The creation of CDS announced by PM during his I-Day speech is the need of the hour.
One of the key announcements made in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day this year was the announcement on the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff or CDS. This, he said, is to provide “effective leadership at the top level” to the three wings of the armed forces, and to help improve coordination among them.
The move is significant as it is a message to the neighbours, especially Pakistan, Kashmir and terrorists who are trying to disrupt peace and economy of India.
The announcement on CDS should be read with what Modi said on terrorism in his I-Day speech — that the world should unite against countries which aid terror.
This is because under jihadist leader Abubakr al-Baghdadi, the IS has regrouped to carry out more terror activities outside of West Asia than inside it for the first time. All this calls for strengthening of the defence machinery.
The CDS will bring better cohesion between the three armed forces at times of external attack or internal strife. Moreover, the Defence Minister and Prime Minister need to talk only to one main person on defence issues.
The CDS is vital to the creation of “theatre commands”, integrating tri-service assets and personnel like in the US military. India has 17 Service commands at different locations and duplicating assets.
In 2016, China integrated its military and other police and paramilitaries into five theatres from the earlier seven area commands, each with its own inclusive headquarters, one of which has responsibility for the Indian border. In contrast, India’s border with China is split between the Eastern, Western, and Northern Commands. All this will get integrated with the CDS.
In most democracies, the CDS is seen as someone who is neutral and above inter-Service rivalries. The CDS allows military chiefs to focus on immediate operational preoccupations rather than individual chiefs trying to coordinate activities. The role of the CDS becomes very critical in times of conflict and he is the peg around which all the three forces would revolve.
Most countries with advanced militaries have such a post. But the role and powers need not be the same. For example, the United States Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee is extremely powerful and has a clear and well-defined mandate and sharply delineated powers.
In Pakistan, the Army chief is so powerful that he is the defacto CDS.
The absence of a CDS in India was most glaring during the Kargil war. It is a known fact that coordination among the three Services was poor in the initial weeks of the Kargil conflict.
Subsequently, the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) was set up after the Kargil conflict. This committee pointed out that India is the only major democracy where the Armed Forces Headquarters is outside the apex governmental structure.
In fact, the idea of a CDS almost got established in 2000 at KRC. This committee had called for a reorganisation of the “entire gamut of national security management and apex decision-making and structure and interface between the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces Headquarters”.
The Group of Ministers Task Force that studied the KRC Report and recommendations, proposed to the Cabinet Committee on Security that a CDS, who would be five-star officer, be created.
Further to this, the government created the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) in late 2002, which was to eventually serve as the CDS’s Secretariat. But like many good moves, this secretariat has remained yet another nebulous department within the military establishment for 17 years!
This is primarily because there was no consensus among the Services. Moreover, a CDS with direct access to the Prime Minister and Defence Minister was the last thing that the bureaucrats in the MoD wanted. The babus did not want to relinquish the MoD’s power over the three Services.
All this will change now under Modi who exercises strict control over bureaucrats. Under Modi, the CDS will be a supreme military office mandated to oversee and coordinate the working of the three Services. He will offer seamless tri-service views and single-point advice to the Prime Minister and Defence Minister on long-term defence planning and management, including manpower, equipment and strategy, and above all, “jointsmanship” in operations.
Though the CDS is a new concept in India, New Delhi had a very feeble equivalent known as the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC). But unlike the proposed CDS, the CoSC is a toothless office, given the manner in which it is structured. The senior-most among the three Service Chiefs is appointed to head the CoSC, an office that lapses with the incumbent’s retirement. This means there is no continuity.
In fact, way back in 2015, the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had described the CoSC arrangement as “unsatisfactory”, and its Chairman as a “figurehead”.
The CoSC system is a leftover from the colonial era, with only minor changes being carried out over the years. Modi now plans to do away with another colonial legacy.
The appointment of a CDS was long overdue, but under previous regimes, there was no clear blueprint for the office to ensure its effectiveness. India’s past political establishment was largely ignorant of, or at best indifferent towards, security matters, and hence incapable of ensuring that a CDS works. But with Modi at the helm, a CDS may come into force with clear mandate and powers.