The CDS has to overcome many turf wars, the one within services and the other with the bureaucracy
The appointment of Gen Bipin Rawat as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is a much-needed first step in military reforms. There can be no doubt about the need for a unified military command in resource-challenged times when warfare is all about technology and smart integrated manoeuvres. In an age of high potency threats and quick scrambles for a reactive strategy, our security apparatus cannot be fragmented but must appear to be working in tandem and as a complete ecosystem. However, the creation of this post is not enough without a sound execution strategy. And going by the delay in setting up the office — the recommendation for CDS was made in 2001 by a Group of Ministers on national security, headed by the then deputy Prime Minister LK Advani — top defence management needs to be a priority. Of course, there are challenges in implementation and a tussle for control implied in an overlap of civilian and defence authorities and procedural duplication. The CDS’ status is equal to that of a Cabinet Secretary. He will be the principal military advisor to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the National Security Council (NSC), the Defence Minister and the Home Minister (on internal security in disturbed areas and border management). He must assist the NSC to formulate and review the national security strategy and execute it. And though theoretically, he would still have to work with the Defence Secretary and function with the Ministry of Defence (MoD), this could lay the ground for a territorial war of egos between existing bureaucracy and the military leadership. For the CDS would ultimately reduce the tasks of the MoD and the service headquarters to joint entities. The CDS will need to be a bridge on many counts. First, he has to reconcile the three services, which are perennially caught in a hierarchical war. The fact that the first CDS comes from the Army will always bear on his decisions as either preferential or impartial. Second, there is the tough challenge of professionalising the Defence Ministry and cutting through the red tape, where workable policies mean an inclusion of sector experts, experienced strategists and serving chiefs. If the CDS gets caught up in turf issues, then the whole purpose of his office would be defeated. In the absence of clarity of what he can and cannot do, there will always be speculation about whether he can overreach himself in a civilian structure. The sooner that role is defined, the better it is for operational integrity.
The CDS also needs to be backed up by theatre commands for no unified structure can operate without these. As of now, we have just one theatre command in Andaman & Nicobar islands though three others are already on the drawing board relating to cybersecurity, space and special forces divisions. A time-bound plan must be made as to how many theatre commands are required in our specific scenario. Most importantly, we need to develop our own template than rely on existing ones, simply because we need to rationalise budgets, infrastructure and manpower. Without optimising our resources, no goodwill can be earned on this initiative as we continue to question hikes in defence budgets while compromising spends in social sectors. Besides, the forces may actually need to use some civilian experts on smart management and organisational flows to build efficiencies in the integrated defence architecture. So that transparency is needed. There is also a need to define the CDS’ role as a military advisor to the Nuclear Command Authority. Since operational command will gradually shift to theatre commanders and the CDS, there will be some erosion of power among service chiefs. Obviously, the long-term purpose is about streamlining the forces and that will impact key decisions on manpower, procurement and choice of arms buys and an overhaul of the administrative structure as we know it. While it is true that hybrid wars cannot afford old set-ups, the Government has to make sure there are no misgivings about this new martial command formula. At the same time, multiple and newer threats are real and hovering at our doorstep. India’s first CDS, therefore, has a lot of ground to cover and little time to win trust. The Government has to set firm timelines for this initiative.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)