Despite criticism from various circles that India is not investing more to tackle development issues as millions remain mired in poverty; the Indian government’s ambitious modernisation plan for its military is in full swing.
In February this year, Indian military procurement units descended on the DefExpo 2010 trade fair in New Delhi. Inaugurating the Indian Defence Exhibition, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said that India’s defence expenditure, which is 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), is going to increase. He pointed out, “our defence industry is open up to 100 percent for Indian private sector, while foreign direct investment is allowed up to 26 percent.” Antony further indicated that our government is committed to rapid modernisation of armed forces.
Over the next 12 years, India is set to spend a whopping US$200 billion on defence acquisitions to replace its outdated inventory. In this regard, on February 15, 2010, a report of the Indian strategic defense magazine (India Strategic’s DefExpo) revealed that 70 per cent of the inventory of the Indian armed forces is 20-plus years old, and needs to be replaced with the modern technology. It explained that nearly half of this funding ($100b) will go to the Indian Air Force (IAF), which would need to replace more than half of its combat jet fleet as well as the entire transport aircraft and helicopter fleet. The army needs new guns, tanks, rocket launchers, multi-terrain vehicles, while the navy needs ships, aircraft carriers and new range of nuclear submarines.

In three from 1994 to 1997 India’s defence budget was increased from 20 percent to 24.4 percent. For the financial year 2001-2002 defence has been allocated Rs 620,000.00 million. This amount shows an increase of Rs 75,000 million as compared to previous year’s revised estimates of Rs 544,610 million. In 2009, India increased its defense budget by a whopping 28.2 percent or Rs 130,000.00 million. Some experts estimate that military spending will increase further, totaling as much as 200 billion dollars over the period to 2022.
India’s military has planned a massive upgrade of its mainly 1990s-era weapons systems which is mostly from the former Russia. The plans include the purchase of 126 new combat aircraft to replace an ageing fleet of MiG-21s.
The US has emerged as a potential military supplier to India since the two countries signed a deal of civil energy technology in 2008, which lifted sanctions on New Delhi in order to import nuclear technology. India is likely to become a major customer for the US military-industrial complex over the next few years.
During the recent visit of the US Secretary of State Robert Gates to New Delhi, American Defence officials, however, have said that US weapons sales to India would not be a focus of the trip. Regardless of such denials, the key reason for the Gates’ visit can be found in the fact that India is planning to raise its military budget by 50% to almost $40 billion, making military expenditure 3% of the annual GDP. In contrast to India’s planned defence expenditures, Pakistan’s entire 2009-10 budget amounts to little over $30 billion.
India, the largest arms buyer among emerging nations, accounted for 7.5 per cent of all international arms sales between 2000 and 2007. It has spent billions of dollars in the past few years on purchases of planes, radars and ships from Britain, France, Germany and Russia and Israel.
In recent years, India has bought reconnaissance aircraft from US aerospace major Boeing worth 2.1 billion-dollars, medium range missiles for 1.4 billion dollars from Israeli Aerospace Industries, and signed an upgrade service contract with the Russian Aircraft Corporation to upgrade its MiG 29 squadrons for 965 million dollars. Several deals are planned for the near future including one of the largest arms contracts of recent times—a 11-billion-dollar project to acquire 126 multi-role combat aircraft.
It is mentionable 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, Iran and Syria. In this context, Indo-Israeli secret diplomacy 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 defence arrangements with Tel Aviv, Sofer had surprisingly disclosed “We do have a defence relationship with India, which is no secret” and “with all due respect, the secret part will remain a secret.” As regards joint exercises, Sofer replied, “Certain issues need to remain under wraps for whatever reason.”
Notably, India’s ‘The Tribune’ wrote on September 10, 2003, “India and Israel took giant leaps forward in bolstering the existing strategic ties”, and Tel Aviv has “agreed to share its expertise with India in various fields such as anti-fidayeen operations, surveillance satellites, intelligence sharing and space exploration.” 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.
In fact, India wants to become a mini-superpower of the region and hence it uses the pretext of deterrence against Pakistan and China. In this context, New Delhi with the support of US and Israel has presumed peace-loving Pakistan and China as their arch enemies, but it does not admit officially.
In May, 1998, when India detonated five nuclear tests, Islamabad was compelled to follow the suit through its own atomic experiments. But Pakistan which so far relied upon the minimum nuclear deterrence has again been forced by India’s unending spending on arms purchases to counterbalance the former. In this regard, Pakistan has signed a number of agreements with China.

Nevertheless, currently, more than half of India’s budget is allocated for military, paramilitary, various security forces and debt servicing. 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.
Indian civil society organisations, while complaining of excessive defence spending indicated that the government spends 2.35 per cent of GDP on defence, but only 1.72 per cent on the social sector. The defence budget for 2009-2010 is 29 billion dollars, up 34 percent over the previous one.
Indian defence analyst Ravinder Pal Singh, while calling New Delhi’s unending defence spending at the cost of poverty-alleviation—with security requirements competing with socio-economic concerns for money calls it guns-versus-butter question
Even some of Indian officials are surprised in relation to Indian defence 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?”
On the one hand, international community has been making strenuous efforts for world peace in wake of global financial crisis and war against terrorism, on the other, India has initiated deadly nuclear arms 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 India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka etc.
Setting aside regional problems, and resolution of Indo-Pak issues-especially thorny dispute of Kashmir, Indian rulers state that they don’t have any aggressive designs. But it becomes a big joke of the 21st century, reminding a maxim, “armed to the teeth, but no enemy”, if we take cognisance of India’s unending defence expenditure.
Sajjad Shaukat is a regular writer for Opinion Maker. He writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations.