Distress Call of the Hour
As far as national defence is concerned, the Modi-led government is maneuvering all the right moves yet it unexplainably and unfortunately lacks a full time Defence Minister, which does get everyone’s thinking wheels in motion. The forces lack equipment and are simulatenously cash strapped. Some big ticket spending is the need of the hour to lift the Air Force from the current level of 24 effective squadrons to 50, thus the inking of 126 Rafale fighter deal is situated at an estimated cost of $15 billion. The Army is looking at attack helicopters, heavy lift helicopters, medium guns for fire power (last procured in mid-eighties and hence in need of some rightful upgradation), as well as an effective rifle; a basic fighting weapon for its soldiers. The Navy is cash strapped with a depleted submarine fund and needs infusion of funds. All these concerns direct us to a powerful looming question: Is it all about only cash and big ticket spending or about arming to a fixed policy that requires an extra ordinary look? To begin with, there needs to be a policy statement with the intention of covering huge investments in old stalled modernisation projects, and setting up of policy statements, for indigenisation. This brings us to the second question: Is there is a facet beyond finance and electoral
politics, ‘comprehensive power’, which the BJP needs to look at?
Comprehensive National Power, a Chinese concept doing the rounds, essentially consists of various elements other than military which need to be operating in sync. It can be calculated numerically; currently America leads with a score of 90.62, China is 6th with 59.10 and India 10th with 50.43. These indices account for both military power or hard power and economic and cultural power or soft power. China though ranked sixth punches above its weight and some scholars feel the European Zone countries are pegged too high and currently China needs to be pegged at the second spot. India has tied itself into bureaucratic knots which require structural changes and positive orientation. To say that defence preparedness over a period of time has steadily deteriorated is an understatement as evident from sliding rate of GDP allocation which currently languishes at 1.74 per cent, and remains under-spent for archaic procedures. The ‘wish list’ of three per cent GDP continues to remain a pipe-line dream whereas the perceptions of threats have increased from a single front to a hyperbole of twin front hybrid threat and a half front Jihadi threat. Does the nation have a quick fix solution or will it best be old wine in new bottles? Does the nation have matching procurement and domestic industrial base to deliver on that type of enhanced funding? The end state of comprehensive power is a mix of political, military, and economic power, wherein the state exercises both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ power options in furtherance of national aims. In this trinity, sound economics is the core base and military power and its diplomatic connotation a key enabler. The role of NSA is pivotal. This also demands shaping of a strategic culture which is sadly lacking at the moment. How does one bridge this divide and what to expect if key mechanisms are not in place is an area which needs examination?
In the Indian context, the shaping of the strategic culture and the strategic thought needs to take cognisance of the dynamic external and internal environment matrix. This for immediate results would necessarily require a ‘top down’ approach. The Indian parliament has uniformly lacked a healthy debate on security and comprehensive power projection which needs to be addressed. It may be entirely preferable that one of the members of the all-powerful cabinet committee on security (CCS) has a security related background. There is thus a need to broaden the security debate to create a strategic culture and lay the foundation of ensuring that an adequate number of people with such skills are involved in the decision making process in upcoming years, or possess the skill sets to create a healthy security debate.
From the CCS to the national security adviser and parliament, the next step would be revamping the defence structure. This would be the second best choice as the nation currently lacks ability to project power. There needs to be a thorough revamping of the defence ministry and the institution of the Chief of Defence Staff requires a second examination. In short, does the NDA pick up from where it left off in 2004 or does it pick up anything that the UPA government did? The MOD needs to be revamped with career bureaucracy and not generalist. There has to be a single politico military adviser and the best person to do so is the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
The CDS concept is easier said than done. It is going to create an immesne turmoil for the three services. The CDS seriously impinges on the operational control and funding of the three services, as the CDS becomes all-powerful. The three services have gotten used to their respective turfs thus there will be teething problems as the CDS will lay down priority between MMRCA (Air Force), or Mountain Strike Corps (Army) or a nuclear submarine (Navy) for completing the nuclear triad. Currently the three respective Chiefs pull and push for their respective forces, while formation of Space, Special Forces and Cyber command takes a back seat. There is also a case for manufacturing defence equipment in India, and the role of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), needs to be examined, which should be involved in niche equipment and not in operation, ‘is the organisation cost effective’? The BJP during elections also stated it wanted to discuss the nuclear policy. Pakistan has tactical nuclear weapons, will India launch its prized offensive assets ‘Strike Corps’ in a nuclear ambiguous environment? All this arguments need a serious debate.
Who will become the CDS, what will be the selection criteria and will the appointment be political? For the forces that have taken great pride in remaining apolitical, the CDS coming as a single point contact with the political class is going to lead to finding political masters amongst the contenders. How do the Services ensure its apolitical nature and how does the political class ensure it gets the best man as a single point contact are unanswered questions, which clearly point out that any reform has two sides. Currently the end state of comprehensive power and one of its components - military power is seriously lacking. At current estimates it will take at least twenty years to make up for lost time. The neighbourhood being dynamic; the Modi-led government has to find quick answers to difficult problems, which do not have a sound base. It can thus be concluded that although, the expectations from the government are a lot, the turmoil in defence will be huge if changes are made without adequate preparation. The Modi government faces two choices in its honey moon period; either revamp the defence structure and find a new defence minister, or take a long scrutinising look, calculate the inputs for comprehensive power and go the full distance for it.
The author is a retired brigadier