Military & Aerospace

Need for Structural Changes in India’s Higher Defence Management
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Issue Vol. 30.1 Jan-Mar 2015 | Date : 02 Mar , 2015

Hard, Soft and Smart Power

Applying ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ power effectively is also a function of Higher Defence Management, which should decide on how and to what extent ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ powers are to be brought into play to achieve our national security strategies. ‘Hard power’ refers to coercive tactics – the threat or use of armed forces, economic pressure or sanctions, assassination and subterfuge or other forms of intimidation. ‘Hard power’ is generally associated with strong nations and includes the ability to change the domestic affairs of other nations through military and other threats. Many analysts advocate the use of ‘hard power’ for the balancing the international system. ‘Hard’ power of a state increases with military alliances or understandings with other states.

A striking feature in our management of decision-making by the bureaucratic side has been the tendency to duck primary issues…

The phrase ‘soft power’, coined in 1990, is the ability of nations to obtain what it wants through co-option and attraction. Instruments of ‘soft power’ include debate on cultural values, dialogues on ideology, the attempt to influence through good example and the appeal to commonly accepted human values. Means of exercising soft power include diplomacy, dissemination of information, analysis, propaganda, and cultural programming to achieve political ends. India’s soft power is based on its social and cultural values, the Indian diaspora abroad and its knowledge base. India is a knowledge superpower and is well placed to leverage its position in international relations.

Wise and judicious employment of both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ powers is ‘smart’ power. It should be mutually reinforcing so that national aims are advanced effectively and efficiently. ‘Smart’ power involves the strategic use of diplomacy, persuasion, capacity-building and the projection of power and influence in ways that are not only cost effective but are also politically and socially legitimate.

Advancing smart power is now a national security imperative, driven both by long-term structural changes in international environment and the short-term failures of nations. ‘Soft’ (persuasive) and ‘Hard’ (coercive) powers are complementary and synergistic and are thus co-multipliers. Without soft power, hard power is a destructive force with little room for passive coercion and negotiations. Without hard power, soft power has no way to reinforce its advocacy. By blending brains and brawn in judicious proportions we create smart power and with that, we see real change much quicker.

Some examples of ‘Smart’ power are:

  • The struggle of Jihadi terrorism needs to be viewed not as a clash of ‘Islam vs the West’ but as a civil war within Islam between ‘minority terrorists’ and ‘mainstream of more moderate believers’. The West cannot win unless the mainstream wins. It needs to use hard power against the hard core but soft power is essential to attract the mainstream and dry up support for the extremists.

 Our major weakness continues to be the lack of a National Security Strategy…

  • Psychological warfare uses soft power, the power of attraction, as a weapon. However, the term has negative connotations, on account of the word ‘warfare’ and hence needs to be discarded. It can be replaced by the phrase ‘Psychological Operations’.
  • The objectives of Psychological Operations could be:
  • Conversionary – to change emotional allegiance to ideology
  • Divisive – to split the target country into regional and sub-cultural entities and
  • Counter-propaganda – to counter the enemy’s blandishments and falsehoods.

A good example of ‘Smart Power’ is the extensive use of the phrase ‘Peaceful Rise’ by China to head off a countervailing balance of power.

India’s record in employing the use of ‘hard power’ is abysmally low. The thinking of our leadership seems to be that everything can be achieved by the use of ‘soft power’ alone. Such thinking is unlikely to achieve national goals. We need to keep our options open and use either ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ power or a mix of the two depending on the situation. The recent cancellation of the Foreign Secretary’s level meeting with Pakistan by the Indian Government and the riposte to the Pakistani firing in the Jammu sector are good examples of the use of ‘Hard’ and ‘Smart’ powers.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which is the fountainhead from which all major policies emanate, has no military representation…

Major Infirmities and Recommended Transformation

The major infirmity of our higher defence structure is keeping the military outside the government resulting in the political leadership receiving second-hand advice. Professional advice by the hierarchy of military leadership needs to be available to the political executive without it being filtered or altered to suit the perspectives of the bureaucrats. This is a fundamental issue which needs to be resolved immediately. This would improve politico-military responses to challenges and threats, enhance cost-effectiveness and assist in the best employment of the armed forces. This would also obviate temptations to rope in pliable Service Chiefs to meet political exigencies.

