…military professionals must speak out; they must counsel political leaders and alert the public that there is no such thing as a war fought on the cheap. The Army must make the price of involvement clear before we get involved, so that the country can weigh the probable costs of involvement against the degree of non-involvement. This cannot be done by adhering to a notion of the military as a silent order of monks isolated from the political realm.
To say that the strategic landscape remains unsettled for India would be an understatement. Since Independence, the military has fought four major wars and been involved in countering insurgencies in various parts of the country for decades. It has also performed numerous “non-traditional” humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, while concomitantly struggling to adjust to a variety of social demands such as the integration of women, and at the same time attempting to prepare for future conflicts. As a result, the military faces a dilemma: how to respond to the uncertainties of the new domestic and strategic landscapes, maintain a healthy relationship with civil society, and yet retain its core raison d’être, which is to deter or win wars against the nation’s enemies.
“¦military officership is a profession, not simply a vocation. This means that members of a profession accept certain values specific to their profession, which are more fundamental than other values.
One thing clearly emerges from these auguries: the military cannot afford to withdraw into an ethical cocoon and take on a defensive posture. It must make a prudent and positive response to the travails imposed on it and not shrink from articulating its views in public. Senior military officers must reshape the notion of military professionalism by candidly admitting the impact of politics on the military’s ability to do its job and daring to practice constructive political engagement. This may appear to violate the sacred code of silence by which the military is strictly apolitical, offers technical advice only and goes out of its way to honour the principle of civilian control.
It is through constructive political engagement that military professionals can legitimate their role in policy debates, mark a clear boundary between defence policy and merely partisan politics, and provide the public with a clearer understanding of military issues. Constructive political engagement, far from threatening to make it an independent agency, presupposes that the military is dependent upon a variety of political actors and the public at large. It is because the military is under tight civilian control that it must make its voice heard in civilian councils.
Any number of issues might fall within the scope of constructive political engagement, but the two most critical are the apparent divergence between the military and society; and the problematical utility of military force in contingencies that may arise. These issues are interconnected and have a profound impact on the military’s operational effectiveness. There is an imperative need for the military to inform society about its place in society; and its concerns for creating capability- as expected by society.
The voice of the military must be heard if it is to serve the nation effectively; especially at a time when the reigning ethos of the civilian culture appears increasingly hostile to professional military ethos”¦
Today, a wall exists in India between the military and politics which deny current reality. The Indian domestic milieu and the international strategic landscape are, and have always been, politically and militarily inextricable, as the use of military force has always been shaped by political considerations. If the skill, wisdom, and experience of the officer corps is to be tapped by the national leadership, the military profession itself must be philosophically broadened and encouraged to involve itself judiciously in the policy arena.1 This includes a greater sensitivity to the realities underpinning the Indian political system, and more assertive presentation of the military viewpoint within the parameters of Indian democracy.
In order to set political minds at rest and to allay any fears that the media may have, it is important, at the outset, to mention views expressed, which still retain value as military credos:
The Army is there to serve the Government of the day, and we should make sure that it does not get mixed up with party politics. A soldier is above politics and should not believe in caste or creed.2
Yet, when in 1951, General Cariappa, delivered a lengthy warning to Nehru about Chinese military pretensions, he was bluntly told it was not his job “to tell the Prime Minister who is going to attack us where”.3
The Army’s apolitical character was reiterated by General Thimayya:
My experience taught me that a country’s armed services should be an instrument, but never an arbiter, of national policy. The history of countries whose military men were not taught to be apolitical shows what disruptive influences they sometimes can be.4
However, the military brass in the decades after independence was not following a military tradition when they kept their silence and followed the civilians’ lead:
“¦the military must inform society about its capabilities at hand; and not merely attempt to reassure that it will fight with what it has got. Deficiencies in defence preparedness are too stark to ignore or brush under the carpet.
