Guns vs. But­ter

While spend­ing on the so­cial sec­tor is al­ways a pri­or­ity and na­tions like India and Pak­istan need to spend more on th­ese ar­eas than they presently do but in to­day’s world, ac­qui­si­tion of mod­ern arms is also im­por­tant.

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Here are a few quotes to warm your heart: U.S. Pres­i­dent and a for­mer gen­eral Dwight Eisen­hower, the Supreme Al­lied Com­man­der of the Al­lied Forces in WWII, had this to say: “Ev­ery gun that is made, ev­ery war­ship launched, ev­ery rocket fired sig­ni­fies, in the fi­nal sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spend­ing money alone. It is spend­ing the sweat of its labour­ers, the ge­nius of its sci­en­tists,


By AVM (R) Shahzad Chaudhry the hopes of its chil­dren.”

And, “the cost of one mod­ern heavy bomber is this: a mod­ern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two elec­tric power plants, each serv­ing a town of 60,000 pop­u­la­tion. It is two fine, fully equipped hos­pi­tals. It is some fifty miles of con­crete pave­ment. We pay for a sin­gle fighter plane with a half mil­lion bushels of wheat. We pay for a sin­gle de­stroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 peo­ple”. This was when a jet fighter cost only a quar­ter mil­lion in real dol­lars. To­day th­ese costs hover in the re­gion of 100-250 mil­lion USD per plane.

And his most fa­mous quote as he re­lin­quished of­fice came in this warn­ing: “In the coun­cil of gov­ern­ment, we must guard against the ac­qui­si­tion of un­war­ranted in­flu­ence, whether sought or un­sought, by the mil­i­taryin­dus­trial com­plex. The po­ten­tial for the dis­as­trous rise of mis­placed power ex­ists, and will per­sist.”

To­gether it lays out the dilemma that each nation har­bour­ing a role

for it­self be­yond her bor­ders, or faced with threats that har­bour such in­ten­tions, has to an­swer. It is an old de­bate and no one has been able to fully sat­isfy the call of con­science on it. Un­less of course you are Switzer­land which de­clared neu­tral­ity and stuck to it through the chal­lenge of sur­round­ing con­flict. As a con­se­quence, Switzer­land dis­banded its air force some years back by ground­ing the cou­ple of squadrons that it main­tained on in­ven­tory. It in­stead found use in di­vert­ing to he­li­copters for polic­ing func­tions only. Aus­tria, af­ter hav­ing been rav­aged by the two great wars has also low­ered its pro­file in Europe even though it re­tains a core de­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­ity as a de­fen­sive force only. Most of its de­ploy­ments come un­der the UN flag and aid in keep­ing peace.

Let us visit the other ex­treme - the world of nu­clear weapons, which take away not only your but­ter but your con­science. Weapons of mass de­struc­tion are held by as many as nine na­tions in the world. A cou­ple more on the anvil have been, till date, suc­cess­fully weaned away. The po­ten­tial for dam­age thus is huge and ex­ces­sive. Th­ese were turned into weapons of de­ter­rence and through de­ter­rence peace was sought. Ac­com­pa­nied with a lot of po­lit­i­cal re­order­ing of the world th­ese weapons too con­trib­uted to a ten­ta­tive bal­ance and an era of peace in the world since WWII, called rather in­tu­ition­ally, ‘si­lence of the grave­yard.’

The world or­der is in a cyclic mo­tion where the dawn­ing and set­ting of great pow­ers con­tin­ues through pe­ri­ods of his­tory. A sin­gle, set-piece, or­der of per­pe­tu­ity is dif­fi­cult to en­sure, nor pos­si­ble. This re­ally means that the neu­tral­ity that Switzer­land of to­day swears by is valid only in the cur­rent era. What might the fu­ture por­tend for it is sim­ply in­con­ceiv­able. So will be its vows of celibacy. So too Aus­tria which sits next to the great nation of Ger­many, now an eco­nomic power which may well re-find its mar­tial spirit with spare wealth, against whom it just may need to stiffen up or be sim­ply de­voured by Ger­many as hap­pened in the two great wars. So, the bets on celibacy in geopol­i­tics are off as far as long hedg­ing goes.

In Asia, the rise of China and India as two eco­nomic gi­ants has in­vari­ably meant that the ca­pac­ity for them to in­flu­ence and shape the strate­gic en­vi­ron­ment be­yond their bor­ders has con­sid­er­ably im­proved. It is also ex­hib­ited by India as­sert­ing it­self in its neigh­bour­hood while China’s emer­gence has al­ready tested the nerves of var­i­ous cap­i­tals in the world. Both are known to not only quan­ti­ta­tively but qual­i­ta­tively en­hance their mil­i­tary po­ten­tial to match their am­bi­tions of a great sta­tus. China’s com­pul­sions though not as starkly be­trayed are more to pro­tect its eco­nomic in­ter­ests. Yet the arms race that Eisen­hower so aptly warned against goes on un­abated.

