Since the Independence in 1947, our defence forces have been engaged in active operations on a sustained basis, with only short periods of peace. These challenges have helped them to earn a formidable reputation of a force that delivers, usually against heavy odds. Despite the above, our higher defence structure is archaic; no formalised strategies at the national level exist and our decision-making is excessively slow. There are both organisational and attitudinal reasons for this. In organisational terms, we have a costly defence research department, whose output has been much below expectations. In addition, we have a huge but flabby conglomerate of the Defence Public Sector Undertakings and a large number of Ordnance Factories set up decades back, with wasteful manpower and exorbitant costs, resulting in grossly inadequate output.
Comprehensive National Power
The phrase ‘Higher Defence Management’ usually conjures up images of only the military but this is not at all correct, as the ‘Defence Management’ encompasses bringing together all instruments of the nation. All agencies and departments of the government, as well as many others have to be involved in some manner in ensuring that the national aims, as related to defence, are achieved. Waging war and meeting warlike challenges today is a complex phenomenon and such complexities are likely to increase in future. Consequently, integrated and holistic structures are not just desirable butan imperative.
India is classified as a regional power today but it has the potential to play an even bigger role. We need to wield influence in the extended Southern Asian Region and over time also influence events at the global level. The creation and sustenance of an environment that nurtures these aspirations necessitates development of what is now known as the Comprehensive National Power (CNP). There are many ingredients that make up the CNP, but perhaps the most important is a structure for the Higher Defence that is able to take smart, wellreasoned and quick decisions, especially when the country is in a crisis mode. This cannot be done if each instrument in the country works independently.
Higher Defence Structures
Since the Independence, we have been stuck with a system based on the British legacy of planning and decisionmaking, which has failed to achieve any substantive gains. This must change as the status quo will take us nowhere. Lord Ismay, a senior staff officer to the then Viceroy, had evolved our higher defence structure after the Independence. This consists of interlocking committees, at three levels, which are meant to give ‘full political control and yet ensure functional integration between the three Services, without bureaucratic control’. The structure still continues but dilutions have taken place.
At the apex of this structure is the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS). It consists of the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and some selected Ministers, with the Service Chiefs and Defence Secretary in attendance at all meetings. The second level is the Defence Minister’s Committee (DMC), chaired by the Defence Minister, with Service Chiefs, Defence Secretary and Financial Adviser (Defence Services), as members. It serves as the top policy formulation organ in the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It was later converted as the Morning Meeting of the Defence Minister, thus further reducing its efficacy.
The third level is the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC). It is a forum for the three Service Chiefs to discuss matters having a bearing on the activities of the Services and also to advise the Ministry. In theory, the COSC is the highest authority on military matters in the country. However, a major shortcoming of this body is that it exercises no real power, as its rotational Chairman exercises command only over his own Service, while the three Service Chiefs are individually responsible to the Defence Minister. Hence, no worthwhile decisions can be taken. There are other committees too but like all committees, their output is just marginal. Over the years, many have become defunct.
Ministry Of Defence
It is manned exclusively by civil generalists, having little or no knowledge of ‘matters military’. Yet, it frames policy directions on defence and security related matters and communicates them for implementation to the Services Headquarters.In 1955, the Commanders-in-Chief were redesignated as Chiefs of Staff, resulting in the MoD acquiring a status exclusive of the Chiefs and their headquarters. This resulted in the armed forces headquarters functioning as subordinate offices outside the framework of the central government. This was changed to the ‘associate headquarters’ in 2001, but it was only a change of phrase, devoid of anything substantive.
After over a decade, as a sop to the directions issued after the Kargil war by the Group of Ministers (GoM) in 2001, the designation was changed to the Integrated Headquarters of the MoD. It is a meaningless exercise in semantics, as there is hardly any integration of the three Services, let alone with the MoD. The MoD wields all powers and being an integral part of the government, it is part of the policy formulation process but the Service Headquarters have been deliberately kept out. This led an analyst to comment: “In no other major democracy are the armed forces given so insignificant a role in policy making as in India”. He had also added that “In no other country, do they accept it with the docility they do in India!” A great pity in both counts indeed.
National security strategies must be framed for the extension of vital interests of the nation, against existing and potential adversaries. These are the fountainhead from which defence policies, military strategy and ultimately, the tools to implement defence policies are evolved. It is unfortunate that even after four full-fledged wars consisting of one border war and a plethora of counterinsurgency operations where the armed forces have distinguished themselves with their valour and sacrifices, the nation has been unable to evolve comprehensive strategies for optimally using the military and other components of national power. We continue to depend on ad-hoc and bureaucratic structures for the higher management of defence.
