Agenda for the new Rak­sha Mantri

Given un­der­stand­ing and syn­ergy be­tween the RM and the three ser­vice chiefs, it should be pos­si­ble to iden­tify the sys­temic flaws that have crept into our na­tional se­cu­rity sys­tem and to in­sti­tute en­dur­ing so­lu­tions.


If there is one les­son we should have learnt dur­ing our 67 years as a sov­er­eign repub­lic, it is that se­cu­rity short­com­ings, both in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal, have re­peat­edly served to dis­tract our at­ten­tion and di­vert scarce re­sources away from the pur­suit of de­vel­op­ment. The his­tory of In­dia’s post-in­de­pen­dence con­flicts has con­clu­sively proved that the “guns vs but­ter” de­bate is fu­tile. De­vel­op­ment can take place only in a se­cure en­vi­ron­ment, and we must have both guns and but­ter.

The hawks amongst us loudly be­moan the steady de­cline in In­dia’s de­fence ex­pen­di­ture, which has hit a low of 1.74 per cent of the GDP. The common man, on the other hand, wants to know whether the ` 2,24,000 crore ($38 bil­lion) re­cently voted for de­fence is be­ing spent wisely enough to buy us the se­cu­rity we need. He ques­tions: Are In­dia’s core na­tional in­ter­ests be­ing safe­guarded? Are our bor­ders and ter­ri­to­ries in­vi­o­late? Are our cit­i­zens pro­tected from the threat of ter­ror-strikes? Th­ese are all valid ques­tions, given China’s in­creas­ingly ag­gres­sive at­ti­tude and Pak­istan’s re­lent­less use of cross-bor­der ter­ror­ism as a low-cost weapon.

The term heard most com­monly in In­dia’s na­tional se­cu­rity dis­course is “sur­prise”. It is used in the con­text of the 1947, 1962, 1965 and Kargil con­flicts in 1999 as well as episodes such as the IC-814 hi­jack­ing and the 26/11 Mumbai ter­ror strike and de­notes re­peated in­tel­li­gence fail­ures. A closely re­lated phrase, heard only in whis­pers, is “lack of preparedness” of the armed forces.

Pub­lic mem­ory be­ing short, we have for­got­ten many of our past blun­ders. But to con­tinue ig­nor­ing

dire warn­ings that em­anate from South Block about the mil­i­tary’s cur­rent lack of com­bat-readi­ness would be folly of the high­est or­der.

A re­al­ity check will re­veal that the re­as­sur­ance we de­rive from our large con­ven­tional forces and ex­pen­sive nu­clear arse­nal may be de­cep­tive, for two rea­sons. First, the lan­guid and way­ward func­tion­ing of the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) has, over the past decade, served to erode the qual­i­ta­tive and/or quan­ti­ta­tive edge that the armed forces had over po­ten­tial ad­ver­saries. Sec­ond, suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments hav­ing re­fused to in­te­grate the Ser­vice HQs with the MoD and to en­cour­age ‘joint­ness’ amongst the three armed forces, our na­tional se­cu­rity struc­ture is not only flawed but badly out­dated and likely to fail in the face of a 21st cen­tury con­flict.

So far, In­dia’s po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship, in an un­for­tu­nate dis­play of in­dif­fer­ence, has dis­tanced it­self from na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues. At the same time, the armed forces have been de­lib­er­ately ex­cluded from a role in na­tional se­cu­rity decision-mak­ing. The net re­sult is a co­nun­drum in which, In­dia has col­lected, at huge ex­pense, the trap­pings of a ma­jor mil­i­tary power with­out hav­ing a real idea of how to lever­age them in the na­tional in­ter­est. Fur­ther ev­i­dence of strate­gic naiveté is to be found in the adop­tion of a model—unique amongst democ­ra­cies—in which the armed forces are placed un­der the to­tal con­trol of the civil­ian bu­reau­cracy, with limited com­pre­hen­sion of com­plex de­fence and se­cu­rity mat­ters; es­pe­cially those re­lated to high-tech weapon-ac­qui­si­tion pro­grammes.

In the de­ci­sive, dy­namic and tech­ni­cally-savvy Manohar Par­rikar, the Prime Min­is­ter has pos­si­bly found the best per­son to en­trust the chal­leng­ing de­fence port­fo­lio to. How­ever, the un­con­scionable six-month de­lay in nom­i­na­tion of a Rak­sha Mantri (RM) must have cer­tainly have caused dam­age, to this vi­tal min­istry, al­ready suf­fer­ing from a decade of lethargy, in­de­ci­sion and my­opic vi­sion.

The RM’s first pri­or­ity must be to elim­i­nate the para­noid sus­pi­cion of our pa­tri­otic and apo­lit­i­cal armed forces; a lin­ger­ing Nehru- vian legacy which has kept them out­side the ed­i­fice of the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia (GoI). This would log­i­cally lead to the next im­por­tant step of in­te­grat­ing the Ser­vice HQs with MoD and con­sti­tut­ing a sin­gle-point source of mil­i­tary ad­vice to the RM/PM. This vi­tal step, rec­om­mended by suc­ces­sive Stand­ing Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tees on De­fence, as well as by gov­ern­ment-con­sti­tuted Task Forces, has re­mained stalled by lack of po­lit­i­cal will and en­trenched bu­reau­cratic re­sis­tance.

Con­cur­rent with th­ese mea­sures, a re­view of the “1961 GoI Rules of Business” must be un­der­taken in or­der that the three ser­vice chiefs are nom­i­nated as func­tionar­ies of the GoI; re­spon­si­ble to the PM/ RM for the de­fence of In­dia’s land, mar­itime and aero­space do­mains.

The last but most im­por­tant ac­tion-point for the RM would be the rad­i­cal re­struc­tur­ing of our in­ef­fec­tive and un­pro­duc­tive de­fence re­search and pro­duc­tion or­gan­i­sa­tions. This would be the first step to lay­ing the foun­da­tions of a dy­namic in­dige­nous arms in­dus­try.

All th­ese mea­sures, while re­in­forc­ing po­lit­i­cal con­trol of the armed forces, will bring our higher de­fence struc­tures on par with other ma­jor democ­ra­cies and en­sure that the de­fence bud­get trans­lates into gen­uine se­cu­rity.

Lastly, one hopes that the new RM will gather suf­fi­cient self-con­fi­dence to ven­ture on an ex­am­i­na­tion of the in­ter­nal health of our armed forces. Events of the re­cent past, in­clud­ing mis­de­meanours at se­nior ranks, episodes of mass in­dis­ci­pline and oc­cur­rence of se­rial mishaps have raised con­cerns amongst the pub­lic.

Given un­der­stand­ing and syn­ergy be­tween the RM and the three ser­vice chiefs, it should be pos­si­ble to iden­tify the sys­temic flaws that have crept into our na­tional se­cu­rity sys­tem and to in­sti­tute en­dur­ing so­lu­tions.

The Pres­i­dent of In­dia Pranab Mukher­jee ad­min­is­ter­ing the oath as Cab­i­net Min­is­ter to Manohar Par­rikar, at a

swear­ing-in cer­e­mony, at Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van, in New Delhi on Novem­ber 9, 2014

The Union Min­is­ter for De­fence, Manohar Par­rikar, in­spect­ing the Guard of Hon­our, dur­ing his visit to the

Naval Air Sta­tion INS Hansa, Goa, on Novem­ber 14, 2014.

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