‘CDS a positive development… next logical progression would be towards creating joint theatre commands

Anit_Mukherjee
Share this with your friends

facebooktwittergoogle_plusmail

General Bipin Rawat’s appointment as India’s first chief of defence staff is a big reform in defence management. Anit Mukherjee, assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University and author of The Absent Dialogue: Politicians, Bureaucrats and the Military in India, talks to Nalin Mehta about it:

To what extent will the CDS matter?

The recently unveiled plans for the CDS, heading the newly created Department of Military Affairs (DMA) as well as the Integrated Defence Staff, and with a mandate to create joint theatre commands is a positive development as it suggests an empowered office. But I think the devil will be in the details, and so I will wait for more clarity on the staffing and responsibilities of this DMA which, to the best of my knowledge, would be unique to India. We should therefore give this experiment a year or so to get a better idea of what’s working. I would urge the CDS to come up with a road map for reforms or a vision document within the first six months, as it would be important to set the agenda and keep up with the reform initiatives.

What is the biggest problem for India’s military effectiveness?

Military effectiveness, in academic literature, is difficult to define or measure and is shaped by a variety of factors. While acknowledging these limitations my book focusses on the role of civil-military relations in shaping five factors most closely associated with military effectiveness: weapons procurement, jointness, professional military education, officer promotion policies and defence planning. I find that India’s pattern of civil-military relations creates problems in each of these. For instance, a lack of informed civilian intervention has created problems in jointness, defence planning and in military education.

At the same time, the military is not as influential, especially in its interactions with the Department of Defence Production. Moreover, relations between civilian bureaucrats and military officers are often characterised by mistrust and downright hostility. In short, there is no single biggest problem with India’s military effectiveness but a combination of factors across different bureaucracies so that the sum is less than its parts. Crucially, reforms are needed not only to professionalise the MoD, which is woefully short of military expertise, but also in the service headquarters.

How does India’s pattern of civil-military relations compare with other advanced liberal democracies?

On the whole India’s pattern is generally favourable as it has maintained a professional and apolitical military. The biggest difference is the dissonance, and the lack of trust, between civilians and the military. This is because of the ‘us and them’ sentiment that has seeped into the system because of the civilian dominated defence ministry seemingly lording over the military dominated service headquarters. I think addressing this issue, in conjunction with other reforms, has the potential to transform civil-military relations for the better.

Why has tension between the military and bureaucracy persisted and what needs to change?

These tensions persist because of three main factors. First, apart from a short period around the 1962 war, the political class does not think that India faces an existential threat. They are therefore comfortable with the current model of civilian control, despite its widely acknowledged deficiencies. Second, the intricacies of defence policies and civil-military relations have very low salience in electoral politics. Few politicians therefore invest the time, energy and resources to keep abreast of these matters and ask well-informed questions. Finally, the current pattern of civil-military relations is convenient to all and no one wants to change the status quo. Civilians are somewhat apprehensive that restructuring defence organisations may inadvertently empower the military. In turn, the military also enjoys significant autonomy within their institutions and are wary of civilian intervention.

In terms of what needs to change – fundamentally we need to rethink our approach towards national security. Apart from military crises, defence fetches sporadic attention. We need to move beyond political symbolism and grandstanding, which most parties indulge in – to a more reasoned dialogue on the strengths and the weaknesses of our current structures. To do so, however, we must have more information than what our bureaucracies share. Many analysts have incessantly argued about the need for declassification procedures, but sadly no one in our political class cares about it as much. A culture of openness will create conditions for a frank and well-informed dialogue.

What reforms should follow?

Now that the CDS is in place, the next logical progression would be towards creating joint theatre commands. In addition to changing the prevailing single service approach, professional military education requires serious attention, and the proposed National Defence University offers an opportunity. After that the focus should shift towards service specific reforms. For the army, one must accept that the current levels of manpower will not allow for military modernisation. The navy and air force need to build up their capital assets, but questions need to be asked about the desirability of capital-intensive platforms, like aircraft carriers, versus investing in drones and emergent technologies.

What are the big differences in pay and allowances between the military and the civilian bureaucracy and why has this added to distrust?

Since the report of the third pay commission in 1973, the military has felt let down by successive pay commissions. The ‘anomalies’, as the military terms it, relate not just to pay and allowances – which discriminate against the military vis-à-vis civilians, but also affect precedence. This therefore shapes the equivalence between civilian and military officials. As a result, in organisations where the two have to work together – like the Ministry of Defence, National Security Council Secretariat, etc. these is a confusion and some heartburn over equivalence, seniority, pay and allowances. These issues unfortunately accentuate the ‘us and them’ sentiment and the distrust between the two.

Do we need greater integration between the military and paramilitary forces? Should soldiers be sidestepped after a certain age to police and paramilitary forces to keep the military young?

The idea of integration and sidestepping of soldiers from the military to paramilitary organisations has been debated for a long time. In 2008 the Sixth Pay Commission specifically recommended ‘lateral movement’ from the military to Central Para

Military Forces (CPMFs). However this idea is unpopular with the CPMF’s and they have successfully resisted its implementation. Instead of pitting the two bureaucracies, perhaps a more useful approach would be to sidestep soldiers to central and state police forces and other security organisations. Not many know that Tukaram Omble – one of the heroes of 26/11 was a former Naik in the Indian army. It is beyond a measure of doubt that Indian army veterans have qualities that would stand out in jobs involving risk, discipline and service, and perhaps the government should undertake measures to make such a shift possible.

What changes do we need in our weapons procurement procedures?

There have been numerous attempts at writing Defence Procurement Procedures and there have been some improvement in a number of areas. Moreover there has been a welcome push towards embracing the logic of indigenisation, corporatisation (currently under consideration for Ordnance Factories) and private sector participation. However all three processes have not gone far enough. In addition, there are some recurring problems of duplication of functions and lack of qualified expertise in both the service headquarters and the defence ministry, complicated and cumbersome bureaucratic procedures and an absence of ownership. We need a closer, dispassionate scrutiny of the role, functioning and capabilities of all stakeholders involved in the procurement procedures. Without this there will be no end to endless finger-pointing and a passing of the buck with India and its military being the biggest losers in this process.





Comment on this article

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>