Permanent Chairman COSC – a myth of toothless wonder


Photo Credit: PIB

The media has quoted MoD sources stating on July 21 that the proposal to create the new post of a Permanent Chairman of the COSC was at "an advanced stage of planning" now, albeit the post would have to be ultimately approved by the Union Cabinet since "the issues involved are very complex." Going by previous precedence this could take anything from couple of months to few years. Significantly, the media states that in creating the post of the Permanent Chairman COSC, the three Service Chiefs will be left operationally-independent to run their own services. What is being portrayed through the media is that the Chairman COSC would:

  1. Provide single-point advice to the government;
  2. Inject synergy between the Services in doctrinal, planning, procurement and operational matters;
  3. Prioritize inter-service procurements to build long-term capabilities;
  4. Manage country’s strategic resources and nuclear arsenal, and;
  5. Integrate Services HQ with MoD and reduce civil-military divide.

All this jargon may impress the public but dispassionate analysis would deduce that this post is no more than a myth being created as a toothless wonder - another bureaucratic googly. The Kargil Review Committee and follow up GoM Report had strongly recommended creation of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The term Permanent Chairman COSC was recommended by the Naresh Chandra Committee after Naresh Chandra was reportedly briefed by then NSA to make such recommendation. It was a bureaucratic mischief deliberately to water down the CDS. The question of the Permanent Chairman COSC being single point advisor to the government does not arise because the red tape had been instituted to even deny this if the CDS were to be appointed. The document dealing with CDS was craftily drafted by the bureaucracy to say “As and when a CDS is appointed, he will have equal voting rights as Service Chiefs and in case of disagreement by two Service Chiefs, arbitration will be done by MoD”.

We never have dissent notes by Army Commanders and equivalent within the three Services, so why this provision in case of CDS? The aim is obvious; that a lowly Desk Officer in MoD becomes the arbitrator. Whether we continue with the existing set up of a rotational Chairman COSC or make the Chairman a permanent post, without operational powers over the military, they both are toothless creations. What injection of synergy between the Services in doctrinal, planning, procurement and operational matters can be undertaken by the new post without operational powers? Prioritization of inter-service procurements to build long-term capabilities is being done within the current system too with ultimate decisions on procurement by the DAC headed by the Defence Minister attenuated with political considerations. No change to this set up will occur with creation of post of Permanent Chairman COSC. As regards managing the country’s strategic resources and nuclear arsenal, the Strategic Forces Command managing the country’s strategic resources and nuclear arsenal, which was directly under HQ IDS was surreptitiously taken out of the ambit of the COSC some years back and placed under the NSA – another display of bureaucratic arrogance. Coming to the portrayal that Permanent Chairman COSC integrating the Services HQ with MoD and reducing civil-military divide, nothing is likely beyond some cosmetic attempts to integrate.

The civil-military divide cannot be bridged when the bureaucracy is diagrammatically opposed to it and the political authority is dependent on the advice of the bureaucracy who themselves have little military expertise. To a query by Defence Minister (now President) Pranab Mukherjee in 2005, the Chairman COSC & Naval Chief, the Army Chief and the Officiating Air Chief unequivocally voiced that not only was a CDS necessary but the CDS must be given full operational powers over the military, in order to make him effective. That was 10 years back. The concept behind raising of HQ Integrated Defence Staff was that it would be part and parcel of MoD but the bureaucracy ensured that it came up as a separate Service HQ. The bureaucracy ensured this integration did not take place, major reason being money, corruption and continuing bureaucratic bliss of enjoying authority sans responsibility. Even the Americans wonder how the military functions in India with its MoD without military officers on deputation or permanent absorption. It is for the same reason that the military despite being users have been kept out of the design, planning and decision making levels of the DRDO, OF and DPSUs. Of course it facilitates enjoying absolute authority sans any accountability with the Defence Secretary, not Defence Minister officially tasked with defence of India and the Services HQ officially designated as “Attached Offices” in continuation of the British legacy. The bottom-line is that the Permanent Chairman COSC will be a bogey without any change in the existing set up and without any benefit to the defence of India. What the country needs is a CDS with full operational powers and HQ IDS fully merged with the MoD.