Need for Structural Changes in India's Higher Defence Management

Discussion in 'Indian Army' started by Ray, Feb 24, 2015.

  1. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

    Apr 17, 2009
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    An article by Lt Gen VS Oberoi(Retd)

    "Need for Structural Changes in India's Higher Defence Management" has been published in the latest issue of Indian Defence Review (Jan-Mar 2015 Vol.30 (1), at Pages 88 to 94).


    Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, PVSM, AVSM, VSM
    (Former Vice Chief of Army Staff)
    In the over six decades since Independence, vast changes have occurred in the security environment within the country, in the region of immediate concern, and at the global level. The last three decades have been of special importance, on account of the ongoing Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA); the end of the Cold War; the global war on terrorism; the major turmoil and instability in Pakistan; the increasing belligerence and open show of strength by China, including the presence of PLA in the Gilgit-Baltistan area; and the globalization of the economy.
    Since Independence in 1947, our defence forces have been engaged in active operations on a sustained basis, with only short periods of peace. These challenges have helped them to earn a formidable reputation of a force that delivers, usually against heavy odds.
    Although our military is highly professional, conventional wisdom is that our higher defence structure is archaic; no formalized strategies at the national level exist; and our decision-making is excessively slow. There are many reasons for this, including a lack of vision and knowledge of security-related issues amongst the political leadership, as also the bureaucracy; antiquated procurement procedures; a costly defence research department, whose output has been much below expectations and which has prevented the entry of private enterprise in the defence sector; antipathy to change; narrow parochial interests; hesitancy to take risks at the senior leadership level; and a status-quo mentality amongst the decision-makers.
    The result is that the overall structure of our defence management and the methods of doing business continue to be much the same as they were nearly seven decades back.
    The phrase ‘Higher Defence Management’ usually conjures up images of only the military, but this is not at all correct, as ‘Defence Management’ encompasses much more. No doubt the Indian Military is a significant player in this endeavour, but unless we bring all instruments of the nation together, higher defence will remain incomplete.
    All agencies and departments of the government, as well as many others have to be involved in some manner in ensuring that the national aims, as related to defence, are achieved. Waging war and meeting warlike challenges today is a complex phenomenon and such complexities are likely to increase in future. The reasons include high technology; the nature of modern war; new and ever-changing threats and challenges; the sharp rise in the use of non-state actors by some nations; and the reality of nuclear weapons in the arsenals of our potential adversaries. Consequently, integrated and holistic structures are not just desirable but an imperative. Most nations have such structures, but we seem to be out of sync in this respect.
    India is classified as a regional power today, but it has the potential and aspires to play an even bigger role. We need to wield influence in the extended Southern Asian Region (as opposed to just the South Asian Region) and over time also influence events at the global level. India must also become an important pole in the future when a number of major powers replace the sole superpower, USA, or at the minimum defuse its power. The creation and sustenance of an environment that nurtures these aspirations necessitates development of what is now known as Comprehensive National Power (CNP). There are many ingredients that make up CNP, but perhaps the most important is a structure for Higher Defence that is able to take smart, well-reasoned and quick decisions, especially when the country is in a crisis mode. This cannot be done if each instrument of the state works independently.
    Since Independence, we have been stuck with the British legacy-based systems of planning and decision-making, which have failed to achieve any substantive gains. Long-term focus; intimate coordination; integration; cost-efficiency; and elimination of adhocism still seem to be alien concepts for us. Past efforts to rectify these weaknesses have been stymied by inertia; resistance to change; turf considerations; all-round apathy; lack of knowledge of security strategies amongst the political leadership and the higher bureaucracy; and a misplaced apprehension about the loyalty of the military.
    The armed forces too have not sought drastic changes, but seem to have accepted the status quo. In many important issues, they have not acted emphatically, resulting in the government continuing with the status quo, much to the determent of the nation.
    National Security Strategies should aim at the creation of national and international political conditions favourable to the protection or extension of vital national values against existing and potential adversaries. It is the fountainhead from which defence policies; military strategy; and ultimately the tools to implement defence policies are evolved. Defence strategy and higher direction of defence must constantly evolve through objective analyses of present and future needs.
    It is unfortunate that even after four full-fledged wars; one border war; and a plethora of counter-insurgency operations, where the armed forces have distinguished themselves with their valour and sacrifices, the nation has been unable to evolve comprehensive strategies for optimally using the military and other components of national power. We continue to depend on adhoc and bureaucratic structures for the higher management of defence.
    It was Lord Ismay (a senior staff officer to the then Viceroy) who had evolved our higher defence system, which consists of inter-locking committees, which were meant to give full political control and yet ensure functional integration between the three services, without bureaucratic control. The structure that was evolved and which still continues with some changes, was based on a three –tiered system. At the apex of this structure was the Cabinet Committee of Political Affairs or CCPA, which was later renamed as the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS). It consisted of the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and selected Ministers, with Service Chiefs and Defence Secretary in attendance at all meetings.
    The second level was the Defence Minister's Committee (DMC), chaired by the Defence Minister, with Service Chiefs, Defence Secretary and Financial Adviser (Defence Services) {better known as FA (DS)}, as members. It served as the top policy formulation organ in the MoD. However, it rarely met for decades. It was later converted as the Morning Meeting of the Defence Minister, thus further reducing its efficacy.
    The third level is the Chiefs of Staff Committee. It is a forum for the three Service Chiefs to discuss matters having a bearing on the activities of the Services and also to advise the Ministry. In theory, the COSC is the highest authority on military matters in the country. However, a major shortcoming of this body is that it exercises no real power. The Chairman COSC exercises command only over his own service and the three service Chiefs are individually responsible to the Defence Minister. In the COSC, formal equality prevails among the three service chiefs. Hence, no worthwhile decisions can be taken.
    There are other committees too, like the Joint Intelligence Committee; the Defence Science Advisory Committee; the Joint Planning Committee; the Joint Training Committee; and so on. For defense planning, two organizations: the Defence Coordination and Implementation Committee and the Defence Planning Staff were also formed. The first meets only on a need-based manner, while the Defence Planning Staff was wound up within a few years.
    We now come to the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The MoD, manned exclusively by civil officials, is organized as four departments, viz., departments of defence; defence production; defence research & development; and ex-servicemen welfare. Each department is headed by a secretary. In addition, there is a Defence (Finance) division that deals with all matters having financial implications and performs an advisory role for the MoD.
    The principal task of MoD is to frame policy directions on defence and security related matters and communicate them for implementation to the Services Headquarters; Inter-Service Organisations; Production Establishments; and Research & Development Organisations. It is required to ensure effective implementation of the Government’s policy directions and the execution of approved programmes within the allocated resources.
    The last component of our higher defence structure is the Service Headquarters. Following the re-designation of the Commanders-in-Chief of the three services as Chiefs of Staff in 1955, the MoD acquired a status exclusive of the chiefs and their headquarters. This resulted in the armed forces headquarters functioning as subordinate offices outside the framework of the central government, a framework unique to India that no other country has! The Service Headquarters are not part of the Government of India, but have the lowly status of being only “attached offices”; the nomenclature was changed to“associate headquarters” in 2001, but it was only a change of phrase, devoid of anything substantive. The service headquarters continue to be somewhat akin to the Song and Drama Division of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting or the National Centre for Integrated Pest Management of the Ministry of Agriculture, which are also ‘attached offices’!
    The Ministry of Defence (MoD) wields all powers and being an integral part of the government, is part of the policy formulation process, but the Service Headquarters have been deliberately kept out. Over the years, instead of shedding powers, the MoD has slowly but surely, assumed more powers unilaterally. This lead an analyst to comment: “In no other major democracy are the armed forces given so insignificant a role in policy making as in India”. He had also added that “in no other country do they accept it with the docility they do in India”! A great pity in both counts.
    Over the years, the committees either ceased functioning or their character was altered drastically. This eroded the role of Service Chiefs as professional military advisors to the government and at the same time precluded professional interaction between Services HQ and agencies outside MoD. Resultantly, the armed forces became isolated from such important subjects as formulation of nuclear policy; the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); military use of Space; disarmament initiatives; chemical weapons policies/treaties; and missile technologies. The armed forces thus were totally removed from the decision-making processes.
    A few years back, the MoD forced the service headquarters to call themselves as Integrated Headquarters. It is a meaningless exercise in semantics, as there is hardly any integration of the three services, let alone with the MoD. Strangely, the service headquarters did not object to this ‘paper exercise’.
