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India: Civil-Military Relations
Country Study > Chapter 10 > National Security > National Security Structure > Civil-Military Relations


The pattern of civil-military relations prevailing in India was created by the staff of Lord Mountbatten as a three-tier system extending from the prime minister to the three service chiefs. At the apex of this structure is the Political Affairs Committee of the Cabinet. The second level is the Defence Minister's Committee of the Cabinet, and the third level is the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Other committees, such as the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Defence Science Advisory Committee, and the Joint Planning Committee, assist the higher committees. There were proposals in the mid-1990s to establish a joint defense staff for better integration of interservice resources, programs, policies, and operations.

In the immediate postindependence period, the Defence Minister's Committee of the Cabinet did not play an active role in policy formulation. The higher organization of defense was vested largely with the minister of defence. From 1957 to 1962, this position was held by V.K. Krishna Menon, whose authority far exceeded that usually accorded a minister of defence. A confidante of Nehru's through much of the late preindependence period, Menon functioned as Nehru's alter ego for national security and defense planning. Consequently, the locus of decision making shifted from the cabinet to the Defence Minister's Committee. Menon was in many ways responsible for laying the foundations of India's military-industrial base.

Among other endeavors, Menon was responsible for the development of ordnance facilities to manufacture the Ichapore semiautomatic rifle; a tank manufacturing complex at Avadi, Tamil Nadu; facilities to build frigates at the Mazagon Dock naval shipyard in Bombay; and the licensed manufacture of Soviet-designed MiG-23 fighter aircraft in Nasik, Maharashtra. However, his highly idiosyncratic manners, his high-handed ways, and his involvement in the tactical aspects of military decision making had negative consequences. For example, he quarrelled with the professional military, particularly India's third chief of army staff, General K.S. Thimayya, over Thimayya's attempt to warn Menon and Nehru about the emerging Chinese threat as early as 1959. When Thimayya resigned in protest, Nehru prevailed upon him to withdraw his resignation. Unfortunately, when questioned in the Lok Sabha (House of the People), the lower house of the Parliament, about Thimayya's resignation, Nehru offered a rather weak defense of the general's actions and sought to deflect the criticisms of his minister of defence. When Thimayya retired as chief of army staff in May 1961, Menon passed over Thimayya's designated successor, Lieutenant General S.P.P. Thorat, and instead appointed a junior officer, Lieutenant General P.N. Thapar. The appointment not only created a rift between the professional military and political leadership but also alienated a number of high-ranking officials in the Ministry of Defence. Menon's actions also demoralized competent personnel in the civilian and military bureaucracies, which led to important gaps in defense preparedness and planning. Menon's dominance of the defense planning process significantly contributed to the military debacle of 1962.

The Indian defeat led to the establishment of a new Emergency Committee of the Cabinet. This committee introduced a system of "morning meetings" with the minister of defence and the three service chiefs. The morning meetings, which are conducted without a predetermined agenda, deal with current defense issues on a regular basis. The meetings are also attended by the cabinet secretary, the defence secretary, and the scientific adviser to the minister of defence. These morning meetings continue to take place.

In the Chiefs of Staff Committee, formal equality prevails among the three service chiefs despite the fact that the army remains the largest of the three branches of the armed services. This formal equality among the three services came about with independence.

To facilitate defense planning, the government established two organizations: the Defence Coordination and Implementation Committee and the Defence Planning Staff. The Defense Coordination and Implementation Committee is chaired by the defence secretary and meets on an ad hoc basis. Its membership includes the three service chiefs, representatives from civilian and military intelligence organizations, and the secretary of defence production. The Defence Planning Staff, a permanent body, was established in 1986. Composed of officers drawn from all three services, it is responsible for developing overall national security strategy. It is also charged with briefing the Chiefs of Staff Committee on long-term threats to national security.

Data as of September 1995

Last Updated: September 1995

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for India was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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