India’s civilian and military leadership letting the nation down

…by failing to evolve a coherent policy towards the use of force in securing Indian economic and strategic interests, says Harsh Pant.

It is a recurring theme at the INI where we lament the lack of strategic vision and poor leadership hampering India’s rise as a nation. Harsh Pant of King’s College, London joins in with similar concerns.

After having finally decided to send its naval warships to the Gulf of Aden, it is to be hoped that Indian political and military leadership will evolve a coherent policy towards the use of force in securing Indian economic and strategic interests.

There is a broader issue at stake. India is being touted as a global military power whose military capabilities are expanding and which has always had highly professional armed forces well ensconced in a liberal, democratic polity. A rapidly growing economy has given India the ability to spend on its defence readiness like never before. India has emerged as one of the largest arms buyers in the last few years. In line with India’s broadening strategic horizons, its military acquisitions are seeing a marked shift from conventional land-based systems to means of power projection such as airborne refuelling systems and long-range missiles. But it remains unclear under what conditions India would be willing to use force in defending its interests.

This question needs immediate answers and the nation’s civilian and military leaderships have let the nation down by not articulating a vision for the use of Indian military assets. If some suggestions are being made, they verge on being facile. For example, ruling out sending troops to Afghanistan, the Indian Army Chief had suggested some time back that “India takes part only in UN approved/sanctioned military operations and the UN has not mandated this action in Afghanistan so there is no question of India participating in it”.

The Army Chief’s statement was not only factually inaccurate but also demonstrated a fundamental misreading of Indian security policy. Much like other nations, India has tended to accept or ignore the United Nations as per the demands of its national interests. India cannot cede authority to international organisations as ineffective as the UN on matters of national security, but if history is any guide India has done exactly that.

Indian leadership has in recent times given the impression that the role it sees for India in global security is not shaped by its own assessment of its interests and values but by the judgements of global institutions like the UN. The Indian armed forces remain obsessed with China and Pakistan while the civilian leadership lacks any substantive and sophisticated understanding of the role of force in foreign and security policy.

A large share of Indian media and strategic experts, especially among the co-opted think tanks, are obsessed with advocating big ticket acquisitions and pointing out undue delays in acquiring weapons systems, to the exclusion of everything else. The other major grudge is about the declining share of defence expenditure as a share of GDP. These experts conveniently ignore the meteoric rise in GDP over the last few yaers which makes the absolute value of defence expenditure very high. So much so that the unexpended money has been returned by the defence ministry and the three services for the last 10 years now.

These experts also do not look at the pathetic ratio of capital to revenue expenditure, which is further distorted by an ever-increasing salaries and pensions bill. There is even lesser critical analysis of the top military leadership, doctrine, strategy and tactics while the subject of reform and restructuring the services remains a taboo in these circles. This has led to a reinforcement of the status quo, which is a comfort zone for the military leadership in the country. Harsh Pant rightly points out –

A lot of attention is being paid to the fact that India will be spending around $40 billion on military modernisation in the next five years and is buying military hardware useful for projection of power far beyond its shores such as C-130 transport planes, airborne refuelling tankers, and aircraft carriers. But such purchases in and of themselves does not imply a clear sense of purpose. Indian armed forces are today operating in a strategic void under a weak leadership unable to fully comprehend the changing strategic and operational milieu. At a time when Indian interests are becoming global in nature, India cannot continue with its moribund approach of the yore. It is up to the civilian leadership to come up with a credible policy on the use of armed forces and it is up to the military leadership to provide them some sound guidance.

The changes that Harsh desires and this nation needs will not happen on their own. They will be driven by a root-and-branch reform of the Indian defence services and the national security setup in the country. It will either need a monumental military failure or a strong political will, that has never been displayed before in this country, to get this process going. Till then, the national security setup in this country — with a rudderless political leadership at the helm, supported by a dysfunctional bureaucratic system and a vacuous military leadership — will continue its downward slide.

Who cares? Let us not even touch upon the urgent need for a Blue Ribbon Commission for defence in this country.

