Explained: Chief of Defence Staff

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Ever since surgical strike and the Balakot air strike, Indians have developed a very keen interest in the operations being carried out by our forces and other reforms and developments. Kudos to the defence forces for their courageous operations which have played a vital role in bringing a wave of unity, nationalism and a belief that India will no longer tolerate terrorism and those supporting it.

In his Independence Day speech from Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the creation of the post of CDS: Chief of Defence Staff. “Our forces are India’s pride. To further sharpen coordination between the forces, I want to announce a major decision from the Red Fort: India will have a Chief of Defence Staff: CDS. This is going to make the forces even more effective”, Mr. Modi said.

Even the former defence minister Manohar Parrikar said that he considers the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) as “a must”. He also said that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was engaged in working out a mechanism for the post. In effect, CDS is to be the head of all three services, namely, the army, navy and air force. The mottos for creation of this post are many but the main is to bring coordination and integration among all three services.

What purposes will the CDS serve?

CDS will be the head of all three services and will be advisor to the government on various defence related issues like weaponry, training, pension schemes, logistics of all the three services. As per the current scenario, we are aware that we have two hostile nuclear-powered neighbours who pose a great security threat. Long term planning, coordination and integration among the defence forces is necessary and it will be brought about by the CDS.

It will help in joint planning and maximum utilization of resources by joint training. Also, honourable defence minister Rajnath Singh’s big statement on India’s nuclear policy: “Have adhered to no-first-use, future depends on circumstances” makes it very clear that the CDS will be the advisor to the Prime Minister on nuclear issues.

What is the background for creation of this post?

The proposal of CDS is two decades old. It was first made after the Kargil war by the K. Subramanyam Committee which was appointed in 1999 to recommend military reforms. However, due to lack of political will and consensus among the political parties and the three services, the proposal never saw light of the day.

Also, the GOM – the group of Ministers in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA government who were tasked with studying the Kargil report also recommended the creation of the post of CDS. The Kargil report committee and the Group of ministers emphasised on the urgent need of military reforms and a five-star CDS who will bring about integrity, integration and synergy between the three services.

The Naresh Chandra committee in 2012 also recommended the appointment of a Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) as a midway to allay apprehensions over the CDS. Lt General D.B. Shekatkar (retd) Committee which submitted its report in December 2016 had 34 recommendations pertaining to the tri-services which also recommended the creation of CDS post.

Why was the proposal not implemented so far?

All these years, the proposal was not implemented for the reason that there was no political will and even there were no backers for this even in the defence bureaucracy. The three services never together came forward in support of this proposal. Government was worried that making CDS powerful will make him autocratic and arbitrary. Air force and navy opposed it as they were sure that it will result in its own loss of supremacy and that CDS would be dominated by army.

What is the current scenario?

Currently, the senior most of the three Chiefs functions as the Chairman of COSC. But it is an additional role and the tenures have been very short and limited. For instance, Air Chief Marshal (ACM) B.S. Dhanoa took over as the Chairman of COSC on May 31st from outgoing Navy Chief Adm Sunil Lanba.

However, ACM Dhanoa will be in the role for only a few months as he is set to retire on September 30th after which the baton will pass on to Army Chief General Bipin Rawat who will then be the senior most. General Rawat too is set to retire on December 31st after three years in office. So, as of now, there is no stability as the tenure is for short durations.

Has India reached a high time for the creation of CDS?

India is facing regional clashes; also, there are threats from some militants in Kashmir who have a tendency to get influenced by terrorist groups and an enemy country. Therefore, it has become imperative for national security and integrity reasons that a CDS be appointed. CDS will look after the strengths, weaknesses and integration of all the three services in order to deal with the looming security threats as well as complex challenges emerging from a hostile nuclear environment.

How are defence experts reacting to this development?

Former Air Marshal P.K. Barbora says that move will be beneficial only if the CDS is made a part of the cabinet as well. “Now, to understand what is in the politicians’ minds or the higher echelons of security and strategy, the Chief of Defence Staff should be sitting in the Cabinet under all circumstances, because then he will have a better idea of the government’s thinking. Secondly, he will have a better idea with how the government deals with external and international issues and thirdly he would also be privy to how the govt is dealing with many issues like finances and internal security also” – he said.

V.P. Malik, who was the army chief during the Kargil war calls this a “major step” towards military reform. “Now that we are going to have a CDS, his direct responsibility will be, of course, all the nuclear outfits and all the nuclear organisations and outfits that we have, including the strategic command. The other responsibility would be of ensuring coordination and jointness so that all the three services work together and the inter-operability improves amongst the three services. Plus, if there are any differences among the services, he will be able to sort it out and he will also have the direct access to the Prime Minister and will be kind of a consultant of defence issues” – he said.

In conclusion…

CDS will be a revolutionary and one of the great military reforms if the government and the defence bureaucracy together clear the hurdles which still exist in the implementation of this system. Also, the powers of CDS needs to be well defined so that it does not end up being just another ineffective name-sake military office. CDS will definitely prove to be a modern and most effective way to prepare defence forces to meet today’s challenges.

-This article is brought to you in collaboration with Deeksha Kathayat from Dr. D.Y. Patil Law College, Nerul.