No politics for US Defence Secretary

No politics for US  Defence Secretary

Today's warfare is totally different and offers little scope for individual bravery except for jawans and junior officers. War is fought by remote...

Today's warfare is totally different and offers little scope for individual bravery except for jawans and junior officers. War is fought by remote control, scientific and technological ingenuity War was simpler in the past. Kings who went to war did not shy of fighting from the front, be it Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great or the Mahabharata heroes. It was unthinkable for the king to remain in the background as his troops went to battle. History and myth recorded the heroic achievements of these kings. Kings who fell in the battlefield, we were told, went directly to Heaven or the 'Veer swarg'. Of course, there was a hierarchy in war. The 'Senapati' was handpicked by the king for his valour and his leadership. He led the troops, planned strategy and was the right-hand man for the king. So long as Mark Antony led his troops on to the battlefield, Caesar had little to worry about. In case a battle was lost, the Senapati was expected to go down with the ship. All these were relevant ages back. Today's warfare is totally different and offers little scope for individual bravery except for jawans and junior officers. War is controlled by remote control, scientific and technological ingenuity. Military scientists and sophisticated laboratories plan and develop deadly weapons and, as in the case of the Drones, do not even need pilots but only remote control. Credit for winning battles now lies with scientific ingenuity and management. Management has played a key role in the conduct of war. In the past, a ruler needed troops, weapons, equipment, transport, and these could be assembled only through management. In the legendary war between Greece and Troy over Helen of Troy, Greek king Menelaus needed several years to collect the 'largest' fleet with necessary men and equipment before launching the siege of Troy. Several centuries later, in World War II the Allies prepared in the same manner for 'Operation Overlord' where thousands of ships crossed the Channel to attack German-held France and pave the way for destroying the Nazi war-machine. It was all a matter of logistics. Nations plan their defence set-up in different ways. In Parliamentary democracies like India, the responsibility rests on the Defence Minister. It is seldom that he has a military record. Can we imagine former Defence Ministers Mulayam Singh Yadav, Pranab Mukherjee or the present one, A K Anthony, clad in battle fatigues leading troops onto the battlefield? Today, defence is an assignment which needs managerial skills. The man in question should think and act decisively on hundreds of issues like selection of weapons, training, when to go to war and when not.
The US, the most powerful nation in the world and the only super power under a presidential form of government, perhaps had the best system to choose a defence chief who was called the Secretary of Defence and was second only to the Secretary of State. He need not be a politician and is the personal choice of the President. A Democratic Party President could appoint as his Secretary of defence a staunch Republican. What matters were talent, reputation and background of the person. According to former President John Kennedy, the easiest appointment he made was that of Robert McNamara as the Defence Secretary. McNamara was a Republican and president of Ford Motors. He had reached the top after managing Ford brilliantly for many years and was fully trusted by Henry Ford, the chairman-cum-owner. The Senate approved of his appointment without any hassle; McNamara became a key member of the Kennedy administration and continued with his successor, Lyndon Johnson. McNamara used all his managerial and human resources skill to run Pentagon which he helped to convert into the world's most powerful war-machine. Those were the days of the Cold War and the arms race, and under McNamara the US did not lag behind in any of these. It did not matter he was serving a Democratic Party President; he regarded himself as someone who served America and party affiliations did not matter. He had no military background, did not fight in any war but proved that genuine managerial skills were adequate to handle any assignment, be it in a car company or the Defence department. The US President had the powers to appoint men and women of his choice to high Cabinet posts. Besides ratification by the Senate, the appointees' background was thoroughly went through by the Intelligence agencies for any civil or criminal acts, however minor (drunkenness, actions of moral turpitude, participation in campus violence). In the famous political novel of the 1960's, 'Advise and Consent', former New York Times journalist Allen Drury focused how the Senate rejected the nomination of Robert Leffingwell, the President's handpicked choice for the Secretary of State's post, for lying about his membership of a Leftist group in his college days! This was a common occurrence during the Cold War days. What is relevant is that public utterances of Presidential nominees for key posts are closely scrutinized even today. Earlier this week, former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel was sworn in Secretary of Defence for President Obama's second term. His passage to the high post was not easy. His confirmation hearing was a bruising one; Hagel had attracted controversy for allegedly being too critical of Israel and too compromising with Iran. Hagel, a former soldier and Vietnam veteran, did not have his patriotism questioned, but members of the Senate Committee were uneasy over his criticism of the NATO alliance and its role in Europe. India figured in the Senate hearings. References were made to the Senator's speeches at university functions that India created problems for Pakistan by financing 'projects' in Afghanistan. Hagel's views contradicted those of his government which encouraged India to play a more positive and active role in Afghanistan. Indian 'projects' in Afghanistan had nothing to do with defence or weaponry. They were concerned with health, education and other development issues and would help Afghan development. There was a mild furore both in the US and India over Hagel's views. But the President, while expressing full confidence in his new Secretary of Defence, quickly asserted that India was playing a major, useful role in the development of Afghanistan which had the full backing of his government. Hagel would now understand that the US had a different role to play in Afghanistan and measure his words carefully. In the days to come, he would be discussing military and arms issues with the Indian government and would be advised to toe his government's line.
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