Army and the state

Published : Aug 01, 2008 00:00 IST

The conclusion that this book, based on massive research, draws is not in doubt a weak government inspires military assertion.

LIKE other institutions, the judiciary included, the army becomes vocal and assertive when a weak government is in office but becomes subdued if the ones in office wield great power. Ministers tend to be either indifferent to professional military advice or too subservient to it. The military input is indispensable, but it is only a component in the shaping of sound judgment. It is no substitute for political assessment. Trust, for instance, is a political assessment. Sinc e 1989, Army chiefs have successfully thwarted accord on the Siachen issue to the detriment of the national interest and to the peace process. General J.J. Singh was obstreperous and made it a point to voice his objections publicly just when the talks made any progress. Many a Defence Minister pandered to the Armys whims. A senior editor aptly characterised A.K. Antony as the head of the Services trade union. This is as unfortunate as the indifference to the Armys views and its needs.

Our record is uneven. Jawaharlal Nehru ignored the Armys advice (Forward Policy). One wonders what advice Indira Gandhi sought or received on Operation Blue Star. She sensibly accepted it in April 1971, from the late Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. Respect for the historical truth prompts mention of Lt. Gen. J.F.R. Jacobs version that Manekshaw rang him three times in early April to move to Bangladesh. I refused (The Hindu; May 17, 2007; see his book Surrender at Dacca; 1997; pages 36-37).

Every student of the civil-military relationship should read Yoram Peris book. He is Professor of Political Sociology and Communication at Tel Aviv University and was adviser to Yitzhak Rabin. He is the foremost scholar on Israels armed forces. Only three of the 16 men who served as Chiefs of General Staff of the Israel Defence Forces did not enter politics. Three recent Prime Ministers were former senior generals.

The books focus is on events since 1990, and the authors conclusion is alarming: While the principles of parliamentary democracy have not been undermined and while democratic procedures continue to be practised in Israel, a situation in which there is a symbiotic pattern of joint responsibility has emerged, an unequal dialogue, or, as I prefer to call it, a pattern of political-military partnership.

From the beginning of the intifada in September 2000, the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] was not just the operational arm that conducted the war against the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian organisations. It also had a central role in setting Israeli foreign and defence policy, wielding influence at the suprapolitical level, the strategic level, and the operational level, no less than at the tactical military level. It acted as a central political player and was a partner in policymaking. It did not get involved in politics as an organisation outside of politics might do, in fact, it has been involved in politics as an inside partner, a stakeholder, as it were. The military not only shaped military strategy but also foreign policy and was active in the peace process. The book is based on massive research. The conclusion it draws is not in doubt a weak government inspires military assertion. The government expected the IDF to provide a military answer even though the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not amenable to a pure military solution.

Peri drives home his point with force and clarity. The nature of la guerre revolutionnaire is such that military considerations have a secondary importance. But in the absence of a clear strategic directive from the government, the military is sometimes forced to determine its own, thereby fulfilling a function that, according to democratic theory, is supposed to be provided by the political echelon. The IDF is forced to act on a political plane, and the policy it adopts does not always correspond to the wishes of the elected government.

Therefore, as long as a democratic Israel rules over the Palestinian people, Israeli civilian society will remain split about the future of the territories, and the IDF will continue to pay the price for the protracted conflict and the politicians lack of courage to make historic decisions. Israeli society has managed, despite its current situation, to preserve a democratic institutional structure. Even so, the occupation and especially the nature of the ongoing war with the Palestinians are threatening Israels democratic soul and its moral fabric. That applies very much to low-intensity conflicts in India as well, be they in the north-eastern region or in Kashmir.

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