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16 Responses to India’s civilian and military leadership letting the nation down

  1. realistic December 18, 2008 at 10:20 pm #

    “This is essentially a Nehruvian hangover. Jawaharlal Nehru insisted that the military must be outside independent India’s policymaking if the country were to shed the tradition of the British raj where the commander-in-chief was second only to the viceroy in the cabinet. That apart, Nehru cut defence spending to 1 per cent of India’s GDP. As a consequence this country was humiliated by the Chinese aggression of 1962. Nehru’s legacy of uninformed politicians and half-informed bureaucrats running the ministry of defence is still alive in Raisina Hill. In short, the lack of understanding of national security issues amongst the neta-babu set-up is glaringly evident.
    If India has to become a great power then Nehru’s legacy of civilian supremacy in matters of national security must be abandoned. Just as the Indian economy was turned around by a group of technocratic professionals led by Manmohan Singh in 1990, at this dark hour, we need two cabinet ministers one each for the ministry of defence and a new ministry of internal security who understand what military options India can now exercise.”

    link

  2. indian December 18, 2008 at 10:22 pm #

    1. ‘It is up to the civilian leadership to come up with a credible policy on the use of armed forces and it is up to the military leadership to provide them some sound guidance.’

    Very true, but the civilian leadership needs to have at least the basic knowledge of the functioning of Armed forces and not go by heresay or half baked knowledge

    2. ‘The Indian armed forces remain obsessed with China and Pakistan while the civilian leadership lacks any substantive and sophisticated understanding of the role of force in foreign and security policy.’

    Please correct the statement to the ‘indian civilian/ political leadership… remains obsessed with …..’ while the armwed forces want to expand horizons through interaction with other world military powers, it is the civilian/ beurocratic thinking that prevents/ delays modernisation of the forcer.

  3. Sanjay December 19, 2008 at 4:20 am #

    I find that at the root of it all, it’s the Indian people which are letting society down. The leadership, after all, rests upon the voter base, and the voters don’t care to adopt suitably nationalistic policies in order to confront clear and present dangers. Instead, the public choose to deride nationalism and scoff at it — with inevitably tragic results.

    Nationalism isn’t some arbitrary whimsical choice — it’s the appropriate response to living in a tough neighborhood, where the country is surrounded by hostile neighbors. Refusing to acknowledge these realities and instead blindly insisting upon leftist utopian pacifism is only going to get more people killed.

    They say that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged. Well, no matter how many muggings occur, Indian liberals seem to be very slow to learn. Perhaps what’s necessary is for Islamic terrorism to strike the home of Raj-dupe Sardesai or Burkha Dutt, and then they can see how much they like it.

    Part of the Indian public’s blindness is due to the failure of the media, whose corruption is far more overt and concentrated than that of the govt.
    In a free and democratic society, the media is suppose to give vent to public opinion. But in an undemocratic society, the media is a tool of the govt to impose opinions onto the public. Our Indian media are more a reflection of an undemocratic society than of a democratic one. They try to impose the opinions of the ruling Congress onto the people. They’re trying to brainwash the masses, in the same style as a one-party state.

    I’ve been a supporter of the 123 Nuclear Deal with the US so far, but now I’m beginning to wonder if this was a deal to help Congress rather than a deal to help India. I’m worrying that India is now quickly becoming a One Party state, in the same manner as Japan was for so many decades under its dishonest LDP.

    The way the Congress govt is rampantly abusing its authority to keep itself in power is a disturbing sign. The way that the media are quickly becoming pliant sycophants complicit in Congress rule has been made disturbingly obvious from their post-Mumbai spin-doctoring.

  4. Dr K Prabhakar Rao December 19, 2008 at 7:21 am #

    Please read articles

    American failures in containing Pakistan
    Old wine innew Bottle
    India caught with pants down
    India over expecting from Pakistan
    India trying to tighten belt that is not there

    Progressive Islam.org

    There is no doubt that Civilians and Navy too has let dow the nation badly.As you said, there was no planning to prevent such mishaps. It is more or less wild goose chase going on in this country On one hand our rocket reached moon orbit while behind we have been smashed very badly.

