One may recall that Prime Minister during his address to the Joint Session of the United States Congress, repeated the advice he had earlier given President Putin with regard to the Russo-Ukraine Conflict that “this is not an era of war, but it is one of dialogue and diplomacy”. Whether he genuinely believes this to be true is moot, but nonetheless it reflects clearly in the manner in which his government views and treats our military—with an odd mixture of condescension, derision and trepidation.
There is a view, espoused by some, that over the years the Armed Forces have become increasingly irrelevant. Given our size and the fact that we are a nuclear power it is unlikely that any nation will attempt to grab our territory by force.
There is a view, espoused by some, that over the years the Armed Forces have become increasingly irrelevant. Given our size and the fact that we are a nuclear power it is unlikely that any nation will attempt to grab our territory by force. They believe Pakistan is incapable of wresting Jammu and Kashmir by force, just as we cannot realistically hope to liberate POK without facing serious repercussions. For similar reasons, neither side would wish to get involved in a protracted conventional conflict over territory in a Sino-Indian confrontation. Moreover, deterrence and war-fighting capabilities can be substantially boosted by improving our border communication infrastructure, a measure that would additionally help locals in the region, and also by enhancing our intelligence and surveillance capabilities with the assistance of the United States and its allies.
They have concluded that since in the existing paradigm we can neither assert ourselves nor change the status quo to our benefit, for whatever reasons, then why maintain a military of a million plus? Obviously, we would be better off only maintaining minimum force levels that would be sufficient to deter any conventional misadventure against us. In these circumstances the military in its present size is a white elephant that is swallowing up our limited financial resources, which could otherwise have been more productively used elsewhere. Needless to add, in politics, productivity is also measured in terms of the electoral benefits they bring!
The problem of course arises, as it has here, when the basic premise on which national security is sought to be changed is flawed. There is no reasonable justification for us to believe that geopolitics has been so transformed that wars have become history. In fact, ongoing conflicts in Europe and the Middle East suggest quite the opposite. Moreover, the fallacy of perceptions that with the advent of nuclear weapons, wars are an anachronism and no longer necessitate the need for maintaining a strong and robust military, are not borne out as the Kargil Conflict and the ongoing Ladakh confrontation have shown. Indeed, this aspect becomes even more problematic when national leaders indulge in such fanciful rhetoric as that can end up seriously harming our military’s operational capabilities and putting our soldiers needlessly in harm’s way.
Karl Marx famously wrote “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce”. Ironically, despite PM’s known dislike for Mr Nehru, their perceptions about the military seem remarkably similar. Like Mr. Nehru, he is hesitant about maintaining a strong and capable military, fearing the likelihood of their interfering in domestic matters. Similarly, he believes wars have become redundant and expenditure on the military is wasteful. Like Nehru, he is attempting to restructure the military into a more malleable force, that would give primacy to doing the bidding of the government in power, rather than upholding its constitutional responsibilities in an apolitical manner. This is being done by suborning the military’s top hierarchy through a deliberately biased selection system that rewards loyalty, with far more success than what Nehru achieved.
Initiatives such as the Agnipath Scheme, of hiring soldiers on short term contracts, are already damaging the military’s war- fighting capabilities.
Of course, fortunately for us, Mr. Nehru’s experiment ended rather abruptly thanks to China’s unprovoked aggression in 1962. Not surprisingly, again like Nehru, lack of experience, knowledge and understanding of what makes the military tick has not been a restraining factor.
Despite all his nationalistic hyperbole, the PM’s main focus has clearly been on a drastic reduction in the expenditure on the military. Prime Minister, as is common knowledge, belongs to a community that prides itself, and is deeply respected, for its business acumen. Not surprisingly, therefore, profitability, rather than optimisation of expenditure, becomes the benchmark for policy implementation.
Initiatives such as the Agnipath Scheme, of hiring soldiers on short term contracts, are already damaging the military’s war- fighting capabilities. The debilitating impact of poorly trained soldiers on the Russian Army’s operations in Ukraine, and more recently, of Israeli Army conscripts delayed response to the surprise attack by Hamas militants are examples of the downside of similar initiatives elsewhere. The transactional nature of this scheme has recently been exposed with the tragic death of an Agniveer in Siachen. While his Next of Kin (NOK) have been awarded, the not insubstantial sum of approximately Rs 1 Crore as compensation, what has been left unsaid and unpublicised is the very different treatment that would have been meted out if he had been a regular entry eligible for pension.
In that situation his NOK would then have continued drawing his full pay as Liberalised Family Pension for the years of service left, approximately another 18 years, and then gone on to draw 60% of his salary as Special Family Pension. By most conservative estimates they would have received three to four times the amount they are now eligible for, but more importantly, their treatment would have been a shining example of how well the state cares for the welfare of the NOK of its soldiers, always willing to sacrifice their lives for the nation. Once Agniveers fully comprehend this fact, as they certainly will, we are unlikely to see the same levels of commitment, motivation and morale.
There is also the issue of the government, with prodding from the judiciary, initiating a slew of measures to make the military an equal opportunity institution, rather than one dedicated to winning wars. They would probably be unaware of the year-long study conducted by the US Marine Corps in 2015 that unequivocally concluded that mixed units perform as well as all-male units only if standards were not lowered for inducting women, especially into combat and combat support units.
A strong military provides stability to the state that allows for commerce, trade and businesses to flourish, which in turn builds a strong economy.
In our rush for gender parity, we have set lower physical standards for women inductees, which implies that their below par standards will adversely impact our war-fighting capabilities, especially once we induct them in larger numbers into our combat and combat support units. Moreover, we seem blithely unaware of the aspect of risk that combat involves and the consequences, that women combatants may suffer at the hands of the enemy, if caught. In this regard images of Israeli women combatants being taken hostage and killed by Hamas militants has certainly shaken Israeli society, if social media is to be believed. Clearly the impact of allowing women in combat and combat support units needs to be urgently re-examined.
Indeed, it is truly ironic that a government that lays such a great emphasis on our Hindu origins, culture and history has managed to display such a profound ignorance of statecraft and warfare as brought out in Kautilya’s Arthashastra. In this classic, Chanakya points out the necessity for a strong army, because for all nation states there are only two states of being; either conquer or be conquered. At the end of the day the political and bureaucratic establishments need to understand that the military is a critical profit centre, but not in the manner that corporates view them. A strong military provides stability to the state that allows for commerce, trade and businesses to flourish, which in turn builds a strong economy.
Finally, if despite all reason it is felt that the military must also be made to sing for its supper, then we could consider the Pakistani option. There, the Army’s corporate avatar, the Fauji Foundation, has a reported annual revenue of approximately USD$ 26 Billion, employs over 30 Lakh people, and is seen as the country’s biggest corporate entity. Certainly, nobody in their right minds would want our forces to follow suit!