By Praful Bidwai
16 March, 2005
The News International
activists have long warned that any process of India-Pakistan reconciliation,
however buoyant, would remain incomplete, fragile and vulnerable, unless
the two states address their military and nuclear rivalry upfront. India
and Pakistan, they argue, must reduce their defence spending significantly,
e.g. by 10 percent a year, and take their foot off the nuclear accelerator
to sustain and deepen the present, welcome, and yet reversible, thaw.
However, not just
peace activists, but all public-spirited citizens, should be alarmed
at the recent increases in the military expenditures of both states.
Ironically, these hikes coincide with their dialogue process. A particular
cause for concern is the sharp increase in India's latest defence services
budget by Rs 60 billion (7.8 percent) to a huge Rs 830 billion ($19
This comes on top
of Rs 120 billion hike in the United Progressive Alliance's first budget
presented last June. In just nine months, then, the Centrist UPA has
added 26 percent to the defence burden left by the National Democratic
Alliance, known for its Right wing and hawkish postures! This has happened
presumably despite changes in threat perceptions vis-a-vis Pakistan
The rise in India's
defence budget has evoked a hostile response from Pakistan. This could
soon translate itself into acquisition of new weapons to blunt India's
superiority and higher military spending. The likely second- and third-order
responses spell a disastrous South Asian arms race, which will accelerate
further as New Delhi and Islamabad acquire more nuclear weapons and
The latest increase
has been called "phenomenal" even by hawks. But the Rs 830
billion figure doesn't tell the whole story-only what's spent on the
defence services. However, the defence budget also includes establishment
expenses (Rs 1.5 billion) and "defence pensions" (Rs 12.4
billion). With these, the budget rises to Rs 970billion-3.05 percent
Even this is not
the full picture. The government regularly uses public sector manufacturers
of armament components like Bharat Electronics Ltd, BHEL, Hindustan
Aeronauticals, BEML, etc. to contribute to defence purchases through
hidden subsidies (estimated at Rs 30-70 billion).
The Indian public will now pay Rs 1,000 billion ($22.7 billion) for
defence. This is 3.2 percent of India's GDP, well above the officially
claimed 2.4 percent.
As in the case of
Pakistan, such high military spending is unconscionable in relation
to what is spent on essential public services.
devours about two-fifths of Pakistan's budget. It claims a seventh of
India's budget-the highest head after interest payments. This is three
times higher than what India invests in primary education in government
and private schools, and 275 percent higher than her public expenditure
It simply won't
do to argue that "defence is important", or "adequate
military spending is imperative". Equally important is adequate
investment in the health and education of people. Submarines and fighter
aircraft are necessaryin moderate and balanced numbers. But is culture
not important? Is investment in agriculture not necessary? Isn't the
Employment Guarantee Act (EGA) absolutely essential?
Yet, India's budget
allocates a miserable Rs 8.65 billion to culture, Rs 72.42 billion to
agriculture, and Rs 110 billion for the EGA-small fractions of the defence
budget. This disproportion is both morally and politically untenable.
Societies that spend too much on "security" and starve the
public of basic opportunities actually court insecurity.
policies lead to collapse of public services and sharpen class and regional
inequalities. The result is hunger, social strife, crime, and violent
revolts, with loss of food security, employment security, income security,
gender security, personal security and social cohesion. Predatory states
treat such human insecurity as a law-and-order problem soluble with
brute force. This becomes a self-serving argument for higher defence
India and Pakistan
have both followed this pattern. Since the 1998 nuclear blasts, their
military spending has doubled. As they acquire more nukes and missiles,
their spending will skyrocket.
India and Pakistan belong to the bottom one-fourth of the world in human
development indicators. But they are among the world's 10 or 12 biggest
military spenders. This is an unflattering comment on their rulers'
obligation to the citizens. Societies that follow this model are like
military giants with feet of clay. They can disintegrate-like the Ottoman
and Tsarist empires, or the former USSR.
Much of the recent
increase in India's military spending is attributable to highly expensive
weapons systems, including an aircraft carrier, submarines, multiple
rocket launchers, airplane-based radar systems, mid-air refuellers,
light helicopters, and artillery guns.
have claimed $ 20-25 billion over the past four years and will claim
another $ 7.8 billion this coming fiscal. Only a fraction of this represents
spending on modernisation. Many items are weapons which give no major
strategic advantage. For instance, many naval experts have passionately
argued against buying the discarded Russian air-defence ship Admiral
These massive purchases
are guided neither by a comprehensive and rounded analysis of security
needs, nor by clarity about what is adequate defence. After South Asia's
nuclearisation, India isn't likely to face a prolonged full-scale high-intensity
conventional war with its neighbours (without the imminent threat of
nuclear escalation). Yet, its defence planning is based on such a high
likelihood. Pakistan too replicates such thinking, itself rooted in
a pre-World War II strategic calculus.
For Indian and Pakistani
strategic planners, modernisation isn't about judiciously, incrementally,
adding to existing arms and ammunition. It's about throwing huge sums
after costly weapons. Thus, Japan or Brazil can be secure with one percent
GDP spending on defence, or most of Western Europe with less than two
Such thinking must
change. India and Pakistan must opt for minimal defence and systematically
cut spending. The scope in India is staggering. A committee headed by
former minister Arun Singh recommended a 10-15 percent reduction without
loss of firepower.
More can be done.
85 percent of the Army's budget is spent on the enormous manpower of
1.25 million. This can be easily reduced. Six years ago, the government
announced it would reduce manpower by 50,000. Instead, it has added
Another saving area
is energy and materials consumption. Shaktiman, the Indian Army's main
transport vehicle, has an appallingly low mileage-to-fuel ratio (about
1 km per litre). This can be raised fourfold. Similarly, wasteful expenditure
on spares and components can be averted by reforming antiquated procedures.
India and Pakistan
can reduce corruption in procurement of arms and supplies. Corruption
flourishes because of lack of public oversight. The Comptroller and
Auditor General's remit doesn't extend to defence. This must change.
India and Pakistan
are in the early stages of their nuclear weapons programmes. As these
proceeds apace, the pressure for funds will mount hugely. Nuclear weapons
are extremely expensive. Warhead explosive assemblies are only a small
part (10-15 percent) of the costs of nuclear weapons programmes. Other
components, e.g.command and control, are far costlier. .
are always an addition to, never substitute for, conventional arms.
This enlarges the danger of a serious nuclear arms race between India
and Pakistan. To avert it, they must rethink their nuclear policies
and move towards regional denuclearisation.