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The Cart Can’t Pull The Horse

The Cart Can’t Pull The Horse

And the Defence Planning Committee can’t really improve defence management

The Cart Can’t Pull The Horse The Cart Can’t Pull The Horse

On May 3, within days of its surprise formation, the newly constituted Defence Planning Committee (DPC)—at best a cut-and-paste job of the Cabinet Committee on Defence, the Integrated Defence Staff and, its predecessor, the Defence Planning Staff—held its first meeting under the country’s counter-terrorism czar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who reports to defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The DPC has the busiest people in the North and South Blocks—the foreign secretary, the defence secretary, the expenditure secretary, the service chiefs, one of whom is the rotating chairman and ceremonial head of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, just as the President of India is the powerless Supreme Commander of the armed forces. Such a weird Higher Defence Organisation (HDO) can at best tinker with the uncivil military-civil relations and inter-service rivalry that are anathema to the integration of the armed forces and defence management.

The DPC’s first meeting produced a queer mix of ideas and even decisions, notably on defence preparedness and longevity of war. Oper­ationalising the DPC is like putting the cart before the horse—creating an HDO without first establishing jointness in command, integration between the civil and planning staffs, and the appointment of a Chief of Def­ence Staff. Given the resource crunch with the defence budget at its lowest since 1962 at 1.57 per cent of the GDP, the service chiefs were advised to tighten their belts by prioritising their defence acquisition plans, with an emphasis on Make in India. The Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on defence under General (retd) B.C. Khanduri of the BJP had recently declared the armed forces unfit for war. That did not worry the government as it has convinced itself there will be no war (there have been none since 1971 and the Kargil border skirmish of 1999) and that the focus has shifted to counter-terrorism. And yet both the army and air force chiefs have repeatedly said they are ready to fight a two-front war, though the navy chief has not mentioned a two-ocean naval strategy so far.

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