Brig Narender Kumar, SM, VSM (Retd) Writes :
There was a debate whether it was essential for the CDS and three Services Chiefs to address a joint press conference to show solidarity with the frontline Corona Warriors or same could have been done by the Public Relations Officers (PROs) from three services. The military fraternity was divided over this issue. The wisdom of the military leadership cannot be judged, but what nation was expecting and what adversaries would have expected should be decoded. Though the intent to show solidarity with Corona Warriors was good and it certainly had a very positive impact.
This was the first time the CDS and the three military chiefs were holding a joint press conference. Earlier such joint press conferences were held under the aegis of Chairman Chief of Staff only during national emergencies and war like situations. Even during the Kargil War the Services Chiefs probably did not address the joint press conference. In fact entire nation was waiting for first of its kind conference on 01 May 2020 expecting that CDS along with the Services Chiefs will be reassuring the nation that it is ready to assist nation in fight against Covid-19, stepping in if need be to maintain supply chain, supplementing the healthcare efforts of the states, keeping its work force ready to take over if essential services break down due to friction by Coronavirus and finally assisting states in moving the stranded migrants wherever possible. Similarly, on national security issues what nation and media expected was that the CDS and Services Chiefs would assure military’s operational readiness even with the restricted budget by smart planning. What could have been the expectations of Pakistan Army and People’s Liberation Army of China? They would have been keenly watching the first joint press conference headed by the CDS expecting some strategic signalling by the Indian Armed Forces with regard to resolute response to the proxy war in J&K, and taking firm stand if adversaries make any misadventure along the LAC or LoC. But when they would have heard what followed in the joint press conference, they would have been relieved and probably mocked its contents and context. This also raises the question why the political leadership allowed or asked CDS and Services Chiefs to address joint press conference for an issue, that many could consider, was the prerogative of the PROs.
Strategic signalling is a nuanced art of military diplomacy. Whenever heads of the armed forces address a nation from any public platform, they do not only address domestic audience, but they also address adversaries and allies. It also indicates the trust and responsibilities entrusted to the military leadership by the political leaders. Thus, each word spoken by the military leadership while addressing nation must be carefully crafted since it is part of military diplomacy. If military leadership is only going to address mundane issues that has no strategic ramification, the adversaries will stop taking military seriously. Therefore, two lessons come out of this issue, the services chiefs should speak when necessary and speak on issues that make an impact on national security.
The second issue is a lesson for the political leadership to understand that military power can be leveraged only if political leadership is nuanced in “Responsible Use” of military and military diplomacy. If political leadership encourages military to hold joint press conferences on mundane and routine issues, it is in fact diluting the impact of military diplomacy and strategic signalling on matters military and national security.
Leveraging military diplomacy and strategic signalling is smarter and more effective method of dissuading adversary not to take any misadventure. Thus, context and content of public articulation by military leadership should be such that it can ensure maximum leverage. There is an old saying that political leaders have the “Right to be wrong” but the military leadership cannot falter in reminding the political leaders on what is right and what is wrong. Ultimately it is for the military leadership to make itself accountable to the higher objective or fall of the high table.
Brig Narender Kumar, SM, VSM (Retd) is a Distinguished Fellow with the USI of India. He has extensive experience in counter insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. His areas of interest are Internal Security, Transnational Terrorism, Indian Ocean Region and Military Reforms. He has authored more than 200 research papers/ Chapters for books/ articles for various journals and web portals.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI of India.