Prime Minister Narendra Modi appointing a Chief of Defence Staff is not an incremental change superimposed on an archaic and inefficient system. The bold ‘political’ move must be utilised to bring radical reforms in higher defence structure and the armed forces. The challenge, however, will be execution and preventing the political apprehensions, bureaucracy-military and inter-service rivalry from scuttling these reforms.
The appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) will necessitate far-reaching changes in the functioning of the National Security Council (NSC) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The command and control of the armed forces and their structures too have to be reformed.
Logically, the CDS should be the highest-ranked military officer and the principal military adviser to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the NSC, the defence minister and the home minister (in relation to disturbed areas and border management). He should also command and control the future tri-/bi-service theatre commands and the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) responsible for LoC and LAC management.
The wish list
- The Chief of Defence Staff should be a five-star general and the senior-most armed forces officer. His status must be equal to that of the cabinet secretary.
- He must be the principal military adviser to the Prime Minister, the CCS, the 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.
- He must exercise direct operational command over the armed forces through tri-/bi-service theatre commands as well as the CAPF managing the Line of Control (LoC) and the Line of Actual Control (LAC)
- The CDS must be responsible for capability development and modernisation of the armed forces. He should draw the plans for budget management and long-term force development in consultation with the chiefs of the three services and the defence secretary.
- The Ministry of Defence (MoD) must be integrated with the headquarters of the armed forces. The integrated MoD must be headed by the CDS with an armed forces headquarters under the vice-chief of defence staff and a department of defence under the defence secretary. The latter must also act as the secretariat of the defence minister. Armed forces headquarters should be modelled on the structure of the present Integrated Defence Staff with addition of relevant directorates of the three services. The headquarters of the three services headed by their chiefs, in truncated form, must be a part of the armed forces headquarters to ensure better capability development, administration and training of the three services. There should be seamless cross-appointments between the military officers and civilian officials to avoid duplication, particularly with respect to financial management and procurement.
- With the appointment of the CDS, the charter of the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the functioning of the NSC will require a review. Currently the NSA, who heads the Defence Planning Committee and the Strategic Planning Group, is the de facto CDS. He has both advisory and executive functions. The roles of the defence minister, the CDS, the cabinet secretary and the NSA need to clearly defined.
The reform process
Execution is all about focusing on the details, without compromising on the intent.
The appointment of the CDS will have a far-reaching impact on the political-military-bureaucracy relationship. It would be a folly to follow the usual procedure of the cabinet or defence secretary heading an ‘executive committee’, with token military representation, to work out the details of the higher defence structure and armed forces’ reforms.
Ideally, an empowered committee under the defence minister – with the home minister and the NSA as the political members and a balanced representation of the military, bureaucracy and domain experts – should work in a time-bound manner to finalise reforms. The CCS must give a political directive to the empowered committee. The CDS, with a provisional charter, should be a member-secretary of the empowered committee.
The approved recommendations of the committee must be translated into a ‘National Security Bill’, which can then be tabled in Parliament.
The Goldwater-Nichols Act is an excellent example of how national security reforms were implemented in the US in 1986.
The reform process will be slow and arduous, and is likely to take five years to fructify.
A trigger for reforms
The Prime Minister has taken the first big step towards defence modernisation by announcing the appointment of a CDS. He now has to ensure that these reforms are not derailed by inter-service and military-bureaucracy rivalry.
The all-powerful ‘man on the horseback’ in India is not ‘the usurper of power’, but only carries the Tiranga as per the directions of the government.
Such instances are rare when a momentous decision triggers a chain-reaction of reforms. The decision to appoint the CDS is one such moment, which can trigger holistic national security reforms. The opportunity must not be lost.
Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.