The major infirmity of our current higher defence structure lies in keeping the military outside the government, resulting in the receiving of secondhand advices by the political leadership. Inevitably, it is filtered or altered to suit the perspectives of the bureaucrats. This is a fundamental issue, which needs to be changed immediately. This would improve politico-military responses to challenges and threats, enhance cost- effectiveness and assist in the best employment of the armed forces. The second infirmity is no integration of the MoD and Service Headquarters. Unless this is done, no major structural changes are possible. In addition, ministries that deal with security issues like Defence, External Affairs, Finance and Home must be manned by integrated staff from each other, including military personnel. This must not be token representation. As a corollary, civil officials should also be posted in Service Headquarters. Over the years, the armed forces have become isolated from such important subjects as formulation of nuclear policy, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT), military use of Space, disarmament initiatives, chemical weapons policies or treaties and missile technologies.
National Security Council
An NSC (National Security Council), headed by a National Security Advisor (NSA) was created in 1999. So far, five incumbents have headed this appointment; three were retired diplomats and two, including the present incumbent, were retired intelligence officers. Unfortunately, all incumbents have been unable to discard their comfort zone of the diplomatic or bureaucratic approach and have contributed little to the enhancement of security strategies of the nation. Successive governments have not thought it fit to appoint a military person as the NSA; reasons can only be conjectured. Even in the NSC Secretariat, the obvious security specialists viz. military officers have only a nominal presence. In totality, the NSC has produced neither policies nor any worthwhile security strategies! Hard, Soft and Smart Power Hard power refers to coercive tactics, not necessarily only military, while the phrase ‘soft power’ is the ability of nations to obtain what it wants through co-option and attraction. India’s soft power is based on its social and cultural values, the Indian diaspora abroad and its knowledge base. Wise and judicious employment of both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ powers is ‘smart’ power. It is used to advance national aims efficiently. Advancing smart power is now a national security imperative. By blending brains and brawn in judicious proportions we create smart power.
Our slow decision-making systems and processes must change. The transformation should begin with the development of realistic strategic directions. 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. A major recommendation of the Kargil Review Committee (2001) was the need to set up joint structures. While an integrated defence headquarters and two joint commands were formed, a key recommendation ie the establishment of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), remains unimplemented even after 16 years. Resultantly, the integrated headquarters get its directions from the ineffective Chiefs of Staff Committee or works without directions! 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 organisations as old as nearly seven-eight decades back. This must change, so that we are able to generate the necessary synergy, so essential for winning conflicts, battles and wars. The appointing of a CDS and gradual addition of new joint commands must be carried out with urgency. Besides the joint geographical commands, there are other areas like Special Forces, Space, Training, Communications and Logistics, which lend themselves for restructuring into joint commands. Complete integration of the MoD and the Service Headquarters needs to be carried out immediately. There is also a need to integrate those ministries and agencies which deal with similar subjects. Ministries of Defence, External Affairs and Home must be manned by integrated staff from each other. This must not be a token representation but substantial numbers must be posted across these ministries. The same is applicable to representation between the Ministry of Finance, MoD and the Services. Merger of Services Headquarters with the MoD and their re-designation as Departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force under their CDS would achieve multiple gains. Aside from creating an integrated approach, the politico-military considerations would be objective and comprehensive, through military representation in the decision-making loop. The need is for a multi-disciplinary International Security Affairs (ISA) division in the Integrated MoD, which would proactively deal with nuclear issues like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) negotiations and policies.
Military as bulwark
Peace is vital for India but it cannot be achieved by neglecting and downgrading the military. No country has achieved its aims with a weak military machine or by appeasement. The nation has to defend its vital interests by all means. This cannot be done by structures that work in compartments like we have today. We also need the political will, without which nothing can happen.We have to think and act jointly and all instruments of the nation must act as one. Simply talking of the CNP is lip service, which fools no one. The 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 dysfunctions in decision-making. It must change. Management of higher defence 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 would not only eliminate the current infirmities but also 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.
Today’s reality is that India is facing the strategic environment of the 21st century with its higher defence structures largely as they were in the 1940’s. This is a recipe for disaster. Ossified structures tend to curb initiative, risk-taking and integrity, which have traditionally been the hallmark of the Indian military.
Lt Gen. Vijay Oberoi, PVSM, AVSM, VSM is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) and Founder Director of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)
(This article was first published in the July 2017 issue of DEFENCE AND SECURITY ALERT, and is reprinted here with the permission of the publisher)