s “Look East” Policy, Vietnam has been in special focus even in India’s military-to-military contacts.
Similarly, India’s strategic dialogue and partnership with USA as nurtured by the previous NDA dispensation, participation in BRICS and strong bonds with Russia need nurturing. A dialogue with China from a position of strength should be pursued, alongside stronger relations with Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Australia. Therefore, the actions taken or not taken by the new Government in power will set the precedent for India’s ‘unique’ model as a global and or regional player in the future. It would also be a clear indicator for the limits, both diplomatic and military, to which India would like to be involved in bilateral disputes of two friendly countries. As a consequence, it will predicate India’s future military-to-military contacts with countries.
Vietnam has been in special focus even in India’s military-to-military contacts…
Ironically, India was forced to go nuclear when it realised that a nuclear-free world is only possible by an outright proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world. Those countries possessing nuclear weapons have not been forthcoming in declaring, unambiguously, that these weapons would never be used first and also never be used against non-nuclear states. As a matter of fact, the USA used a nuclear weapon against a non-nuclear Japan and later in the 1950s-1960s threatened to use it three times again against non-nuclear states, on the pretext of minimising US casualties. It reflects an attitude of pathological paranoia that has never been questioned.
India’s nuclear doctrine should be unambiguous in this regard. The recent inclusion in its doctrine, of the clause stating an overwhelming retaliation in response to the use of low-yield nuclear weapons (colloquially referred to as tactical nuclear weapons) against any force objective in the tactical battle area is in consonance with the basic idea of every nuclear weapon/device being a strategic weapon. Further, it is suggested that all reference to the so called ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons in India’s doctrine should be amended to read as “low yield nuclear weapons/devices directed at force objectives or targets in the tactical battle zone”. Thereby, India’s response to such employment would draw an unrestricted overwhelming nuclear retaliation as retribution.
Institution of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)
The debate on relevance of a CDS in India’s context has its ‘ayes’ balanced out with an equal number of ‘nay’ sayers. It would be prudent to first integrate the logistic element of the Services which is a more practical requirement with a financial bias and would accrue in curtailing the revenue head of the defence budget. Once the system has stabilised, relevance of the creation of post of CDS may be looked at once again. It is worth considering that the type of wars India is likely to fight in the future would invariably be ground forces centric. It is therefore, opined that if and when a CDS is ‘imposed’, it should be predicated with a clause that the CDS would always be from the Army.
A dialogue with China from a position of strength should be pursued…
Restructuring the Ministry of Defence(MoD)
The MoD is staffed by cadres of the Central Administrative Services who, in rotation, are posted to the MoD. Their expertise lies in merely interpreting existing Government Regulations; controlling, managing and auditing budgetary allocation; overseeing departments directly under the Ministry; advising the Defence Minister independently of the Services and interacting with other Ministries. Their dealings with the three Services generally relate to the above mentioned issues with no professional input. While the Service Headquarters routinely supply data on all matters, but when it comes to furnishing reports the onus of providing data and details is again the responsibility of the Service Headquarters. This disingenuous format of functioning is a deliberate ploy to keep the Services subordinated. A structural change is long overdue.
Since the ‘leak’ in the recent past, of Chief of Army Staff’s secret letter to the then Prime Minister, it is now no secret that there is a seriously deep hollowness in the Army, to the tune of approximately Rs. 4,000 crore in weapons, ammunition, communication systems and equipment authorised. Such a state of affairs has been precipitated largely due to ineptness in the functioning of the Ordnance Factories (OF) and the lax monitoring and supervision by the concerned sections in the MoD.
The Ordnance Factories are generally overstaffed and plagued by exploitive trade unions. These factors have affected the automation and modernisation of the factories. By the manipulative exploitation of the ‘overtime’ clause by the work force, they virtually double the individual’s salary. This is a gross misdemeanour allowed to appease the workers unions and needs to be done away forthwith. The annual financial liability under the ‘revenue’ head coupled with the lack of accountability in strict adherence to production quantities and timelines have contributed to the current state of affairs. The Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) should be accountable to the Service Chiefs and not be protected or insulated by the MoD.
Development of infrastructure in the border areas along India’s boundary with China has been slow and lacking a sense of urgency…
During a tenure in the Army Headquarters, one gathered an impression that a substantially large percentage of the staff posted in every directorate is deeply involved in processing cases for procurement of weapon systems and equipment. It is a direct consequence of the two principal maladies afflicting the modernisation effort – the failure of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to forge the modernisation drive through Research and Development (R&D) and the MoD’s cumbrous procurement procedure. Over the years, a timeline that has come to be accepted for the whole process and has come to stay right from the time of initiating a case for establishing the ‘acceptance of necessity’ to final induction of the first batch of a weapon system or equipment is roughly between ten to twelve years. Obviously due to this long gestation period many proposals die a natural death during the processing phases.
The inadequacy of the DRDO in absorbing modern weapons technology and failure to indigenously design and develop weapons, communication systems, night vision devices and equipment has been a serious drawback in modernisation of the armed forces. This perhaps is also the fallout of the unbridled autonomy that has been accorded to the Director General – DRDO, who is also the Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister and the Secretary DRDO as well. Such an all encompassing arrangement ostensibly confers sweeping powers to one individual over a range of aspects which includes the conduct of research, utilising funds allocated and administrative functioning with no accountability. There is an urgent requirement of a total revamp.
If the DRDO and OFs are revamped and made more accountable to the user, India can reach out to her neighbours for their military hardware requirements. Due to a misplaced prosaic moral stance on the issue of arms export, India lost out to China which has come forward to meet all such demands of Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and even Sri Lanka besides Pakistan. The presence of China in these countries has given rise to a ‘threat perception’ of strategic encirclement of India by China by way of bases constructed in these countries – “string of pearls” – which virtually arcs around peninsular India. Such a situation has come to pass more due to India’s denial of a realist outlook.