The factors that finally tilted the decision in favour of appointing a CDS, seem to have finally outweighed the logic offered by its sceptics.
By Col Vivek Chadha (Retd)
It’s been a long time coming. 20 years at the least. Though, the debate over integration within and beyond the armed forces has a long history. Yet, there was always some reason for pushing the decision forward. Until August 15, 2019. The location of Red Fort and the choice of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, both seem perfect for the announcement of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). After all, this appointment will function as the single point military advisor to the Prime Minister.
The factors that finally tilted the decision in favour of appointing a CDS, seem to have finally outweighed the logic offered by its sceptics. There were unfounded fears of an appointment that would be too powerful, given the control over elements from all three services. This argument was more a legacy of a colonial mindset. India’s democratic traditions, firm civilian control over the armed forces, institutional strength and the deeply cherished value of democracy within the armed forces will ensure that coherence of military advice will further strengthen India’s democracy led security apparatus.
There were also misgivings regarding existing national security structures being imbalanced by this appointment. Quite to the contrary, a CDS will ensure the right balance between professional military and civil advice. The CDS on one hand and the Defence Secretary on the other will provide two streams of inputs for policymaking. Each will bring to bear its own form of expertise and experience. Needless to say, both these strands of inputs will become critical for a considered and reasoned decision-making process.
This balance is equally relevant within the armed forces as well. The legacy of the past remained anchored in decision making by consensus. While this worked for routine affairs, it was for tough and contentious issues that decisions were routinely kicked upstairs. Worse, each service pursued its own interest, often at the cost of duplication and redundancy. The appointment of the CDS will ensure greater cohesion and coherence of planning and implementation processes.
India faces the challenge of external threats, internal challenges, uplifting millions from below the poverty line and building infrastructure. These are resource-heavy responsibilities, and each remains a high priority for the government of the day. This demands greater efficiency from organisations, even as they contribute towards the task of nation-building. The armed forces are no exception to this reality. It has long been felt that greater efficiency and cost savings could have been ensured through greater integration. This was especially in the field of joint training, utilisation of common resources, logistics as also operational responsibilities.
As an illustration, right from floating of the qualitative requirements for buying a helicopter, to bargaining for the best price during the procurement process, training pilots needed for all three services and employing pooled assets in a joint operation. All these functions were partially or completely an individual service specific pursuit until now. The creation of a joint structure headed by a CDS will enhance synergy and simultaneously affect cost savings.
There has been an expansion of the scope of threats and challenges faced by India. Unlike the past, cyber and space have been added to the existing dimension in which costs could be imposed on or by an adversary. The role of information warfare, subversion, terrorism and its employment by states like Pakistan, has further complicated the traditional understanding of security. From an adversary’s perspective, institutions divided by airtight compartments and organisational structures operating in stovepipes are the easiest targets for piecemeal targeting. The creation of a CDS will facilitate the process of an integrated approach towards preparing for these challenges better.
The appointment of the CDS is an important step in the larger attempt at ensuring the effectiveness of India’s national security apparatus. However, two factors will remain critical for ensuring greater efficiency.
First, the appointment must be empowered to iron out inter-services priorities, which will become the basis for an integrated long-term perspective plan. This must include the decision to create capabilities in line with national priorities and threats faced by the country. In this role, the CDS will be greatly facilitated by a formal document that can lay down these priorities for him. Whether this is called a national security strategy or a white paper, there is a need to provide this formal direction.
Second, there must be a simultaneous effort to create an organisational culture that values and imbibes unity of thought and action. This can best be achieved by officers and men holding appointments in joint structures to facilitate a better understanding of the characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of the three wings of the armed forces. At present, this is grossly inadequate. In fact, promotion beyond a certain level must become incumbent upon experience in a joint services environment.
The Prime Minister deserves full marks for deciding to create the appointment of CDS. The focus must now shift towards making it the asset it was always meant to be.
(Author is Research Fellow, IDSA, New Delhi. Views are personal)