Military & Aerospace

Chief of Defence Staff: A Debilitating Dilemma
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Issue Vol. 29.1 Jan-Mar 2014 | Date : 18 May , 2014

It will take years to streamline the archaic system of higher defence management in India. Meanwhile, trapped in the complexities of the geo-political adversities, India’s compulsion of fostering cost-efficient security is rising by the day. However, in a trend converse, our political leadership has not even attempted, let alone succeed, in marshalling the military institution to the requisite level of efficiency. Further, it has been unable to make the fiscal allocations count, adopting instead a simplistic expediency of imposing ad hoc budgetary constraints which further exacerbate imbalance in force-modernisation. In the context of national security, that is a road to disaster. Institution of a body of military professionals to participate in defence policy-making at the apex level, duly empowered in advisory as well as management roles, is a call of strategic wisdom. This call must be attended to with alacrity; the institution of the CDS being the inaugural step towards that end.

“Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status”, — Lawrence Peter

An institution of CDS is needed to foster a level of operational efficiency in the Indian armed forces…

Although it is known that the recommendation to have an institution of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in the nation’s defence establishment was made in year 2000 by the ‘Kargil Committee’, actually the need had been felt some years before that. That was the time in the early 1990s, when the defence budget was so squeezed that the war-worthiness of the armed forces fell well below the level as mandated in the Government’s directive.1 The case, however, received more serious attention, when post-nuclearisation, a structure for national command authority had to be set up.

A decade down the line, the need remains unattended yet. This inertia is particularly jarring when compared to the great restructuring that proceeds briskly in the rest of India’s state-apparatus. In contrast, the military institution, the entire defence sector in fact, continues to wallow in a system long rendered obsolete, much to the detriment of national interest. The matter, therefore, calls for serious attention.

This paper argues that the necessity of the institution of CDS goes deeper than nuclear weaponisation or lessons of Kargil War. It suggests that an institution of CDS is needed to foster that level of operational efficiency in the Indian armed forces which would allow the nation to reap full benefits of its investments in military security.

The Proposition

The proposition of the Kargil Committee was straightforward for the nation’s policy making body to understand, its limited familiarity with the complexities of management of the military institution notwithstanding. Briefly put, the case was built around the argument that it was necessary to have a professional body of highest standing to render single-point military advice on matters of national security to the Raksha Mantri (RM) and the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), particularly in the application of nuclear weapons. Factual no doubt, yet this line of argument was open to dilution from many angles of contrived validity. Without going into the merits of such repudiations, it may be appropriate to touch upon these just to build up the discussion.

The political leadership has adopted the expediency of ‘measured inaction’…

One, it was pointed out that the existing system of advisory confabulations among the political leadership and the three Service Chiefs could not be stated to have failed. Therefore, it really did not matter whether the advice came from single point or three points; difference of opinion among one or more of the individual services could be managed either way, as indeed it has been the case so far. Two, the Government having made it clear that it factored its nuclear assets as an answer to intimidation from neighbouring adversaries rather than as weapons of war, the necessity of installing a CDS was not found so overwhelming; a collegiums of National Security Advisor, Service Chiefs and the Strategic Forces Commander could be marshalled to perform that role.

Of course, the whole issue remains mired by that eternal fear among the power-wielders – that of being marginalised on the high table, besides of course the innate wariness of unfamiliar ventures. Thus the three Service Chiefs in various permutations, aided by subtle endorsement from the bureaucracy – who as arbitrators of inter-service matters assume the role of de facto CDS – have put paid to that proposition for more than a decade. More disconcertingly, the political leadership, inert as ever in acquiring the art of political management of military power, has adopted the expediency of ‘measured inaction’. They have thus let the military institution stagnate against mounting challenges of national security.

As opposed to the position stated earlier, the obligation of creating an institution of CDS is best justified by what may be termed as the phenomenon of ‘strategising’ for a robust and cost-efficient national ‘defence policy’. It is this phenomenon that must be the fundamental motive for installing a CDS; the other oft cited reasons being just the fall outs desired of that obligation.

It is the burden of India’s political and the military leadership to address the disconnect between political mandate, fiscal affordability and military capability…

Philosophy of Military ‘Strategising’

Given the range and pace of geo-political churnings of the contemporary era, the criticality of strategising for India’s military security continues to gain salience. This is particularly so when the Indian state-craft stands dictated by imperatives that have contradictory implications. The severest contradiction is that there would ever remain a void between industrial and fiscal resources at hand and maintainability of that level of military power which may offer guaranteed achievement of our security goals. Thus is necessitated a foresighted political, economic and military balancing act to reconcile objectives enticing with those unsavoury. Indeed, even powerful countries are obliged to limit their politico-military goals to fit within the resources that they find feasible to commit to their military build-up.2

No doubt, it is the burden of India’s political and the military leadership to address the disconnect between political mandate, fiscal affordability and military capability. Further, intrinsic to that burden is the challenge which compels military strategists to devise unique operational strategies that multiplies the possessed military power to conform to national security objectives. This is what the philosophy of ‘military strategising’ entails.