    It has been wisely stated that “while too little control over the armed forces can lead to serious problems, too much control can also smother the military and make them ineffective in the long run”. India is a prime example of this.
    A National Security Council (NSC) was created in 1999. A National Security Advisor (NSA) was also appointed. We have had five incumbents so far for this appointment – three were retired diplomats and two, including the present incumbent are retired intelligence officers. All earlier incumbents were unable to discard their comfort zone of the bureaucratic approach and contributed little to the enhancement of security strategies of the nation. It is too early to pass any judgment on the present NSA. However, if he was involved in the highly desirable change in India’s stand vis-à-vis Pakistan in any manner, then I commend him.
    The NSA has a secretariat, which is headed by a Deputy NSA. This appointment too has been held either by retired diplomats, bureaucrats or intelligence officers. The obvious specialists – the highly experienced military officers – continue to be conspicuous by their absence. Possibly, their frankness; calling a spade a spade; and non-sycophantic approach make them ineligible!! As far as the secretariat is concerned, officers of various ranks hold senior, middle level and junior staff appointments, but the military is represented only by a handful of mostly middle level officers. An ironical state of affairs, indeed!
    The NSC and NSA work parallel to the CCS. Besides the apex six-member NSC headed by the Prime Minister, the NSC comprises of a Strategic Policy Group (SPG), a National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and a Secretariat.
    The SPG, responsible for inter-ministerial coordination, is a bureaucratic body that comprises the Cabinet Secretary, three Service Chiefs and secretaries of core ministries like foreign affairs, defence, home, finance, atomic energy and space, beside the heads of the Intelligence agencies and the Governor of Reserve Bank. One can well imagine how these worthies find the time to carry out their important task of inter-ministerial coordination! The NSAB consists mainly of a large body numbering nearly 20 of retired officials, of which only three are from the armed forces. Independent strategic thinking is somewhat absent in such a motley group, resulting in the NSAB becoming yet another group of divergent views. Its only usefulness is that it can be blamed for carrying the can when situations become awry, while the main players escape all accountability!
    Applying ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ power effectively is also a function of Higher Defence Management, which should decide on how and to what extent ‘hard’ or ‘soft powers’ are to be brought into play to achieve our national security strategies.
    ‘Hard power’ refers to coercive tactics: the threat or use of armed forces, economic pressure or sanctions, assassination and subterfuge, or other forms of intimidation. ‘Hard power’ is generally associated with strong nations, and includes the ability to change the domestic affairs of other nations through military and other threats. Many analysts are advocates of the use of ‘hard power’ for the balancing of the international system. ‘Hard power’ of a state increases with military alliances or understandings with other states.
    The phrase ‘soft power’, coined in 1990, is the ability of nations to obtain what it wants through co-option and attraction. Instruments of ‘soft power’ include debates on cultural values, dialogues on ideology, the attempt to influence through good example, and the appeal to commonly accepted human values. Means of exercising soft power include diplomacy, dissemination of information, analysis, propaganda, and cultural programming to achieve political ends. India’s soft power is based on its social and cultural values, the Indian Diaspora abroad and its knowledge base. India is a knowledge superpower and is well placed to leverage its position in international relations.
    Wise and judicious employment of both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ powers is ‘smart’ power. It should be mutually reinforcing, so that national aims are advanced effectively and efficiently. ‘Smart’ power involves the strategic use of diplomacy, persuasion, capacity-building; and projection of power and influence; in ways that are not only cost-effective but also have political and social legitimacy.
    Advancing smart power is now a national security imperative, driven both by long-term structural changes in international environment and the short-term failures of nations’. ‘Soft’ (persuasive) and ‘Hard’ (coercive) power are complementary and synergistic, and thus are co-multipliers. Without soft power, hard power is a destructive force, with little room for passive coercion and negotiations. Without hard power, soft power has no way to reinforce its advocacy.
    By blending brains and brawn in judicious proportions we create smart power appears, and with smart power we see real change much quicker.
    Some examples of ‘Smart’ Power are:
    l The struggle of Jehadi terrorism needs to be viewed not as a clash of ‘Islam vs West’, but as a civil war within Islam between ‘minority terrorists’ and ‘mainstream of more moderate believers’. West cannot win unless the mainstream wins. It needs to use hard power against the hard core, but soft power is essential to attract the mainstream and dry up support for the extremists.
    l Psychological warfare uses soft power, the power of attraction, as a weapon. However, the term has negative connotations, on account of the word ‘warfare’ and hence needs to be discarded. It can be replaced by the phrase ‘Psychological Operations’.
    l The objectives of Psychological Operations could be:

