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Higher Defence Management through Effective Civil-Military Relations
By-Air Marshal Dhiraj Kukreja - Issue Vol. 27.4 Oct-Dec 2012
“He (the soldier) is thus the very basis and silent, barely visible cornerstone of our fame,
culture, physical well-being and prosperity; in short, of the entire nation building activity.
He does not perform any of these chores himself directly. He enables the rest of us to
perform these without let, hindrance or worry (‘nirbhheek and nishchinta’).
Our military sinews, on the other hand, lend credibility to our pronouncements of
adherence to good Dharma, our goodwill, amiability and peaceful intentions towards all
our neighbour nations (‘sarve bhavantu sukhinaha, sarve santu niramayaha…’) as also
those far away and beyond. These also serve as a powerful deterrent against military
misadventure by any one of them against us.”—Chanakyaniti
Civil-military relationship, a very broad-based term, describes the link between civil
society at large and the military, an organisation that has been specifically created to
protect it. When considered in a narrow perspective, it is the rapport or the lack of it,
between the civil authority of any given society and the military authority. The matter
has been a subject of study and controversy since the times of Sun Tzu1 and
Clausewitz2, both of whom argued that the military was primarily a servant of the State,
basing it on an assumption that civilian control of a State is preferable to military control.
Of late, instances of friction in civil-military relations have increased…
The issue was discussed at large amongst students of political science and sociology in
the first half of the twentieth century, more so at the end of the Second World War (WW
II) which also marked the beginning of the Cold War. Fears of growing militarism in the
American society prompted the studies and produced influential readings from
renowned authors as Samuel Huntington and Morris Janowitz. Debate has continued
even after the end of the Cold War. The turn of the century witnessed increased
incidents of military coup d’état in various parts of the world and discussions revolved
around the declining power of the State and the necessity of a certain level of civilian
control over the military.
The history of Higher Defence Management in India begins with the country’s
independence and has been more than adequately influenced by the happenings in the
world at that time. The Indian Civil Service played its role in marginalising the police and
the military with the drafting of a framework for higher defence organisation. Over the
last 65 years, this has been honed to suit the requirements of the bureaucrats of the
Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Irrespective of the wars fought and the
recommendations of various Committees including the Parliamentary Standing
Committee on Defence, the IAS has stubbornly managed to keep the Indian Armed
Forces out of the higher decision-making loop.
Strategic culture is a product of a nation’s political culture…
American Theory
Huntington, in his book, The Soldier and the State (1957), has differentiated between
the civil and military worlds, as dissimilarity between attitudes and values; conservative
as held by the military and liberal by the civilians. Each has its own function and he
called the officer corps as professionals as against the soldiers, whom he termed as
“skilled craftsmen”. He advised professionalising the military, starting from the officer
corps, emphasising important areas as discipline, order and self-sacrifice, training it to
submit itself to civilian authority. To maintain control over the military, his advice to the
civil authority was to direct the military without going against their privileges in order to
avoid a reaction. This was termed as “objective control” as compared to “subjective
control” which would be more intrusive.
That was in 1957 when the Cold War was approaching its prime and post-War, the USA
was emerging as a liberalised society. Morris Janowitz, while agreeing with Huntington
on the differences between the civil and military worlds, prompted a debate with his
book, The Professional Soldier (1960). He argued that since the military was
conservative, it would resist liberal societal changes and hence may also resist civilian
control. He advised either a civilianisation of the military or a militarisation of the civilian
society. Janowitz recommended the military be filled with entries into the officer corps
not just from the training academies but from a military training programme to be
initiated in elite universities. This would ensure a mix of civil-military culture and narrow
the chasm between the two worlds.
The debate that was initiated by the two books decades ago continues to rage. The
American military of today is different from the military of the yesteryears. Having fought
many a war, it has gone through various theories of how to either maintain or reduce the
gap between the two worlds. Commentators routinely moan about the gap, citing
statistics of how the American Congress has fewer veterans ever since WW II. Former
Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, also complained while speaking to an audience at
Duke University in September 2010, “For a growing number of Americans, service in the
military, no matter how laudable, has become something for other people to do.”3 This
gap is visible not just in the reducing numbers joining the military but also in the rising
numbers, Generals included, leaving the military due to differences in the two societies
and between those who run them.
The fear of a non-existent take-over of the nation by the military has been continuously
stoked by the bureaucracy…
Civil-Military Relationship in India
Direction in the civil-military relationship in any democracy is strictly the right of the
political leadership. In India, however, in the decades since Independence, the word
‘civil’ has been misinterpreted and distorted to have the relationship being run by the
bureaucrats, rather than the political class, the latter seemingly having voluntarily
withdrawn in favour of the former. As a result, over the years, the Indian military has
been subjected to a structure where it has been kept out or denied any meaningful role
in Higher Defence Management or policy formulation being baptised by fire immediately
after Independence notwithstanding. This has been brought to the attention of the
powers-that-be by many a strategist and military chief but to no avail. During his lifetime
the late K Subrahmanyam drew attention to this inconsistency and ironically, even after
his demise, in essays published in a national daily (Indian Express, 04 February 2012).
Strategic culture is a product of a nation’s political culture and if it is founded on a
flawed premise, it cannot but have an impact on the overall strategic disposition of the
nation. In many important ways, strategic culture is also reflected in the quality of civilmilitary relations that exist. The Indian political establishment has laid down the principle
of civil supremacy over the military. The Indian military has accepted it and operates
under the provisions of the policy. Of late however, instances of friction in civil-military
relations have increased.
“The Government of India Allocation of Business Rules”, published in 1961, is the Bible
based on which the Indian State is administered. These Rules specify that the Ministry
of Defence (MoD) is comprised of four departments namely, the Department of
Defence, the Department of Defence Production and Supply, the Department of
Defence Research and Development and the Department of ex-Servicemen Welfare,
along with a Finance Division. The three Service HQs are mentioned only as ‘Attached
Offices’ of the Department of Defence and placed subordinate to it. The three Service
Chiefs find no mention in the Rules and neither are they allocated any responsibilities!
Rightly so, Admiral (Retd) Arun Prakash has bestowed the status of ‘invisible’ to them
(“The Three Invisible Men”, Defence Watch, February 2012). As all the Departments are
headed by civilian officers of the rank of Secretary, the military in India is, therefore,
subordinate to the bureaucracy.
The reason for this skewed interpretation of civilian control of the military has its genesis
in the immediate aftermath of Independence and it has only worsened in the succeeding
years. The fear of a non-existent take-over of the nation by the military has been
continuously stoked by the bureaucracy. The ill-informed political class has found it only
too convenient to keep the military at bay. Since Independence, the many instances of
civil-military discord from Nehru-Cariappa and Krishna Menon-Thimayya to the more
recent one of Antony-VK Singh are indicative of the unrest and dissatisfaction in the
military. Added to this are the anomalies of the Sixth Pay Commission which are yet to
be resolved even after six years. Even after the shoddy treatment meted out to it, the
military in India continues to serve the nation in its best traditions!