[T]he professional soldier should never pull his punches, should never let himself for one moment be dissuaded from stating honest estimates [of what] his own military experience and judgement tell him will be needed to do the job required of him. No factor of political motivation should excuse, no reason of “party” or political expediency could explain such an action.5
No military officer must forget that he is a citizen first and a soldier second, and that the troops under his command are an instrument of the people’s will.6 The military is an arm of the people as it is a volunteer-force. Hence, military professionals must speak out; they must counsel political leaders and alert the public that there is no such thing as a war fought on the cheap. The Army must make the price of involvement clear before we get involved, so that the country can weigh the probable costs of involvement against the degree of non-involvement. This cannot be done by adhering to a notion of the military as a silent order of monks isolated from the political realm.
[I]t does not follow that the proper level of involvement by the military in political matters must be total abstinence. The military establishment deserves a fair hearing in the political arena as do other establishments. . . since each provides services to the community that need to be explained and funded.7
While the ethos of the military profession itself tends to bind most officers to a set of principles and values, military officership is a profession, not simply a vocation. This means that members of a profession accept certain values specific to their profession, which are more fundamental than other values. To this end, it is the duty of the military to keep itself professionally competent and technically honed:
No amount of modernisation of arms, equipment, tactics and organisations can produce results unless we have the right kind of man in the right state of mind, manning the system.8
The bed-rock of elan is the professional competence of individuals and leaders, and the faith, confidence and pride in the effectiveness of the group – the section upwards, to the Army as a whole.9
The Civil-Military Cultural Gap
The values and beliefs that form the substance of military professionalism determine the role of the military in society, establish the boundaries and criteria for military behaviour, provide norms, and institute the professional posture vis-à-vis the civilian elite. The character of military professionalism places the military subsystem in its ‘orbit’ within the political system and, in so doing, establishes the reference point from which civil-military relations evolve. This is aptly reiterated in the credo of the Indian Military Academy:
“The safety, honour and welfare of your Country come first, always and every time.
The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next.
Your own ease, comfort and safety come last always and every time”.10
A soldiers problems today stem from the fact that, now, the irresponsible use of military force could destroy the human race. A soldier therefore has greater responsibility to society than he ever had before in history ”¦
It has always been difficult to discern clearly the relationship between society and the military. It is even more complicated now. Demographic, social, and economic changes have focused the attention of many citizens on the politico-economic environment. Constructive political engagement offers a means by which the realities and essence of military culture can be presented to the public and elected officials, as well as to the media. This is particularly important in the information age with the expansive technological capabilities available. While articulating the cost of military options, in various contingencies, the military must inform society about its capabilities at hand; and not merely attempt to reassure that it will fight with what it has got. Deficiencies in defence preparedness are too stark to ignore or brush under the carpet.
An effective military system must be authoritarian and driven by the need for combat cohesion, unit effectiveness, discipline under a chain of command, subordination of individual rights to the group, and unity of effort. This unique military culture must be nurtured within the democratic system. At the same time, within these parameters, individual dignity must be maintained.11 The military, by remaining isolated from society, has created an environment in which decision makers lack all sensitivity to the realities of military life. Thus, an uncertain grasp of military affairs is likely to characterize policy making for the foreseeable future. One caveat is that the military needs to indulge in political engagement and not in politics, and clearly understand the distinction. It also implies that higher military ranks, while engaging politically do not fall into the trap of placing personal interests over organizational needs.