    - Conversionary – to change emotional allegiance to ideology;
    - Divisive – to split the target country into regional and sub-cultural entities; and
    - Counter-propaganda – to counter the enemy’s blandishments and falsehoods.
    A good example of ‘Smart Power’ is the extensive use of the phrase ‘Peaceful Rise’ by China, to head off a countervailing balance of power.
    India’s record in employing or using ‘hard power’ is abysmally low. The thinking of our leadership seems to be that everything can be achieved by the use of ‘soft power’ alone. Such thinking is unlikely to achieve national goals. We need to keep our options open and use either ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ power or a mix of the two, depending on the situation. The recent cancellation of the Foreign Secretary’s level meeting with Pakistan by the Indian Government and the riposte to the Pakistani firing in the Jammu Sector are good examples of the use of ‘Hard’ and ‘Smart’ Powers.
    The major infirmity of our higher defence structure is keeping the military outside the government, resulting in the political leadership receiving second-hand advice. Professional advice by the hierarchy of military leadership needs to be available to the political executive without it being filtered or altered to suit the perspectives of the bureaucrats. This is a fundamental issue, which needs to be changed immediately. This would improve politico-military responses to challenges and threats; enhance cost-effectiveness; and assist in the best employment of the armed forces. This would also obviate temptations to rope in pliable Service Chiefs to meet political exigencies.
    A striking feature in our management of decision-making, on the bureaucratic side, has been the tendency to duck primary issues, buy time, and create a plethora of successive Committees of Secretaries or others, which achieve little. The results are delays and dysfunctions. The Defence Ministers Committee (DMC) now diluted to a Morning Meeting, continues to be more a chit-chat group that meets weekly, without a fixed agenda or issuing minutes of the meetings and thereafter following up on the decisions. It needs to have a full-fledged Secretariat of multi-disciplinary staff so that implementation of decisions commences and accountability prevails.
    Today, there is endless duplication/triplication on account of vertical structures, which cause delays and cost over-runs. Amalgamating the Services HQ, MoD and FA (DS), and having service officers and the civil service officers interact both vertically and horizontally, alongside their financial counterparts would make for higher levels of synergy and efficiency, and speedier decision-making. The MoD has to be an integrated organization of civil servants, armed forces officers, scientists and other executives who work collectively and take joint decisions.
    Our slow decision-making systems and processes must change. The transformation should begin with the development of realistic strategic directions. Our major weakness continues to be the lack of any National Security Strategy. In its absence a comprehensive national military strategy cannot be evolved. Once this is done, the military will be able to decide on the details of restructuring, hopefully without the influences of service bias or sentimentality. Some assets will have to be phased out over time, as new, innovative systems come on line through the process of transformation.
    A glaring anomaly in the security decision making structure is the absence of a military high command. A major recommendation of the Kargil Review Committee was the need to set up joint structures at the earliest. While an integrated defence headquarters and two joint commands were formed, a key recommendation, i.e. the establishment of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), remains unimplemented even after 14 years. Resultantly, the integrated headquarters gets its directions from the ineffective Chiefs of Staff Committee, or works without directions. Unfortunately, this state of affairs suits the principal actors, viz. the political leadership which continues to be bugged by the non-existent specter of a military takeover, however preposterous it may sound; the bureaucracy, who see the CDS as threatening their hold over the service headquarters; and even the service headquarters, who are highly reluctant to part with any power which will dilute their fiefdoms.
    We must seriously address joint warfare. Modern wars and conflicts cannot be fought with outdated structures, wherein the services conduct operations independently, with coordination only being achieved with organizations as old as nearly seven-eight decades back. This must change, for if we continue in this mode, we will be unable to generate the necessary synergy, so essential for winning conflicts, battles and wars.
    The appointing of a CDS and gradual addition of new joint commands will, over a period of time, suggest the numbers and types of joint commands we need. There are other areas like Special Forces, Space, Training, Communications and Logistics, which lend themselves for restructuring into joint commands
    Within the Ministry of defence, there is neither integration, nor any methodology for analyzing issues jointly. The Ministry of Defence asks service headquarters individually or jointly to submit their views on issues, whether they are on operational, intelligence or administrative matters or relating to personnel. In true Whitehall System of dealing with files, a legacy of the Raj that the bureaucracy refuses to abandon, the MoD opens a fresh file for each case. The file then moves within the MoD in a linear manner and goes down to the lower bureaucracy without any inputs from the hierarchy of the MoD in most cases. The lower bureaucracy then initiates a note that is an iteration of rules and precedents, with little relevance to the pros and cons of the current issue. It then travels up the chain to the level from where it had started. The deliberations of the bureaucracy in the Ministry are thus bookish and not based on relevant data and adequate analysis. In major cases, the inputs that reach the political leadership hardly reflect the views of the services or the service chiefs.
