INDIA IS ALONE among major powers in the world that keeps its armed forces at an arms-length when it comes to defence planning and policymaking. The usual explanation is that the formulation of policy is the preserve of the civilian leadership. As far as excuses go, this is quite weak for a country with one of the largest standing armies on the planet. In a world where warfare is increasingly sophisticated and for a country that faces threats that range from non-state actors all the way to nuclear aggression, India’s defence planning structures are woefully outdated.
That is set to change. On April 18th, the Government announced the formation of a Defence Planning Committee (DPC) led by the National Security Adviser (NSA). The DPC will include the chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, the three armed forces chiefs, the foreign and defence secretaries, among other members. There will be four sub-committees that will look at different aspects of the defence planning process: defence manufacturing in the country, policy and planning, defence diplomacy and planning. The composition of these committees will be announced later.
The key weakness in India’s defence and national security system is the absence of a link between military capabilities and political goals. Referred to as higher defence management, this linkage is activated only for a national contingency. Examples include the 1971 Bangladesh crisis and the 1999 Kargil conflict. The one crisis where it was absent was the 1962 war, when the military and civil leaderships lacked effective communication and there was a gap between what was desired politically and what was feasible militarily. The result was disastrous.
It has taken India more than half a century to fix this obvious problem in its defence structure. A belated but welcome step, it will enable a far more cohesive institutional structure that is capable of understanding and tackling threats to India. All this will happen over time and will not be instantaneous.
There are numerous problems that need to be ironed out first. The weaknesses in the civil-military relationship have never been addressed properly is one major area that needs the political leadership’s attention. Defending India requires more than finding adequate financial resources to purchase new weapons; it also requires a refurbished institutional framework that has become creaky over time. A right step has been taken at last.