While the decision of by the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS) to integrate the three Service headquarters with the Ministry of Defence is timely, reasons given for postponing creation of the post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) are not very convincing. CDS should preside over the Chiefs of the three services as is in vogue the practice in other modern democracies, but it appears that the armed forces may get a misnomer for the CDS. In practice, he might be in addition to the existing Service Chiefs, taking orders directly from the PM as the commander of the strategic forces. The real gainer seems be the IAS lobby as the post of defence secretary is proposed to be upgraded to that of the principal defence secretary, equivalent to a four star general’s rank.
The reported withdrawal of his name by Naval Chief, Admiral Sushil Kumar from the race brings out the differences of opinions between the three Services on the proposed restructuring in the highest echelons of defence management. The Indian Air Force has expressed its reservations on CDS for fear of being dominated by the army. The Indian Navy does not seem to be too enthusiastic about this proposition on similar grounds. On the other hand, a few retired army generals have strongly advocated appointment of only a serving army general as the CDS on grounds of the army’s size and operational role, which is much larger compared to the two sister services.
It is suggested that an ambitious and powerful CDS may be a threat to the democratic system of governance, which has been put forward by interested lobbies for fear of losing control over the defence organisation. Currently, bureaucrats of the unwieldy MoD keep a tight control over the three Service headquarters leaving the armed forces’ chiefs as mere operational heads of their respective Services which, incidentally, function independently of each other. There is, of course, a Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) set up by the departing British rulers in 1947, for purposes of inter-service coordination, with the longest serving chief officiating as its chairman. He wields little power regarding important decisions in national defence. Moreover, he fits nowhere in the chain of command.
The resistance to introduce changes for better defence management needs to be tackled by the Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet Committee on Security to allay unfounded apprehensions about the new appointment. The senior commanders of the three Services also have to change their mindset of belonging to a particular regiment, squadron, ship, branch or wing of the combat organisation. While inculcating the regimental spirit is important the junior levels, the ‘general, flag and air officers’ owe allegiance to the entire armed forces. The CDS system is already functioning efficiently in several democracies, where it has been in existence for several decades. In the
, the CDS system has successfully directed the joint Services combat operations during World War II.
is no banana republic, it is a mature democracy going on to be a world power in due course of time. The factor of nuclear deterrence and complex challenges to the nation’s security requires an integrated approach by the army, navy, air force and the yet to be formed strategic forces comprising surface to surface missiles and nuclear armed aircraft.
It must be ensured that the CDS is selected from the senior-most Service Chiefs and all three Service heads report to him. It is of utmost importance to see that the post is apolitical. To make single window advice available to the government on national security matters professional, it must should be mandatory on the CDS to hold prior deliberations with the three Service Chiefs for which an institutional mechanism must be created. The existing powers of the Service Chiefs need not in any case be diluted and they may continue to run their respective Services on the existing. ‘A single battle space using the total military capabilities’ has rapidly replaced the traditional distinction between ground, sea and air theatres of operation. Hence, creation of the CDS becomes necessary for a coordinated strategic, operational planning, joint training and integrated approach for selection of combat gear and support equipment to enable our forces to prevail over adversaries in the high tech battlefield of the future.