Examples of Strategising

The concept of military strategising has ever been an obligatory part of the state’s articulation of political power by military means. In recent times, repowering of the American military forces in the post-Vietnam War and post-Cold War periods, military restructuring in Britain, France, Germany and Russia and ‘informationalisation’ of China’s People’s Liberation Army are some examples of the afore-stated strategising. To illustrate, when debilitated by war-weariness in the government after the Vietnam War, and its reflection in drastic budget cuts, the US military leadership rose to the occasion. It propagated a war-doctrine which was built around just five affordable weapon systems and a compatible force-structure. That helped America when she reverted to her political preference for military solutions.3 More relevant illustrations of military strategising under situations somewhat akin to India, however, come from Vietnam and China.

Political wisdom rules that the nation’s security objective must be backed up with commensurate military power…

A weaker power, Vietnam, when attacked by China in 1979, refused to commit its regular military formations till the Chinese had advanced across the mountainous border belt, choosing instead to contest that belt with irregular mode of warfare. Thus confronted with the prospect of having to fight across the wrong end of a difficult terrain and a tenuous logistic chain, China had to find a face-saving exit – with a bloody nose. In similar vein, to prevent Taiwan’s assumption of sovereignty, China propounds a strategy that is commensurate to her limited military capability as compared to the adversary, the US. Rather than risking the massive US military might, they propose to make it prohibitively costly for the US forces to dominate the China Sea – Taiwan Strait. This is a recourse to be met within their indigenous missile-information war capability, limited as it might be, but nevertheless, effective enough within that localised theatre to make the US military wary.

Military strategising therefore is a phenomenon that harnesses military genius in multiplying force-capabilities to secure success against odds. It is a joint political and military responsibility, with the bureaucracy facilitating the endeavour.

Strategising for Defence Policy

Political wisdom rules that the nation’s security objective must be backed up with commensurate military power, and yet, that power must be structured in conformity with the nation’s economic capability. Herein lies the complexities. One, there is no use setting political goals which cannot be backed up with military power. Two, it is wasteful to raise a military force that cannot be optimally equipped and trained within an affordable budget. Three, when sovereignty lies with people deprived, socio-economic charter assumes salience over military expenditure; and four, military power remains the most robust recourse in preserving the nation’s core economics. In other words, the military structure must be truly in sync with the political and economical endeavours. We may term this imperative as optimum force-structuring.

Tri-service joint operations are an imperative for success in modern warfare…

Next, the objective of optimum force-structuring is sustained by long term budgetary provisions to support force-modernisation. Further, the parameters of modernisation are influenced by the nation’s industrial capacity. Notably therefore, structuring military power in consonance with political objectives, regulating flow of funds and harnessing industrial capacity have, in modern times, become intrinsic to military strategic decision making. This is the imperative of optimum force-modernisation.

The process of national defence policy-making is set in motion when the concepts of force-structuring and force-modernisation are co-opted into the philosophy of military strategising. There is, however, a caveat. Tri-service joint operations being an imperative for success in modern warfare, there is a role to be played by a ‘high arbitrator’ in devising an appropriate joint-strategy of force-application. In terms of military preparedness, this joint-strategy dictates optimal tri-service force-structuring, and as a corollary, the scope of overall force-modernisation. Thus emerges a ‘defence policy’ which dictates harnessing of technological and industrial capacities and fine-tunes the phases and time-lines of modernisation schemes under a dispensation of jointness.

Within the ambit of defence policy, the joint-strategy must find reflection in appropriately tuned joint-training, apportioning of budgetary provisions and management of military schemes to control duplications, deviations, and mid-course corrections. Simply put, there is a need to synergise the three services to propagate one strategy, and back it up by tri-service force-structuring, joint-training and fund-allocation. Obviously, this role cannot be shouldered by the three chiefs, committed as they must be to primacy of their own service, not the least by the Defence Secretary who cannot have the requisite military insight. Only a professional body, possessing the requisite authority, foresight and the ability to rise above all considerations but the national cause, can articulate that role.

Finally, in the context of harnessing ‘dual-use’ resources, shaping up the nation’s the war effort must transcend the orthodox civil-military barrier. Indeed, civilian sectors such as law-and-order, transportation, supply chain, industry, communications, cyber activity etc. have more prominent roles to play in military strategy today than ever before. Many aspects of policy-making at the apex level, therefore, need to be tempered with military wisdom to reap the benefits of, firstly, highlight of military implications of civil endeavours, and secondly, dove-tailing dual-use resources into military endeavours. Obviously, a body of dedicated military professionals is needed to nurture that kind of inter-dependency which would promote the phenomenon of ‘military strategising’.4

It needs to be noted that to fulfil the roles discussed above, the aforementioned body of military professionals must be competent in command as well as advisory roles – half-measures would not do.

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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 Gautam Banerjee

former Commandant Officers Training Academy, Chennai.

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