Leave it to the Generals

How is it that, with the advent of the Narendra Modi government, there has been so little substantive change in India’s foreign and military policies? The short answer is that political leaders don’t decide either the direction or content of policies; it is the “permanent secretariat”, comprising senior civil servants, diplomats,and the military brass, that configures policies according to its bureaucratic lights. That’s because the elected political leaders have little interest in these areas and no clear ideas or, as in the case of Modi, believe in an “empowered” bureaucracy to conduct the business of state. Hence, the implementers of policy in the Indian system by default end up shaping policy and its contents. This is particularly conspicuous in the national security sphere.

Deciding which country (China or Pakistan, for instance) constitutes the main threat is a manifestly political decision, as is the sort of war the armed services should prepare to fight — “limited aims, short duration” conflicts or “total war for victory” — which, in turn, will determine whether it is a “war of manoeuvre” that will be prosecuted or “war of annihilation”. This will require the military only to orient itself to the designated threat and alight on the appropriate plans to achieve the politically desired strategic aim. But this policymaking role has been expropriated by the armed services. It is an arrangement that is now sought to be formalised. Surprisingly, there’s no fuss about it.

The committee of experts headed by former Home Secretary Dhirendra Singh, appointed to suggest amendments to the Defence Procurement Procedure 2013, submitted its report on July 23. It tried sneakily to legitimate the authority of the armed services to configure defence policy. The intention to remove the political leadership from the defence policy loop is stated upfront.

In the first paragraph of its lead chapter, the report asserts “that whereas primacy has to be accorded to policymakers in strategic planning… the balance of advantage needs to shift to the armed forces in the matter of the choice of the characteristics of defence systems and equipment based on user preference and tactical and operational doctrines”. It doesn’t explain why this should be so. Further, “strategic planning” is dismissed as a mere accounting of “domestic compulsions (including resource allocations) and international relations”, and the “political executive” is turfed out of the business of defining and grading threats and imposing the parameters of war by subsuming these seminal tasks under the rubric, curiously, of military “modernisation”.

“Modernisation”, the report claims, “is not merely induction of new types of equipment, but a mix of strategy and security perceptions and optimum use of hardware to achieve stated national objectives” before affirming plainly that “Services should lead the initiative for modernisation”. This is hugely muddled thinking, considering that the process of perceiving threats and alighting on strategy is based on national vision. With no vision document from the government to guide the defence forces and this entire policy field ceded by the political masters to the military as its professional domain, it is little wonder that the entire security policy realm has been reduced to making hardware choices.

In the event, the government is supposed to merely meet the military’s needs already decided by the armed services. The report advises against disaggregated buys of equipment as financial resources may allow, recommending instead the purchase of armaments as a “total package” for full theatre-level warfighting capability, whether or not the country can afford it. In this respect, the document mentions not China, the principal challenge but, implicitly, the perennial punching bag, Pakistan, a “threat” that justifies the most capital-intensive, least-likely-to-be-used fighting assets: the massive armoured and mechanised forces constituting a powerful bureaucratic vested interest.

Such “total” packaging of acquisitions may not dent the Pakistan army in war, but the wrong military emphasis is guaranteed to leave the country vulnerable to China, and financially sink India. After rejecting the lead chapter of the report, only such parts of it ought to be accepted as relate to improving the defence procurement process and system — an ongoing national disaster.
———-
Published in the Indian Express, September 29, 2015; at
http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/leave-it-to-the-generals/#sthash.4IUzJ9SN.dpuf

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian Politics, SAARC, society, South Asia, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Leave it to the Generals

  1. Shail says:

    So what does the NSA and RM do then?

  2. Archit says:

    Dr Karnad, your views are sound in a democracy, but surely such an important document must have been vetted by the ministers before being published. Secondly what do you envisage that the the system should look like is not very clear to me from your post, though obviously maybe the defence readers here and other few readers may be able to make out. I mean, who actually makes the policy? is it the Army ppl? What is lead in modernisation? i.e. manufacturing is upto the industry and scientists. Why should Army make tanks guns etc? They just need to plan, prepare and fight our enemy. What is wrong with consulting Army for Policy? Colin Powell was US Defsec. George Bush Sr was US Navy Pilot. Eisenhower was a general, Even Winston Churchill, Marshal Tito and many others in many other countries were Army ppl. Such ppl have seen actual problems on ground and are wise in planning by their experience and judgement. Why cant we take expert help from some army ppl and Think Tanks, when no bureaucrat serves more than 2-3 yrs in defence ministry? Why should a minister or bureaucrat decide what gun or tank to buy when he has not even been in NCC? They are all generally transferred from one minstry to other all the time. If conceptual understanding is all that is required, anyone can read a book and become a Professor or Engineer or doctor. It is not very clear what flaw you are saying , (though again I am not any expert here.) I think 21st century is the age of professionals and not the generalist managers. To be a world class power, we must learn from other powerful countries and companies like Google and Microsoft and Apple also. They take only professionals in the field.

    • There’s, of course, a presumption of infallibility of any high-level government-appointed committees. But, at least in theory, this report, for instance, would first be examined by the RM who’ll decide on the political acceptability of the whole report or parts of it. So, let’s wait and see what Parrikar — prompted by the PMO will do, meaning how much of the report he’ll, in fact, accept and implement as MOD policy.

      • Shaurya says:

        In support of the above view.

        Taking just one recommendation of the above report to highlight something. What will be interesting to watch is in how much time does this one single recommendation, makes it into law and the codes of the finance ministry. Execution of these recommendations would make this government different from the rest. We will hope and watch.

        [quote]Incentivise the Industry. The industry participating in ‘Make’ schemes of MoD
        may be given tax incentives by way of categorizing their contribution (i.e.20% of the
        development cost of the scheme) as being qualified for treatment as R&D expenditure.
        Further, 300% weighted tax deduction of such development cost in Defence schemes
        should be considered against 200% given by Department of Science &Technology.[/quote]

  3. Shail says:

    The new DPP was eagerly awaited for its “Make in India” push. Lets hope Indian Industry benefits and we get some actual time bound and high quality systems due to this. The other part…our politicians and bureaucrats…the lesser said the better

  4. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    ‘“Modernisation”, the report claims, “is not merely induction of new types of equipment, but a mix of strategy and security perceptions and optimum use of hardware to achieve stated national objectives” before affirming plainly that “Services should lead the initiative for modernisation”. This is hugely muddled thinking, considering that the process of perceiving threats and alighting on strategy is based on national vision. With no vision document from the government to guide the defence forces and this entire policy field ceded by the political masters to the military as its professional domain, it is little wonder that the entire security policy realm has been reduced to making hardware choices.’

    Couple that to :

    “content with stifling Pakistan!”

    And there is a major case of the lethargic dog being shaken around by its tail.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      http://ajaishukla.blogspot.in/2015/10/defence-acquisition-council-dac-to.html
      “To bring the IAF around to accepting the HTT-40, the defence ministry cut a deal in the DAC in February. It was agreed the IAF would buy 38 more Pilatus trainers under the “options clause” of the May 24, 2012 contract for 75 PC-7 Mark II aircraft. HAL, in turn, agreed to pare down its HTT-40 order to 70 aircraft from the promised 106. HAL said at least 70 trainers were needed for economical production.”

      Hud bhi koi nahi hai yaar. Arjun is below Economic run. LCA had to be rammed down their throats for a bare minimum order quantity. HTT-40 required a bitch haggling and still restricted to only the barely economic production run. The best Generals that Pakis and Chinese could ever have are right here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s