    Thanks

    Dr K Prabhakar rao

  5. MB December 19, 2008 at 8:50 pm #

    A few key points from: Needed: A responsible government, and with some luck, a responsible super-power

    * Allocate 2% of GDP to defense including defense against terror.
    * Develop Covert Action Capability.

  6. indian December 19, 2008 at 10:07 pm #

    No political leader/ very few beurocrats have even the remotest connection with the Services. In the history of independent India, none has sent his progeny to the services. Therefore, they can neither relate to the military nor empathise with their lot.
    Political leadership is inadequately qualified and equipped. Any politician with no knowledge of national security imperatives can be appointed as India’s defence minister. They neither possess basic military knowledge nor display any penchant for educating themselves. Further, there is no culture of orientation training or briefing. Inadequacies of the political leadership result in their over dependence on the bureaucracy for governance.
    Most importantly, soldiers do not count as a worthwhile vote-bank and hence do not need to be cultivated.

    “When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,

    While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.

    Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,

    But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.

    Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land,

    A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?

    Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,

    Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?”

  7. indian December 19, 2008 at 10:08 pm #

    India will do well to remember the advice offered by Kautilya to Chandragupta on the treatment of soldiers. He said, “Pataliputra reposes each night in peaceful comfort secure in the belief that the distant borders of Magadha are inviolate and the interiors are safe and secure, thanks only to the Mauryan Army standing vigil with naked swords and eyes peeled for action, day and night, in weather fair and foul, all eight praharas (round the clock), quite unmindful of personal discomfort and hardship, all through the year, year after year. While the citizenry of the State contributes to see that the State prospers and flourishes, the soldier guarantees it continues to exist as a State! The day when the soldier has to demand his dues or, worse, plead for them, will also bode ill for the State. For then, on that day, you, My Lord, will have lost all moral sanction to be the King! It will also be the beginning of the end of the Mauryan Empire!”

  8. k_ram December 19, 2008 at 10:16 pm #

    Knowing the intellectual prowess of our bloggers, can I throw in an out of box thought, just for the sake of debate?

    It is at times difficult to believe that we also live in the same land which gave the world one of the greatest strategists the world has ever seen – Chanakya. Strategic vision, ability to visualise the place we want to be, and, the way to go about it – all these need brains that can do abstract thinking. We are good at following precedents but when it comes to treading where no one has ever gone before induces fear within us. There is a sense of inadequacy that prevents us from voicing or even thinking about options for which there are no precedents.

    Consider the happenings at Afghanistan. What exactly is going on there? Who are the players there? What are their strategic interests? What interests of India are at stake there? Can we move out of our myopic obsession with Pakistan and understand the immense geo-political stakes that are being fought for?

    What are the interests of the US? Are they restricted to ‘War on Terror’? Can it be also a power play to exorcise the influence of Russians in Central Asia, shut the door on China and stop Iran in its tracks? Are we being used as a cat’s paw by the USA? What is the real agenda behind the Nuclear Deal? Is it an attempt to entrap India into the US sphere of influence? Where does the anxiety of the USA to preserve the dollar hegemony as the world’s premier currency figure in?

    What are the interests of Russia? Are there fundamental discords between its short term and long term goals? Are the Russian concerns about safeguarding the Russian people wherever they are (as seen in the invasion of Georgia) hiding its larger concerns regarding the demographic implosion that is hitting Russia? What does it need to worry about more in the long term – Islamisation of ethnic Russians or the demographic invasion of Chinese in Far East Russia? Knowing that Russians do not perceive India as a threat by any yard stick, how are we going to leverage this factor?

    Where does China stand? How far will she stretch out on a limb for her ‘all weather friend’ Pakistan? What is the perception of the strategic establishment of China? Where does it want to be in say 2025 or 2050? Is there space in Asia for a resurgent India and a developed China? Do we need to sensitise our youth to seriously take up studies on China, learn Mandarin etc? If we do so, how best can we employ them?

    Where does Europe stand in all this chaos? Will Europe survive as a viable entity, say 50 years down the line, given that Europe also is facing a demographic decline?

