Millennium Post

Unifying defence forces

A Chief of Defence Staff will steer the strategic command while using the combined wisdom of our defence chiefs in handling various theatres of war

The announcement by the Prime Minister from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15 that the government had decided to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to consolidate the defence might of the country, is in tune with the Modi regime's consistent effort to build India as a world power that would play a meaningful role in both economic development and security at the global level.

It addresses the logical requirement of bringing defence forces and the nuclear, cyber and space domains under one umbrella of strategic planning, takes forward the concept of integrated combat on land, air and sea in today's world – which, for India, is extremely important considering the hostile Sino-Pak military alliance against us – and makes way for a new level of coordination that would achieve speedy, cost-effective and futuristic defence acquisitions, manpower development and strategic deployment.

A helpful factor in the implementation of the CDS idea is the successful working of the Chiefs of Staff Committee over years with a rotational chairmanship that produced a tradition of consensual thinking on defence and security – I saw this during my association with COSC as JIC Chairman. The decisions on issues of war and peace deserved to be taken through an arrangement that brought the voice of the defence chiefs directly to the political executive governing the sovereign nation. The Prime Minister has in his rule constantly worked for elimination of red tape, speedy decision-making and coordinated execution of projects and schemes that had been announced.

Taking into account the security challenges for India, it is easy to envisage the role of the Army as the pivot of our defence responses with the air force rendering it tactical support and the navy ensuring a strategic backing in the event of a war-like conflict developing outside of our shores. CDS will steer the Strategic Command while using the combined wisdom of our defence chiefs in handling the various theatres of war. The new step will prove extremely rewarding in terms of the rapid consolidation of our defence potential that it will ensure the old world prejudices earlier voiced by bureaucracy do not hold any more.

Post-Cold War, the world has transited to an era of proxy wars, cross-border conflicts and insurgencies instigated by an assertion of sub-national identity. Terrorism is the new instrument of proxy war as the covert offensives are replacing open warfare. National governments are having to fight the adversaries on their own soil – this is bringing in the Army to take on cross-border terrorists operating at the behest of the external enemy. India is the prime example of a country facing a proxy war unleashed by the hostile neighbour – Pakistan – through the heavily armed Mujahideen infiltrated from across the border especially in Kashmir.

For combating this Kashmir Jihad, India has had to induct the Army which, in turn, had to specially train the troops to take on terrorists on our home ground. The army is attuned to facing a visible enemy and using the maximum force. The rise of terrorism was a challenge for it for the reason that terrorists could spring from their hideouts existing in the midst of the civilian population and yet the army had to put them down with restraint as the counter-terror operation had to ensure minimal collateral damage.

CDS will have on his hands the work of preparing India for dealing with an external enemy, strategising for proxy wars and raising special forces to take on terrorists on our own soil. An attack like 26/11 – there are Intelligence reports about a further terror offensive from the sea – would need the involvement of Navy and Coast Guard just as further surgical strikes across our borders to destroy the base camps of terrorists needed joint planning of army and air force for readying paratroopers.

Mountain warfare, of which Kargil proved to be the first testing ground, is now a part of India's strategic planning resting on the use of both the army and air force. Defence of Indian Ocean and security of the Indo-Pacific maritime region are new elements in the charter of India's CDS. Coordination between civilian Intelligence agencies and the chief of Defence Intelligence would achieve greater perfection under the CDS. The structural and operational consolidation for maximising India's defence and security potential is therefore not coming a day too soon.

Multiple writings on the proposed CDS from defence experts have focused on three imperatives of the new experiment in the Indian context – first, whether CDS will be the boss of the defence forces with five stars, secondly, will the new chief be totally impartial in dealing with the army, air force and navy and, lastly, if on issues of war the CDS will have his way with the political leadership? The answer is that even with four stars, CDS will be the principal interlocutor with the national government on all issues of defence development and organisation, that the chiefs of staff experiment had worked for long years creating a grid of understanding amongst the three services and that CDS would be like an elevated Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.

Both Defence Planning Committee and the National Security Council provide the CDS with an interface with the Prime Minister. And finally, in regard to decision-making in a war-like situation, the vital thing is that the input from CDS is fully weighed in even though the decision would lay with the political executive exercising the sovereign power of the democratic nation. On the whole, there is a case for early implementation of the CDS idea to strengthen our defence.

(DC Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau. Views expressed are strictly personal)

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