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Fuelling The Arms Race

By Praful Bidwai

16 March, 2005
The News International

Peace 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 billion).

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 and China.

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 missiles.

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 of GDP.

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.

Military spending 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 on health.

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.

Elitist neoliberal 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 spending.

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.

These purchases 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 Gorshkov.

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 percent.

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 200,000 troops!

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. .

Nuclear weapons 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.











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