The saga of appointing a CDS (Chief of Defence Staff) has endured for so long that it is on the verge of becoming a myth. India needs to sweep aside all ifs and buts that have bedeviled the creation and subsequent appointment of this long-standing demand of the bulk of the armed forces.
Joint efforts by the military are coming into increasingly sharper focus because of technological advances and the changing nature of war. The battlefield of tomorrow is certain to be more complex than it is today. The current decision-making process in India’s higher defence structure needs to be revamped. At the apex military level, our structures and methodologies for providing military advice on national security issues needs to be headed by a single person and not a committee. That person must be the CDS.
Currently, India’s higher defence structure is disjointed and works in a stand-alone mode. Within the Ministry of Defence (MoD), manned exclusively by civilian officials, there is neither integration, nor any methodology for analysing issues jointly. The MoD asks service headquarters individually to submit their views on various issues. The Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) is also asked for its views. The Committee, comprising the three service chiefs, with the most senior as chairman, cannot deliberate on issues objectively, as service biases are foremost in each member’s mind.
The bureaucracy in MoD deliberates on the views received and takes decisions, despite having little or no competence to analyse military matters. Inputs on issues with financial implications are taken from Finance (Defence) and Ministry of Finance. Finally, these are sent to the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS).
In 2001, the Kargil Review Committee and Group of Ministers (GoM), headed by then Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani, had made far-reaching recommendations, directing major changes in the higher defence structure. However, only some aspects were implemented. A key recommendation, creating the post of CDS, remains unimplemented. Consequently, the integrated headquarters gets its directions from the ineffective COSC, which has neither the teeth nor the inclination to take any strong and meaningful decisions, including in the realm of joint endeavours.
It is sad that for a military of our size, the extent of jointness is abysmally low. A few joint endeavours exist in peripheral areas, but they are perfunctory. Most professional militaries, having adopted joint structures, have increased their war-fighting capabilities, but the Indian military continues to be an exception. Appointing a CDS and the gradual addition of new joint commands are a must. Besides geographical theatre commands, there are other areas like Special Forces, Space, Communications, Logistics and Training, which also must be restructured into joint commands.
Countries with joint structures today had to also contend with differing viewpoints of the heads of their armed forces but, overruling them, final directions were issued by the political leadership.
While the Goldwater Nichols Act of USA is well known, other nations have also acted in a similar manner. It now devolves on the CCS to order immediate appointment of a CDS. If left to the armed forces or the bureaucracy, the issue will continue to remain in limbo, for reasons like the ‘man on horseback’ becoming too strong; protection of turfs by the service chiefs; reduction in power and pelf of the bureaucracy; and egos, both personal and institutional.
Restructuring for a joint milieu is especially important in view of the emerging military challenges around India’s land and ocean frontiers, which may call for India’s military response, if economic and diplomatic initiatives and military deterrence do not succeed.
Strategic analysts are unanimous that military operations in coming years would be short and intense. Consequently, joint responses are a must so that the Indian military is able to deliver the full might of its forces comprehensively, quickly and with full force. The military response must also be dove-tailed with diplomatic and other responses and must ensure that we concentrate militarily on one front, while other fronts are contained by other means.
While the three services are credible within their spheres, the higher defence structure continues to be weak, mainly on account of lack of joint leadership. The days of war fighting with only coordination, as in the past, are long over. Robust joint structures are a must. Procrastination over evolving a truly joint structure, with a CDS leading the forces must end now.
Presently, there being no CDS, the CCS, chaired by the Prime Minister, does not receive unadulterated single-point military advice, which is vital. We need to appoint a CDS without further delay, followed by creating theatre and specified commands and full integration of MoD. The present COSC system is outdated and defunct and not conducive to giving comprehensive and concise military advice and options to the CCS. The need is for a Joint Commander who can represent and render advice of a united, efficient and cost- effective fighting machine. Whether he wears four or five stars (preferable) is a matter of detail, but he must be the senior most leader representing a joint military. Militaries function best under one Military Leader, assisted by his own joint staff.
Policies of such great importance, relating to the security and very existence of our nation must not be sacrificed on account of expediency, appeasement, sloth or indifference. The political leadership must act now and establish the post of CDS, to be tenured by a military officer whose advice to the CCS would be based after joint analysis with the three service chiefs.