Will The New CDS Be Another Paper Tiger?

"A General of the army is less suited to tackle the complexities of future wars — which would be fought more and more by smart soldiers with super smart weapons on the seas and space."

Will The New CDS Be Another Paper Tiger?

Late General Bipin Rawat, CDS, died in a chopper crash near Wellington on 8 December 2021. Unfortunately though it seeks immediate attention of the government to appoint a new CDS. It is likely  that General MM Naravane, present COAS, who is the senior most amongst three service chiefs to fill the slot. He, therefore, becomes an automatic choice.

Selection of Gen MM Naravane could be based on two considerations. His seniority and as an Eastern Army commander which enabled him to look after the Chinese Border, China factor is an important factor because of our current face off with China. Also, he was Military Attaché in Myanmar and he had closely watched Chinese developments in the region. It seems, all said and done, the government would give importance to China. This would confirm India's “look East” policy.

From the military point of view and a future war scenario, this is nothing but shortsightedness. In the longer run, what was needed was to pay attention to Indian Ocean and Air space. Major future military conflicts are likely to be less and less land oriented but more and more space and seas oriented.

Therefore, the role of CDS was to use his expertise in these arenas. Unfortunately, a General of the army is less suited to tackle the complexities of future wars — which would be fought more and more by smart soldiers with super smart weapons on the seas  and space. A deep thought was needed to select the right person.

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But it is apparent that the NSA led bureaucracy, a committee appointed to make a recommendation, was influenced by their own narrow interests rather than the national interests. The way this appointment was created, it lacks the punch, which needs overlordship of three services.

In the present structure, CDS is no more than a bureaucrat, stringed by “ifs” and “buts” of three services. Late General Bipin Rawat faced this problem, when he tried to implement Theaterisation of armed forces. He leaves this legacy to his successor.

Frankly speaking, CDS was needed to lord over all ongoing military conflicts, internal and external, with veto powers and only to be overruled by the PM. He was not expected to be a surrogate of NSA or Defence Minister. But the likely appointment does not evoke these sentiments. Appointment is emotional rather than a harsh national reality.

In view of the above, it was expected that CDS would be equal to NSA in status, if not superior. However it seems, he was made a member of the Defence Planning Committee (DPC), which is under the NSA, thus subordinating CDS to him. Besides, CDS would be just at par with the Defence Secretary and report to the Defence Minister. He would have no direct access to the Prime Minister.

CDS was expected to deal with ongoing military conflicts with all resources placed under him and NSA was expected to peep deep into the future and plan the orientation of the armed forces towards future roles, which included restructuring and regrouping. But it seems the roles have been not only reversed but NSA was made the sole agent of planning and managing military conflicts, from theorisation to actual conduct.

Two things have happened in this kind of appointment of CDS. Firstly, the status of Services Chiefs has been further reduced in comparison to civil bureaucracy. The Defence Secretary would be senior to them. CDS is only a paper tiger. Look at the likely roles assigned to him.

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Two of the major roles ear-marked by the experts for the CDS are:

  • He is likely to Exercise operational and administrative command over the ANC (Andaman and Nicobar Command); Cyber and Space Agencies (or Commands, as and when they come up) and Special Operations Division.
  • He would also Exercise 'administrative control' over the Strategic Forces Command (SFC), whose 'operational control' rests with the highest political authority.

All other roles assigned and envisaged are only philosophies on the paper and as such CDS is no more than a paper tiger. In fact, above two major roles, reduces him to the status of a theatre commander without any effective control and command over three Services Chiefs. CDS, in its current form, does not integrate the national security apparatus but divides it. This could be harmful for national security.

About The Author

Col. Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into 3 Bihar. He is a battle-hardened veteran who served in  ’71 War & has operated extensively in various insurgency environs across the country. He is a renowned author, and a highly respected defence & national security expert writing for several reputed publications such as  ‘Defence and Security Alert’ (DSA), the ‘Indian Defence Review’ (IDR) among others. You can reach him on Twitter: @RajeeKushwaha, Email ID: [email protected]

(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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