    What is going to be the place of Islam when all this takes place? Will it be aggressively expanding or would have sobered down? What role will it play in redrawing national, ethnic and religious boundaries of the World?

    What are the interests of Iran? Can a powerful Al Qaeda be a friend of Iran? How does Iran perceive India? Can the long term interests of the USA and Iran coincide (in case radical Sunni Islam takes over large swathes of land in Africa, Arabia and Central Asia)?

    We can start with a list of questions with each question, by itself, meriting a chair of studies. Except the JNU, where in India can we see institutions which seriously discuss these issues? Having raised all these questions let me proceed to put in my two penny worth.

    Firstly, strategic thinking and strategic discourse in India, with a few honourable exceptions, are led by ‘cut and paste’ artists who masquerade as specialists. Throw in our media’s penchant for instant gratification and willingness of these worthies to ‘rent a byte’ the concoction that passes for strategy would be a laugh!

    Secondly, there are no institutional mechanisms, either in the Civil Services or in the Armed Forces that discuss abstractions, wild ideas. Starting from the syllabi till the exams, everything follows a type-cast pattern leading to predictability in our ideas and views. In fact, parrot would have served better as India’s national bird as the culture of parroting starts from our cradles and remains with us till we become ash and dust.

    So, what do we need to do? Let us start with the reformation of our educational system. Today’s over reliance on engineering courses, especially IT, has robbed the better brains into a vortex of chasing seats and jobs in those sectors leaving the Arts subjects as poor cousins. There is a lot of value in educating our children in Arts – especially history, political science, economics, philosophy, theology etc. Sequential thinking is both the sine qua non and the requirement of Engineering education whereas Arts deal with abstracts. It is not for nothing that Renaissance Europe profusely dallied in Arts which resulted in the production of an unending stream of geniuses for almost three centuries. Art subjects kindle the inquisitive spirit within us and allow us to wander into unexplored spaces. In the world of arts proofs of every idea are not demanded, arguments are a way of life, abstractions are not frowned upon and originality welcomed.

    Coming to the discussion proper, absence of strategic thought can lead us nowhere. How many of our leaders can claim to be serious readers of the writings of say Chairman Mao which till date influence the thoughts and actions of China? Dealing with either Islamic fundamentalism or the naxalite menace needs a comprehensive understanding of the ideological foundations of these movements. What is the importance that is being given to such studies? Economic planners of India who are sold on free markets, drugged by the charm of Keynesian economics or being camp followers of Friedman do not take cognizance of the writings of say Ludwig Von Mises of yore or Henry CK Liu? Can the Indian public believe the fact that the present global crisis has been foretold by Mr Liu and his associates at Asia Times On Line way back in 2005/06?

    We have now hastily rushed towards the formation of the NIA. There is a need to hand pick a leader a la Hoover, give him/her a free hand to select the core group, allocate resources, frame the charter, demarcate the responsibilities between the CBI and NIA and then stand by the Director, NIA during the incubation period. No political interference, no nepotism – a wish list perhaps but definitely the right way to go about creating a professional agency. Will it be done? Only time will tell.

    Informed debate in all affairs, be it strategy (military or otherwise), economics, geo-politics, law, commerce or history is absent in our academic circles, the Parliament or the media. Lone voices which crop up infrequently are either ignored or ridiculed. The quality of discourse is at best pedestrian, not supported by knowledge or experience and that passes in India for strategic thought. If that is the case, are we fair in just blaming our generals? All things considered, they are par for the course!!!

  9. Ajay December 19, 2008 at 10:35 pm #

    Sanjay

    I agree 100% with you that voters are to blame for the situation of the country. In a democracy, its ultimately voters who are responsible. I don’t know why educated Indians don’t understand something so simple.

  10. prakash December 19, 2008 at 10:41 pm #

    DID U watch todays news about GOMLA Devi.. DO I need to say anything more……

  11. depps December 20, 2008 at 12:49 am #

    @k_ram

    Sir, why don’t u start a blog. we would like to have a larger or macro perspective esp with national interest in mind.

  12. Kaps December 20, 2008 at 10:35 am #

    Pragmatic:

    “It will either need a monumental military failure or a strong political will, that has never been displayed before in this country, to get this process going.”

