eneral Bipin Rawat has taken over as the first CDS of India. He will function as a Secretary in a newly created Department of Military Affairs within the Ministry of Defence. He will be the single point Military Advisor to the Raksha Mantri and will be the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, but will not exercise military command over the three Service Chiefs.
CDS was one of the main recommendations of the GOM headed by LK Advani, after the Kargil war of 1999. The panel was of the view that a CDS who would “take a coordinated view of the three services, while individual chiefs can present their view point to the Defence Minister, where the Chiefs have a different viewpoint from the CDS”. The other recommendations for the CDS included administrative control over strategic forces and not operational military control; facilitating efficient and effective planning and budget process and coordination in operation. The recommendations were clear that the Defence Secretary will be the Principal Defence Advisor on policy matters and financial management, while CDS will be the single point military advisor. As per the scope of function of the CDS as notified, he will be the first amongst equals but can direct the Service Chiefs. He will facilitate restructuring of Military Commands for optimal utilisation of resources which will include the establishment of joint/theatre commands. He would be responsible for jointness amongst the services and implement the five-year defence acquisition plan. It may be recalled that the government created CIDS (Chief of Integrated Defence Staff) in 2001, to provide an integrated view of planning and procurement of weapon procurement to assist the Defence Acquisition Council in prioritisation and weapons procurement. The CIDS will, henceforth, be rechristened as Vice Chief of Defence Staff and work under the Department of Military Affairs headed by the CDS.
The reason for non-placement of the CDS earlier is often levelled at the doors of the civilians in the MoD, who are perceived as real advisors to the political executive. While it is true that the political dispensation is often guided by the civilian set up, it’s also true that there is a sense of unease that too much power resting in one military official can have the potential of a coup! In a remarkable book ‘Core Concerns in Indian Defence and the Imperatives for Reforms’ (2015) (Editor – Vinod Misra), one gets to know how there are differing perception amongst the three services on creation of a CDS. Air Chief Marshal Srinivasapuram Krishnaswamy CAS (Retd.) believes that CDS “is overkill”; as a single centralised structure is expected to be slow in decision making process. On the other hand, General Deepak Kapoor COAS (Retd.) was of the view that India should adopt the CDS system which is operating successfully in countries like US, UK, China and Russia.
George Tanham, an American Artillery officer in World War II, who became a political scientist and strategic analyst with RAND Corporation, in a pioneering paper titled “Indian Strategic Thought and Interpretative Essay” (1992) has outlined four factors that explain the Indian view point – geography, history, influence of the British Raj and Indian culture. Coming down sharply against bureaucracy in the South Block, Tanham writes “how the military resent the fact that the un-uniformed and inexperienced civilians make all the major decisions and the armed forces are taken out of the national security decision making process”.
While such a view point was substantially true before the Kargil conflict, the experience of the last 15 years clearly point to the fact that there is better civil military synergy in strategic decision making.
Samuel Huntington in “Soldier and the State” (1975) had written that “Nations that fail to develop a balanced pattern of civil military relations squander their resources and run uncalculated risk”. He also had flagged that the essence of ‘objective control by the civilians’ of the armed forces in a democracy is the recognition of ‘military professionalization’. Despite the simmering discontentment amongst the military about the asymmetry in power of policy making in South Block between uniformed and the un-uniformed, the fact remains that the operational imperatives and operationalisation are always left to the defence services, without any civilian interference. Stopping the military in their operational march during war (1965 & 1971) has been exercised by the highest political executive only!
Lord Ismay, had suggested in 1947 that the Commanders-in-Chief should be fully empowered for operational management and the Chief of Staff Committee should do central coordination between the three services. He could not have been more prescient. What is required for India is a mechanism that would coordinate the operational imperatives between the three services on a long-term basis and provide single point military advice to the political executive of the day better. It’s ultimately for the CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) to take a call on the military option to be exercised after taking into account feedback of the NSA, DPC, MEA, MHA and all stakeholders. The civil military synergy is an integral part of decision making, in the South Block, unlike other ministries which do not have this turf war. It cannot be diluted by undermining the role of the Defence Secretary. Bureaucracy bashing and military one-upmanship is certainly not the right way forward. The Modi government has initiated such a process for other ministries at the level of JS, so that there is greater professionalization in policy making. It’s time that the government looks at the structural reforms in MoD in a holistic manner, rather than in a piece meal manner as CDS, to score a ‘patriotic point’. Privatisation of DPSUs and OFs can be a major agenda. It would be useful to remember what the French premier Georges Clemenceau had said “War is too important a matter to be left to the Generals”. The challenges before the new CDS will go beyond military advice and the terrain will be bumpy.
–The writer worked in the Defence Ministry as a Joint Secretary. The views are personal.