Military Spending - You Scratch My Back, I'll Scratch Yours

February 13, 2009

India's military is forecast to spend at least USD $30B by 2012 (USD $100B by 2017). Of this, a sizable outlay is for 126 fighter jets, in what constitutes the world's largest military tender in recent years. Predictably, the IAF is fielding execs from Lockheed, Boeing, European Aeronautic Defence, MiG Corp etc. Lockheed actually set up office in Mumbai this month.

Military spending is ostensibly to ensure the safety of the country's citizens. Our army force consists of 1.3 M active troops, staffed overwhelmingly from the country's poorest citizens (but that is de-rigueur of most countries (excepting countries with military drafts like Israel, Lebanon, Singapore etc). Groundstaff in India is in some ways disposable: lax admission criteria; poor training; sucky work conditions; and on death a paltry compensation to surviving family members. I remember once tailing an infantry truck, its scrawny occupants lulled to stillness (perhaps a long journey), vacant expressions on face. The thought that these men will be armed and sent out to kill/die unsettled me - the power of a few over so many to compel extreme action without agreement or even understanding, something is clearly terribly awry. The other poorest die like flies anyway, but that's okay - our stock is abundant and replenished perpetually. So here we have, a country where the poorest die to protect the interests of the rich: internally as cheap, disposable labor, and externally, as cheap disposable military rank and file. The rich of course don't feel any compulsion to contribute to economic development of the poor. But we digress.

Going back to the original premise: military spending for citizen safety. So let's view the (external) threat to India. This investment in fighter jets etc is relevant only in combat with a formal army, not guerilla insurgency. So credibly, which countries pose a threat to India? Nepal, Burma, Bhutan and Bangladesh are largely harmless. Sri Lanka is dealing with LTTE but other than few skirmishes in the south, India remains uninvolved. Let's examine the remaining three: Afghanistan, Pakistan and China.

Sure, Afghanistan is a hot bed of islamic extremism but for the moment that is being combated by the American (and under coercion) by Pakistan. India's involvement is largely limited to development activity there, which seems to be good strategic thinking. Pakistan of course has repeatedly demonstrated a proclivity for under-the-table support to insurgency. Given the country's schitzophrenic government (civilian/military at odds with each other) and their recent pussyfutting in the aftermath of Mumbai attacks, it seems unlikely that the country will instigate a full-on war. Neither will we. Even after the Mumbai attacks, all the war talk and the amassing of artillery and soldiers on the border was just for show.

Th only real threat is China. We have disputed territory with China (and a war over it). China's 2008 military budget is $59 (US estimates put China's budget at $138B) and it has the largest active force (2.25M) in the world. China's government is clearly not keen on either transparency, civil dissent or human rights as evidenced by its investment in Sudan oil, censorship including online news, tamp-down on its own citizens demanding accountability after the school collapses. Plus there's always something in the news about tainted Chinese produce - poisonous toothpase, lead in toys, melamine in milk blah blah. Hence, China bad! Yet, what are the odds of a full throttle war between China and India (a more likely scenario is India supporting America in its war with China). While I can kind of see covert support (in alliance with Pakistan) for insurgency in India, I don't see China initiating a war with India over a little piece of Arunachal Pradesh (China is already going to have a hard time dealing with its billion plus population with the global economic downturn, and dwindling market for its manufacturing exports). China's GDP is export-centric, and in the trade agreements era, China is unlikely to want to divide its trading partners into supporters or non-supporters. Anyway, America/Europe is unlikely to side with China. Russia could swing either way, leaning towards China. Everyone else is inconsequential (Middle-East is good for oil, but they are unlikely to engage).

So this brings us to the question: what the hell are we doing floating the world's largest military tender at this time, with the global economy in recession, our budget with a disastrous (growing) fiscal deficit and enormous public debt?

Hmm, maybe it will be an interesting RTI exercise to see how AK Antony and Inc personal assets fare in the next year or so after the contracts have been awarded.

Ruchi has recently returned to India after seven years in the US. Wanting to fit, yet (unconsciously) judging at the same time, she sees not "India Shining", but an India going terribly awry: an inefficient and corrupt state, mind-numbing poverty, deficient public services, unprofessional and frivolous news media, and general political apathy amongst the Indian populace (in the world's largest democracy!). Ruchi is currently obsessed with mainstreaming civic engagement in the city/country to demand accountability from the administration. Blogging is but a fringe effort. She is working on an idea to organize the discrete dissenting voices into some kind of a critical mass to ensure that citizen voice/concerns are heard and addressed by our polity. Please email her or visit her blog (http://bourgeoisinspirations.wordpress.com) if you'd like to be kept informed, and/or to connect if you're part of an existing effort.
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Military Spending - You Scratch My Back, I'll Scratch Yours


Author: Ruchi


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February 13, 2009
11:40 AM

There is a strong undercurrent of frustration in this post based on things which are simply untrue.
You say, "So here we have, a country where the poorest die to protect the interests of the rich", if you are implying that the army is composed of 'poorest' of Indians you are terribly mistaken. There are plenty of middle class Indians in the army and it is not a rag tag set of hungry, gun totting men you imagine it to be.

"Groundstaff in India is in some ways disposable: lax admission criteria; poor training; sucky work conditions".
I would suggest you visit a nearby army cantonment and see for yourself. Though they do not work in luxury it is certainly not the squalor you imagine them to live and work in.

Finally, the entire premise of the article is based on the fact that large military spending is unnecessary. I agree that military expenditure can be wasteful (corrupt) and definitely warrants a review. But this does not mean that India should compromise on its military procurement. It is however a moot point if the wars in coming generations will be fought conventionally.

