Role of the Armed Forces in Nation Building

I speak to you today with an awareness of the gap of almost seven decades between my youth and yours. Yet, many situations and perceptions have remained somewhat unchanged. One of these is the exercise of initiation in a new calling; in your case, it is the time-honoured profession of arms defined as the ordered application of force for the defence of the territory, population and the core values and interests of a society.

Let me also confess that I have had nothing to do professionally with the armed forces. I did have two cousins who made the Indian Army their profession and passion in life. One earned martyrdom in the J&K in 1948 conflict. I therefore speak to you as a civilian who nevertheless had to know and interact with this branch of government.

The planet Earth on which we live is divided into States having territorial jurisdictions. The dwellers of these states constitute a ‘nation’ and define their forms of governments, their jurisdictions and the agenda for their collective activity for betterment on what is termed ‘nation building.’ This since time immemorial has included an organized body of citizens created, trained and equipped to defend the territory of the state against intrusions by other states. It requires dedication and a commitment to the values and ethos of society. The armed forces therefore are an integral part of the nation building activities of each nation.

It is hardly necessary to say that like every calling in life, the profession of arms has its own requirements in terms of skills, techniques and technology. A preliminary requirement is discipline and people management and you would hear much more about it in the professional institutions to which you would be assigned and where you would also be made to develop a sense of organic unity and consciousness of a being a group apart within the framework of the diversity of the Indian landscape. It is this sense of camaraderie, esprit-de-corps and team spirit together with education that helps develop the motto of ‘valour and wisdom.’

The text of our Constitution mentions in its Seventh Schedule three lists of matters on which the Central and State governments have jurisdiction, with some subjects in a conjoint or Concurrent List of which both have authority to legislate. The first item in List I called the Union List is ‘Defence of India.’ It covers all matters relating to preparations for war and its aftermath. Item 2 is relates to ‘naval, military and air forces and any other armed force of the Union of India. Article 53(2) stipulates that ‘the supreme command of the Defence Forces of the Union shall be vested in the President and the exercise thereof shall be regulated by law.’

Thus while the operational commands rest with the respective service headquarters the higher command and control at the political level rests with the government of the day through the Raksha Mantri and the Defence Ministry. It was Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa, the first Indian Chief of the Armed Forces after independence, who laid down the principle of the armed forces being apolitical; he thus set the foundations of civil military relations in our country and this has been scrupulously observed on all sides and at all times.

As a member of the armed forces you would most of the time live in a world apart. Yet, you would need to remember at all times that in a democratic polity governed by the Constitution of India and the principle of Rule of Law, the supremacy of the legally constituted civilian authority has to prevail. This basic principle remains the bedrock of civil-military relations.

Patriotism and love for the motherland is an essential virtue for all citizens. Strident nationalism on the other hand should be eschewed since it tends towards jingoism; an instance of it was cited last week by an eminent scientist who cautioned against what she called ‘’vaccine nationalism.’


In our own country like in most others, the Armed Forces have four main tasks:
• To know the territorial extent of India and safeguard its integrity.
• To defend the country if attacked by a foreign nation.
• To support the civil administration in case of natural or man-made disasters (e.g. floods,earth quakes, tsunami etc).
• To participate in United Nations peacekeeping operations in consonance with India’s commitment to the United Nations Charter.

There are two matters of continuing relevance on which civil-military cooperation and coordination is essential for the administration of the country. The first of these pertains to civic disturbances and the need to help the civilian authority maintain law and order. The second relates to disaster management.

The first category, regretfully, has happened often enough. Civil commotion and breakdown of law and order propels the civilian administration to seek the assistance of the armed forces to restore order and this is provided on request to deal with riot-like situations and to deal with insurgency and terrorism. It has its limitations and experience shows that prolonged deployment diminishes the deterrent value of troops and is unhealthy for their morale. For this reason, and as General S.K. Sinha once observed, ‘every effort must be made to ensure that the employment of the Army on such tasks is an exception and not allowed to become a routine affair.’.

The typology of natural or manmade disasters beyond the shores of India is indicative of the actual role that the armed forces are called upon to play. The Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 saw 19 ships of the Indian Navy being deployed in relief operation. This was appreciated and applauded. Similarly, when domestic disturbances in Libya and Yemen created distress situations for large number of Indians and other foreign nationals there, ships of our navy helped with their evacuation. A similar effort of large scale relief operations was conducted by the Indian Army in the wake of the Nepal earthquake of April 2015. We also responded to incidents of piracy in the Arabian Sea and the resultant threat to commercial shipping by joining the global policing efforts.

Experience shows that the type of natural / manmade disasters determines the type and extent of assistance to be provided in such situations. This requires a steady and continuing accumulation of knowledge about them and the experience of other countries and their armed forces in responding to them.

The global community, with India’s full participation cogitated in the aftermath of the experience of World War II on disputes that may arise between countries and decided to develop mechanisms for resolving them peacefully before the eruption of conflicts or during and after resort to arms has taken place. The mechanisms and procedures are spelt out in the Charter of the United Nations and authorizes the UN Security Council to undertake Peace Keeping Operations or PKOs to prevent aggravation of such situations. These have numbered 70 in 120 countries since 1948. Of these, Indian peace keeping contingents have numbered 49 and number around two lakhs. Most of these were in Africa.


Like in any other calling in life, the profession of arms calls for an adequate understanding of the principles of warfare, its objective and methodologies, the objectives and techniques of the adversary or adversaries, and the achievement of maximum results with affordable and minimal inputs. These have been the subject of expert and scholarly studies down the ages. An eminent modern strategist Liddell Hart opined that ‘the best short introduction to the study of warfare is Sun Tzu’s manual written around 500 BC who wrote that ‘to subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill’ and that ‘what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy.’ Around the same time or perhaps a little later, Kautilya’s Arthashastra dealt comprehensively with the concepts of war and foreign policy and laid emphasis on psychological warfare and propaganda.

Despite these general prescriptions, any study of military history would reveal the perils of strategic atrophy in the face of changing ground realities. We have many examples of it in own past.

One recent assessment of this trend elsewhere is reflected in a book published last year by an American scholar. It concluded that ‘the twenty-first century is maturing into a world mired in perpetual chaos, with no way to contain it.’ The present is described as ‘durable disorder’ which contains rather than solves problems. Allow me to cite some of his observations:

‘The world will not collapse into anarchy; however, the rule-based order we know will crumble and be replaced by something more organic and wild whose defining feature will be persistent armed conflict. As a result and in the coming decades, we will see wars without states, and countries will become prizes to be won by more powerful global actors. Many nation states will exist in name only. Wars will be fought mostly in the shadows mostly by covert means and plausible deniability will prove more effective than fire power in an information age. We are dangerously unprepared because war has moved on.’

Here there is food for thought since we ourselves are not altogether unfamiliar with these situations. The soldiers of tomorrow will need to be trained for conventional and unconventional warfare.