CDS: The synergy between the three armed forces
The fifth Military History Session of Valley of Words Literature Festival took place in Blue Star hall at 1010 hrs on the third day of the festival. The session began early with Major General Ian Cardozo’s powerful words while he explained the context of his poem ‘The Unknown Soldier’. His poem was narrated after his speech. The panel for the session were Air Marshall Arjun Subramaniam, Admiral Harish Bisht, Lieutenant General Rakesh Loomba and Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi. Lt Gen. Loomba had replaced Lt Gen. P J S Pannu as the latter could not make it to the session. Mr Shiv Kunal Verma introduced the panel and afterwards handed the session over to them. The topic for this session was “ Post CDS: Will the turf war continue”.
Loomba gave a brief background to the creation of the Chief of Defence Staff. The reluctancy for having a CDS was because it would have led to the reduction of the turf of its stakeholders. Loomba gave a tribute to the current Prime Minister for concluding this issue with a heavy hand. A historical perspective on offices parallel to CDS was provided. The experience of the World Wars had propelled many states to create an office to integrate its armed forces. Even in India, after experiencing the Kargil war, the Kargil War Review Committee was set up which recommended the creation of the office of CDS.
Subramaniam followed up and elucidated on the need for a CDS. He illustrated the point with a simple example : 1+1+1 equals 8, how do you make 1+1+1=8? This is the role of the CDS. Its role is to create a synergy by integrating the three forces under one office to make a stronger force. Thereafter, he spoke on the subsects of creating a CDS and integrating the services. Rapidly changing geopolitics and the nature of war had demanded the armed forces to keep up with this change. India had been doing considerable worse compared to the western countries and its rivals. Creating a CDS would give the armed forces greater stake holding in National Security. The nature of the Forces is such that a piecemeal reform would be sub-optimal. A top-down approach to reforms is required to effect any real change. This involves meeting out reforms in the Ministry of Defence. Subramanian pointed out the impediments to such reforms. The creation of red herrings are one case in particular. The issue is to push through reforms at a level which sits well with its stake holders like the military and the Ministry of Defence. While the military would prefer a top down approach to reform, the MoD would rather have reforms in the middle and lowers levels so that its office remains unaffected.
The next panellists, Admiral Harish Bisht, narrated an anecdote from the Vietnam war where an American General had said ‘the Soviets are our adversary but the Navy its our enemy’. Such sentiments are bound to arise between forces when there is no overarching office which can administer over them. Turf wars, Bisht said, takes place everywhere: families have turf wars and so do small organisations. How much more susceptible would an immense organisation like the armed focres be to turf wars? The announcement of the Office of Chief of Defence staff by the Prime Minister on the ramparts of the Red Fort would see to this difficulty and therefore is a welcome decision. Military strategy demands synergy at various levels. Fighting battles is not the only situation which the armed forces deal with. Ensuring deterrence or the prevention of war is also a crucial responsibility on the shoulder of the Forces. Thereafter, Bisht shared his opinion on what the responsibility of the CDS ought to be and what changes would be favourable to make it better.
Lt Gen. Bakshi was the final panellist of the session. He shared the his perspective on the CDS from 2015 onwards. His accounts were based on personal experience and not on hearsay, as he clarified. The Conference headed by the Prime Minister’s Office in 2017 in Dehradun was an unprecedented and valuable moment to discuss the future of the Indian armed forces. The Conference was themed around ‘Jointness’ where after hearing all the participant officer’s views, the PM proposed the setting up of the CDS. Bakshi praised the PM for his decisive act which concluded a decade long running proposition. He ended his part on a hopeful note and commented: ‘time will tell how the decision will turn out’
After the panellists concluded, a Q&A session was opened were the audience could raise questions to the erudite panel. Maj. Gen. Ian Cardozo was one of the people who raised a question. The engaging session came to a abrupt end when the coordinator announced its closure due to time constraint.
~Samson S Haokip, St Stephens College