A large country with diverse issues cannot tackle problems sequentially. India cannot say that no military aircraft will be bought until hunger is eliminated. We cannot put our space program on hold till poverty is eliminated.

February 13, 2009
01:03 PM


India's defense spending has fallen below 2% of GDP and defense experts believe that does not bode well for the India's preparedness. Pakistan spends 5% and China on the roof compared to India.

India is also not able to spend all the money it allocates in the defense budget. Hardly 10% of allocated funds for procurement were spent so far - thanks to 26/11, this government realized its follies of not spending on modernization of army. Still, most of the allocated funds and procurement projects get bog down for years in red tape and burocratic maze. There is crying need to spend more on defense and modernize it. India can not survive without strong defense. It is not optional or a luxury.

Sandeep Bansal
February 13, 2009
04:26 PM

Your arguments are hollow and extremely ridiculous. Nehru too thought that the Chinese wud never attack but they did. Even 1965 War was a stalemate and Pakistan was able to defend itself from a much larger India.

1971 War was only won becoz India got superior weapons from Russia. A 21st century war is going to be short and fast war and would highly depend on response capabilities and weapon. I wud suggest u that u do a better research on this topic before making such claims.

A choice between a butter n guns is always tricky. One cannot ignore either of the two. We can choose our friends but not our neighbours. India lies in the hotbed of Islamic terrorism and is surrounded by two strong nuclear powered states.

And by the way, did u know that it was that Indian Army backed out of a war becoz it was not prepared. Read the following post:


February 13, 2009
05:59 PM

Good comment Sandeep. This "peace and non-violence at any costs" brainwashing goes really deep and makes many blind to the realities of the world we live in.

Ayan Roy
February 13, 2009
06:39 PM

*It's a tricky and painful optimization problem countries face. You have limited resources. If you spend more on defence, you make yourself more secure but you compromise on economic development and prosperity. If you pay little attention to defence and concentrate whole-heartedly on economics and development, there is a great chance that all your development may be destroyed/taken over by someone else who beats you in war, (Remember, in History, since the times of Alexander, the Indian subcontinent has always been attractive to invaders and has been repeatedly invaded and conquered for two major reasons - its wealth and prosperity, and its poor military and strategic UNITY between individual kingdoms).

*It's like a kid trying to build beautiful sand-castles on a beach, and bullies constantly threatening to beat-up the kid and destroy the sand castles. If the kid gets too engrossed in the sand-castle building activity, then he gives the bully the chance to sneak up on him, beat him up and destroy his sand castle. However, if he is always on the lookout for the bully and is successfully keeping him off, then his sand-castles will never be built properly.

*The most unfortunate fact is India's Geo-political position and the hostile neighbours, which some previous posters mentioned. European countries, U.S.A., Canada, Australia and even the South East Asian countries have a much safer and stabler neighbourhood. They don't need to worry about cross-border terrorism and disputes.

*As I had mentioned in a post here some time back, in my opinion, peace can happen in three phases:
i. When both sides realize with some foresight and previous experience, without actually fighting, the futility of war, and can predict that the devastation and cost of war is too high to be borne, even if the outcome is favourable. That's the wise man's vision or uneasy peace. (Cold War, U.S.A. -U.S.S.R - the 1960s)
ii. When both sides fight a massive, devastating war, somehow barely survive, and are so badly charred and knocked up that victories are pyrhhic and defeats are so numbing that they do not provoke revenge. This is what happened to Europe, U.S. and Japan during WW1 and WW2. That's learning through experience, and this "peace" is more solid.
iii. Absolute final peace can come only when both sides completely annihilate each other utterly, so that there is no trace left of anything - so there is pure, total peace. The peace of death and emptiness. Nuclear holocaust, anyone?

Humans are warlike animals, and in spite of saints like Buddha, Jesus, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, etc. there will always be people only too willing to pick a fight at the slightest pretext.

February 13, 2009
07:45 PM

"Humans are warlike animals, and in spite of saints like Buddha, Jesus, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, etc. there will always be people only too willing to pick a fight at the slightest pretext."

Exactly, Ayan. And that's why we need to be prepared to tackle such people so that Buddhas can do their work.

February 13, 2009
08:36 PM

Desi Critics should focus on her strengths ie. mommy issues(cultural, social, fine dining, bollywood, wine). Add political issues as well.

DC should leave daddy issues(National Security , war, terrorism, economics, beer etc) to other blogs.

February 13, 2009
08:52 PM

...and before male-feminists go postal on me, Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi thunk like men. It has nothing to do with being a man or a woman.

February 14, 2009
10:47 AM

It may be important for India to upgrade its defense capabilities, more so because of what is happening in Pakistan.

We can not have a weak India that is unable to deter Pakistan (or its fundamentalist elements) from launching a missile towards Delhi, or anywhere else.

I read this news article recently that stated that Indian military backed out of an all out war against Pakistan following 11/26 because they were not in the required state of preparedness. This is the reason why they need new and better guns, and the air force planes that can actually fight.

We may never actually use the weapons in a war, but in today's world they serve more as a deterrent, just like the much acclaimed nukes.

February 14, 2009
10:53 AM

I love my India, but if my calculations are correct, India will face a war in 1-2 years and more than army, we as a nation are little prepared.

)we had a terrorist threat just recently and we have almost forgotten the preparedness of the terrorists.

) I see Chinese aggression as a crucial worrying point.

i wish my thinking is wrong and god please see to no war.

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