Yet another attempt to focus on the urgent need for a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was made recently by Lt Gen. Vijay Oberoi, Lt Gen. R.K.Gaur and Maj Gen. S.G.Vombatkere (all retired), addressing a letter to the Prime Minister and to the Ministers of Defence, Home Affairs, External Affairs and Finance on the subject, National Security Council and Higher Defence Management, which was signed by 202 signatories, including two Services Chiefs and many Lt Generals and sent in November 2018.
In India’s 3-tiered security management system, the top tier is the National Security Council (NSC) chaired by the Prime Minister (PM) and advised by a National Security Adviser (NSA). Next is the Strategic Policy Group (SPG) and third is the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB). Chaired by the Cabinet Secretary, members of the SPG are the three Service Chiefs, key bureaucrats and intelligence heads. Even with this arrangement, there is no single-point-of-advice on military issues to the PM, as a (CDS) would be able to do. Several past attempts to induce successive governments to create the post of CDS have not succeeded. Under the NSA are three Deputy NSAs, a Lt Gen. for military advice along with two others for external affairs and intelligence.
A recent notification reorganising the SPG, makes the NSA, so far part of the NSC, chairman of SPG and the Cabinet Secretary, a member. The Indian Administrative Service (IAS) cannot possibly be happy because the NSA, Mr. Ajit Doval, is a former Indian Police Service officer, whereas the Cabinet Secretary is an IAS officer.
Several military veterans opine that lack of a CDS actually compromises national security, as the Cabinet Secretary cannot provide realistic advice on military issues to the PM, especially in a situation of threat or attack on our borders, that too with two fronts because of two adversaries, calling for a very rapid joint operations response. The present arrangement of the three Service Chiefs being Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee does not really serve the purpose of single-point advice concerning joint operations.
Excerpts of the letter are:
We the undersigned are military veterans who each have many years of experience in the defence of our nation.We are bringing a matter of the most serious gravity concerning our nation’s higher defence management for your consideration…Strategic think tanks and experts hold that military operations in coming years would be short and intense, and that the aggressor could gain an initial advantage. There is also the distinct possibility of our having to conduct war on two fronts, due to the nexus between our adversaries. In these circumstances, the speed and strength of our military response in defence or strike would be vital. This would depend upon the appropriate deployment, coordination and proportionate launch of our army, naval, air and cyber forces in the theatres under attack or threat.
India’s military response therefore will have to be as joint military operations of our three Defence Services (army, navy and air force). Further, credible capability of such jointness would serve as a deterrent to neighbours from undertaking any military adventures.Effective joint operations necessitate unified military command by a military officer superior in rank to the three Service Chiefs, designated as, say, Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS). The CDS would also serve to render valid single-point military advice to the National Security Council (NSC) as National Security Advisor (External Security), and the existing NSA would be NSA (Internal Security). At present, there being no CDS, the Chairman and members of NSC cannot receive single-point advice on military and external security matters, which is so necessary for rapid and valid decision-making at the national level, vital especially for short and intense armed conflicts.
We therefore respectfully request your most serious and urgent consideration of the foregoing and earnestly urge you to establish the post of CDS, to be tenured by a military officer who will also serve in the NSC as NSA (External Security).
On the very often debated and so far dismissed matter of instituting the post of CDS, it remains to be seen what the outcomes of the notification and this letter will be.