Prime Minister addresses Combined Commanders` Conference: Full speech

Full text of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s speech at Combined Commanders` Conference: He addressed top commanders of Army, Air Force and Navy about the immediate challenges posed to the country.

By Hemant Abhishek | Last Updated: Nov 22, 2013, 21:25 PM IST

Zee Media Bureau

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed top commanders of Army, Air Force and Navy on Friday and cited the situation in the immediate neighbourhood and uncertainty due to the shift of eco-military balance to this region as the challenges posed to the country.

He also pressed the urgent need for putting in place "the right structures" for higher defence management and the appropriate civil-military balance in decision-making to meet "complex security" challenges facing the nation.

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Excerpts from his speech at the Combined Commanders` Conference:

It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak once again to this gathering of the senior-most leadership of our Armed Forces. Our men and women in uniform function in an exceedingly complex and difficult security environment, but they have always faced the challenge with exemplary professionalism, valour and commitment. As their leaders, you have played a critical role in building the confidence and pride that our forces inspire in our nation. I therefore thank each and every one of you for your services.

Let me at the outset pay solemn tribute to those who have in the past year laid down their lives in the service of our country. We remember with particular pain and sadness our sailors who perished in the submarine accident in Mumbai and our soldiers who died defending our borders and combating terrorism. We also recall our pilots and airmen, who sacrificed themselves to rescue precious lives in Uttarakhand. We owe a profound debt of gratitude to them. Equally, we remember many others whose stories did not become public but who were claimed by the daily risks of soldiering in inhospitable and hostile environments. They too served our country and served it well.

Friends, I do not intend my address today to be a rendition of our achievements in the arena of defence in this past year. You are already aware of those and know the subject much better. Instead, I wish to focus on the environment around us and what I think we need to do to ensure that our armed forces are fully enabled to handle it. Let me outline a few general points that come to mind before dealing with the unique security challenges that confront us in our neighbourhood.

Firstly, if you survey the global strategic environment over the past decade, it would not escape your notice that, just as the economic pendulum is shifting inexorably from west to east, so is the strategic focus, as exemplified by the increasing contestation in the seas to our east and the related "pivot" or "rebalancing" by the US in this area. This, to my mind, is a development fraught with uncertainty. We don`t yet know whether these economic and strategic transitions will be peaceful, but that is the challenge this audience must grapple with institutionally.

Secondly, and evidently, globalization is a phenomenon that we have to deal with in every domain. But this in itself is not a new or a post- Cold War phenomenon. We only need recall Pliny and the Roman Empire and the bemoaning of the fact that the coffers of imperial Rome were being emptied to import silk and spice from the east. What is new today is the pace and texture of globalization driven by technology, including the ubiquitous Internet.

While globalization has induced growing and complex inter-dependencies among states and multinationals on the economic and trade front, it has also nurtured intense competition and rivalries in the security domain. Managing this contradictory tenor, which has been highlighted by the global surveillance operation mounted by the US National Security Agency, is also a policy imperative for us. Naturally, our objective must be to acquire tangible national capacity, or what the lexicon now refers to as comprehensive national power. This is the amalgam of economic, technological and industrial prowess, buttressed by the appropriate military sinews.

Thirdly, the first six decades after independence have seen the country facing many challenges to its territorial integrity and sovereignty. And the nation and its military have risen to the occasion every time. Fittingly, the people acknowledge the Indian military for its patriotism and professionalism. But what is the way ahead for the Indian military? We are committed to the path of peace but the military must be able to protect Indian interests if they are threatened or challenged. Thus, creating a military that is driven by abiding interests, as opposed to the transient threat, is the driving principle.

Coming to the situation in our neighbourhood, there is no doubt that we will continue to confront formidable challenges. Further afield, the continuing turmoil in West Asia could not only imperil our energy security and the livelihood and safety of seven million Indians, but also become a crucible for radicalism, terrorism, arms proliferation and sectarian conflict that could touch our shores too. The Asia Pacific region, with which our relations are intensifying in every domain, is equally critical, not least because it is becoming the arena for shaping the behavior of major powers.

