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An American Perspective on India's Defence Reforms
Updated:Aug 23, 2011
 
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By Patrick C. Bratton

It was announced in July that a new task force on Defence, headed by Naresh Chandra, would be meeting this summer. One of the more debated questions surrounding this task force is whether or not they recommend further steps to integrate the defence establishment, like a Chief of Defence Staff or even integrated military commands.

Back in 2001, in the aftermath of the Kargil War, the Group of Ministers (GoM) report recommended the creation of both a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and joint commands. Indian services Chiefs have been wearing two hats since the 1950s: administrative heads of their service, and also operational commanders during crisis or wartime. The creation of a CDS and joint commands would take away operational control from the service chiefs, making them administrative bodies and giving the political leadership a single point of military advice. Apparently, some participants of GoM wanted to have more integrated commands, in particular regional ones. Because there was opposition to this, two experimental commands were created: the first Indian joint regional or theatre command, the Andaman and Nicobar Command, and the first functional joint command, the Strategic Forces Command.

However, there are several arguments against the development of unity in the armed services. First, the military leadership seems to the divided on the issue. Some services think that jointness and integration threaten their autonomy and even their existence. In particular, the Air Force leadership is generally against the development of theatre commands and the CDS. In contrast, the Navy’s leadership seems most positive about having more of these commands. The army stands somewhere in-between and is internally divided. Another counter-argument to further integration (or a Chief of Defence Staff, or more regional or theatre commands) is that unlike global, expeditionary powers like the US, India does not need them.

While India is at times criticized for its slow innovation and change in its defence organization, it must be remembered that in the US case, jointness and the creation of united commands was a process that was neither short nor easy. Moreover, many of the arguments against further unification echo earlier American concerns.

The US maintained its archaic national security decision making structure with separate War and Naval Departments through both world wars. Even though the US emerged as one of the great powers in the late 19th Century, it was only in 1947-49 that the US sought to integrate its unify its military and defence establishment with the National Security Act, which unified the two departments and created other key institutions like the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Council, and the Central Intelligence Agency. However, even with the National Security Act, the process of unification was far from complete. In the US case, the US Navy was the service that most opposed integration and jointness (much like the Indian Air Force) and with its allies in Congress it managed to slow and dilute the unification process. As a result of the US Navy’s efforts, it took another 10 years to create a strong Department of Defence with a powerful Secretary.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff kept their operational as well as staff responsibilities. Moreover, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was really only a first amongst equals, and consensus was necessary because effectively every Chief had a veto. This arrangement was kept throughout most of the Cold War, exacerbating inter-services rivalry in the Vietnam War and contributing to disasters, such as the botched Iranian hostage rescue in 1979 and the Beirut barracks bombings in 1982. Something had to be done in the aftermath of these two disasters and the many difficulties during the invasion of Grenada.

Senator Barry Goldwater and Congressman Bill Nichols finally unified the services with the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986. In addition to establishing jointness on the services, the Goldwater-Nichols Act did two important things: (1) it elevated the power of the Chairman over the others (removing the veto) and made him the single point of military advice to the President; and (2) it removed operational control away from the service Chiefs and gave it to the theatre commanders (like Pacific Command, Central Command, etc.).

Second, it is often forgotten that there also was a cultural argument against defence reform. This stems from a historical opposition to large standing armies, a general reluctance to have an expansionist foreign policy. As a result of these factors, there was a long-time resistance in the 19th and early 20th centuries to reform and modernize the War Department to bring it up to the standards of the other great powers. While the US was the greatest economic power by the start of the 20th Century, it had a small army and lacked an effective General Staff. However, the structures were put into place in the 1940s because of the demands of wartime and the realization that political and military affairs had to be integrated in a nuclear era.

So this leads to two general observations: First, the process towards defence unification is long and difficult. Second, this process can be compatible with democratic values even though it takes time. In the first case, the criticisms of how slowly the Indian Army moves towards jointness and unified commands have to be put into context. Most countries’ paths toward defence reforms are long and difficult.

Ultimately, after 40 years of minimal reforms initiated inside the Defence Department and by the President, it took the Congressional leadership to force these reforms on both the services and the Department of Defence. Goldwater-Nichols happened because of a perfect storm of circumstances: a series of high profile disasters that highlighted the problems of inter-service rivalry and the chain of command, a time period when the public was interested in defence matters because of the Cold War in the 1980s, the willingness of some current and former service leaders to support unification, and the leadership of two committed legislatures with irreproachable defence credentials.

However, the emergence of a “perfect storm” in the Indian case in the near future seem quite unlikely. As is well-known, defence is not a major political issue and few political leaders have championed defence reform. The few times defence reforms have had any popular moment was in the aftermath of disasters like 1962, 1999, and to a limited extent, Mumbai in 2008. Hopes that this task force will lead to radical defence reforms are unlikely to be met. It will likely take another security disaster and for a group of Lok Sabha members to start taking defence issues seriously and invest political capital in them.

Second, similar to Indian arguments that a CDS or unified commands are not “Indian” or not necessary given India’s foreign policy, the US had a similar cultural and historical debate against defence reform. There was a strong belief that the structures of national security were incompatible with a democracy. However, the realities of fighting the Second World War and the Cold War changed people’s minds and the US has successfully balanced national security demands with a democratic system. Not always perfectly, but the democratic political system and culture remained intact.

(Dr. Patrick C. Bratton is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Hawai`i Pacific University. He can be reached at: pbratton@hpu.edu.)

 

 
 
 
 
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A Sri Lankan constitutional amendment done with Indian backing to devolve autonomy to provinces remains "historically significant and indispensable", says a new book by a well known political scientist from the island nation.

 
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Ishtiaq Ahmed’s latest book is another outstanding piece of scholarship by an erudite scholar. This intellectually stimulating work is an important addition to the corpus of writings on modern and contemporary Pakistan, which by design an...

 
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Contrary to popular wisdom in India, a new book on Ravana, the 'demon king' in the Ramayana epic, says he ruled a rich and vast kingdom in ancient Sri Lanka, wrote books and built a maze of underground tunnels to protect his empire....

 
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A courageous, comprehensive and no-holds-barred account, by a veteran journalist, of a 66-year-old nation that is still trying to find its identity and fighting its own demons…

 
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The 30-year-old ethnic conflict in the Sri Lankan state, an essentially Sinhalese majoritarian preserve, and the uncompromising and relentlessly violent Tamil leadership claiming a separate state, Tamil Eelam, on behalf of the Tamil minority of...

 
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Book: India's Foreign Policy: A Reader; Edited: Kanti P. Bajpai and Harsh V.Pant Critical Issues in Indian Politics Series; Publisher: OUP Price: Rs 1095; Pages: 464

 
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Such a massive tome (663 pages) on a country that calls itself India’s only permanent friend in South Asia demands serious attention. Bhutanese scholarship is so rare and scholarship on Bhutan has been so scanty since M...

 
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India and China have shared historical ties and, as immediate neighbours, have seen many ups and downs in their relations. As a result, bilateral ties between the two countries...

 
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Delhi-based poet Sudeep Sen has been invited to address the Nobel Laureate Week being held in Saint Lucia, a sovereign island country in the eastern Caribbean Sea, in January. Mr. Sen is the first Indian, and the only one thu...

 
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Book: Fountainhead of Jihad Author: Vahid Brown and Don Rassler Publisher: Hachette India Price: Rs 650

 
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'Imperialists, Nationalists, Democrats: The Collected Essays of Sarvepalli Gopal'  edited by Srinath Raghavan. Permanent Black, 444 pages, Rs 895....

