Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Neo-liberal Agenda - A Death Knell for the National Military Strategic Affairs - By Atul Bhardwaj
A Revelation, indeed, mind blowing, if true Modi Govt may be leading the services towards a big disaster to a similar situation that led to the Brtish EAST IND[A COMPANY taking control of India . Indeed very alarming scenario . I am pasting the article in full, as the link allows subscribers only to read in full.
Its an excellent write up and an eye opener to various international dynamics and related internal politics leading to the present day strain in the civ Mil relations.
Col A Sunder Rajan
The Indian soldier is in a state of stupor. The civil–military relations in the country are in crisis. The government’s policies are aggravating the situation, alienating the armed forces by lowering their status and salaries in comparison to other arms of the state. Neo-liberal forces are using the crisis as an opportunity to introduce military transformation that would splinter the national military and replace patriotism with profiteering.
The Indian armed forces are in a state of shock. The irony is that the nationalist political party considered most sympathetic to their cause is administering the shock therapy. The expectations of the military on pay and pension have been belied. In 2015, the veterans were forced to take to the streets demanding the implementation of One Rank One Pension (OROP). The government unleashed the police on protesting veterans.
After vacillating on the issue, a distorted version of the OROP was announced in November 2015. Contrary to the accepted understanding of the annual revision and equalisation of pensions, the government fixed equalisation to once . Initially, officers who sought premature retirement after completing the 20-year mandatory pensionable service were precluded from the OROP scheme. Later, the government relented and all officers who had taken premature retirement up to the date of issuance of the government notification were included in the OROP scheme. However, the future premature retirees are denied the OROP benefits.
The deliberate attacks on the dignity of the armed forces did not stop after the OROP fiasco. The latest Seventh Pay Commission award has further enraged the armed forces community. The government has conveniently ignored the long-standing grievance of the armed forces on the issue of “non-functional upgradation” (NFU). The military has once again been denied NFU pay, which is enjoyed by the Group A central services. The military has been deliberately lowered in protocol terms. This reshuffling of the order-of-precedence in the government has aggravated the feeling of alienation among the armed forces. The seething rage is strewn all across social media.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi kickstarted his election campaign with an ex-servicemen rally at Rewari in Haryana on 15 September 2013. After becoming the Prime Minister, Modi has been a mute spectator to the sight of the armed forces lurching from one crisis to another as the bureaucracy imposes cut after cut in pursuit of the holy grail of fiscal prudence.
It is intriguing that the affront to military self-esteem is being spearheaded by the ruling dispensation that claims to be nationalist. Perhaps, there is a larger cause for which Modi is inflicting pain to the armed forces.
Penchant for Neo-liberal Solutions
Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine (2007) helps us understand why the Indian military is being subjected to persistent shocks and continuous crisis. Klein explains how neo-liberalism either uses a crisis or manufactures it to soften the public for radical free-market reforms. Klein bases her argument on Milton Friedman’s theory of “economic shock therapy,” which “advised politicians that immediately after a crisis, they should push through all the painful policies at once, before people could regain their footing” (Democracy Now 2007). The question is, what are these reform ideas “lying around” for which Prime Minister Modi is “inducing regression of the personality” in the national military?
Outsourcing defence functions or handing them over to private military corporations (PMCs) is the big Anglo-Saxon contribution to the post-Cold War disruptive ideas basket. The PMCs go beyond privatisation or 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence manufacturing. This involves the remaking of the national military, splintering it to create a niche for the PMCs to be directly involved in battlefield management. It entails outsourcing defence logistic functions to private contractors, making the “corporate warriors” directly responsible for functions ranging from providing rations to missile maintenance.
In the West, privatising defence functions started immediately after the demise of the Cold War. If Agent Orange is the legacy left behind by the Vietnam war, then the introduction of PMCs to modern warfare is what the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be remembered for. A couple of years ago, the British government went to the extent of handing over the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) entire defence procurement functions to a private company named GOCO (Economist 2013). The programme was shelved only after it indicated to the world the shape of things to come.
Privatisation of warfare is about handing over critical defence infrastructure to private players. It is about replacing the state insignia from the shoulder-badges on a soldier’s uniform with a corporate label. It is mercenarisation of the profession of arms, shearing off the nobility associated with it. It is about making private corporations consume a large chunk of the defence revenue budget. It is the fruition of this very idea for which Modi is aiming. And, this premeditated design is the cause of the collective trauma experienced by the armed forces.
The process of shaping the discourse on the armed forces revenue budget began immediately after the Modi government took over in 2014. When Arun Jaitley was the defence minister, India Today carried a cover story “Chinks in the Armour” (Unnithan 2014). Besides the usual rants about the tardy process of defence procurement and non-performance of defence public sector units (DPSUs), the newness in the story was the discussion on internal reforms in the fiscal management of the revenue budget of the MoD. It was argued that almost 60% of the ₹2.2 lakh crore defence budget is spent on manpower costs. Citing the MoD finance reports from 2011, the article advanced the logic that there was a wastage of more than ₹5,400 crore each year due to manpower costs involved in defence logistics. It gave the instance of the Army Service Corps (ASC) that “buys food worth ₹2,122 crore but spends ₹1,500 crore on manpower, an acquisition cost of 70%. (Food Corporation of India [FCI] has an acquisition cost of 16%.)” (Unnithan 2014).
Examples of the government’s fiscal mismanagement are often used to begin the privatisation debate. The article did exactly that by comparing the FCI’s acquisition costs with that of the ASC. However, the ASC’s manpower is not just involved in food procurement, it performs many other functions, one of them is being directly involved in disaster relief operations.
