Giving up the advantage, voluntarily

Slowing down India’s military modernisation is another of Dr Manmohan Singh’s bad ideas

Wonks call it the “security dilemma“: when a state takes measures to improve its own security, other states feel threatened and the situation may escalate into a war that none of the parties actually desire. Pakistan, in this interpretation, feels threatened by increases in Indian defence expenditure and takes measures to counter it in a variety of ways—from cross-border terrorism, proxy war to the build-up of missiles and nuclear warheads. Surely, toning down defence procurement (implicitly signaling the abandonment of war as an option) on India’s part should lower Pakistani hackles and help the cause of peace?

Well yes, only if you and more importantly the Pakistani general staff believe that not increasing India’s military edge will sufficiently assuage Pakistani insecurities. It requires a tremendous leap of faith (and leaps of faith make for very poor strategic thinking). And as Ajai Shukla writes (linkthanks Yossarin), that is exactly what the UPA government is doing. Not only is India preventing sophisticated arms purchases by Pakistan, it is going to the extent of going slow on purchases that would sharpen its own military edge.

But that’s only part of the story. The bigger story is that India’s decision to circumscribe its military procurement to mollify Pakistan plays right into the hands of not just China, but of the United States as well. It has long been China’s strategy to use Pakistan to keep a lid on India expanding its power in the region. Jihadis in Jammu & Kashmir and tensions along the India-Pakistan border tied up Indian forces and the Indian strategic planning bandwidth away from theatres involving China. Just as hostility between India and Pakistan benefited China, it now stands to gain—at India’s expense—from the ‘peace process’ too. While the UPA government seems set to put the brakes on India’s military modernisation, China’s transformation of its military from a labour-intensive to a capital-intensive one continues apace.

Supporters of the UPA government are likely to cite the India-US strategic relationship as the answer to Indian concerns over the relative Chinese ascendency in the Asian balance of power. Well, there are two problems with that argument. First, the UPA government itself has contended, with some merit, that it does not see the India-US partnership as directed against China. Second, partnership should not mean that should come to rely on the United States for its own security. It is a stretch, but India should avoid becoming another Taiwan, Korea, Japan or even a United Kingdom.

Trading off India’s conventional military edge in return for Pakistan’s agreement to stop cross-border terrorism is a extremely bad bargain. Especially because contrary to what Shukla writes, sponsoring terrorism is for Pakistan the option of first resort, while war for India is the option of last resort. All it amounts to is unilateral arms control by India. While the efficacy of arms control itself remains debatable, even its strongest supporters note that the agreements must be reciprocal. By entering into the bargain, will not only find itself disadvantaged in the Asian balance of power. It will also find that the Pakistanis will sing a different tune once they sense that India has taken the option of war off the table.

21 thoughts on “Giving up the advantage, voluntarily”

  1. Looking at the bright side of things this new year’s day heralds the first of the last 2 years of UPA rule. After that of course the next incoming government will have a lot of cleaning up to do to undo the damages done by the UPA. Think of it as some kind of barbarian incursion that lasted 5 years :).

  2. Ajay Shukla’s are-

    a. India shouldn’t modernize its own Army, he specifically mentions serious deficiencies in strike Corps and then celebrates the fact that Antony has refused purchases.

    b. He objects to the fact that India has been blocking Pakistan’s arm purchases.

    Er… seems to me, Shukla would be happy only if the Indians decided to donate arms to Pakistan to restore arms parity. He seems to think that Pakistani generals are frightened chickens exporting terrorism to India only under the threat of war. What is even more frightening is his belief that terrorism is Pakistan’s last resort!

    What a moron…

  3. Hi Nitin/Confused

    Going against my wife’s prescription ,i managed to catch some NDTV action on the day of Saddam’s execution

    Shukla is by all accounts in-house NDTV “defence expert”.

    Out of the 30 minutes analyis on the global implication of the Saddam Hanging,15 minutes he focussed on “Why is BJP silent?Why is BJP Silent”.And he was asking this question to the Congress Spokesperson Abishek Singhvi(:

    And for the rest of the 15 minutes i got a feeling that the program was akin to some kind of leftist propaganda video on American Imperialism.(And mind you i am one of those who completely subscribes to Nitin’s thought on the hanging ).We got warned that pictures are disturbing and it was shown every two minutes

    BTW-I guess the Kolkatta incident will now hog the headlines for the next two weeks.