 
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Samudra Manthan: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific Author: C. Raja Mohan Publisher: OUP Price: Rs 895 Pages: 329

 
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Author: Raghu Rai Publisher: Niyogi Books Price: Rs 1495 Pages: 115

 
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BOOK: "False Sanctuaries: Stories from the Troubled Territories of South Asia", AUTHOR: Meenakshi Iyer;  PUBLISHER: Bibliophile South Asia (Promila & Co.);  PAGES: 282; 

 
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Like so much else in India’s recent past, the First Afghan War (1839-42) means little to India’s elites. But the military history of the British Raj has been a specially neglected domain. With their many other preoccupations, India&...

 
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Journalist-author Frances Harrison tells ANJANA RAJAN her book on the human suffering engendered by Sri Lanka’s “hidden war” is written with the belief that if people know, they will care

 
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"La Nueva India" ( The New India) is the first Latin American book on the rising of India in the twenty first century in the Spanish language. It was launched on December 4 at Santiago, Chile.

 
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After Joseph S Nye coined the term “Soft Power” (culture, language etc), it became a fad and, for some, an academic necessity to use it to discuss notions of ‘power’ in international politics. Though accepted, still unmo...

 
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This study seeks to solve the following puzzle: In 1947, the Pakistan military was poorly trained and poorly armed. It also inherited highly vulnerable territory vis-à-vis the much bigger India, aggravated because of serious disputes wit...

 
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Author / Editor: P R Kumaraswamy   Middle East Institute at New Delhi, 2012   Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon for MEI@ND, September 2012  

 
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Book: Ramkinkar: The Man and the Artist Author: A. Ramachandran Publisher: NGMA Pages: 168 + plates

 
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The middle class will decide the course of liberalisation in India which will become more micro-level in search of solutions to problems, says writer and journalist Hindol Sengupta in his new book, "The Liberals".

 
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The future of Afghanistan depends upon how it strengthens its fledgling democratic institutions and arrests corruption, says Sujeet Sarkar, the author of a new book on the war-ravaged country.

 
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Author(s): Bipul Chatterjee and Joseph George Publisher: CUTS International

 
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Author(s): Robert D. Lamb, Liora Danan, Joy Aoun, Sadika Hameed, Kathryn Mixon, and Denise St. Peter Publisher :Center for Strategic and International Studies ISBN 978-0-89206-738-1 (pb)

 
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Book: Afghanistan in Transition Beyond 2014? Author: Shanthie Mariet D`Souza (Ed.) Pages: 264 Price : Rs. 795 Publisher: Pentagon  

 
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Book: The Prabhakaran Saga Author: S. Murari Publisher: Sage Publishers Pages: 362 Price: Rs.425

 
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Authors: Rumel Dahiya and Ashok K. Behuria 2012

 
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Book: The Unfinished Memoirs Author: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Translated by Dr Fakrul Alam with a preface by Sheikh Hasina) Publisher: Penguin Viking Pages: 323 Price: Rs 699

 
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The book is a chronological account of the partiation of Punjab Province of British India

 
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Book: Nepal in Transition: From People’s War to Fragile Peace Author: Edited by Sebastian von Einsiedel, David M. Malone and Suman Pradhan Publisher: Cambridge University Press Pages: 398...

 
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Book: The Taliban Cricket Club Author: Timeri N. Murari Publisher: Aleph Pages: 325 Price: Rs 595

 
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Burma has been ruled by a succession of military regimes which rank among the most oppressive dictatorships in the world.

 
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In these turbulent times, Jawaharlal Nehru's policies of non-alignment and mixed economy need to be revisited, says P.C. Jain, author of a book on India's foreign policy during the first prime minister's tenure.

 
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The killing of Osama bin Laden spotlighted Pakistan's unpredictable political dynamics, which are often driven by conspiracy theory, paranoia, and a sense of betrayal. In Pakistan, the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto famously declared, t...

 
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The growing English language publishing industry in India has taken a step north with three veteran publishers - David Davidar, Ravi Singh and Kapish G. Mehra - joining ranks to push high-end literary fiction from the subcont...

 
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The subcontinent can become a paradise in the region by retaining cultural, social and political identities of countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, says former Pakistani Army officer, journalist, writer and commentator Abdul Rahman Si...