The voice of the military must be heard if it is to serve the nation effectively; especially at a time when the reigning ethos of the civilian culture appears increasingly hostile to professional military ethos, placing social agendas above military preparedness on its list of priorities. John Keegan said it best:
Soldiers are not as other men—that is the lesson I have learned from a life cast among warriors. The lesson has taught me to view with extreme suspicion all theories and representations of war that equate it with other activity in human affairs… War is fought . . . by men whose values and skills are not those of politicians and diplomats. They are those of a world apart, a very ancient world, which exists in parallel with the everyday world but does not belong to it. Both worlds change over time, and the warrior adapts in step to the civilian. It follows it, however, at a distance. The distance can never be closed.12
The outlook towards the military went at a tangent soon after Independence. General SM Shrinagesh, the Army Chief, summed up the situation:
“Amongst the political leaders, the general feeling grew that the army would neither be required to defend our borders nor employed in aid to civil authorities, in maintenance of law and order. New India’s political leadership started believing that the country could do without the luxury of an army, or perhaps make use of this disciplined force for assisting the national government in its developmental plans – in agriculture and similar operations! Events a few years hereafter were to bring out the bankruptcy of the concepts and thought of national security as major shortcomings of that attitude; but it was gaining strength at that time, as I was soon to learn.”13
The understanding of the soldier’s role and outlook was succinctly expressed by General KS Thimayya:
“A soldier’s problems today stem from the fact that, now, the irresponsible use of military force could destroy the human race. A soldier therefore has greater responsibility to society than he ever had before in history and his duty is to learn to carry that well. To this end, his experience, or training, must make him into the kind of citizen who is beyond narrow attachments to class and province and above the passions of political conflict.14
Some other ideas have been expressed by another Army Chief:
“A common streak that runs through the major part of the history of India is lack of nationalistic spirit and lack of unity”.15 …… “It has clearly come out that the internal threats to the unity and integrity of India are even more serious than the external threats. These are posed by secessionism, negative regionalism, religious fundamentalism, communalism, casteism, linguistic fanaticism and parochialism of different sorts, eating into the very core of our Nationhood. Insurgency, terrorism and violence, leading to considerable loss of life and destruction of property, are the manifestations of these. No effort should be spared to eliminate these. Needless to reiterate, while using essential force to control the situation, requisite political measures must be taken in time to tackle the root causes of the ailments.”1
Another view articulated by yet another Army Chief is:
In 1992, a remark made by the Army chief, General S.F. Rodrigues, that good governance of the country was also the Armys business, led to furore and debate in Parliament, but never a truer was said. It is a truism that a root cause of any insurgency is poor governance.
“…… India suffers from a weak strategic culture……. Most of our political leaders grew up conjuring the idea of a morally superior India; professing peace and harmony in a world where nations indulge in cut-throat competition. Value-based politics is morally superior. But, as we all know, that does not reflect the international realism. The ability to generate hard power, and the will and the ability to make use of that, is not our strong point. We tend to remain internalized, fixing each other rather than fixing outsiders. There is too much political infighting and too little consensus.”17
Thus, in order to create synergy between the political and military, General KV Krishna Rao opined:
“To emerge successful out of a serious crisis, no amount of stress is adequate that, maximum possible preparedness is vital. If a sensible policy of diplomacy is first followed, and when it fails military has to be used out of compulsion, it may be emphasized that both aspects require thorough preparation.”18
When the government struck the defence deal with A B Bofors of Sweden in 1986, it was General Sundarji, the Army Chief, who initially gave professional advice to procure a gun with an edge. His recommendation to buy the Bofors howitzers became controversial, when allegations of huge kickbacks started and the Indian Army was being made a scapegoat in the entire drama. It is the duty of the military to recommend weapons. But the weapons deal was primarily a political decision. It was the PMO that felt that the cancellation of the Bofors contract would jeopardise India’s security. As General Sundarji later said:
“I had nothing to do with the deal. I tried my best to scrap the deal when bribery charges came up. But politicians never listen to armymen.”19
In 1992, a remark made by the Army chief, General S.F. Rodrigues, that good governance of the country was also the Army’s business, led to furore and debate in Parliament, but never a truer was said. It is a truism that a root cause of any insurgency is poor governance. The Army, while combating insurgency has to continuously face this fact.