    This is the crux of the problem; lack of credible leadership. Starting from Nehru who believed in Gandhian Utopia of a nation state, we have seen leaders, rather politicians, singularly lacking in vision of Nation Building. Apart from Sardar Patel, till date we have not seen any one who shows any vision or penchant for the idea of India. NaMo namah maybe!

    k_ram:

    “It is not for nothing that Renaissance Europe profusely dallied in Arts which resulted in the production of an unending stream of geniuses for almost three centuries.”

    Throughout the history, during days of monarchy, great rulers have been identified with the great works of art they have left behind. It is during these periods that the genius of Indian sub-continent has flourished. Revamping the educational system requires radical thinking. Do we have that kind of thinking amongst our leaders? a big NO is the answer. Dr MMS routinely unveils or releases books and essays by eminent thinkers. Does he ever take time to read them or understand them? He is a bureaucrat by nature and will work only according to orders given to him. It is unfortunate that the person giving those orders is known more for the “supreme political sacrifice” than any strategic or visionary finesse.

    I am a great believer in the process of evolution and believe that things should evolve at their pace rather than revolutionary changes. However, evolution does not favor the dodos. Only the strongest survive. Are we the strongest? Will we survive? Only time will tell, because those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.

  13. Aam Insaan December 20, 2008 at 3:28 pm #

    k_ram
    ‘our myopic obsession with Pakistan’
    – China, that’s the real enemy behind the screen & Pakistan is merely the ugly face, Pakistan is of mere nuisance value, as are the Indian commies, the enemy within, but your myopic obsession with the USA is starkly visible…

    ‘Russians do not perceive India as a threat by any yard stick, how are we going to leverage this factor?’
    —An ignorant suggestion, It’ common knowledge that the Russians weight is always behind our back…

    ‘Do we need to sensitise our youth to seriously take up studies on China, learn Mandarin etc?’
    —why don’t you suggest to your Chinese Masters to learn ‘Bhojpuri’ instead…lol…

    ‘Where does Europe stand in all this chaos?’
    —on smart grounds…

    ‘What is going to be the place of Islam when all this takes place?’
    Reform or Perish!

    ‘the USA and Iran coincide’
    —Hallucination!

    ‘the JNU’
    —True to it’ name—The Global seat of Intellectual Bankruptcy…

    ‘Firstly, strategic thinking and strategic discourse in India, with a few honourable exceptions, are led by ‘cut and paste’ artists who masquerade as specialists.’
    —Yeah, as yours is from the CPM Politburo…

    ‘How many of our leaders can claim to be serious readers of the writings of say Chairman Mao’
    —AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH, That Psychopath! Fellow Indians let’s say a small prayer & thank our stars…MAO IS DEAD…

    ‘Chanakya. Strategic vision’
    —A sly but feeble attempt by comrade k_ram to camouflage his pervert communist leanings & gain some credibility for the gibberish hocus-pocus to follow…

  14. Yash December 20, 2008 at 9:31 pm #

    “The changes that Harsh desires and this nation needs will not happen on their own. They will be driven by a root-and-branch reform of the Indian defence services and the national security setup in the country.”

    Prag, i have been asking time and again, please list some of the reforms that u want. we have enough of these armchair journalists who talk of it, but are at a loss to explain what exactly they want (some of them do come out with some but fail to stand up to common reasoning of functioning of military forces).

  15. Yash December 27, 2008 at 4:00 pm #

    “This question needs immediate answers and the nation’s civilian and military leaderships have let the nation down by not articulating a vision for the use of Indian military assets. If some suggestions are being made, they verge on being facile. For example, ruling out sending troops to Afghanistan, the Indian Army Chief had suggested some time back that “India takes part only in UN approved/sanctioned military operations and the UN has not mandated this action in Afghanistan so there is no question of India participating in it”.”

    i lament ur lack of knowledge of functioning of the govt. the chief has no say in formulation of the policies. they are laid down by MEA for employment outside india and by MoD inside india. he has just repeated the policy laid down by the govt, not given his views.

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