Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day address from Red Fort showcased an India that is strong, united and capable – ‘Sudradh, Sangathit, Saksham’ – ready to face the challenges of a rapidly changing world order.
A majority of these challenges will be related to domestic and external security, and that’s why the Prime Minister’s announcement of a new Chief of Defence Staff or CDS is significant. Defence modernisation is long overdue, and better-aligned armed forces under a single head will improve the integrated and synergised application of India’s military power.
The role of a joint CDS is not a new concept. Many armies across the world, including in the US, the UK, France, Australia and Pakistan, have a similarly defined concept with different titles and charters of responsibility. Although in India’s unique context, we will have to construct our own model.
Answers to four important questions will define the responsibility of India’s new CDS, and his role in making decisions that govern national security.
CDS will be from which arm?
The CDS will be a member of the armed forces, but he will come from which service?
The Navy with her ability to operate well beyond the frontiers of the state is best suited to lead India into modern warfare. In future, the Navy will be a potent instrument for India’s power projection.
The Army maintains India’s territorial integrity, which is the key component of our combined armed forces. But does this traditional arm have the strategic and the expansive edge as well as the international exposure needed for joint warfare decisions?
The Air Force is the main instrument of coercion, the first to strike fear in the hearts of an adversary and break their will to resist. But it operates in an exclusive zone, engaging little with either the Army or the Navy. All three forces lay equal claim to lead the combined military might of India, but clear and unbiased political will must be exercised to settle the matter in the best interest of the State.
Will CDS get a permanent seat on CCS?
The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) is India’s highest decision-making authority on national security issues. Currently, high-ranking government officials and policymakers are invited to participate in deliberations on an as-required basis. Will there be a change in this practice?
The CDS must enjoy the full trust and confidence of the three combat services and be able to work closely with the Department of Defence under the defence secretary.
Further, it remains to be seen if the CDS is assigned a permanent observer seat on the CCS to provide a more balanced view, informed by the experience and concerns of India’s armed forces.
Will there be clash of roles between CDS and NSA?
The National Security Advisor (NSA) is currently an integral part of our national security set-up. He chairs the National Security Council and serves as the point person for the government on matters of national security. What then will the CDS bring to the table, to what extent will their advice be independent, and how well will it be received?
It is critical that the functional interplay between these two key security appointments remains free from ‘political distraction’. The CDS should be empowered to give independent military advice to the government, ideally drawing information from a dedicated and independent pool of sources. Only then can the CDS be an effective ‘check’ and provide the necessary ‘balance’ needed to shape the views of decision-makers.
What will be the exact role of CDS?
In the last few hours, there have been numerous questions over what will be the role of the CDS and if it will be similar to that of the current head of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.
The appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff is one among the many bold and historic decisions taken by the Narendra Modi government. If executed well, the CDS could transform India’s warfighting and power projection capabilities. In a world where national security concerns are back in the limelight with faltering economies, the promise of a brighter and more secure India may well begin with this new role.
The author is Former Director General Rashtriya Rifles. Views are personal
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