Defence Planning Committee is not enough to fight security challenges. India needs a chief of defence staff
The ministry of defence bureaucracy will certainly have to increase its pace in decision-making instead of endless comments and notings on file.
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In April, the central government announced the creation of a Defence Planning Committee (DPC) that includes the top military leadership and is chaired by the national security adviser. The DPC also includes the defence secretary, foreign secretary and, notably, the revenue secretary. The Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff ( HQ IDS) is to serve as its secretariat.
Among the major tasks of the DPC are the formulation of important documents like national security strategy and strategic defence review and doctrines. It will also chalk out the international defence engagement strategy, plan to boost defence exports and prioritised capability development for the armed forces. The committee will have four sub-committees to perform all its tasks.
A few questions come up for deliberations. The committee will be served by the HQ IDS, which was expected to ultimately pave the way for the appointment of a chief of defence staff (CDS). The CDS is considered extremely important for joint-operation of three services, as would invariably be required should we have to go to war. The moot question is: Is the DPC the endgame for and state burial of the concept of a CDS?
The Kargil Review Committee report that was constituted in the aftermath of a bitter campaign, opted for a CDS. The recommendations were made immediately after a bloody and bitter conflict. Such circumstances serve to highlight the military needs lucidly and spur a more candid approach to issues.
Defence mechanism: The Defence Planning Committee includes the top military leadership and is chaired by the national security adviser.
The more recent Shekatkar Committee also upheld the requirement of a CDS. The issues that have been entrusted to the DPC doesn’t and cannot address all areas that a CDS would be required to address. Shouldn’t CDS have been the priority rather than another committee?
An omission in the committee is the home secretary. The formulation of a national security doctrine requires inputs on internal security. Leaving out the home secretary is obviously not the expected course. The other view is if we have too many members, the amalgam will slow its progress. If the DPC is to move at a pace that is required of it, a lean structure promises higher payoffs.
The big advantage of having a DPC is drawing the core officials concerned on to the same table, of course the home secretary apart. So far, defence planning has been undertaken in a relative void with the doctrinal and review aspects not being stated by the government. The plans have been based on assumptions by the military itself. With the DPC formulating the doctrinal aspects, military planners will have the requisite guidelines from the government.
We have also not laid out our objectives in different threat scenarios that pan the spectrum from a single front to two-and-a-half front simultaneous threat. The only objective that the nation has heard of is the rhetoric: we will not accept the loss of an inch of our land (never mind the levels of threat).
Such objectives are, of course, militarily unattainable and cannot serve as planning parameters. With a DPC in place these ambiguities will give way to clearer directions.
The issue of CDS crops up repeatedly when the newly formed DPC is discussed. The concept of CDS also implied that the political leadership gets its inputs directly from the man who strategises operational planning, employment of military resources and is accountable for both force readiness and achieving politico-military objectives of war.
With a CDS not yet in place, do the services have a chance of reaching out to the prime minister through a faster channel – the DPC? As per the directive, the DPC would be forwarding its reports to the defence minister. The current national security adviser enjoys the PM’s trust and it can be definitely be stated that future NSAs too will have the same rapport with their PM, since they would also be appointed by the PM. However, the flip side of the story throws up a question: would the raksha mantri be losing influence in the bargain?
Battle-ready: The rejuvenated forces will need to come together to win a war — something that only a CDS can bring in.
The ministry of defence bureaucracy will certainly have to increase its pace in decision-making instead of endless comments and notings on file. We have had defence ministers in the past who have spent their time apparently more in a meditative state rather than applying themselves to military capability-building.
With a DPC in place, if they delay their processing, the issues could reach the PM through the NSA, as they are caught flat-footed.
The formation of the DPC would be considered a milestone achievement should it be able to produce the strategic documents that it has been tasked to. These have also to be produced in an acceptable time frame, something that the agency needs to publically announce.
The role of the expenditure secretary would be very crucial. The need to give equal importance to both growth and security of the nation is an imperative that both our political leadership and senior bureaucracy has to perceive.
Finally, the need for creation of the CDS is not necessarily influenced by the DPC. Even if we were to get our doctrines, military diplomacy, defence production and exports and capability development right, the rejuvenated forces will need to come together to win a war — something that only a CDS can bring in.
A lot depends on how the DPC is led. The current NSA has been instrumental in the display of our national resolve to both our western and northern neighbours, the surgical strikes and Doklam standoff being examples. Should we want to strengthen this resolve with hard military power, a CDS is required. In fact, the DPC perhaps provides an opportunity to pursue the case for a CDS to be pursued more strongly.