Armed and Dangerous
The Indian military machine is fast acquiring sophisticated weapons. Since the country prefers expensive arms purchases to spending on social issues, either Pakistan will bear the brunt of this peculiar fixation in the times to come - or China.
India is fast acquiring new military weapons.
According to The Military Balance 2012 published by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London, “India has the third-largest army in the world and is among the largest providers of personnel for UN peace-keeping operations. Its armed forces regularly carry out combined arms and joint-service exercises and have joined multinational exercises with the US, France and UK among others.”
This revelation about India’s growing military profile further brings out New Delhi’s age-old ambition to emerge as a major power while focusing on modernizing its ‘blue water navy.’ According to The Economist (March 30, 2013, London issue) “India is poised to become one of the four largest military powers in the world by the end of the decade. India has more active military personnel than any Asian country [besides] China, and its defense budget has risen to $46.8 billion. Today, it is the world’s seventh largest military spender. It has a nuclear stockpile of 80 or more warheads to which it could easily add more, and ballistic missiles that can deliver some of them to any point in Pakistan. It has recently tested a missile with a range of 5,000km which would reach most of China.”
In another article titled ‘Overlooking India’s Military Buildup’ in The News International (December 6, 2011), Momin Iftikhar wrote: “between… 2006-2010, India has become the world’s largest weapon importer and accounts for nine per cent of the international arms transfer. To update its ageing military inventory by 2015, India will spend an estimated $80 billion on the military modernization program. India is also in the process of buying six Russian P-751 submarines at an estimated cost of $10.72 billion, making it [the country’s] largest arms deal. This is in addition to the six French Scorpene submarines which will begin to enter service in 201415.” Furthermore, “India unveiled its first indigenous aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant in August 2013” which will significantly add to its naval strength.
Similarly an article in The Economist (August 17, 2013) called ‘Indian military power all at sea.’ It was reported that “on August 10, India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, proudly announced that the reactor of the country’s first indigenously designed and built nuclear-powered submarine, the Arihant (Destroyer of Enemies) had been activated and the vessel would soon begin sea trials. This giant stride was quickly followed by another two days later, with the launch of the country’s first domestically built aircraft carrier, the Vikrant, which is expected to enter service in 2018.”
The afore-mentioned facts help in drawing a few significant conclusions. For starters, although India’s defense budget is merely 2.5 per cent of its GDP unlike Pakistan’s 3.5 per cent, there has been a surge in its military expenditures in the last few years. According to the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses ((IDSA), New
Delhi, the union budget 2012-2013 presented to the parliament on March 16, 2012, [increased] the defence outlays to Rs1,93,407 crore (40.44 billion). This represents a growth of 17.63 per cent over the previous year’s outlays, [thus making it] one of the highest increases in recent years, excluding 2009-10 when the budget was increased to over 34 per cent mostly to accommodate the [salary hikes] caused by the implementation of the recommendations of the Sixth Central Pay Commission. However, India is also spending a huge sum on the purchase of sophisticated weapons from Russia, France, the United States and the United Kingdom. In fact, the Russian Federation has been a major supplier of weapons to India. Armament factories with the help of Moscow were established in India several decades ago and deepened defense cooperation between the two countries.
India’s indigenous weapon’s production program in its three services, along with the manufacturing of nuclear missiles, takes a large chunk of its military spending. Furthermore, the country’s growing military expenditures followed by its regional and extra-regional ambitions, tend to augment the arms race in South Asia. If India’s drive to seek a major military status is in reaction to China, Pakistan is compelled to bridge the gap with conventional weapons. In a recent interview for The Telegraph, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for an end to the “unfortunate arms race” between India and Pakistan because, “the money wasted in defense should have gone into social sectors; it should have gone into education; it should have gone into health care.”
Sadly, in view of New Delhi’s single-minded approach to accelerate the modernization and expansion of its armed forces, there is little likelihood of India reciprocating to Nawaz Sharif’s proposal to reduce defense expenditures along with Pakistan. As far as the threat perception from the Indian side is concerned, it seems it is China more than Pakistan that is perceived as a major threat to New Delhi. China’s economy is second in the world after the United States and it can afford to spend generously on defense and military expenditures, but India – with more than 40 per cent of its population living below the poverty line along with various other economic and security issues – can hardly afford to divert its scarce resources from development to defence. In the last one decade or so, the Indian economy grew at the rate of 6-8 per cent per annum, but currently, both the growth rate and the country’s currency have gone down (vis-à-vis the US dollar and other major international currencies). Will the looming downward trend in the Indian economy restrain its growing military expenditures?
There are also reports about widespread corruption in the Indian military purchases, procurement and award of contracts. In fact, PM Rajiv Gandhi lost the 1989 general elections primarily because of the allegations of corruption – the Bofors Scandal. His opponents alleged that he received kickbacks on the purchase deal of longrange Bofors guns from Sweden. While this is a common practice in India, the charge has also targeted the country’s civilian leadership, particularly those holding top positions.
Finally, many believe that a segment of the army has developed a vested interest in sustaining its conflict with Pakistan, particularly over Jammu and Kashmir and Siachen, to ensure privileges and kickbacks that they receive in acquiring military contracts. Reports of the army now exercising a veto on national security matters and particularly in the Siachen conflict are disturbing because such a trend will eventually limit civilian political control over the military and encourage men in uniform to deepen their involvement in national affairs.
Is the Indian military following those countries where the weaknesses of civilian governments have provided enough temptation to either seize power or seek a major share in the power structure? India is the world’s largest democracy and successive regimes from Nehru to date have been able to keep control over the power ambitions of generals. However, it seems the growing influence of the Indian military in matters related to insurgency and conflict in the northeast states, in Jammu and Kashmir and in Siachen may eventually transform the threat of its power ambitions into a reality.
Of course, the ‘competition’ with China is not a new phenomenon. The two countries share a long mountainous border which is the MacMohan line drawn during the British imperial days in the Indian subcontinent. India and China were engaged in an armed conflict known as the SinoIndian Border War which took place in 1962. The poor performance of the Indian army in that war created a psychological complex in New Delhi which reinforced the perception that the real security threat emanates not from Pakistan but from the north, that is, China. The conflict between the two countries since then has been positively transformed and managed to the extent that China is now India’s largest trading partner. Yet, oddly enough, Indian military preparedness is primarily targeted against China, as it is considered to be a long-term threat to its interests.
By developing better relations with its neighbors, India will certainly put an end to all negative notions about its aggressive and expansionist designs largely attributed to the growing profile of the Indian military. In view of the surging challenge of poverty and underdevelopment, India needs to positively reciprocate to the Pakistani Prime Minister’s proposal for a reduction in the arms race.