A striking feature in our management of decision making by the bureaucracy has been the tendency to duck primary issues, buy time, and create a plethora of successive Committees of Secretaries or others, which achieve little. The result is delay and dysfunction. The Defence Minister’s Committee (DMC) now diluted to a Morning Meeting continues to be more a chit-chat group that meets weekly without a fixed agenda or issuing minutes of the meetings and thereafter following up on the decisions. It needs to have a full-fledged Secretariat of multi-disciplinary staff so that implementation of decisions commences and accountability prevails.

Today, there is endless duplication/triplication on account of vertical structures which cause delays and cost overruns. Amalgamating the Services HQ, MoD and FA (DS) and having service officers and the civil service officers interact both vertically and horizontally alongside their financial counterparts would make for higher levels of synergy and efficiency and speedier decision making. The MoD has to be an integrated organisation of civil servants, armed forces officers, scientists and other executives who work collectively and take joint decisions.

Our slow decision making systems and processes must change. The transformation should begin with the development of realistic strategic directions. Our major weakness continues to be the lack of a National Security Strategy. In its absence, a comprehensive national military strategy cannot be evolved. Once this is done, the military will be able to decide on the details of restructuring, hopefully without the influences of service bias or sentimentality. Some assets will have to be phased out over time, as new, innovative systems come on line through the process of transformation.

Complete integration of the MoD and the Service headquarters needs to be carried out immediately and in a time-bound manner…

A glaring anomaly in the security decision making structure is the absence of a military high command. A major recommendation of the Kargil Review Committee was the need to set up joint structures at the earliest. While an integrated defence headquarters and two joint commands were formed, a key recommendation, i.e. the establishment of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), remains unimplemented even after 14 years. Resultantly, the integrated headquarters gets its directions from the ineffective Chiefs of Staff Committee or works without directions. Unfortunately, this state of affairs suits the principal actors. The political leadership continues to be haunted by the non-existent spectre of a military take-over however preposterous it may sound. The bureaucracy see the CDS as threatening their hold over the Service Headquarters and even the Service Headquarters are extremely reluctant to part with any power which threatens to dilute their fiefdoms.

We must seriously address joint warfare. Modern wars and conflicts cannot be fought with outdated structures wherein the Services conduct operations independently with coordination only being achieved with decades old organisations. This must change for if we continue in this mode we will be unable to generate the synergy essential for winning conflicts, battles and wars.

The appointment of a CDS and the gradual addition of new joint commands will, over a period of time, suggest the numbers and types of joint commands we need. There are other areas such as Special Forces, Space, Training, Communications and Logistics which require restructuring into joint commands. Within the Ministry of Defence, there is neither integration nor methodology for analysing issues jointly. The Ministry of Defence asks the Service headquarters individually or jointly to submit their views on all issues – operational, intelligence, administrative or personnel matters.

In true Whitehall System of dealing with files, a legacy of the Raj that the bureaucracy refuses to abandon, the MoD opens a fresh file for each case. The file then moves within the MoD in a linear manner and goes down to the lower bureaucracy without any inputs from the hierarchy of the MoD in most cases. The lower bureaucracy then initiates a note that is an iteration of rules and precedents, with little relevance to the pros and cons of the current issue. It then travels up the chain to the level from where it had started. The deliberations of the bureaucracy in the Ministry are thus bookish and not based on relevant data and adequate analysis. In major cases, the inputs that reach the political leadership hardly reflect the views of the services or the service chiefs.

Higher Defence Management needs to be proactive, efficient and long-term oriented amalgamating foreign and internal security policies…

A similar situation prevails within the Service headquarters, wherein the stance of a particular service on an issue is first finalised in-house, including by obtaining inputs from their respective commands. Thereafter, it is forwarded to the Chiefs of Staff Committee for consideration, where it meets its ‘Waterloo’ as service bias is foremost in each member’s mind.

