The rules of detachment – ON Military – Politics detachment

Source– The post is based on the article “The rules of detachment” published in The Indian Express on 16th January 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- International relations

Relevance– Issues related to politicisation of military

News– The article explains the recent debate in the US on keeping the armed forces apolitical. It also explains the relevance of this debate for Indian military establishment

Why is there a debate in the US on keeping the armed forces apolitical?

America is facing the threat of polarisation of its society. There is increasing enlistment of military veterans by politicians for boosting electoral prospects.

America does not require the military to remain “apolitical”. It demands a commitment to being “non-partisan” in their professional conduct. It means that regardless of personal political inclinations, military officers must give the elected civilian leadership their best professional advice and execute their lawful orders.

There are risks associated with the president, intent on politicising the military. The US President is also the commander-in-chief and approving authority for general-rank promotions. He could manipulate the process to fill senior military leadership positions with party and personal loyalists.

Why does India need to seriously consider this debate in the US?

There exists a similarity in the challenges currently faced by American and Indian democracies across political, societal and military domains.

In India, military personnel are prohibited from engaging in any kind of political activity by Acts of Parliament and service rules. Moreover, they have to take the oath of allegiance to the Constitution.

India’s armed forces, despite occasional criticism, had followed the “seniority-cum-merit” principle for promotion from the pool of C-in-Cs to the post of chief. Promoting the “senior-most of equals” obviated the possibility of political interference in military promotions.

The present government seems to have moved away from the constraint of “seniority”. It has started using an alternate definition of “merit” and promoted military officers over the head of their seniors.

This approach faces an inherent risk. An appointed officer who considers himself indebted to the political establishment can avoid professional military advice.

An even greater risk of politicisation has been created by the latest rules framed for selection of the Chief of Defence Staff. Apart from serving and retired chiefs, serving and retired officers of 3-star rank are eligible for the post of CDS. The upper age limit has been fixed at 62 years for all. The retirement age of CDS has been fixed at 65 years.

In almost all countries, the CDS is chosen from amongst the serving chiefs. Placing 3-star officers equivalent to the serving chiefs ignores the inherent merit and vast experience of military chiefs. It impacts the credibility of our promotion system.

There is no methodology available for assessment of professional competence. Selection will be based on political loyalty and personal preference. Such subjective and problematic criteria can lead to arbitrariness and politicisation.


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