    A similar situation prevails within service headquarters, wherein the stance of a particular service on an issue is first finalized in-house, including by obtaining inputs from their respective commands. Thereafter, it is forwarded to the Chief of Staff Committee for consideration, where it meets its ‘waterloo’, as service biases are foremost in each member’s mind.
    Complete integration of the MoD and the Service Headquarters needs to be carried out immediately and in a time-bound manner. In addition, there is need to also integrate those ministries and agencies which deal with similar subjects. MoD and the Ministries of External Affairs and Home must be manned by integrated staff from each other. This must not be token representation, as has been the norm in the past, but substantial numbers must be posted across these ministries. The same is applicable to representation between the Ministry of Finance, MoD and the Services.
    It is strange that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which is the fountainhead from which all major policies emanate, has no military representation. An inter-services cell, under a C-in-C level officer must form part of the PMO, where all ministries are represented. The Cabinet Secretariat used to have a number of military officers holding important appointments, but over a period of time, even their presence kept being diluted, resulting in no representation now.
    Merger of Services Headquarters with the MoD and their re-designation as Departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force under their Chiefs of Staff would achieve multiple gains. Aside from creating an integrated approach, politico-military considerations would be objective and comprehensive, through military representation in the decision-making loop.
    We have no mechanism today to meet the complexities of multilateral international security components of politico-military policies. The integrated MoD must play a proactive role in nuclear issues, CTBT, NPT and FMCT negotiations and policies. What is needed is a multi-disciplinary International Security Affairs (ISA) division in the MoD which would receive inputs from relevant departments and agencies and coordinate a national policy, working in close cooperation with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
    Even the Department of Ex Servicemen Welfare is manned exclusively by the bureaucracy, instead of serving and retired officers who understand the problems of the veterans. No wonder the veterans have yet to see any welfare, even after nearly eight years of the existence of this department. This Department, if reorganized and manned mostly by officers of the armed forces, may well be the precursor of an integrated MoD. There is also a need for greater clarity in the current rules of business, which the bureaucrats love to quote to mystify the political leadership.
    Peace is vital for India but it cannot be achieved by neglecting and downgrading the military. No country has succeeded in the global and regional arenas with a weak military machine or by appeasement. The nation has to defend its vital interests by all means. This cannot be done by structures that work in compartments like we have today. We also need political will, which one has not seen for decades now. We have to think and act joint and all instruments of the nation must act as one. Simply talking of CNP is lip service, which fools no one.
    The world over, mature democracies have integrated ministries and departments of defence, but India continues to be a singular exception. The present structure leads to avoidable communication gaps, delays and dysfunctions in decision-making. It must change.
    Management of higher defence needs to be proactive, efficient and long-term oriented, amalgamating foreign and internal security policies and incorporating all relevant instruments of the nation. An integrated MoD would not only eliminate the current infirmities but also result in higher levels of synergy, efficiency and decision-making ability. Military officers with domain knowledge must be inducted in senior appointments in the MoD, so that military viewpoints are considered from the very inception of all issues.
    The Department of Ex Servicemen Welfare should either be disbanded or manned exclusively by serving and retired military officers who understand the problems of the veterans. It should be taken out of the MoD and placed under the existing Integrated Headquarters. There is also a need for greater clarity in the current rules of business, which tend to delay decision-making.
    Under the current rules, the defence secretary is responsible for the defence of India — not the COSC or the chiefs. Why? Was it a case of ‘Nehruvian brilliance' or ‘lack of knowledge of matters military’ or was it ‘an enhanced fear of the men on horseback’!! Perhaps all three!!
    Today’s reality is that India is facing the strategic environment of the 21st century with its higher defence structures largely as they were in the 1940’s. This is a recipe for disaster. A continuation of such outdated structures are already affecting the culture of discipline and sacrifice so assiduously built up over decades, as the armed forces see themselves being downgraded and losing respect. Ossified structures tend to curb initiative, risk taking and integrity, which have traditionally been the hallmark of the Indian Military. It is high time that the over six decades of selfless and loyal service by the Indian military is recognised and its degradation ends.
  3. syncro

    syncro Regular Member

    Feb 24, 2012
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    Tuscany, Italy
    In the first half of 20 century Georges Clemenceau say: "War is too important to be left to the generals", in the first half of 21 century probable the right motto is "War is too important to be left to the politicians"
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2015

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