A lot is still needed on the defence front
April  19,  2012

The recent brouhaha over defence issues has brought welcome attention to the state of our armed services.

Just a couple of years ago, in 2010, India’s National Security Annual Review unnecessarily averred that India was now the world’s fifth most powerful country, outranking traditional powers such as the UK, France and Germany.

Citing the country’s population, military capabilities and economic growth, the Review, issued by the MEA, placed India behind only the U.S., China, Japan and Russia in a ranking of global power.

For a country still excessively focused on problems in its own neighbourhood, distracted (if not obsessed) with Pakistan and kept off balance by China, this had even then seemed a somewhat farfetched claim. In the wake of the Army Chief’s letter to the PM on defence preparedness, it bears re-examination. India’s military capabilities are real and their quality has been demonstrated time and again both on the battlefield and in a large number of challenging United Nations peace-keeping operations.

But whether in terms of structure, equipment and training the Indian military establishment could yet measure up to the European powers the Review said it had supplanted, remains to be proven. Security in the most fundamental sense is one area where our military cannot be faulted: they have done all that we have asked of them to keep our nation safe.

But the Ministry of Defence also needs to be able to engage other countries on international security issues. As the Indian-American scholar Ashley Tellis has pointed out, 90 per cent of the MoD’s personnel is focused on acquisition and there is only one Joint Secretary entrusted with the task of handling global security cooperation.

The resultant lack of capacity has been embarrassing: as Tellis tells it, a number of training exercises scheduled in recent years between the Indian and foreign militaries have had to be called off at the last moment since India simply could not get its act together.

This has, inevitably, led to a serious loss of credibility for the country. Few countries face quite the range and variety of security threats that India does – from the ever-present risk, however farfetched, of nuclear war with Pakistan or China, with both of whom we have unresolved territorial disputes, to Maoist movements in 165 of our 602 districts, secessionist insurgency in the north-east, and terrorist bombs set off by Islamist militants in metropolitan markets.

And yet we have not yet evolved a comprehensive national security strategy to cover this entire spectrum of threats. As a democracy, India needs to undertake a strategic defence review that brings in all elements of the security services, the public at large and elected representatives in parliament, to produce a national security strategy.

But such an exercise has not even been attempted. With the government not yet having formally approved the long-term integrated perspective plan (LTIPP 2007-22) formulated by the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff, there is little systematic effort to align India’s defence expenditure and purchases with any systematic strategy to modernise and enhance India’s combat capacity.

Instead, defence procurement – when it is not delayed by a political reluctance to make potentially controversial decisions involving large sums of money – is being undertaken through ad hoc annual procurement plans, in the absence of long-term policy.

Whereas China spends 3.5 per cent of its GDP on defence and Pakistan officially spends 4.5 per cent (not counting US military aid and vast sums allotted to intelligence and counter-terrorism operations, which would take the figure well above 6 per cent of GDP), India’s defence budget clocks in at the very modest level of less than two per cent of GDP.

At these levels, any meaningful modernisation that will substantially enhance India’s combat capabilities remains a chimera, and the money at the disposal of the military remains inadequate even to replace the ageing and obsolete weapons systems with which the Indian defence services, armed police and para-military forces are replete.

As the eminent strategist K. Subrahmanyam observed, ‘India has lacked an ability to formulate future-oriented defence policies, managing only because of short-term measures, blunders by its adversaries, and force superiority in its favour’.

The structure of the armed forces and the nature of defence policy-making, planning and training leave much to be desired; there is little co-ordination amongst the three services, and proposals to create either a Chief of Defence Staff or a US-style position of Chairman of a Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee have never been implemented. There are both a National Security Council and National Security Advisory Board, but neither can point to a stellar record in promoting policy coherence and strengthening strategic planning.

The services lack serious intelligence capacity and world-class area studies expertise; even issues of nuclear policy and strategy do not bear a significant military stamp, partly a reflection of the strong civilian desire to keep the armed forces out of the nuclear area.

The absence of a Chief of Defence Staff or a permanent Chairman of the Joint Chiefs – which means there is no single point of military advice to the government on defence strategy – is compounded by the lack of any tri-service integrated theatre commands in such vital areas as the management of air space and cyber-warfare.

Serious morale issues have also arisen over such issues as the welfare of ex-servicemen, whose campaign for ‘one rank-one pension’ has not met with a satisfactory response, the embarrassing absence of a National War Memorial to honour the sacrifices of India’s military men and women, and the needless controversy over the date of birth of the Army Chief.

The role of the Indian armed forces is principally to constitute a credible deterrent in itself; in Subrahmanyam’s words, ‘preventing wars from breaking out through appropriate weapons acquisitions, force deployment patterns, the development of infrastructure, military exercises, and defence diplomacy’.

This is a far more demanding task than conducting routine peacetime operations would normally have been, because with unsettled borders on two sides, the security of the country lies in a credible conventional military capacity that can serve as a deterrent against any adventurism from a possible adversary across the borders.

We can be proud of our armed forces, which have distinguished themselves in a number of conflict situations, but we still have a long way to go before we can boast of the kind of integrated and well-resourced defence structure that warrants any claim of a higher standing in the ranks of global powers.

Source: The Daily Mail

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