India’s Increasing Defense Budget: At What Cost?
On February 28, this year, India announced its ambitious defense budget amounting to 2.47 trillion Indian rupees ($40.07 billion), a 7.9 percent increase for the fiscal year starting from April 1, 2015, suggesting that it will move with the military’s long wish list for fighter jets, ships and artillery, as Narendra Modi’s government presented its first budget. For the current fiscal year, the allocation was 2.29 trillion rupees, a jump of 12 percent over the previous year.
While exposing India’s unlimited defense policy, Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) had disclosed in its report of April 2011 that India had planned “to spend an estimated $80 billion on military modernization programs by 2015 so as to further increase its military build-up against China and disrupt security-balance in South Asia…India is expected to maintain this position in the coming years.”
The CSIS report elaborated, “Consequently, India’s defense budget has roughly quadrupled (in real terms) since 2001…reaching $36.3 billion in the 2011–2012 budget…and enabled the implementation of long-term acquisition plans.”
It is notable that in February 2010, Indian military procurement units descended on the DefExpo 2010 trade fair in New Delhi. Inaugurating the Indian Defense Exhibition, Defense Minister A.K. Antony had said that India’s defense expenditure which is 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) is going to increase. He pointed out, “Our government is committed to rapid modernization of armed forces.”
In this regard, in its report, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) revealed on March 20, 2012, “India is the world’s largest recipient of arms…India’s imports of major weapons increased by 38 percent between 2002-06 and 2007-11.”
New Delhi’s military is acquiring a slew of new equipments from combat aircraft to submarines and artillery. It is currently finalising a deal with France’s Dassault Aviation to buy 126 Rafale fighter jets in a contract worth an estimated $12 billion.
Although peace and brinksmanship cannot co-exist in the modern era, yet India seeks to destabilize Asia through its aggressive designs.
In this respect, US still backs Indian hegemony in Asia to counterbalance China. During American President Barack Obama’s visit to India, on January 25, this year, the US and India announced a breakthrough on a pact which would allow American companies to supply New Delhi with civilian nuclear technology. On November 2, 2010, US agreed to sell India the most expensive—the new F-35 fighter jets including US F-16 and F-18 fighters, C-17 and C-130 aircraft, radar systems, Harpoon weapons etc. Besides acquisition of arms and weapons from other western countries—especially Israel, America is a potential military supplier to India. US also pressurized International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group to grant a waiver to New Delhi for obtaining civil nuclear trade on larger scale.
As a matter of fact, US wants New Delhi to assume anti-China role. Beijing is apprehensive about the emerging threat, as the intent of President Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quite clear, while mentioning about free sea lanes and air passages in the South China Sea.
In the recent past, tension arose between India and China when Indian army erected a military camp in Chumar Sector of Ladakh at the Line of Actual Control (LAC)-disputed border, situated between the two countries. Similarly, Indian soldiers crossed over the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir on January 6, 2012 and attacked a Pakistani check post, killing one Pakistani soldier. Afterwards, Indian troops shot dead more Pakistani soldiers on the LoC.
It is mentionable that under the Pak-China pretext, Indian ex-Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor disclosed on December 29, 2010 that the Indian army “is now revising its five-year old doctrine” and is preparing for a “possible two-front war with China and Pakistan.”
It is noteworthy that after 9/11, both India and Israel which had openly jumped on Bush’s anti-terrorism enterprise are acting upon a secret diplomacy, targeting Pakistan China and Iran. It could be assessed from the interview of Israel’s ambassador to India, Mark Sofer, published in the Indian weekly Outlook on February 18, 2008. Regarding India’s defense arrangements with Tel Aviv, Sofer had surprisingly revealed, “We do have a defense relationship with India, and “with all due respect, the secret part will remain a secret.” In fact, with the support of Israel, New Delhi has been acquiring an element of strategic depth by setting up logistical bases in the Indian Ocean for its navy.
Particularly, fast growing economic power of China coupled with her rising strategic relationship with the Third World, and especially Pakistan has irked the eyes of Americans and Indians. Owing to jealousy, America desires to make India a major power to counterbalance China in Asia. While, New Delhi continues cross-border terrorism in Pakistan including violations at the LoC and the Working Boundary, located at Pak-India borders.
And, on July 20, 2011, while hinting towards Pak-China ties, the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged India to be more assertive in Asia, saying that as American ally, the country should play more of a leadership role. She explained, “India has the potential to positively shape the future of the Asia-Pacific.”
However, India’s increasing defense budget not only indicates her offensive designs, but also has other drastic consequences in the region as well as for India itself.
In this context, in May 1998 when India detonated five nuclear tests, it also compelled Pakistan to follow the suit. The then Defense Minister George Fernandes had also declared publicly that “China is India’s potential threat No. 1.” New Delhi which successfully tested missile, Agni-111in May 2007, has been extending its range to target all Chinese cities. Now, by setting aside peace-offers of Beijing and Islamabad, New Delhi has entangled the latter in a deadly arms race.
While, international community has been making strenuous efforts for world peace in wake of global financial crisis and war against terrorism, but India has particularly initiated deadly nuclear arms race in South Asia where people are already facing multiple problems of grave nature. Majority of South Asian people are living below the poverty level, lacking basic facilities like fresh food and clean water. While yielding to acute poverty, every day, some persons commit suicide.
In fact, currently, more than half of India’s budget is allocated for military and paramilitary forces. That leaves less than half for everything else including infrastructure development projects, education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, and various human services. New Delhi’s latest arms buildup will leave even less for what India needs most to lift hundreds of millions of its citizens from abject poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease.
In the recent past, Indian civil society organizations, while complaining of excessive defense spending, indicated that the government spends very little amount for the betterment of people.
Indian defense analyst Ravinder Pal Singh, while pointing to New Delhi’s unending defense spending at the cost of poverty-alleviation, calls it guns-versus-butter question.
Even some of Indian officials are surprised in relation to Indian defense expenditure which has no bounds. For example, an official of the country’s finance ministry remarked, “There is a dilemma…poverty needs to be eradicated to prevent men from taking to the guns…but more funds for security means less money for poverty alleviation.”
Meanwhile, a report of United Nations pointed out that India ranks 134th of 182 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index. It estimated that 50 per cent of the world’s undernourished population lives in India. Nearly 31 per cent of the billion-plus Indians earn less than a dollar a day.
Secretary General of the Control Arms Foundation of India Binalakshmi Nepram said, “When people are dying of poverty and bad sanitation, what protection will arms provide them?”
Nevertheless, by ignoring regional problems and particularly resolution of Indo-Pak issues, especially the Kashmir dispute, Indian rulers state that they do not have any belligerent policy. But, it becomes a big joke of the 21st century, reminding a maxim, “armed to the teeth, but no enemy”, if we take cognizance of India’s increasing defense budget in wake of her aggressive designs, destroying South Asian peace and stability at the cost of modern world trends such as peaceful settlement of disputes, economic development and disarmament, giving a wake up call to other regional powers including Middle East and the Western World.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations