The elements of military service

A strategic concept for Indian defence services.

The fundamental element of a military service is its purpose or role in implementing national policy. The statement of this role may be called the strategic concept of the service. Basically, this concept is a description of how, when, and where the military service expects to protect the nation against some threat to its security. If a military service does not possess such a concept, it becomes purpose-less, it wallows about amid a variety of conflicting and confusing goals, and ultimately it suffers both physical and moral degeneration. A military service may at times, of course, perform functions unrelated to external security, such as internal policing, disaster relief, and citizenship training. These are, however, subordinate and collateral responsibilities. A military service does not exist to perform these functions; rather it performs these functions because it has already been called into existence to meet some threat to the national security. A service is many things; it is men, weapons, bases, equipment, traditions, organization. But none of these have meaning or usefulness unless there is a unifying purpose which shapes and directs their relations and activities towards the achievement of some goal of national policy.

A second element of military service is the resources, human and material, which are required to implement its strategic concept. To secure these resources it is necessary for society to forego the alternative uses to which these resources might be put and to acquiesce in their allocation to the military service. Thus, the resources which a service is able to obtain in a democratic society are a function of the public support of that service. The service has the responsibility to develop this necessary support, and it can only do this if it possesses a strategic concept which clearly formulates its relationship to the national security. Hence this second element of public support is in the long run, dependent upon the strategic concept of the service. If a service does not posses a well defined strategic concept, the public and the political leaders will be confused as to the role of the service, uncertain as to the necessity of its existence and apathetic or hostile to the claims made by the service upon the resources of society.

Organizational structure is the third element of a military service. For given these first two elements, it becomes necessary to group the resources allocated by society in such a manner as most effectively to implement the strategic concept. Thus the nature of the organization likewise is dependent upon the nature of the strategic concept. Hence there is no such thing as the ideal form of military organization. The type of organization which may be appropriate for one military service carrying our one particular strategic concept may be quite inappropriate for another service with a different concept. This is true not only in the lower realms of tactical organization but also in the higher reaches of administrative and departmental structure.

In summary, then, a military service may be viewed as consisting of a strategic concept which defines the role of the service in national policy, public support which furnishes it with the resources to perform this role, and organizational structure which groups the resources so as to implement most effectively the strategic concept.

Shifts in the international balance of power will inevitably bring about changes in the principal threats to the security of any given nation. These must be met by shifts in national policy and corresponding changes in service strategic concepts. A military service capable to meeting one threat to the national security loses its reason for existence when that threat weakens or disappears. If the service is to continue to exist, it must develop a new strategic concept related to some other security threat. As its strategic role changes, it may likewise be necessary for the service to expand, contract, or alter its sources of public support and also to revamp its organizational structure in the light of this changing mission.[USNI Blog]

This essay [HT: Nitin Pai] was penned in May 1954 by Samuel Huntington, when he was 27-year old, for the USNI Proceedings magazine. As the debate over the civil-military relations in India has been so much in the spotlight, this piece raises some fundamental questions that the Indian defence services should try and honestly answer. When the military veterans indulge in emotional blackmail or the defence services pass the buck on to the neta-babu nexus for all the ills afflicting them, they do a great disservice to the services, their members and the nation at large.

It is perhaps too much to expect the feudal remnants of a colonial armed force to define its strategic concept, which would be relevant to a modern, twenty-first century India and its geopolitical environment. Unless the defence services get over their colonial hangover, they will not be able to lay a justifiable claim to the resources from the society. And they need to revamp their organisational structure to suit their modern strategic concept. As it is highly unlikely that Indian defence services would be able to do all this on their own, a Blue Ribbon Commission for defence is the only answer; something that should be on the top of the agenda of the new government at Delhi.

The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is, in fact, a return to the idealised past. ~Robertson Davies


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9 Responses to The elements of military service

  1. Sathye March 11, 2009 at 11:59 pm #

    The one entity in our nation which has clarity beyond doubt about its role and purpose is our Armed Forces (i.e. the three services).

    As for public support is has been overwhelming and consistent.

    As it appears that the service evokes extreme envy in certain small sections by its uncompromising adherence to standards and the certainty it commands in accomplishment of its well defined role.
    This may be problem for a bunch of who is out to demoralise this last bastion. Services has never been a holy cow in this country……. in fact it never attempted to be any cow for that matter …….except being amongst the true professional forces in the world by its training and conduct.