    Though calling it effort to discredit the army would be very far-fetched,i suspect there is a large concerted,co-ordinated left liberal media campaign to show the armed forces in ‘dubious’ light so that certain kind of ‘ atmospherics ‘ prevail for likely handshake with Musharaff again might be timed for the UP election

    And obviously PMO’spin is very much at work

  4. Nitin,

    This post correctly describes state of flawed policies of the UPA government in the defence sector. Block 50/50+ F-16s given to Pakistan and the upgrade of their current fleet to the same block have at least eroded, if not completely diminished the technological advantage that IAF enjoyed over its adversary. Especially concerning is the sale of about 500 AMRAAM C5s whihch has blunted the IAF’s edge in BVR combat. India’s premier BVR missile, the R-77RVV-AE [AA-12 Adder] lacks in range and tech to these. However, India can better all these developments by procuring a fighter which is at least half a generation ahead of the falcons in the ongoing saga of the MRCA procurement. But the current dismal state of that deal is subject of another long post or comment altogether.

  5. Prasanna,

    I was not aware of Ajai Shukla’s credentials. Thanks for sharing that with us.

    But we should not try to find conspiracy theories to explain away the army officers’ misconduct in Kolkata. Indeed, they forgot the drill rule 101, that a second mistake does not correct the first one. They’ll get condemned in the media which is well-deserved. But the left liberals will want to tar the entire army for the actions of some of its men, which is unfortunate. But it should help focus minds at Army HQ. The army is nothing if not a learning organisation, and this lesson will only make it stronger.

  6. Nitin,

    Yeah. It’s already happening. Comrade commander N. Ram is talking about ‘civilian control of the Army’. What! By all means, demand that the guilty must be punished but to talk about civilian control and what not as if a coup is in the pipeline is preposterous.

    I wish Comrade Ram will give the message of democracy to the Chinese the next time he is visiting. At least, that will ensure that he never crosses the borders of China again. 🙂

  7. nitin, ur post is written from the long term perspective. the Govt’s outlook i presume is of the short term. India has no long term policy towards Pak, and the policy changes every fortnight. india should have a sustainable long term policy. therefore i feel ur reading way too much into this move.

    and i think uve missed the most important line in ajai shuklas piece,

    “the Finance Ministry has no big arms purchase proposals before it this financial year. That points to a large surrender of funds from the MoD budget this year.”

    with elections coming up soon, the UPA has to show some evidence of their socialist credentials, which requires funds, and where else to look for funds rather than the MOD? allot huge sums and then when its returned divert towards populist policies. thts wht the UPA is doing. Its this need of the UPA which i presume has motivated ak anthony to say there is no eminent threat of war with PAK, rather than a long term policy outlook. every govt wants to win elections, and for the UPA its socialist policies, therefore it takes precedence over defence. and china oriented defence policy? joke when left believes china is the personification of peace

    I believe, just as u do that india should look beyond Pak in its defence strategy.
    the upa isnt as intelligent as the BJP to fight with PAK over useless sq mtrs of ice to drum up nationalism and win elections.

  8. and i forgot to add, the UPA can never use the nationalism card because it is identified with the hindu right wing therefore they under no circumstances can actually raise their defence spending.

    A politician is always a slave to his electoral constituency #.

  9. Vatsan,

    Yes, that’s a good, if disheartening, explanation of the motivations of the UPA government. I remember reading somewhere that the UPA did not authorise a single major defence procurement from the time it came to power to Dec 2005. What kit is being added to the armed forces inventory (like the navy’s LSTs) was largely approved during the NDA government’s tenure.

    Given the procurement cycle, we could see India’s operational military edge (at least vis-a-vis Pakistan) weaking in the next 2-3 years. If tensions go up as a result, the government of the day will be forced into a rushed purchase. Not only will this be more expensive, it will also create the defence procurement scam that all politicians love.

  10. I would prefer more money being spent by the government on other things (like doing something for the 8 hour power cuts we have everyday )than expensive toys for the military.

  11. History_lover,

    8 hour power cuts can not be solved by throwing money at the problem. They have to solved by making people pay for the power they use, stopping pilferage of energy, cutting down distribution losses, and modifying the subsidies regime.

