Military & Aerospace

Trends in Military Leadership
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Issue Vol. 23.4 Oct-Dec2008 | Date : 19 Feb , 2011

“The sense of grievance among armed forces that the civilian bureaucracy has short-changed it and this is reflected in the hierarchy laid down in the pay commission is both sad and dangerous. If allowed to fester it will undermine not just the self-system of the armed forces, but it will engender a sense of rivalry and bitterness between the civil and military wings of the government.” Daily News and Analysis (DNA), Pune 13 October, 08

The editorial goes on “The argument of the top brass in uniform that it is more a matter of honour rather than that of money underscores their sense of being discriminated against.” In elaboration it suggests that while as the norm in our country is for the armed forces to report to civil authority, a norm meticulously followed by the services all these years, civil authority cannot be substituted by civil service authority, which the armed forces see as humiliating. It is this confrontationist situation that needs the intervention of the political leadership.

By and large the soldier and the ex-soldier have been progressively devalued and given low priority in the public eye, the government and, much more regrettably, the civil administrative machinery at the state and district levels.

Political leadership in our country is vote-bank-oriented and civil-service-dependent. It has had little awareness of space for the armed forces views and feeling, a cultural baggage to a fault. Armed forces are no vote bank. A large number of them in any case do note vote, they are busy getting on with their job wherever they are, disposed all over the country for from their constituencies, with little time and patience for postal ballot and electoral issues. And what help and service the servicemen can provide to nurture the kinds of politicians and policies our diversity and governance have spawned?

The present confrontationist situation has come about because the intake in leadership echelon has gone into an alarming decline, premature retirements on an alarming ascent, and the top brass repeatedly showing hours from the south block in the ears of the government. The government offered a few sops through the deafeningly silent civil services-sixth pay commission, committee of secretaries and now group of ministers. What the GOM does is yet to be seen, as at the time writing. If increase in pay was one sop (it cannot be called an incentive yet), increase in the number of ranks (colonel to general officers) was another. These were lopped off by devaluing and reducing rank status vis-à-vis civil services personal, that touched the raw serve of the serviceman’s sense of honor and recognition as well. It also carried the certain conflict in role-play.

One needs to quote Samuel Huntington (The Soldier And The State) if only because no Indian intellectual or researcher has thought it fit to dwell on soldier-state-society relationship in our country with its own peculiar politico-socio-economic milieu. He writes “The motivations of the officer are a technical love for his skill and the sense of social obligation to utilize this skill for the benefit of society. Society on the other hand, can only assure this motivation if it offers its officers continuing and sufficient pay while on active duty and when retired.” In this situation if the society–the government – does not ensure this pay aspect then who is to do it? And if nobody is doing it in a sufficient manner why blame the services leadership for projecting and insisting on it?

Our Constitution denies the services the right to form or join unions, indulge in dharna , strikes, public demonstrations, communicate to the press, write books or articles without services clearance etc. In the present instance it is the armed forces top leadership which has (projected the demand directly to the government it is serving and has access to — the one legitimate quarter and the only access-.) Its fault seen in many eyes is its determined insistence on converting sops into equitable incentives with rightful status, honour and recognition the servicemen deserve, the types of responsibilities they carry and effectively operate in the command and control structure the government puts in the sphere of national security, both external and internal.

Also read: Leadership in 21st Century: Sam Manekshaw, MC

The whole gamut of pay, status and honour have come to the fore for attracting intake in the armed forces (leave aside high class intake) and retain it for the maximum period of usefulness. Traditional attitude towards the soldier is that he is a second-rate, mentally and intellectually inferior. Physical strength has always counted for more than intelligence and intellectual strength, despite the iconic example of David against Goliath.) In Morris Janowitze’s words: “A liberal ideology ——holds that since war is essentially destructive, the best minds are attracted to more positive endeavors. The impression exists among educators that the intellectual level of those entering the military profession via the service academies reflected the adequate effective and adequate minimum standards rather than any extensive concentration of students at the upper end of the intelligence continuum.” (“The professional Soldier”), further in the same book he refers to a study of US Army lieutenants “which suggests that the brighter ones resign as soon as they complete their obligatory service , while those less well equipped remain ,thus military against finding the brighter people in the upper echelons of the military hierarchy.”

Todays combat scenario needs not only fighters but also administrators, managers, teachers, thinkers and technical experts, all conversant with combat demands and dangers, uncertainties and fatigue, and all having their mixes of intelligence and intellect, brain and brown, aggression and self-control.

In this eminent psychological study of military leader (“Psychology of Military Incompetence”) Norman Dixon says that intellectual ability has not always counted for very much in training for generalship; that academic requirements of the (military academics) are not wholly relevant to those actually required for competent generalship; and that denigration of progressive thinkers and powering score on men who challenged existing practices must surely have tended to stiffle any exercise of the intellect who wanted to get on, and deterred the gifted from ever seeking a military career. He goes on to add “Of the psychological problems which beset military officers few exceed in severity those associated with leadership.

In this respect they are required to fulfill incompatible roles. They are expected to show initiative, yet remain hemmed in by regulation. They must be aggressive, yet never insubordinate. They must be assiduous in cating for their men, yet maintain on enormous social distance. They must know everything about everything yet never appear intellectual. The fact remains that a deliberate cult of anti-intellectualism has characterized the armed services.”

This and others like increasing consumerist attitude, big and quick money, and the huge pay packets and perks offered by the corporate, MNCs etc. are some of the main reasons for the declining intake, no doubt. McNamara rightly says; “Brains are like hearts, they go where they are appropriated.” In such a situation how are the services and the society going to change the thinking? What should they be doing towards: –

  • Identifying intellectual and intelligence contents required in military leadership?
  • Fostering, nurturing, encouraging and improving them in the military leadership?
  • Retaining and optimally utilizing talent, intellect and expertise obtaining in military leaders?

Basically, it adds up to intelligence (ability to gain and apply knowledge and skills), intellect (power of using mind to reason and understand) and practice of putting both to optimal use that brings a level of satisfaction to the leadership.

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