Defence and Security

Not fully empowered chief of defence staff is a bad idea

Jan 19, 2017
The expert committee led by Lieutenant General (retd.) D.B. Shekatkar has recently submitted its report to the Defence Minister. The committee, composed mostly of retired senior military officers, was appointed in May 2016 and was tasked with looking at “Enhancing Combat Capability and Rebalancing Defence Expenditure”. Among its many recommendations is the appointment of a single-point military adviser to the Defence Minister. Since Manohar Parrikar has already spoken of his desire to move in this direction, the recommendations of the Shekatkar committee assume greater importance.
The committee has reportedly recommended the new post should be a four-star appointment – equivalent to those of the service chiefs. This top four-star officer is envisaged as a coordinator, who will not impinge on the operation or administrative functions of the military chiefs. The creation of such a post should be accompanied by the integration of the service headquarters with the Ministry of Defence. However, the committee has apparently recommended against integrating the three services into joint commands. This is seen as an American model tailored for expeditionary role rather than homeland defence and hence unsuitable for the Indian context.
While the committee’s recommendations are well-intentioned and such reforms long overdue, the proposed institutional design is deeply problematic. The idea itself is hardly new. The Group of Ministers (GoM) following the Kargil Review Committee called for the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) as a single-point military adviser to the Defence Minister. This stemmed from the lack of integrated planning and operations between the services during the Kargil War. In fact, this is a problem that has plagued the armed forces in every conflict since 1947. The appointment of a CDS was expected to usher in top-down integration among the services and better coordination between the services and the government.
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Hindustan Times, January 18, 2017

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