    Investment in national security has not been done at the expense of other sectors. If you improve the service delivery mechanisms of the government, a lot more can be done in the social sectors without even throwing additional money at them.


  12. “the upa isnt as intelligent as the BJP to fight with PAK over useless sq mtrs of ice to drum up nationalism and win elections.”

    What part of India is useless square meters of ice to you, Vatsan?

    Another theory of “hand-over-J&K to Pak for peace” goes that India already has a billion people so why worry about feeding the extra population in J&K – give them to pak and buy peace.

    Shall we put the useless square meters of sand – just south of that ice – up for bidding also? Oh, wait that Hindu right wing party will use it as election ploy. Never mind.

  13. nitin, in the next 2-3 years if india does see a war, it will be over some useless piece of ice up in the himalayas with pakistan. neither states can afford a full scale war on their soil, like in the streets of lahore or the streets of delhi, or any war which even has the slightest threat of spilling over into fullscale war. it will be a minor border skirmish, because it will affect their economic growth, this is imperative in both states because of the vibrant middle class who will be quiet as long as the economy grows.

    same scenario holds with china, neither can afford a full scale war, therefore i think ur jumping the gun.

  14. @Chandra,

    Kargil and the entire conflict was more to drum up nationalism back home rather than actual military significance, and it is pretty much useless ice, except for mountain climbers.

  15. Useless ice? Boss, we control Pakistan’s jugular from Kashmir. We cannot afford to lose this “piece of useless ice”. Loss of Kargil would also have meant a break in NH-1A, which would have isolated Leh from the rest of India too. Perhaps Leh is not important enough?

  16. Vatsan,

    You confuse military balance and war. The purpose of ensuring that the conventional military balance is decisively in India’s favour is primarily to deter war (and deterrence is credible only when Pakistan knows that if it comes to war, India will win it despite the cost). There is no question that on an aggregate basis, India has a overwhelming edge. But what really matters is the balance on the India-Pakistan front—how strong is India vis-a-vis Pakistan in those theatres.

    As Mihir puts it, it’s certainly not “a piece of useless ice”. But even if it were, a government that does not defend any part of its territory, however insignificant, is not doing its job. That’s because there are no hard definitions on “big piece” and “useless” and for that matter “ice”. I’m keen to know how big a piece of territory should be before it becomes important enough to defend. And how much of use should it be? Are all pieces of ice equally useless? What if they are at the head of sources of water supply?

  17. Vatsan r u smoking some of the illicit heroin being peddled by the Pakis? What do u mean by useless square metres of Ice? U sound just like Chacha nehru when he said the same thing about Aksai China. What was the end result of losing Aksai Chin(where not a blade of grass grows) on the east and not taking all of PoK which according to you is more useless square Kms of Ice? The current mess in the Kashmir valley and the need to maintain a costly presence in Siachen so that we are not squeezed out strategically.

    There is always a price and value for every square inch of land though it might not be obvious at first glance to people from the metros who think all that milk comes from cartons and the chicken comes from the supermarket.

  18. Vatsan,
    in the next 2-3 years if india does see a war, it will be over some useless piece of ice up in the himalayas with pakistan. neither states can afford a full scale war on their soil, like in the streets of lahore or the streets of delhi, or any war which even has the slightest threat of spilling over into fullscale war. it will be a minor border skirmish, because it will affect their economic growth, this is imperative in both states because of the vibrant middle class who will be quiet as long as the economy grows.

    You are underestimating the resolve of the people who u dismiss with so much disdain. They are more than willing to fight this to the endgame.And who told u that the paki economy is growing? look closer and u see the real story it is just a money order economy like Kerala.

    same scenario holds with china, neither can afford a full scale war, therefore i think ur jumping the gun.

    China is an autocracy where the people have no influence over their kleptocratic government. SO to make such assumptions that growing prosperity of the Chinese people will somehow affect the cold strategic calculations of its leadership is akin to living in one’s own make believe world.

    My 2 cents, Keep the Powder Dry.

  19. Vatsan,

    I know exactly what ice and barren land you’re talking about. Open a map one day and see what is north and northwest of that barren land. If you still don’t understand the significance of Nehru’s folly and Manmohan Singh’s stupidity may be we shouldn’t be discussing this issue.

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