The latest controversy to hit the headlines in the defense field is the letter fired off by Mr. Tarlochan Singh, Chairman of the Minorities Commission, pumping for a particular candidate as the next Army Chief. While the incumbent is not due to retire any time soon, Mr. Tarlochan Singh’s haste stemmed from rumors abroad that the Army Chief is to be kicked upstairs as the first Chief of Defense Staff (CDS). In that case Mr. Tarlochan Singh’s candidate would have fallen by the wayside since seniority would be on the side of another General at the present juncture.

While the issue raises several points of concern, not least of which is the politicization of the Army through attempts at manipulation of its leadership, the point is that appointment of the first CDS may be in the offing. This is probably the only stone left unturned in India’s march towards nuclearisation since Pokhran II. The implications of this development demand scrutiny. There is every likelihood that this measure is taken as yet another feather in the cap of the reigning BJP led NDA government in its striving to make India strong and secure. Perhaps the announcement is being withheld for a suitable occasion, with January offering two such occasions – the Army Day and the Republic Day. Clubbed with the reported flight of the 3000 km Agni III in the pipeline, India would proclaim acquisition of a deployed nuclear deterrent.

India has over the recent past declared its nuclear doctrine, given itself a Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) comprising Political and Executive Councils, prepared two or more Nuclear Command Posts, created a Strategic Forces Command, geared up its nuclear delivery capability comprising Su 30 aircrafts and Prithvi and Agni Missile Regiments and is in an advanced stage of purchase of missile defense missiles and radar systems and Airborne Warning and Control aircrafts. The only gap left in this nuclear edifice has been the absence of the CDS. The role of the CDS as espoused by its votaries is to act as a single point of advice on military matters to the political head. He is to also control the Strategic Forces Command, which presently has an uncertain chain of command running from the Political Council of the NCA through its Executive Council to the Chief’s of Staff Committee. The latter is a body of equals comprising the three service Chiefs and is headed by the longest serving Chief, deemed an unsatisfactory arrangement for a nuclear and regional power, if not a Great Power itself. Therefore there is an impetus for the government to wrap up nuclear related initiatives and go into the national elections with not just the economy to boast about, but security too.

The major argument towards reorganization of the national security apparatus has been that it is archaic and lends itself to inter-service rivalry that is exploited by the bureaucratic intermediary -- the Ministry of Defense. Thus, the argument goes, the political head is not able to access the service perspective and therefore national security suffers in the bargain. The Arun Singh Committee (set up by Mr. Jaswant Singh) took on board these arguments and had apparently recommended the creation of a CDS. However, the bureaucrats who would stand to lose power in the turf wars in South Block have stymied this. Instead of a bona fide CDS, India has a Chief of Integrated Defense Staff answering to the revolving Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.

The problem with the CDS is not merely that this will be yet another functionary participating in the bureaucratic wars on Raisina Hill. There is the additional weight that the security complex will acquire in deliberations regarding allocation and distribution of the national resource cake. Presently, the system is so geared that even if the Navy wishes to acquire a new aircraft carrier, it takes about a decade or more to materialize it in the form of the Gorshkov. While security analysts fault this system, the truth is that it has prevented an overt and overly militarisation of India.

The recently retired first Chief of Integrated Defense Staff (CIDS), Lt Gen Pankaj Joshi, has given vent to his discontent with the present system. Writing in the USI Journal, a periodical widely subscribed to in strategic circles, he pushes for systematization for ‘long term budgetary support commitment to structure force levels to effectively counter forecast threats’. The General’s time horizon is two decades hence. This is a call repeatedly heard in seminars on the circuit.

‘Forecast threats’ are most likely to be expansive. The corresponding ‘budgetary support commitment’ would certainly serve the institutional interests of the security establishment at the expense of other sectors.
The point oft missed is that the ‘forecast threats’ are most likely to be expansive. To combat these ‘structure’ and ‘force levels’ would likely be not as extensive. The corresponding ‘budgetary support commitment’ would certainly serve the institutional interests of the security establishment at the expense of sectors already reeling under the onslaught of liberalization. A CDS for in-house credibility would be required to forward the military case. A lesson from a century ago in which the Commander in Chief Kitchener saw off the Viceroy of no less a stature than Curzon, the CDS could acquire a say that could upset the singular politician-military equation in India.

It is testimony to the democratic system in which several interest groups make demands on the state and no particular one commandeers the agenda. It helps ward off the future of an overbearing military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address to the people of the United States. This is a message not only for Americans of today, but also for India as it readies to imitate the American Joint Chiefs of Staff system to make its nuclear weapons employable, even if its declaratory doctrinal principle is in favor of nuclear disarmament.

The technocratic argument for building in efficiency in the system appears to have some substance, but future generations cannot be deprived of agency. The ‘military mind’ is wont to define ‘threats’ and their counter is obvious from the course of the Vietnam War and the Cold War elsewhere. There is also the element of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ to be considered. Therefore to expect that India would be able to manage the future of its security any better is to be oblivious of the body of literature encompassed in military sociology. With a right wing government positioning itself for another term, it can be hazarded that its military largesse is set to continue.

The oncoming election should be the occasion to retrieve India’s future for future India to determine.