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Defence Ministry Dithers: PROPOSALS IN COLD STORAGE, By Col (Dr) PK Vasudeva (Retd), 19 June, 2013 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 19 June 2013

Defence Ministry Dithers


By Col (Dr) PK Vasudeva (Retd)


The Ministry of Defence refuses to bite the bullet. Despite various committees’ recommendations for creating a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and a permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC), the matter continues to hang fire. Rather than taking a firm decision either way, the Defence Ministry seeks to pass on the buck merrily.

Recently, Defence Minister AK Antony stated at a function that the final decision on permanent CoSC would be taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), as it was still at the discussion stage. Worse, he took the plea that he had “referred it to an independent committee and after getting its advice, the matter will be referred to the CCS”!


Likewise, same is to story for creating a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) post. In all likelihood the country is not going to get a ‘super-General’ as adviser to Defence Minister and member of the CCS to advice on defence and national security matters. Recall, that after the 1999 Kargil conflict, the Arun Singh committee, constituted as part of Group of Ministers (GoM) in April 2000 under the chairmanship of then former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani recommended the creation of the CDS post since the existing system of Chiefs of Staff Committee was unable to deliver on important issues.


In its wisdom, the committee recommended that the CDS should be created for carrying out four main functions - providing single-point military advice, administering strategic forces, ensuring jointness in the Armed Forces and enhancing planning process through inter-service coordination and prioritising.  


However, when it came to the crux, there was stiff opposition to the creation of the post both from within the Armed Forces as well as by the politico-bureaucratic combine. While some in the military felt their identity might get swamped, bureaucratic resistance stemmed from the feeling that the CDS may become more powerful than the Cabinet Secretary! On its part, the political hierarchy was apprehensive about too vesting too much power in the hands of a single individual.


As a result, while a majority of the recommendations were implemented, including the creation of a full-fledged office of the Integrated Defence Staff comprising almost 200 officers, its head, the CDS, continues to go missing. Lack of political consensus on the issue has been cited as the reason for non-implementation. Irrespective of the reasons, the real loser is the nation since a critical issue concerning national security remains unaddressed.


This apart, given the plethora of legal complaints in various courts against the Ministry of Defence on pay and allowances discrepancies, defence procurement scams and lurking threat perception from our adversaries China and Pakistan, a 14-member task force on national security--the Naresh Chandra Committee-- was set up by the Union government on 21 June 2012 to suggest ways to revamp the country’s defence management.  


Its main objectives were to consider the Kargil Review Committee’s recommendations, tabled in Parliament on 23 February 2000 as well as examine the state of country's border management and restructuring system. The task force submitted its report to the Government on 8 August 2012, wherein it recommended a permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC) to exercise "administrative control" over the nuclear arsenal, head a separate joint special forces command, prioritize modernization of the Armed Forces and prepare annual defence operational status reports.

The CoSC chairman, a four-star General like the chiefs of Army, Navy and IAF, who currently constitute the panel, was meant to be an "invitee" to the CCS and the National Security Council (NSC) and importantly advise the Defence Minister on all matters concerning two or more Services.


Ironically, like the politico-bureaucratic combine scuttled the recommendation for a CDS after the 1999 Kargil conflict, the MoD too scuttled the CoSC chief move. It expressed strong reservations against the fresh proposal and its concerns have successfully pushed the proposal into cold storage. Like successive governments using the pretext of the need to evolve a political consensus, as also lack of complete agreement among the three Services to keep the crucial CDS post in suspended animation since Kargil, the Ministry has cleverly rejected the permanent chairman post by asking another committee to take an independent view.


Accordingly, as of now it holds the view that the present system of handling the nuclear arsenal by the Strategic Forces Command, with a three-star General in command and "a separate and distinct management structure", did not warrant a change. Plus, the MoD feels there was "no scope" for the CoSC chairman to be invited for CCS and NSC meetings because "only certain ministers are invited" to these. Moreover, the current system of the three Service Chiefs and the collegiate CoSC briefing the Defence Minister was "functioning well".


Additionally, the MoD has rebuffed the taskforce's proposal for "cross-staffing" by posting military officers to the Ministry to bridge the civil-military disconnect. It was felt this would develop synergy and truly integrate Service Headquarters with MoD, but only cosmetic changes have been witnessed over the years. In its defence, the Ministry notes that the “cross-staffing” view was "contestable" since existing mechanisms and decision-making was based on "joint consultation" and "integrated advice from all components".


Interestingly, in the Ministry of Home Affairs, IPS officers are posted up to the level of additional secretaries and thus have better coordination in North Block. Similarly, officers from defence services up to the level of joint secretaries should be appointed for better and smooth functioning of the MoD and also help in avoiding large-scale defence scams.


At the same time, the PMO, especially National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, who is discussing the taskforce report with all stakeholders, is weighing the pros and cons. There is a view that the fear that a CDS will erode the supremacy of the civil over the military is unfounded. The CDS will not be a Supreme Commander, but shall be an Inter-Service professional coordinator with individual Service Chiefs having the right of direct access to the Head of the Government.


It also needs to be mentioned that Army Chiefs in different countries have staged military coups but no CDS has ever done so. India’s Defence Services are fully committed to upholding democratic values and in a well-established democracy like ours with such diversity, and of continental dimension, the question of a military coup seems clearly remote.   


Recall, India suffered in the 1965 Indo-Pak and 1999 Kargil operations because there was no CDS to supervise and coordinate operations. However, the Indo-Pak 1971 operation was greatly successful because Air Marshal Sam Manekshaw acted like a CDS because the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had given him all the powers of the CDS.


In the US, France, Germany, UK and Australia, the creation of CDS equivalent posts had to be forced through Acts of Parliament, overcoming the objections of the bureaucracy and military. The political authority there felt convinced that the national interest would be best served by such a step. We could take a leaf out of their book.--INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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