Best, bright & blue
Sixty-three momentous years ago an ancient civilisation blossomed into a nation-state with a million promises to keep. But the lack of a strategic culture and unity in thought and action has haunted and weakened India over the years and it is now time to seriously address our endemic and congenital shortcomings
as we take our rightful seat at the high table. As the second-largest growing economy, after China, and with myriad formidable security and developmental challenges, India has to ensure a peaceful and stable environment within, build the necessary wherewithal for peace with its neighbours and beyond. Do we need crisis situations to shake us out of our slumber, as in 1947-48, the 1962 debacle or the Kargil 1999 surprise? Or do we formally and periodically introspect, analyse and put into place corrective and institutionalised measures emerging from a well thought-out, all-encompassing national security strategy to confront the multitude of challenges which stare at us today and might come in the way of our march forward? Noted American author Walter Lippman in the 1940s very succinctly said, “A nation has security when it does not have to sacrifice its legitimate interests to avoid war and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by war”.
No one will question the fact that in today’s disturbed world and the volatile neighbourhood we live in, a hard, holistic look at our security preparedness in all its manifestations and nuances is called for periodically. The elements, instruments, spectrum of potential conflicts and all determinants of national defence and security need to be regularly studied. Our security planning must cater for the complete spectrum of conflict ranging from aid to civil authority, counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations, varying levels of conventional war to a war involving weapons of mass destruction. Military doctrines, combat profiles, force structuring and induction of new and relevant weaponry, capabilities in information warfare, psychological warfare, intelligence capabilities and now nuclear assets and space warfare need to be thoroughly deliberated upon in comparison with capabilities of likely adversaries. Knee-jerk reactions and panic decision-making in moments of national crises are thus avoided.
In many democracies the world over, Blue Ribbon Commissions are appointed to look into the problems of the armed forces, as in the United States and the similar Royal Commissions in the United Kingdom. Since Independence, no such commission has been appointed in India though after the Kargil War, the high-level Kargil Review Committee (KRC), which reviewed the entire gamut of security, higher defence management in India and the alleged intelligence lapses and made useful recommendations, came somewhat close to a Blue Ribbon Commission. It will be worth mentioning here that the chairman of the KRC, the respected security analyst, late K. Subhramanyam, had, in 2008, strongly recommended a Blue Ribbon Commission for the Indian armed forces. He had suggested that such a high-powered commission could be headed by an eminent personality who commands high credibility, like chairman of Tata Sons Ratan Tata or Infosys chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy and have other reputed retired experts from the forces, the intelligence community, the defence and foreign ministries, and management specialists. He further advised that once such a commission submits its recommendations there will be no further nitpicking by bureaucrats or the government — the report should be accepted and implemented in good faith. I would add the name of Arun Singh, former Union minister of state for defence and a Rajiv Gandhi favourite, to head such a commission as he has a remarkably clear vision of India’s security challenges.
Not many are familiar with the term Blue Ribbon Commission or why is it called so. Briefly, it is an independent and exclusive commission of non-partisan experts and eminent personalities constituted to look at any issue or concern of national significance. Though it has no legal or any other authority to implement its recommendations, its suggestions are accorded due attention by the government as such commissions are composed of eminent and respected experts.
The term “blue ribbon” comes from the commission members being the “best and brightest” in their respective fields. Thus, these commissions are different from a parliamentary committee, a government-sponsored internal study group, a judicial commission, a committee of secretaries or a group of ministers. Being non-partisan in composition, such commissions transcend parochial inclinations of inter-governmental departments and civil bureaucracy versus the armed forces conflict. However, those cynical of such commissions allege that these commissions tend to exaggerate existing and future problem areas, may display an overly individualistic approach, lack accountability (since it is not responsible for implementation) and are unrealistic in their financial projections. Be that as it may, the cardinal necessity of such commissions is accepted the world over, and, when composed of the most respected leaders and experts in their respective fields in the country, it is a sacrilege to apportion any negative attributes to the members of such commissions.
The Indian armed forces have a two-and-a-half front obligation (China, Pakistan and internal security). Over the years, its combat profile vis à vis its potential adversaries has been slipping to unacceptable levels. It is a truism that combat capabilities take a long time to accomplish. Compounded by our sluggish equipment induction procedures, despite governmental allocations, the capabilities of the services will continue to slide downwards unless the desired impetus is accorded by the government and the service headquarters. Given a nuclear, terror-exporting Pakistan, the growing assertiveness of China and the Maoist threat in our hinterland, a comprehensive and an all-encompassing look is required at our security preparedness.
The Government of India sets up a pay commission every 10 years. A Blue Ribbon Commission should be set up on similar lines to look at our higher defence management, force structures, equipment profiles and new and futuristic challenges, including the military, internal security, intelligence, information warfare, nuclear and space dimensions. Speedy implementation of reforms and recommendations of such a commission will go a long way in ensuring India’s security.
Lt. Gen. Kamal Davar (retd) was the first chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency and deputy chief of the Integrated Defence Staff