There is growing disconnect between Government and the military. Issues now come to the fore all too frequently”¦
Consequent to the Kargil War, in 1999, the Group of Ministers recommended reforms in the national security management system. In May 2001, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) accepted all its recommendations, including the establishment of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) – which has still not been implemented. It is a pressing concern for having a focused, single-point agency for not only advice but also accountability. For too long have there been committees created which tend to obfuscate rather than clarify issues of concern. The CCS also issued a directive that India’s borders with different countries be managed by a single agency – “one border, one force” and nominated the CRPF as India’s primary force for counter-insurgency operations. Ten years later, many lacunae remain in the management of national security. The lack of inter-ministerial and inter-departmental coordination on issues like border management and Centre-State disagreements over the handling of internal security are particularly alarming. The integration of the armed forces headquarters with the Ministry of Defence continues to remain cosmetic.
You cannot navigate dangerous shoals in unknown seas with a flawed compass. The military must be used as a tool of political advice. It is not a mindless tool because professional military officers possess expertise in judging the capabilities of the military instrument of power. India was faced with a situation of a lack of strategy, even after deciding on a punitive approach following the terrorist attack on Parliament attack in 2001. The instructions given to the military were vague at best. According to informed Army sources, the Prime Minister called the three service chiefs and told them to prepare for a war with Pakistan. On being asked by General Padmanabhan, the COAS, as to what the government expected from the war, Prime Minister Vajpayee is understood to have said: woh baad mein bataayenge (that will be told later).20 If military strategy is the ‘art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy’,21 and grand strategy is the art of using all of a state’s means – military, diplomatic, overt, economic etc., there needs to be coherence and convergence between the two. While it is the state which decides how best it can cause security for itself, it needs to reconcile its capabilities with its policies.
The military top brass does not really speak out in public, but even then there is a friction with the civilian leadership now that is hard to ignore.
General JJ Singh was accused of ‘sabotaging’ Indo-Pak talks on the Siachen imbroglio, by insisting on ‘no go’ unless Pakistan recognized and confirmed the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL)? He would have been guilty of betrayal of the Army and the men he commanded, if he did any less – a strategically advantageous terrain, won by sacrifice of many lives, expenditure of national exchequer, much human toil and misery for decades, would be occupied in a jiffy by the Pakistanis, if it was left unverified and unguarded.22
There is growing disconnect between Government and the military. Issues now come to the fore all too frequently e.g. in May, after army chief General V.K. Singh said – in reply to a question – that his force had the capabilities to conduct the kind of operation that the US did to track and kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, the defence minister told the service chiefs to reduce interacting with the media. In July, the defence minister told the IAF chief that he was displeased with remarks on Indian nuclear strike capabilities during the Pakistan foreign minister’s visit.23 The air chief’s statement was also frowned upon by the foreign office. The military top brass does not really speak out in public, but even then there is a friction with the civilian leadership now that is hard to ignore.
No symbol is more sacred in a democracy than the military uniform which commands nearly automatic and universal reverence. There is no question that our troops are courageous and selfless. They expose themselves to inconceivable dangers and fight for the sake of the country. The respect and gratitude that they are owed is axiomatic. However, the values of the military are an antithesis of the prevailing trends in society, at large. Its public image, our public discourse and our public policy strike a discordant note. We need to introspect. The soldiers are ‘one of us’ and society must share the burden of their upkeep, respect and reputation. The uniqueness of military values and command structure needs to be preserved. The military is a can-do institution. It is an organization that functions by group endeavour. As opposed to this, politics is a muddle of moral and practical compromise.
It is a measure of the indifference of the political leadership about matters military, that war histories remain under wraps. The history of the 1965 war has recently been published. However, the primary documents that it is based upon are not available to researchers and the general public. The civilian bureaucracy has a stranglehold, without accountability. It is single-minded in its determination to deprive the Armed Forces of any credit for their contribution to national security and cohesion. The armed forces have begun to look – and sound – like just any other “department” of the government.
