“Stop Tempt­ing Fate”

Ad­mi­ral Arun Prakash feels we must

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Viewpoint -

A“se­cu­rity dilemma” in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions rep­re­sents a sit­u­a­tion in which ac­cre­tion of power – mil­i­tary and eco­nomic – by a state gen­er­ates fear amongst its ri­vals, lead­ing to ten­sions, a pos­si­ble arms race and even the pos­si­bil­ity of con­flict.

In­dia’s ac­qui­si­tion of power is based on its nu­clear ar­se­nal, a mod­ern but un­der-equipped mil­i­tary with 1.5 mil­lion per­son­nel un­der arms and a de­fence ex­pen­di­ture of $60 bil­lion. And yet, far from strik­ing fear, In­dia of­ten fails to evoke re­spect in its Asian neigh­bour­hood.

The Econ­o­mist weekly, in a 2013 ar­ti­cle ti­tled “Can In­dia Be­come a Great Power”, seemed to put its fin­ger on the rea­son: “In­dia has the world’s 4th largest mil­i­tary,” it said, “and yet its po­lit­i­cal class shows lit­tle sign of know­ing or car­ing how the coun­try’s mil­i­tary clout should be de­ployed.” Warn­ing In­dia against “an un­sta­ble but dan­ger­ous Pak­istan and a swag­ger­ing and in­tim­i­dat­ing China”, it ob­served: “The ab­sence of a strate­gic cul­ture and the dis­trust be­tween civil­ian-run min­istries and the armed forces has un­der­mined mil­i­tary ef­fec­tive­ness.”

Such re­marks are gen­er­ally dis­missed in New Delhi, as be­ing rooted in Western bi­ases against In­dia. In this case, how­ever, the Bri­tish jour­nal was only re­it­er­at­ing what In­dian com­men­ta­tors had been say­ing for decades.

In­dia’s de­te­ri­o­rat­ing neigh­bour­hood sit­u­a­tion re­quires us to re­flect on “cause and ef­fect” re­la­tion­ships. How, for ex­am­ple, has a smaller and weaker Pak­istan sus­tained a war on In­dia for three decades by in­fil­trat­ing armed fight­ers across our border to wreak death and de­struc­tion with im­punity? How does Pak­istan keep the pot boil­ing in the Kash­mir Val­ley, al­most at will, with­out fear of reper­cus­sions?

In the case of China, de­spite our diplo­mats re­joic­ing over a se­ries of bi­lat­eral agree­ments, pro­to­cols and con­fi­dence­build­ing mea­sures signed be­tween 1993 and 2013, what em­bold­ens China’s Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army to of­fer provo­ca­tion and of­fence, at will, through re­peated vi­o­la­tions of the Line of Ac­tual Con­trol?

In the re­cent Dok­lam stand-off, what makes Chi­nese of­fi­cials as well as the me­dia in­dulge in boor­ish in­vec­tive in an at­tempt to in­tim­i­date In­dia? In in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, as in the jun­gle, even the per­cep­tion of weak­ness can pro­voke base and preda­tory in­stincts of un­scrupu­lous ri­vals.

Has In­dia, not­with­stand­ing its nu­clear ar­se­nal, mil­i­tary mus­cle and eco­nomic and de­mo­graphic strengths, con­veyed an im­pres­sion to its ad­ver­saries of a weak, dif­fi­dent and ir­res­o­lute na­tion? And has it, thereby, tempted them into bel­li­cose ad­ven­tur­ism and brinks­man­ship? If so, this is the fall-out of sus­tained po­lit­i­cal in­dif­fer­ence that has eroded the cred­i­bil­ity of our na­tional se­cu­rity pos­ture.

Of nu­mer­ous ar­eas of ne­glect, I cite just three. One, the top-rank­ing of­fi­cer in In­dia’s higher de­fence organisation is the Chair­man, Chiefs of Staff Com­mit­tee, who is also a key func­tionary in the nu­clear com­mand chain. Cur­rently, this is a part­time post, ten­anted by one of the three Ser­vice Chiefs in ro­ta­tion, with short, ran­dom tenures. Ex­pe­ri­ence has proved this to be an ab­surd and in­ef­fec­tive model, which im­pacts on the cred­i­bil­ity of our de­ter­rent pos­ture.

Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have clung to this sys­tem, ig­nor­ing re­peated rec­om­men­da­tions that ei­ther this post be made per­ma­nent or be re­placed by a Chief of De­fence Staff.

Two, the US man­ages its forces world­wide through six joint mil­i­tary com­mands, while China re­or­gan­ised its forces in 2014 into five ge­o­graphic com­mands, each with in­te­grated army, navy and air force com­po­nents.

The In­dian mil­i­tary, how­ever, re­mains in a World War II time-warp, and is or­gan­ised into 19 un­wieldy com­mands, of which only two are joint and 17 sin­gle ser­vice, with no two HQs in the same lo­ca­tion.

Again, In­dia’s fail­ure to im­ple­ment re­forms and in­te­grate the three ser­vices means that our sol­diers will be de­nied the syn­ergy and com­bat ef­fec­tive­ness that joint­ness has brought to ev­ery mod­ern mil­i­tary.

A re­cent re­port of the Comp­trol­ler and Au­di­tor Gen­eral pin­point­ing ma­te­rial short­ages of im­ported hard­ware and ord­nance high­lights the multiple chal­lenges that our mil­i­tary faces.

The last is­sue that de­tracts from the cred­i­bil­ity of In­dia’s se­cu­rity ed­i­fice is the civil-mil­i­tary dis­so­nance and bu­reau­cratic func­tion­ing of South Block that has stalled mil­i­tary moderni­sa­tion.

The roots of this dis­cord lie in the fact that the 100 per cent civil­ian Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) and the Ser­vice HQs work in sep­a­rate com­part­ments and no govern­ment has mus­tered the will to buck the bu­reau­cracy and in­te­grate them. Each of these short­com­ings is a self-goal by the In­dian state.

In 2001, a Group of Min­is­ters of the then Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance govern­ment had rec­om­mended a com­pre­hen­sive re­vamp of the na­tional se­cu­rity struc­ture. A decade later, the United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance govern­ment re­ceived a sim­i­lar set of rec­om­men­da­tions from a com­mit­tee con­vened by the cabi­net.

The first was im­ple­mented su­per­fi­cially and the sec­ond van­ished with­out trace in the bu­reau­cratic maw. While Par­lia­ment has rarely lifted a fin­ger in the cause of na­tional se­cu­rity, China’s mil­i­tary and the Pak­istani deep state keenly ob­serve the In­dian scene and are tak­ing full advantage of our egre­gious ne­glect.

The onus for the na­tion’s se­cu­rity rests squarely on the Prime Min­is­ter, who must en­sure that re­spon­si­bil­ity for de­fence is as­signed to a full-time Rak­sha Mantri (RM) and not the MoD bu­reau­cracy, as is the de­fault prac­tice.

By lift­ing the cur­rent em­bargo on meet­ing his ser­vice chiefs, the Prime Min­is­ter can set the tone for bet­ter civilmil­i­tary re­la­tions and avail of first-hand, au­then­tic mil­i­tary ad­vice and con­sul­ta­tion. Such are the de­mands of party pol­i­tics and elec­tion cam­paign­ing that even the best of RMs have been over­whelmed by their po­lit­i­cal obli­ga­tions. A cred­i­ble na­tional se­cu­rity organisation de­mands a RM, un­bur­dened by de­mands of elec­toral pol­i­tics.

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