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Chief of defence staff

Context: On Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

When was it first proposed?

Officially, this post was first proposed by the Group of Ministers Report in 2001 but the idea for a CDS can be traced back to Lord Louis Mountbatten, the architect of India’s higher defence organisation.

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Challenges ahead and ways to address them:

  1. Implementation is key: The Prime Minister needs to be bold with this initiative and should understand that his military and civilian advisers, institutionally, have an interest in undermining it.
  2. An “implementation committee” has been established comprising the Defence Secretary, Chief of Integrated Defence Staff and other unnamed officers. This itself is a mistake. The committee should ideally be headed by a political leader and/or a rank outsider, who should have no skin in the game. Indeed, the experience of defence reforms in other countries suggests that it is best to have qualified ‘outsiders’ involved in the process. Serving officials can of course assist such an individual or a team but expecting them to, if necessary, curtail their own powers is quixotic.
  3. Appointing the first CDS: The government need not go with the seniority rule and should instead consider a “deep selection” from current pool of flag officers. To begin with, and to assuage the fears of the smaller services, it may be wise to not let an Army officer to first tenet this post. Moreover, it is not necessary, or perhaps even desirable, for a former service chief to be appointed as the CDS. As a fulcrum for future defence transformation and armed with a possible mandate to examine inter-services prioritisation, long-term planning, officer education (including the perennially-imminent Indian National Defence University) and jointness, the CDS can emerge as the biggest “game changer”.
  4. Inter-se relations between the military and the Ministry of Defence: This needs to focus on capacity, expertise, decision-making powers and aligning responsibility and accountability. The relations between the civilian bureaucracy and the military are among the biggest fault-lines in the defence apparatus and remedial actions are required, on both sides, to create a professional, well-developed and qualified bureaucracy which integrates both civilian-military expertise.

Need for a CDS:

  • India’s is perhaps the only large military wherein the service chiefs retain both operational and staff functions.
  • This anomaly cannot continue merely because that is the tradition.
  • If this government wants a “new India” it will have to break decisively from the past and draw up a time-bound road map to divest the chiefs of their operational command.

About the Chief of Defence Staff:

  • The CDS is a high military office that oversees and coordinates the working of the three Services.

Roles and functions of CDS:

  1. CDS shall provide “effective leadership at the top level” to the three wings of the armed forces, and to help improve coordination among them.
  2. It offers seamless tri-service views and single-point advice to the Executive (in India’s case, to the Prime Minister) on long-term defence planning and management, including manpower, equipment and strategy, and above all, “jointsmanship” in operations.


Current Affairs 2020

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