De­fence planning: Old wine in new bot­tle?

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Policy - Ad­mi­ral Arun Prakash (Retd)

In what has been de­clared, by some me­dia, as a ‘ ma­jor step’ to­wards re­form­ing the process of higher de­fence planning, the gov­ern­ment has cre­ated a new mech­a­nism; des­ig­nated the De­fence Planning Com­mit­tee (DPC) un­der the chair­man­ship of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor (NSA). This per­ma­nent com­mit­tee has been tasked to un­der­take a strate­gic de­fence re­view, pre­pare a draft na­tional se­cu­rity strat­egy, and for­mu­late an in­ter­na­tional de­fence en­gage­ment strat­egy. Taken at face value, this step de­serves a cau­tious wel­come by the Ser­vices as well as the strate­gic com­mu­nity, even if only as a long over­due to­ken of the gov­ern­ment’s con­cern for na­tional se­cu­rity.

The past 14 years, that in­clude a decade of sta­sis dur­ing the UPA regime, and four years of NDA (that saw four Rak­sha Mantris), have also wit­nessed a steady de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in In­dia’s se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment. While China’s spec­tac­u­lar eco­nomic and mil­i­tary rise is help­ing it re­shape the fun­da­men­tals of global power, our im­me­di­ate con­cerns re­late to the rapid mod­erni­sa­tion and in­te­gra­tion of dif­fer­ent arms of the Chi­nese mil­i­tary into a co­he­sive ‘joint’ en­tity. Height­ened mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity on our land bor­ders, in­cur­sions into the In­dian Ocean and the bran­dish­ing of tac­ti­cal nu­clear weapons by Pak­istani gen­er­als, speak of an un­fold­ing Sino-Pak strat­egy.

The ‘ first charge’ on a na­tion’s ex­che­quer is uni­ver­sally ac­knowl­edged to be na­tional se­cu­rity. But in In­dia, de­fence ex­pen­di­ture, hav­ing been rel­e­gated to the ‘non-plan’ cat­e­gory, bud­getary al­lo­ca­tions are whim­si­cal, and pay no heed to fac­tors like threat as­sess­ment, force- planning, self-reliance or align­ment of ‘ends, ways and means’. This is largely be­cause of the de­fence-planning process has re­mained an ar­bi­trary, spo­radic and ne­glected ac­tiv­ity in In­dia. Re­cent rev­e­la­tions about In­dia’s stalled mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion and short­falls in war- re­serves pro­vide wor­ri­some proof of this.

Post-in­de­pen­dence his­tory bears out the short shrift given to this vi­tal process in the In­dian sys­tem. A ‘de­fence planning cell’ was cre­ated as late as in 1962, in the af­ter­math of the In­dia-China War, to be re­placed by a Com­mit­tee for De­fence Planning in 1977, un­der the Cabi­net Sec­re­tary. It was only in the Ra­jiv Gand­hiArun Singh era that a prop­erly con­sti­tuted, in­ter- Ser­vice De­fence Planning Staff (DPS) was set up. Headed by a 3-star Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral, the DPS was charged with the prepa­ra­tion of force-level and hard­ware per­spec­tive plans, in con­sul­ta­tion with the Ser­vice HQ. How­ever, lack­ing sup­port from the mil­i­tary, as well as MoD, the DPS failed to gain any cred­i­bil­ity and was wound up in 2001.

The near-dis­as­ter of May 1999 saw the Kargil Re­view Com­mit­tee (KRC) bluntly high­light­ing the fact that In­dia’s sys­tem of de­fence planning and man­age­ment had re­mained ut­terly stag­nant “de­spite the 1962 de­ba­cle, the 1965 stale­mate and the 1971 vic­tory, the grow­ing nu­clear threat, end of the cold-war, con­tin­ued proxy war in Kash­mir…” Re­act­ing swiftly to the KRC’s crit­i­cism, the NDA gov­ern­ment of the day con­sti­tuted un­der Deputy PM, LK Ad­vani, a Group of Min­is­ters (GoM) whose re­port de­clared its in­tent of “bring­ing about im­prove­ments in the or­gan­i­sa­tion, struc­tures and process through in­te­gra­tion of civil and mil­i­tary com­po­nents of MoD and by en­sur­ing ‘joint­ness’ among the armed forces” (em­pha­sis added). The de­fence planning process, ac­cord­ing to this Re­port, had re­mained deeply flawed due to the ab­sence of a na­tional se­cu­rity doc­trine and in­ter-ser­vice pri­ori­ti­sa­tion.

The two-fold panacea of­fered by the GoM was: in­te­gra­tion of the Ser­vice HQs with MoD and creation of a Chief of De­fence Staff ( CDS). One of the vi­tal tasks of the CDS would be to bring “ef­fec­tive­ness to the planning/bud­get­ing process” through in­tra-Ser­vice and in­ter­Ser­vice pri­ori­ti­sa­tion and the prepa­ra­tion of a Joint Ser­vices Plan. The gov­ern­ment’s sur­ren­der to bu­reau­cratic pres­sure and aban­don­ment of the GoM’s sub­stan­tive rec­om­men­da­tions is now his­tory, and does not bear rep­e­ti­tion.

It mer­its re­call that in the past two decades, ac­tions of UPA as well as NDA gov­ern­ments in the arena of na­tional se­cu­rity re­form have been dis­ap­point­ing. Both have con­vened groups, com­mit­tees and task-forces to ex­am­ine is­sues re­lat­ing to higher de­fence man­age­ment, de­fencere­search and de­fence- pro­duc­tion. Sub­mit­ted for bu­reau­cratic scru­tiny, rather than po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion-mak­ing, the find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions of these bod­ies, have gen­er­ally dis­ap­peared in dusty MoD cup­boards.

Not­with­stand­ing past omis­sions, there is need to curb scep­ti­cism in the case of the newly con­sti­tuted DPC. Pos­si­bly, there is just enough time for it to tackle its weighty task and gen­er­ate some de­liv­er­ables be­fore the next gen­eral elec­tion is upon us. How­ever, the con­sti­tu­tion of this com­mit­tee, at this junc­ture, and its com­po­si­tion, does leave an unan­swered ques­tion in the air.

The ex­clu­sion of is­sues like civilmil­i­tary in­te­gra­tion, ‘joint­ness’ and CDS, from the Com­mit­tee’s char­ter, means that they are ob­vi­ously not on the NDA agenda – which is a pity – but does it also im­ply that the NSA has, now, re­placed the De­fence Sec­re­tary as de-facto Chief of De­fence Staff ?

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