  2. yogi March 12, 2009 at 7:44 am #

    Samuel Huntington has penned many a seminal works on the subject. Most outstanding one is `Soldier and State, which defines the correct relationship between the two. I commend this work especially to those who normally infest our state appratus.

  3. Nitin March 12, 2009 at 10:46 am #

    Most of what Sam Huntington said was correct and remains correct to this day. However, the interpretation by the author is less than intelligent.

    The military veterans contend that a Babu-politico nexus exist that has denied them their rightful due. The case for this argument has been made very convincingly by the veterans in many places. It is based on facts that are verifiable.

    However the judgement by the author “they do a great disservice to the services, their members and the nation at large” – is an emotional statement which is not backed by facts. The author has made this statements without proving the facts provided by veterans as wrong.
    To a neutral observer like me, quoting Sam Huntington out of context and then linking it up with grievances – real or percieved – of the veterans – is the stuff that comprises emotional and intellectual blackmail.

    Therefore, Sam Huntington’s strategic concept is reasonable, the veterans demands backed by facts are reasonable, Reform of the Armed Forces using a commission is also reasonable – but linking all this up and creating an intellectual and emotional ‘halua’ or ‘pot-pourri’ is what is unreasonable.

    Let me end with a quote

    “Being an intellectual creates a lot of questions and no answers.
    Janis Joplin”

    • Pragmatic March 12, 2009 at 11:01 am #


      The author has made this statements without proving the facts provided by veterans as wrong.
      Well, this is not a blogpost in isolation and these issues have been covered many times earlier. Please read this earlier post of mine here which fully explains the demand of the veterans and places it in context. I hope it helps you in becoming an informed reader.

  4. Nitin March 12, 2009 at 11:40 am #

    @ Pragmatic:

    I read your earlier post and it does nothing to deny the allegation that – ‘a Babu-politico nexus exists that has denied them their rightful due’

    That article explains what is OROP and why in the author’s judgement it should not be accepted by the government. I am not taking sides in this OROP debate that has great arguments on both sides of the fence. The government or the courts will have to decide whether truncated service leading to compulsory retirement of defence forces personnel is reason enough to peg the pensions of veterans to rank as in the case of certain officers who draw ‘fixed’ salaries. You have made a cogent case and so have the people opposing your viewpoint. It is a normal debate and the outcome will be based on the will of the government or the ruling of the court.

    However, if there a beureucrat-politician nexus and if such nexus has harmed the interests of veterans or servicemen has not been investigated in the piece. Selective stalling of reforms relating to exservicemen as suggested in 6 CPC eg. refusal to institute lateral entry into CPMFs, leaving out certain ranks that are Director equivalent in the Armed Forces from award of higher compensation, non inclusion of services in Paycommission, reduction in weightage of service for PBOR for pension etc etc hold out some credence for the alleged nexus.

    The fact that, subsequently, government has announced that there will be separate pay commissions for Armed Forces and that ceratin problems introduced by Committee of Secretaries have been solved by the GoM led by Pranab Mukherkee, only lends credence to stories that there is some kind of nexus which was broken only because of the embarrassing standoff between Babus and Miltary chiefs.

    And yes your OROP piece was truly informative

  5. Eats Shoots and leaves March 12, 2009 at 6:56 pm #

    The IA doesn’t hold 12 % of the real estate* of Dilli State. Till then case rests.

    *Some of the Colonial Bungalows are weird rather wired eg – Put on the lights at night in the bathroom to take a pee and the peacocks/hens roosting on the trees around scream in protest. Can’t beat that for Green credits.

  6. Eats Shoots and leaves March 12, 2009 at 7:02 pm #

    Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the nicest of them all : Thinkers, Tinkers, Soldiers,

  7. ask March 12, 2009 at 11:23 pm #

    @Nitin on —– Baboo Politico nexus
    It is not that simple.Investigations have now proved beyond doubt that a large number of Baboos in all ministries(particularly MOD,Fin,MOH etc)are on the payroll of ISI & have been tasked by it to demoralise & therby degrade ops capability of our Armed Forces.Netas are just pawns in the hands of these Baboos & do what they are told to do by them.They have very little role to play.All this is quite evidend from manpulations made in 6CPCR,after its approval by the cabinet & open defaince of RM’s orders by baboos in MOD.These baboos are even refusing to implement PM’s orders on recommendations of GOM relating to Armed Forces .

  8. Eats Shoots and leaves March 19, 2009 at 4:53 pm #

    Does the Tit to Tail ratio ‘tell the tale on you old colonial strategists?

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