The “transformation study” of the Indian Army was initiated by General V K Singh when he was the eastern army commander in 2009. The proposals included setting up of a strategic command, synergising the army’s offensive capabilities, and outsourcing many administrative and logistic functions. This effectively meant retaining the core combat role for the state soldiers and privatising the functions performed by four corps of the army: ASC, ordnance, electronics and mechanical engineer, and engineers.
A pattern of splitting the combatants from non-combatants is apparent in the other recent decisions of the government. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s first major decision was to challenge the Armed Forces Tribunal’s (AFT) decision to strike down the army’s discriminatory promotion policy of 2009 in the Supreme Court. The 2 March 2015 verdict of the AFT ruled that promotions to the rank of colonel were biased in favour of the infantry and artillery. The 2009 policy helped 60% of infantry and artillery lieutenant colonels to become colonels, while reducing the promotion opportunities for officers from other arms and services to below 30%. A group of nearly 200 serving army officers went to the Supreme Court with a plea to uphold the decision of the AFT. The Supreme Court’s verdict, in the beginning of this year, upheld the army’s “command and exit” policy, while making provisions for additional vacancies for the support arms and services. The judgment helped the army headquarters soothe the internal division within the army without making alterations in their promotion policy.
When the OROP agitation was at its peak in 2015, the government came out with figures to prove that the burden of pensions was too huge for the government to bear. It showed that the military pension budget of ₹75,000 crore was higher than the combined budget of the navy and air force. The argument against OROP was that it hampers military modernisation by making less money available for buying equipment from foreign vendors.
Accelerating Military Reforms
In May 2016, the government appointed an 11-member committee under the stewardship of retired Lt Gen D B Shekatkar to suggest pruning of “non-operational flab” of the three services, a euphemism for privatisation and corporatisation of the Indian armed forces. The discourse in the mainstream and social media is largely in favour of the government’s effort to rectify the “teeth to tail ratio” of the army by “downsizing” the 13 lakh strong standing army. The arguments, rooted in neo-liberal ideology, question the very purpose of pensions. The MoD’s annual pension bill, which stands at ₹60,000 crore, is cited as the main reason for reducing the size of the army. The large army—once considered the pride of India—is now an eyesore. Unfortunately, the reverent on-screen attitude towards the soldier vanishes when their pay and pensions come into picture.
Men are dispensable because more money is required to be spent on foreign war-fighting machines. Traces of class bias are evident in the arguments put forth by the supporters of privatisation of the Indian defence forces. A former senior finance official grumbling about the high pension bill writes condescendingly:
The contemporary emphasis is on educated soldiers fighting a technology-driven war with modern gadgets and machinery. The Indian soldier, representing the rural gentry, is semi-educated and deployed in the traditional warfare system (Singh 2016).
A senior defence journalist advocating “root and branch reforms,” nonchalantly writes,
Military salaries and lifetime pensions are paid to legions of ‘combatant tradesmen’ who wash, sweep, cook and cut hair. In an equipment-heavy armoured division, every sixth combatant is a mechanic, performing a role that civilians can discharge more cheaply and better. Other soldiers supply rations, clothing, spare parts and fuel, jobs that most armies have privatised almost entirely. Today, even a waiter in an officers’ mess is a full-time soldier, entitled to pay and pension for life (Shukla 2014).
The underlying ideology in Shukla’s argument is that the government cannot determine salaries and disrupt markets. Soldiers coming from poor backgrounds cannot be paid more than civilians engaged in similar jobs. Such class biases against the opportunities for upward mobility that state-care provides to the marginalised are becoming more pronounced. Paradoxically, nationalists who admiringly share pictures of martyr’s wailing wives and daughters on social media go into mute mode when the son of an army cook is awarded the “Sword of Honour” at the Indian Military Academy.
Bailing Out Bourgeoisie
There are two big reasons for privatising the defence support services. First, to bail out the debt-ridden Indian capitalists. Second, to facilitate the entry of multinational PMCs from the United States (US) and the United Kingdom to Indian shores. The 100% FDI in the defence sector leaves little scope for Indian industrialists to hone their manufacturing skills. The capital expenditure will continue to fatten foreign arms manufacturers. Indian companies that have the capacity to provide support services to combat formations are likely to be the biggest gainers from the downsizing of the armed forces.
The Logistic Support Agreement (LSA) that India is on the verge of the signing with the US will pave the way for foreign PMCs to establish their roots in India. According to David Isenberg, the author of Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq (2009), US military
contractors are also key to the maintenance of CSLs (Collaborative Security Locations), where the US uses a host country’s existing military bases … The contractor rents military facilities from the host nation’s military, and charges a fee for the US military’s use of the facilities (Isenberg 2012).
India suffered for centuries at the hands of the East India Company, an unarmed trading company that metamorphosed into a private military company. We are now laying the ground for fully-armed multinational companies working under the charter of the US government to set up shop in our country. It is indeed a sad commentary on Indian security and strategic studies that there is no informed debate on this important issue of national concern.
The armed forces are the bedrock of statehood. That the forces need to avoid wasteful expenditure cannot be denied. However, to hand over many of their roles and missions to corporations is the ultimate assault on the very idea of the nation state. The right wingers must understand that. privatisation of defence and. nationalism cannot coexist. “You can be a patriot or a profiteer ... But you can’t be both”
(Source- Via Gp e-mail)