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.
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.