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.