In his Independence Day speech, one of the major announcements Prime Minister Modi made was the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) slated to be India’s biggest defence reform since Independence. The CDS will pe the Modi’s point person when it comes to issues dealing with national defence. The person will serve as a single commander for the Army, Navy and Air Force. Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, writes on why this announcement is important –
“Throughout the world, such moves have been resisted and have required the political authorities to ram them down the throat of the existing military bureaucracies, which tend to be conservative and status quo-like. In today’s technology-driven world, the nature of war is changing and we cannot afford to think in separate compartments”.
History of the CDS
Post-independence, a previous arrangement calling for a Commander-in-Chief for each service was abandoned. Instead, there was Chiefs of Staff for each service and the ultimate power over the armed forces was given to the President of India. In 1955, there was a Chief of the Army Staff, Chief of the Naval Staff and Chief of the Air Staff.
After the Kargil war in 1999, the post for a person to oversee the three branches of the armed forces was recommended. There was a committee formed, headed by K. Subrahmanyan to examine gaps in the national security and defence structure. One of themain findings of the committee was a lack of coordination among the branches of the armed forces. The committee recommended the creation of a CDS post. Retired General VP Malik, Army Chief during the Kargil war reacted positively -
Thank you PM Modi for announcing historic step of institution of CDS. This step will make our national security more effective and more economical. It will ensure better jointmanship and multi-disciplinary coordination. Salute!— Vedmalik (@Vedmalik1) August 15, 2019
Following this, in 2001, a group consisting of ministers headed by then Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani studied the recommendation of the Kargil committee and proposed the formation of a CDS. The group stated that the post must be occupied by a five-star officer.
The idea of a CDS did not gain much traction thereafter for a decade; until in 2011 with the formation of the Naresh Chandra Committee. This committee agreed with the findings previously mentioned calling for a permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staffs Committee. In 2016, one of the nearly 100 recommendations made by the Lt General D.B. Shekatkar (retd) Committee was the formation of a CDS. Former Army Chief General NC Vij, in a 2016 column for India Today, stated the need for a CDS –
“The time has come for the government to bite the bullet and institute the appointment of a CDS. The case I am making is that the CDS must be tailored and phased to meet our specific functional and operational requirements. It cannot be accomplished in a single all-encompassing step. We should not be preparing to fight future wars with yesterday's force and command structure and training”.
Role and implementation
The primary role of the CDS will be to advise the Prime Minister on all things national defence; essentially the country’s top military advisor to the government. In addition to providing counsel, the person will be in charge of long-term planning, training and taking care of logistics of the three services. India is also a nuclear weapons state, and as a result the CDS will also advise the Prime Minister on nuclear issues.
In 2012, the Naresh Chandra Committee recommended the appointment of a Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC). In the absence of the CDS, the senior most of the three chiefs plays the role of the Chairman COSC. Anit Mukherjee, a professor and author, in a column for The Hindu, writes on the appointment of the CDS –
“The government need not go with the seniority rule and should instead consider a “deep selection” from current pool of flag officers. To begin with, and to assuage the fears of the smaller services, it may be wise to not let an Army officer to first tenet this post. Moreover, it is not necessary, or perhaps even desirable, for a former service chief to be appointed as the CDS”.
Other countries have similar positions. Russia has the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces. Canada implemented with a unified CDS in 1967. After dissolving its armed services and merging into the Canadian Armed Forces under the CDS. The United Kingdom has a permanent Secretary which is equivalent to the Defence Secretary; it also has a CDS. In the United States, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, along the Secretary of Defence are the top two military advisors to a President.
The necessity of the role, being almost 2 decades in the making speaks to the apprehension and opposition that this move has faced previously. One of them is the concentration of power on a single position overseeing the entire armed forces. However, the current national security environment calls for unified armed forces working in coordination as the Hindu editorial puts it –
“What was always desirable became an urgent necessity. Pulwama and Balakot, the repeated offers for mediation in Kashmir by the U.S. President, the imminent pull-out of American troops from Afghanistan, which would leave Pakistan and its proxies the dominant players on the ground with a strong chance of blowback into Kashmir, as well as the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, are factors that have come together to confer urgency to taking this step”.
More columns by Varun Sukumar