Chief of Defence Staff: a need of the hour
March 21st, 2020 at 4:58 pm
Chief of Defence Staff: a need of the hour

Thamzeed Shaheen;

“It is worth recalling that after the reverses suffered by them in the Boer War, the British carried out extensive reforms in their War Office. At Gallipoli, during the First World War, General Sir Ian Hamilton, commanding the Royal Army, desperately needed naval gunfire support but this was not forthcoming as the Admiral commanding the Fleet had ordered his warship crews to clean their boilers! The Gallipoli disaster taught the British the need for ensuring proper co-ordination between the various Services in battle. This need was further underscored with the emergence of the Air Force as a major partner in battle, whether on land or at sea. There was now a need for close professional co-ordination between the three Defence Services. After the First World War, the British introduced a Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), comprising the three Service Chiefs in their Defence High Command. This arrangement was also adopted by other countries. During the Second World War, the concept of a Supreme Commander in all theatres of war evolved. Within a few years after that War, the appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was made at the national level in all countries, except for India. Some countries use different nomenclature for this appointment but the functions assigned are the same.”

This is a quote from past records of military history. Since then the world has moved on to a different spectrum, in terms of warfare and peacetime military existence in a nation state.


Bangladesh has come a long way away from its humble inception to today, a shining example of growth, development and taking her place in the global stage. The Bangladesh armed forces are now one of the best institutions to spearhead the national growth, development and defence of the territory in peace and in war. 

Although geo-strategically Bangladesh is situated in a very different placement, the external military threats are lesser than that of  the internal natural, environmental, human displacement and migrational threats. These incidental impediments naturally demand a very strong military establishment where the land forces are greatly restricted to operate due to the very landscape of the country itself. In order to address the local and internal issues and as well as  during any eventualities of conflicts, skirmishes or war these three branches of services will need to form into an integral part to overcome those types of situations.

Given the nature of our landscape and the infamous seasons of monsoon, joint armed forces command is imperative to co-ordinate. Our country has a coastline of 580km forming the northern littoral of the Bay of Bengal. That creates an immediate need for land and naval cooperation to defend this wide stretch that forms a theatre for future scuffle. From ancient time, Bengal had always been susceptible to be caught unaware of this extensive beachhead.

Bangladesh is now a global military asset, too, employing in excess of 10k officers and men with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of munitions and equipments deployed abroad together with the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces. All of these engagements demand a furthering of cohesion and integration with the civil bureaucracy vis-à-vis the tri-service involvements both in the country and internationally.


A CDS will be able to act as an interlocutor between the three services and build a direct bridgehead of command & control with the Government. Therefore, the importance of the post of a new Chief of Defence Staff is something that the country needs to look at, sooner rather than later. A CDS will be able to co-ordinate and make suggestions and recommendations to the chief executive of the country based on his experience. This institution of the CDS will be an over-arching umbrella like a one-stop-shop organisation of those three branches of the armed forces.

Whilst consulting before penning this paper I have had numerous opportunities to interact with many of the retired officers and men from home and abroad, it was felt that, many voiced their concerns in the context of Bangladesh in that they have felt the need of such a canopy over the three services with superior ranking stature to command the branches with adequate knowledge, expertise, experience and, above all, acumen of commanding such larger bodies or organisations.

It is important to mention that Bangladesh armed forces are now one the biggest employers in the country and are growing faster than any other outfits in the country. The role of the Bangladesh Army is multi-dimensional inter alia its defensive roles. That alone demands a coordinating institution to oversee and advise the Government to achieve those labyrinthine tasks.

Air show

Creation of this epitome of the post in various countries:

In the United Kingdom (on which the model for our armed forces has been loosely based):

The post was created in 1959 to reflect the new concept of joint operation that had come to the fore in World War II. Prior to the creation of the post, they have served as the chairman of the Chief of Staff Committee from 1956 onwards. Before 1956, although no permanent post of chairman existed, the three service chiefs took it in turn to act as chairman at meetings. From the creation of the post until 1997, the Chief of Defence Staff was appointed to the highest rank in the respective branch of the British armed forces to which he belonged.

In New Zealand (my present country of abode), the post has existed under its present name of Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) since 1991. From 1963 to 1991 the head of the New Zealand Defence Force was known as the Chief of Defence Staff.

The Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS; French: Chef d’état-major de la Défense) is the most senior member of the Canadian Armed Forces and heads the Armed Forces Council having primary responsibility for command, control, and administration of the forces, as well as military strategy, plans and requirements. The position is held by a senior member of one of the three main branches of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Soldier in the field

In our neighbouring Sri Lanka the post itself was created in 1999, replacing the civilian post of Chief of the Joint Operations Bureau which had existed briefly in 1999. Its powers expanded under the Chief of Defence Staff Act No. 35 of 2009.

In recent years, the Chief of the Defence Staff was appointed to the highest rank in the branch of the Sri Lankan armed forces to which he belonged (equivalent to a US “Four Star” rank).

This position exists in almost every country in the world. The role of the Chief of Defence Staff remains as one of the pivotal appointments for the country to assist the Government to minimise duration and readily available resources appraisal without having to waste any time and to ease the load or extra pressure on the Government in tackling General Elections, natural or man-made disasters & counter terrorism.

The following countries with smaller armies also have Chief of Defence Staff:  Singapore, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar. Also, the war-torn counties of Africa have been obtaining resources from the Chief of Defence Staff in Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria and Somalia.

The benefit of appointing the  senior most General of the Country will perpetuate into a recurring passage of professionalism  at the top of the pyramid to facilitate the strategy, doctrines, grand and national strategy with augmenting and extrapolating the contemporary assets of immediate past role.


As a seasoned and matured democracy, our country will also benefit from the creation of this post as the CDS will be able to transfer  his expertise from the military prospective as it helps in the NATO countries like Turkey, Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia.

Most recently, India has appointed her recent past Chief of Army Staff as the first incumbent for the newly established and coveted post of the Chief of Defence Staff.

The role of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) could be as follows;

•    Assist in providing for the strategic direction of the armed forces

•    Development of doctrine for the joint employment of the armed forces

•    Facilitation of preparation of strategic plans for the armed forces

•    Co-ordination of matters relating to intelligence between the armed forces;

•    To undertake assessments to determine the capabilities of the armed forces in comparison with those of their potential enemies/opponents.

•    Preparation of operational plans for the armed forces

•    The CDS is meant to be a single-point military advisor to the government on important defence and strategic issues for the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence.

Fighter jet

•    CDS will not exercise any military command.

•    CDS will also act as the head of the Armed Forces Division.

•    He will be the permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.

•    In the context of Bangladesh, the existing Principal Staff Officer of the Armed Forces Division’s rank and responsibilities can be enhanced and upgraded to pave the way for the position of the Chief of Defence Staff.

In light of the above facts, it is a thought-provoking idea that this post of a Chief of General Staff for Bangladesh is created sooner rather than later. This will not even pose any fiscal constraints as there is already a skeleton of the same establishment exits in within the present set up. The tri-service’s mutual cooperation emanating from under one umbrella to facilitate the Defence Minister and the C-in-C by a matured, qualified and experienced four-star general would be an ideal hypothesis.

Writer Thamzeed Shaheen is an academic in politics and international relations with the University of Auckland, New Zealand