War gamesIn a democracy, the army cannot take decision solely at its own discretion
Over the past week, news of a joint military exercise among the armies of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) member countries has raised controversy. Earlier, even top government officials who participated in all three layers of BIMSTEC meetings confirmed that the issue of a joint military exercise did not feature in any of the meetings, and the Foreign Ministry had not been briefed on any new development.
Now, quite interestingly, it has been revealed that Nepal’s decision to participate in the joint military exercise was a result of military engagement between the Nepal Army and the Indian Army, without formal dealings at the diplomatic or political level.
Such a disclosure poses a pertinent question: is the army showing no regard for the government and acting unilaterally?
The proposal for a joint military exercise was first proposed by the Indian Army, followed by an initial meeting of BIMSTEC army representatives in June. Then, last month, ahead of the summit, India announced that the country was going to host the first-ever military drill among member states and that it would also convene a meeting of the chiefs of army staff on the margins of the six-day event. Officials from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) expressed that the decision to participate in the drill was taken solely by the national defence force. Neither the MoD nor MoFA were consulted by the Army—or were made privy to the proposal from the Indian Army.
The PM and the Foreign Minister have both claimed that the proposed military exercise is not targeted towards any individual country—it is focused solely on disaster management and counterterrorism. Military diplomacy in recent years has emerged as a major tool to further diplomatic interests. In that sense, such an exercise could help bolster relationships between allies. Alternatively, military exercises also have some ‘strategic signaling’ wherein projecting power is one of its tenets.
In a democracy, the military is under civilian control. It is a special government agency that is supposed to implement, rather than formulate policies or take decision solely at its own discretion. If the army as an institution values the chain of command that is so central to its organisational setup, it should practice what it preaches. Meaning, any decision the army takes should not be taken at its behest alone—there has to be a wider deliberation between the government and ministries too. The minute they fail to do so, there emerges a danger of trying to supplant the democratic process. A civilian army is very much within the purview of the law of the land and our army leadership should be cognizant of this fact.