COM 06/2018

Antecedents and interdisciplinary reflections on Compliance – The military

By Major General Ashok Hukku (Retired), former Chief Intelligence former Chief Military Intelligence Advisor to the Cabinet Secretariat of the Indian Government in New Delhi


During the Crimean War of 1854 the British Light Brigade was ordered to attack a Russian position. Unfortunately, miscommunication in passing the orders resulted in the commander of the force ordering the British Light Brigade to assault a well-fortified artillery position reinforced with infantry armed with guns.

The Light Brigade was a cavalry force equipped with sabres and lances. Even though the troops knew that wrong orders had been passed they assaulted the Russian position. Almost half the strength of the Light Brigade was killed.

To honour the bravery of the soldiers Lord Tennyson wrote the famous poem “The Charge of The Light Brigade”. The following stanza from this poem gives an insight into the spirit of compliance in the army.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”

Was there a man dismayed?

Not though the soldier knew

Someone had blundered.

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.


Soldiers have gone to battle whenever their country and their leaders have called upon them to do so. They have complied with orders, with tradition and the call by their officers to lay down their lives.

To understand the phenomenon of compliance in the face of grave personal risk, it must be appreciated that there is a great difference in the ethos of armed forces and the ethos of civil organizations.


According to the Cambridge dictionary the meaning of compliance is: “the act of obeying an order, rule, or request”. In the armed forces there is no request there are only orders, rules and regulations.

The mission of armed forces lies in a completely different dimension. It is their responsibility to ensure the security of their nation and their people from external and internal threats.

In order to do so the first challenge is to have a team of men and women who will willingly put themselves in harm’s way to achieve organizational goals in peace and war.

The second challenge is to have these men and women in a constant state of readiness, fully trained and standing confidently to execute any mission assigned to them. In addition, they have to be kept in a high state of morale in victory as well as in defeat.

There is no scope for disobedience either in war or peace, as failure to obey can result in defeat, death and injury. The propensity to question, dither, express dissent or disobey orders or flout rules is not acceptable.

This ethos cannot be achieved overnight, nor can it be achieved by everyone. A special breed of men and women who possess the potential to give of their best unquestioningly, willingly, without hesitation even if it means extreme personal sacrifice are required.

In order to build such a motivated team, it is necessary to select future soldiers at a very young age so that they can be moulded by training and motivation to perform their demanding duties in the armed forces.

Some of the attributes necessary to select a person for a military career are:


  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Diversity and inclusion in action
  • Efficient performance under pressure
  • Respect for procedures
  • Initiative and Resourcefulness
  • Integrity
  • Ability to take decisions under adverse conditions


The famous words of Field Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode at the inauguration of the Indian Military Academy in 1932 have inspired and motivated countless generations of the army, he said:


  • “The Safety, Honour and Welfare of your country comes first always and every time,
  • The Honour, Welfare and Comfort of the men you command comes next,
  • Your own Ease, Comfort and Safety come last, always and every time.”


This not to say that the army is a perfect organization. Mistakes are committed and wrong decisions are made, at times with disastrous results. Some mistakes may be accidental while a few may be deliberate. A strong legal frame work is therefore necessary to ensure good discipline and efficient functioning of an army, infringements draw quick punishment.


Indian army is subject to the Indian Penal code like all other Indian citizens. In addition, it is also under the Army Act which lays down punishment for infringement of army discipline and code of conduct. Similarly, the US armed forces are additionally subject to military law. It is the case with all armies. As legal provisions are strict they ensure compliance.


Training is very important in the army, it builds espirit de corps. From day one team spirit is encouraged in different ways. A feeling of mutual trust and comradeship infuses young minds inspiring collective enthusiasm to achieve organizational goals. Compliance follows thereafter.


Another advantage of good training is that it builds self-confidence. All ranks acquire confidence in their own capability to perform assigned tasks, this enables efficient compliance of orders, rules and regulations.


To lead a good team, it is necessary to have good leaders. Field Marshal Sir William Slim said ‘there are no good or bad units, there are only good or bad officers”. Leaders who lead by personal example command the respect of their troops who follow them willingly. Compliance becomes automatic.


Great efforts are invested in regimentation of officers and men. Regimental history inspires a spirit of loyalty to the regiment. This helps in maintaining good discipline and ensures high performance levels to achieve organizational goals. Compliance of orders and rules becomes a part of life.


All armed forces have a system in which acts of outstanding courage and service are recognized by gallantry awards. On the other hand, infringement of discipline, disobedience of orders or show of cowardice attracts severe punishment. Together the system of awards and punishment go a long way in ensuring compliance.


Thus, the way of life of the armed forces, its ethos, good leadership, training and discipline ensure high levels of motivation. Orders, rules and regulations are complied with willingly and energetically. That is the way soldiers are trained from an early stage, that is the way they think, that is the way they work and do so happily.