Complete integration of the MoD and the Service headquarters needs to be carried out immediately and in a time-bound manner. In addition, there is need to also integrate those ministries and agencies which deal with similar subjects. The MoD and the Ministries of External Affairs and Home must be manned by integrated staff from each other. This must not be token representation as has been the norm in the past, but substantial numbers must be posted across these ministries. The same is applicable to representation between the Ministry of Finance, MoD and the Services.

It is strange that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which is the fountainhead from which all major policies emanate, has no military representation. An inter-services cell, under a C-in-C level officer must form part of the PMO where all ministries are represented. The Cabinet Secretariat used to have a number of military officers holding important appointments but over a period of time, even their presence kept being diluted, resulting in no representation now.

Merger of the Service headquarters with the MoD and their re-designation as Departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force under their Chiefs of Staff would achieve multiple gains. Aside from creating an integrated approach, politico-military considerations would be objective and comprehensive through military representation in the decision-making loop. We have no mechanism today to meet the complexities of multilateral international security components of politico-military policies. The integrated MoD must play a proactive role in nuclear issues, CTBT, NPT and FMCT negotiations and policies. What is needed is a multi-disciplinary International Security Affairs (ISA) division in the MoD which would receive inputs from relevant departments and agencies and coordinate a national policy working in close cooperation with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

The Department of Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare should either be disbanded or manned exclusively by serving and retired military officers…

Even the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare is manned exclusively by the bureaucracy instead of serving and retired officers who understand the problems of the veterans. No wonder the veterans have yet to see any welfare even after nearly eight years of the existence of this department. This Department, if reorganised and manned mostly by officers of the armed forces, may well be the precursor of an integrated MoD. There is also a need for greater clarity in the current rules of business which the bureaucrats love to quote to mystify the political leadership.


Peace is vital for India but it cannot be achieved by neglecting and downgrading the military. No country has ever succeeded in the global and regional arena with a weak military machine or by following a policy of appeasement. India has to defend her vital interests by all means. This cannot be done by structures that work in compartments like we have today. We also need political will, which one has not seen for decades now. We have to think and act joint and all instruments of the nation must act as one. Simply talking of CNP is mere lip service which fools no one. World over, mature democracies have integrated ministries and departments of defence, but India continues to be a singular exception. The present structure leads to avoidable communication gaps, delays and dysfunction in decision making. This must change.

Higher Defence Management needs to be proactive, efficient and long-term oriented amalgamating foreign and internal security policies and incorporating all relevant instruments of the nation. An integrated MoD will eliminate current infirmities and result in higher levels of synergy, efficiency and decision making ability. Military officers with domain knowledge must be inducted in senior appointments in the MoD so that military viewpoints are considered from the very inception of all issues.

The Department of Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare should either be disbanded or manned exclusively by serving and retired military officers who understand the problems of the veterans. It should be taken out of the MoD and placed under the existing Integrated Headquarters.

Under the current rules, the Defence Secretary is responsible for the defence of India — not the COSC or the Chiefs. Why? Was it a case of ‘Nehruvian brilliance’ or ‘lack of knowledge of matters military’ or was it ‘an enhanced fear of the men on horseback’? Perhaps all three!!

The reality today is that India is facing the strategic environment of the 21st century with its higher defence structures largely as they were in the 1940s. This is a recipe for disaster. A continuation of such outdated structures are already affecting the culture of discipline and sacrifice so assiduously built up over decades, as the armed forces see themselves being downgraded and losing respect. Ossified structures tend to curb initiative, risk taking and integrity which have traditionally been the hallmark of the Indian Military. It is high time that the decades-old selfless and loyal service by the Indian military is given due recognition.

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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

Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi

The author is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS).

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One thought on “Need for Structural Changes in India’s Higher Defence Management

  1. Here our worthy Gen. Oberoi has raised many relevant aspects for restructuring the organisation structure and its impact on the efficiency and effectiveness for 21 st century Forces.

    I feel that drastic changes need not be made in the time tested system, but yes role of bureaucrats certainly needs to be reduced and officers from the services need to play a more direct role in decision making to make it a sensitive and result oriented exercise. PMO should have representation from the forces, with a proper system of checks and balances in place.

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