Our higher defence organization should pay close attention to these specific developments. In addition, our strategic horizons should also include the need to protect our global seaborne trade in goods, energy and minerals, the well-being of Indian expatriate communities worldwide and the growing global footprint of Indian capital. As our capabilities grow, we will increasingly be called upon to help in natural disasters or zones of conflict and instability.

How to deal with these multiple questions is the task before you. Allow me to share with you some of my thoughts on what we need to do internally and make a few brief points.

I urge the Defence Ministry and the armed forces, as also the DRDO, to build on this experience and urgently review the different Task Force reports that our government has initiated with a view to achieving a higher index of indigenous capability in military inventory production. For too long, we have debated the merits of private versus public sector. It would be more useful to think in terms of aggregate national capacity that harnesses the full power of our public sector, private enterprises, research laboratories and universities to create an innovative and efficient indigenous base for production, research and development. We must also take advantage of a favourable international environment to build a domestic defence industrial base.

We require urgent and tangible progress in establishing the right structures for higher defence management and the appropriate civil-military balance in decision making that our complex security environment demands. Again, I encourage you to give this the highest professional consideration, harmonize existing differences among the individual services and evolve a blue-print for the future. I can assure you of the most careful consideration of your recommendations by the political leadership.

The two issues that I have just raised are also relevant to a looming and a serious challenge before us. We need to match our investment in military equipment and forces to our national resources. During most of the past decade, we have had the benefit of average annual growth rates of 8%. But the last two years have seen slow growth and we continue to face an uncertain international economic climate marked by volatile exchange rate fluctuations and the possibility of fragmenting trade regimes. I have no doubt that we will overcome our current economic slowdown, but we will have to exercise prudence in our defence acquisition plans and cut our coat according to our cloth. While we must take into account the capabilities of our adversaries, we have to plan our long term acquisition on the assumption of limited resource availability. This is an exercise that has to be done with a high degree of priority and urgency.

People are at the heart of our armed forces and it is the distinctive value system of the military that provides cohesion to its human resource. The globalization I referred to earlier and the rising levels of individual aspirations have had a significant impact on our people. The military is no exception. As the senior leadership, you are responsible for the lives and welfare of your men and women in uniform. As commanders, you also have to introspect over fidelity to inviolable principles and set an example. Where the institution has frayed, remedial policy initiatives are imperative and I urge you to heed the old adage that the management of human resources is of the highest importance to any military. The Indian military has an illustrious pedigree and there can be nobody who knows better than you how best to burnish it.

There have been concerns that have been raised in recent times about the nature of civil-military relations in our country. Let me assert, clearly and unequivocally, that the political leadership of India has the highest faith in its military and its institutional rectitude within the democratic framework. The apolitical nature of our military and its proven professionalism are the envy of the world and have also nurtured the Indian democratic experience. Our democracy and institutions have proven their ability to deal with any issues or doubts that may arise.

Friends, I know you will agree with me that the real strength of our country will come from an overriding sense of national purpose. We need to return our economy to the high growth path. We need to develop our industrial and manufacturing base. We need to unleash the power of innovation in India, so that we can find new solutions to our pressing challenges. We also need to make our economic development socially and economically more inclusive, regionally balanced and environmentally sustainable. Above all, we need to strengthen the values that define us - democracy, rule of law, individual liberties, social and religious harmony and commitment to global peace.

I know that our armed forces live by this creed and serve as an example to the rest of the world. They embody formidable strength, but wield it with maturity and responsibility. They are prepared for the toughest missions, but are committed to the cause of peace. They brave storms, extreme cold and searing heat to guard our nation, so that India can pursue its dreams. In the weeks and months ahead, our security challenges will remain complex but our resolve too must remain steadfast. I am confident that our armed forces will discharge their collective responsibility towards flag and country with the zeal and passion that has become their byword. I wish you all success in all your endeavours.

Thank you. Jai Hind.