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Defence Appointments MIRED IN POLITICAL RED TAPISM By Col (Dr) PK Vasudeva (Retd), 16 Dec, 2013 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 16 December 2013

Defence Appointments


By Col (Dr) PK Vasudeva (Retd)


The Government’s readiness to appoint a permanent four-star General in principle as India’s first tri-service military chief will be widely welcomed by all right thinking strategists, barring the bureaucracy. For decades, the country’s strategic community has urged the creation of a single-point military advisor, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), who would also oversee matters that relate to all three Services.


In October last year, the 14-member high-powered Naresh Chandra Task Force on National Security had recommended the appointment of a four-star general as Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), who would be dealing with the joint issues of the three Services on a full-time basis. However, there are still hiccups for this post, because Defence Minister A K Antony feels it should be cleared by all political parties, which is an excuse for delay.


In a National Security Lecture, 2013 on “Civil Military Relations: Opportunities and Challenges”, delivered at New Delhi’s United Services Institution, Governor of Jammu and Kashmir N N Vohra stated that the frequently voiced dissatisfaction among the defence forces is that the civilians posted in the Defence Ministry don’t have either the adequate experience of working in this arena nor long enough tenures to gain specialisation for effectively dealing with military matters. 


Some commentators allege that the role of political leaders has been hijacked by the bureaucracy and what ordains in the MoD today is “bureaucratic control and not civilian political control of the military”. It has further been argued that the civil services have succeeded in having their own way, essentially because the political leadership has little or no past experience or expertise in handling defence matters, has little interest, and lacks the will to support reforms in the defence management apparatus. 


The Task Force has also recommended the appointment of Director level officers as staff officers from the Armed Forces in the Defence Ministry for better coordination and procurement of arms and defence equipment because the civilian staff lacks expertise and experience. But the Ministry refuses to toe the line. In fact, the administration has always been questioning the appointment of a permanent chairman COSC/CDS. Firstly, as the defence service chiefs agree, the three Services must coordinate closely to generate decisive power on the modern day battlefield. 


Secondly, tri-Service autonomy causes wasteful expenditure with capabilities, organisations and equipment being duplicated and even triplicated. Rather than running redundant facilities, all three Services could combine functions such as strategic communications, medical services, military policing, legal services and logistics


Thirdly, the Government shouldn’t have to discuss military issues with three Service chiefs separately, often getting contradictory advice. The Chairman COSC would be a single point-of-contact that offers integrated military solutions after taking all service viewpoints into consideration. 


For these reasons, the Kargil Review Committee recommended way back in 1999 the creation of a CDS, which was envisaged as a five-star general, admiral or air marshal, directly overseeing the four-star Service chiefs of the army, navy and air force. But the prospect of a powerful new military chief (chairman COSC) apparently set off alarm bells. The NDA government accepted all the recommendations of the GoM, under former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, barring the appointment of a CDS. On that, the NDA ruled that it be “considered later, after the Government is able to consult various political parties.”


Recall, the Task Force had recommended to the Prime Minister that this four-star post be created immediately to handle the jurisdiction where two or more Service interests overlap. The three Service chiefs, who were in full agreement, sent an appointment proposal to the National Security Council, which in turn referred it to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which is to rule on the matter, for bringing reforms in the country’s higher defence management.


In that case, it would be insufficient to merely appoint Army chief General Bikram Singh as the first permanent Chairman of COSC, and bump up Lieutenant General Anil Chait as army chief. If these appointments are not accompanied by structural reforms, these might seem no more than cynical ploys with an eye on the coming 2014 elections.


Presently, the Service chiefs function as chiefs of staff and also commanders-in-chief, managing the gamut of operations, policy planning, human resources, training and equipping. With operations understandably enjoying precedence, there is little emphasis on long range force structuring, equipment planning and human resource development.


Creating the structures for this separation must be a specified task of the new Chairman COSC. One option is the creation of US-style integrated theatre commands, with regional commanders allocated army, navy and air force units for their operational tasks. For example, the currently separate southern commands of the army, navy and air force could be integrated into a single tri-service command that could optimally harness the combat power of all three services.


Modern western militaries follow one of two distinct models. The US, with its global responsibilities, has independent theatre commands, such as Pacific, Central, etc, each of which are equipped with land, air and sea units, bureaucrats and political departments needed for independent campaigns. The theatre commander, a four-star general or admiral, reports directly to the US president, through the secretary for defence. In Washington, there is a centralized Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC), headed by a five-star chairman. 


The smaller British, French, Canadian and Australian militaries place their army, navy, air force and marine units directly under their respective four-star service chiefs. These service chiefs answer to a five-star Chief of Defence Staff, who could be from any service. The CDS reports to the minister in charge of defence.


Unfortunately, the appointment of permanent Chairman COSC seems to have been again caught up in doldrums. The NDA’s failure to act was followed by the UPA that uses the same threadbare excuses. On Jun 13, 2005, then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee declared that the CDS “would require a broad political consensus among parties, both in office and in opposition.” Eight years on, incredibly, Antony has deployed the same excuse to block even a four-star permanent chairman COSC, a post far less threatening than a five-star CDS.


The military deeply resents this humiliating lack of trust on the apolitical defence establishment. Political leadership on the advice of bureaucracy feels that appointing a CDS might invite a coup. Now the Defence Ministry says that a permanent chairman COSC would be “a first step towards a CDS.”


Does Antony really believe that it is acceptable to stall action in 2013 with exactly the same excuses of 2001 and 2005? Will good sense prevail on the CCS keeping in view the national security interests of the country or will chalta hai attitude continue, which may cost the nation heavily during any future war?  --- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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