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Tuesday, February 23, 2010


India intends spending an equivalent amount but in half the time to the $ 50 billion it spent on armaments over the last decade. Among the big ticket items lined up, are the first purchases of artillery pieces since the Bofors scandal for the Army. The Air Force is going in for the strategic lift Globemaster, C 130s and 126 Multi Role Combat Aircrafts. The Navy is to receive the $ 4 billion rechristened Gorshkov, aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, and is building another aircraft carrier and a nuclear submarine and a new generation of submarines this decade. With the success of the Agni III test, the Strategic Forces Command has set its eyes towards the 5000 Km Agni V. Whether all these are necessary is a valid question.

Multiple reasons are given as answer with deterrence usually being the main reason. Firstly, India’s growing economy requires securing through deterring threats that are there in the environment. Future threats need to be catered for now since incorporating weapons into the repertoire requires time. Since India is in a ‘dangerous neighbourhood’ in which are two nuclear armed powers that are close enough to each other for acting in collusion, India has to be prepared for a ‘two front’ eventuality as the worst case scenario. India’s expanding economy would in future require access to energy, trading routes, resources and markets. This entails both a strong Navy and an out of area capability for the Army and strategic reach for the Air Force. Credible nuclear deterrence requires delivery capability in missiles of range and performance, assurance in the second strike capability in terms of the sea leg of the ‘triad’, an elastic quantity of warheads of varying types and yields, and protection through ballistic missile defences of command and control and second strike assets.

Secondly, current threats also figure as logic. The draw down in proxy war in Kashmir and abatement of terror incidents since 26/11 is attributed to success in conventional deterrence. This owes to an offensive doctrine backed by a capability enabled by defence budgets that have expanded three fold over the past decade. It is deemed that China’s venturesomeness across the disputed boundary can only be dissuaded by a visible and usable military capability.

Lastly, India is seen as an emerging power that needs to carry its weight in international affairs. With the US facing prospects of a long term decline, India needs to redress the balance on the side of democracies. By giving itself the capability, it can discharge responsibilities coming its way.

Interrogating this logic is warranted, even if the defence budget is pegged at a seemingly reasonable 2-2.5 per cent of the GDP and is supposedly not necessarily and obviously at the cost of the social sector.

The arms are intended to deter war and if unavoidable to fight and if possible win. The Prussian military thinker, Clausewitz’s most important idea concerned the two types of war. The first was a war of conquest and the second a limited war to bring about a negotiated settlement. While the first amounting to Total War is unthinkable in the nuclear era, the second is being deemed feasible if the Army Chief is to be believed. He had this to say in late November: “The possibility of limited war under a nuclear overhang is still a reality, at least in the Indian sub-continent…”

Since the kind of war that can be fought, if at all is only a limited war, are the preparations reflecting this. Not so. The armaments can well be meant for Total War. The logic is perhaps that once a war is begun it could end up as a wider war even if the original intent was to keep it a limited one. The enemy may up the ante for which prior preparedness on our part would act as deterrence. Therefore, the purchases are for a Total War in order paradoxically to keep any war a limited one. The counter argument is that if there is no guarantee that a war can be kept limited, there is no question of getting into one. And if war is not an option, then arming for one as we are is not necessary.

Lets take the effect on one possible adversary, Pakistan, as example. The range, quality and depth of capabilities that India is acquiring enables India to prevail over Pakistan. Pakistan cannot know what Indian aims are. If India advertises its limited aims, Pakistan can ensure it denies these with greater energy. Denied a win, India, seen as the bigger power, would be facing a loss. It may then be tempted to widen war aims or escalate. It can be denied even these by Pakistan going nuclear. This is not in Indian interests, even if it is decidedly not so in Pakistani interests either. Therefore, even a limited war makes little sense.

The supposed aims in such a war are to ‘punish’ Pakistan. The satisfaction of punishing it cannot be risked. Even if the war is intended to bring Pakistan to the negotiating table, then root causes as Kashmir etc. would require to be addressed on the table. In which case, why should it take a war? Such negotiations can be proceeded with, thereby undercutting the prohibitive option of war. This has the added advantage that the expenses being incurred and the militarization resulting can also be avoided.

The same is the case with China. The former Chairman of the Chief’s of Staff in his landmark speech to Delhi’s strategic community on relinquishing office said, “Common sense dictates that Cooperation with China would be preferable to Competition or Conflict, as it would be foolhardy to compare India and China as equal… On the military front, our strategy to deal with China must include reducing the military gap.” As expected he recommends diplomacy backed by military preparedness. The idea is that diplomacy succeeds if there is military force to back it. Since China, on its way to super-powerdom, is expected to get more assertive; but seeing military backing would be more responsive to Indian diplomacy.

The question is that in case diplomacy fails can military power, as is being created, be of any use? That it would be mutually hurtful is no satisfaction for getting hurt oneself. Having military power to fall back on makes diplomacy less amenable to the ‘give and take’ of negotiations. Politically, there would be little incentive to arrive at solutions to, say, the border problem, since militarily there would be no need to. In effect the cyclic argument of militarists can be identified: military preparedness delays solution to problems and their continuing existence gives military power a seemingly plausible rationale.

Arming now for the envisaged future threat of two Asiatic giants fighting it out for strategic space in Asia; for markets, resources and energy; and for prestige can only be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ending up as cannon fodder for the US in a superpower face off with China for global hegemony can only be gainful for arms merchants and their points men in India.

As a nuclear power, all India need have is the capability to defend itself. A peace dividend for having gone nuclear is what India should instead be looking towards. That was the promise by nuclear salesmen when India nuclearised. The ongoing expansion of the military is intended for much more than that. Its time the nuclear and military bluff is called, lest it be too late.

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