We have one of the finest, most loyal, disciplined armies in the world, willing to follow orders and, most important of all, take casualties. They deserve better leadership”¦
How can the military offer options or advice when the political leadership neither understands its potential and limitations nor sanctions long-term plans to create the capabilities necessary to meet emerging threats and challenges? There is an almost unbridgeable civil-military divide in our country. It does not augur well for national security. You never want to see your military brass on the defensive, whether facing the enemy, or your own media. We have one of the finest, most loyal, disciplined armies in the world, willing to follow orders and, most important of all, take casualties. They deserve better leadership, from within, and definitely from the political class. The fact remains that there does not seem to be political will to equip the armed forces suitably. Citizens and planners should appreciate that plans on paper, political rhetoric and diplomatic parleys cannot win wars. For this the military must speak up.
India faces complex external and internal security threats; and new challenges are emerging. Unresolved territorial disputes with China and Pakistan, insurgencies in Jammu & Kashmir and the northeastern states, the rising tide of left-wing extremism and the growing spectre of urban terrorism have vitiated India’s security environment and slowed down socio-economic growth. Yet, as the recent serial blasts at Mumbai have once again indicated, India’s national security continues to be sub-optimally managed.24
In passing it is relevant to quote T.S. Eliot:
- For a study of the military profession and civil-military relations see Sam C. Sarkesian, John Allen Williams, and Fred B. Bryant, Soldiers, Society, and National Security (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1995).
- Quote attributed to Field Marshal KM Cariappa, the first Chief of the Indian Army
- C B Khanduri, Field Marshal K M Cariappa: His Life and Times (New Delhi, 1995), p.260
- Quote attributed to General KS Thimayya. See Humphrey Evans; Thimayya of India (Dehradun: Natraj Publishers, 2009), p. 284
- Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway (Ret.), Soldier: The Memoirs of Matthew B. Ridgway (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1956), p. 271.
- Ibid., p. 269.
- N. Fotion and G. Elfstrom, Military Ethics: Guidelines for Peace and War (Boston: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1986), p. 87.
- General K Sundarji, Chief of Army Staff, India (1986-1988), in his famous demi-official letter of 1 February 1986 to all officers, individually, after assuming command of the Army.
- Enunciated by Field Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode, on 10 December 1932.
- This approach attempts to synthesize some elements of Huntington’s view of an authoritarian military with those of Janowitz’s constabulary concept. See Huntington, The Soldier and the State, and Janowitz, The Professional Soldier.
- John Keegan, A History of Warfare (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), p. xvi.
- See Brigadier Satish K. Issar; General S.M. Shrinagesh: Soldier, Scholar, Statesman (New Delhi: Vision Books, 2009) p.142
- Humphrey Evans; Thimayya of India (Dehradun: Natraj Publishers, 2009), pp. 305-306
- General KV Krishna Rao: Prepare or Perish: A Study of National Security (New Delhi: Lancer Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1991) p.25
- General KV Krishna Rao: Prepare or Perish: A Study of National Security (New Delhi: Lancer Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1991) pp. 438-439
- General VP Malik, Foreword in Gurmeet Kanwal; Indian Army: Vision 2020 (New Delhi:HarperCollins Publishers; 2008) p.x
- KV Krishna Rao: Invincibility, Challenges and Leadership (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd., 2011) pp. 404-405
- General K Sundarji, in an interview.
- A.G. Noorani, ‘Vajpayee’s Pakistan Policy’, The Hindu, June 6, 2003.
- B.H. Liddell Hart, Strategy, (New York: Praeger, 1967) p.335
- Outlook, 30 May 2011
- Gap between Antony, service chiefs; Telegraph, Kolkata Friday, 29 July 2011
- Gurmeet Kanwal, The Times of India, 24 July 2011; See http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/all-that-matters/Big-chinks-in-our-security-armour/articleshow/9341455.cms (Accessed 24 July 2011)
- From Burnt Norton (1935), a poem by T. S. Eliot, the first of the Four Quartets.