India has been the fore­most coun­try in terms of de­fence spend­ing in the last decade. With about 150 bil­lion USDs ear­marked for the next 10 years on de­fence ac­qui­si­tion is akin to fir­ing warn­ing shots for cau­tion against Pak­istan’s bows. It also has de­clared am­bi­tions to be in­cluded in the nu­clear regime as a de jure in­evitabil­ity while as­pir­ing to the head ta­ble with a more per­ma­nent claim to a seat at the UNSC. The trends favour India’s de­clared am­bi­tions and as­pi­ra­tions. This re­ally means that its urge to prove it­self wor­thy of such sta­tus in­cen­tivizes fur­ther ac­qui­si­tions.

With a plan to ac­quire state-of-the art fighter air­craft from France in large num­bers and with sim­i­lar ac­qui­si­tions for the army with a more mod­ern tank fleet, it forces Pak­istan on the path to seek de­ter­rence too. That comes in the form of qual­i­ta­tive rein­vig­o­ra­tion of its strate­gic nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity. Re­cently both sides have dis­played a proven ca­pa­bil­ity to pos­sess cruise mis­siles. India has gone even be­yond and prides it­self with the Agni-5 which takes it into the truly trans-con­ti­nen­tal range.

Where is the but­ter? This is from the Wikipedia: At the out­break of World War I, the lead­ing global ex­porter of ni­trates for gun­pow­der was Chile. It pro­vided nearly all of the US's ni­trate re­quire­ments. This was also the prin­ci­pal in­gre­di­ent of chem­i­cal fer­til­iz­ers in farm­ing. With sub­stan­tial pop­u­lar opin­ion run­ning against US en­try into the war, (the de­fi­ance led to in­stead seek favour for) lo­cal ver­sus na­tional in­ter­ests. The US Na­tional De­fence Act of 1916 di­rected "the Sec­re­tary of Agri­cul­ture to man­u­fac­ture ni­trates for fer­til­iz­ers in peace and mu­ni­tions in war at wa­ter power sites des­ig­nated by the Pres­i­dent."

Many of India’s nu­clear power sta­tions to­day pro­duce en­riched Ura­nium and its iso­tope Plu­to­nium as by-prod­ucts which eas­ily find ac­cess to

The world will never be paci­fist. And as long as con­flict per­sists, of any kind, there shall be a call on na­tions to de­fend their in­ter­ests.

its weapons pro­gram. India’s stock­pile of fis­sile ma­te­rial is prob­a­bly the most by long among re­cently nu­cle­arised na­tions. This is in ab­so­lute con­form­ity with what Eisen­hower warned against; the mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex will con­tinue to gorge on you till it has fully de­voured you. I para­phrase, of course.

The world will never be paci­fist. And as long as con­flict per­sists, of any kind, there shall be a call on na­tions to de­fend their in­ter­ests. Stand­ing armies and ar­se­nals of weapons are there­fore a re­al­ity to con­tend with. The best a man can do is to, one, elim­i­nate war through res­o­lu­tion of dis­putes, and two, to not go be­yond its le­git­i­mate needs to de­fend it­self. This is un­der­stand­ably rel­a­tive and when India may seem to be un­duly on the path to greater mil­i­ta­riza­tion, it per­haps is only mak­ing up for what it needs to con­tend with against China.

It is there­fore never a fi­nite state of ca­pac­ity. If not quan­ti­ta­tive, there al­ways will be qual­i­ta­tive en­hance­ments. This will al­ways lay a claim on what could have eas­ily gone to hos­pi­tals and schools. The de­bate whether the Sharif gov­ern­ment in Pak­istan is do­ing the right thing by spend­ing on fancy mo­tor­ways and met­ros when its schools and hos­pi­tals beg des­per­ate at­ten­tion is some­thing which will al­ways be a mat­ter of pri­or­ity and judg­ment.

Na­tions will need to judge well and pri­or­i­tize well. One can limit the dam­age but never com­pletely elim­i­nate it. So, for now, and for the fore­see­able fu­ture, both guns and but­ter will have to co­ex­ist.

The writer is a re­tired Air Vice Mar­shal of the Pak­istan Air Force and served as its Deputy Chief of Staff.

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