Military & Aerospace

The Economics of Defence: Investment vs Deterrence
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Issue Vol. 28.3 Jul-Sep 2013 | Date : 16 Nov , 2013

Alongside the troubles concurrent and brewing, there are hopeful signs of matured realisation and some improvements in the situation. History proves that such improvements in inter-state tolerance are best nurtured under an incentive of deterrence. For the near future however, it is certain that India will continue to be tormented by proxy war and terror acts emanating from Pakistan, while being needled by China’s over territorial claims and land-sea encirclement. There is no doubt that when these inimical forces orchestrate to stalk conjointly, it cannot portend well for the Indian nationhood. As a corollary, it would be an abject failure of her state policies, diplomatic as well as military, if India is unable to deter these inimical powers to desist from their compulsive mission of undermining her.

“One sided pursuit of peace and disarmament is a powerful incentive to the adversary to intensify its own pursuit of war”                —Luttwak

India’s future will be decided by the manner in which she deals with any form of siege…

The Algorithm of Defence Investment

The leaders of newly independent India had undertaken a noble mission – to once again make India a ‘Soney ki Chidiya’ (Golden Bird) as it was referred to in earlier times while bestowing upon her enslaved and emaciated people the joy of freedom and prosperity. There was a roadmap to that destination which, contrary to the current fashion of levelling simplistic insinuations against the ‘Nehruvian’ policies, did take off steadily, instilling pride among all Indians of that era. That was a path of progress, catalysed by an environment of peace and non-alignment and guided by the noble principles of ‘Panchsheel’ in devising healthy neighbourly relations.

As it appeared to the Indian intelligentsia of the 1950s, Tagore’s prophecy, “India would once again assume her exalted seat in the comity of nations ….” was coming to fruition. Indeed, in such a sublime scheme of regional solidarity, India’s military institution was seen merely as a burden upon the exchequer. But alas, the script went awry. Predatory neighbours just could not resist that temptation which had in the past enticed many marauding hordes to divest India of her prosperity.

As it had happened in the 10th century, the post-independence aggressions were instigated by the Indian State’s naive propensity of remaining defenceless and proclaiming that as a virtue! Territorial ambitions and an urge to put a chirping India ‘in her place’ thus provoked the Chinese aggression in 1962 and that by Pakistan in 1965, first in Kutch and then in Jammu & Kashmir. That chastised India to invest in her military empowerment. Thus, for the next two decades, any further anti-India adventurism remained deterred. But in the 1990s, when the world order brought the nation to a brink of economic disaster, defence preparedness had to be the first to be jettisoned. Admittedly, that had to be the worst among all the difficult options that confronted India at that time.

That set the predators on the prowl again. Our Western neighbour, devoted to the sole agenda of destroying Indian nationhood even if it meant going naked, now adopted new strategies – proxy wars in Punjab and Kashmir, subversion of Indian youth, aggression in Kargil and when nothing worked, terrorist attacks upon our defenceless civil society. The Northern neighbour, having gobbled up all lands and seas which she thought had always been under her formal, notional or imaginary suzerainty, now engaged fulltime in boosting Pakistan’s capacity to create nuisance. This was an “all-weather friendship” between an autarchic nation and its unscrupulous lackey with the sole purpose of biting chunks of flesh off India while she remained militarily vulnerable.

Strategists define ‘deterrence’ as a form of ‘negative incentive’ to control an adversary from actuating his hostile intent – aggressive or preventive…

Not that India was oblivious to the importance of military preparedness within the overall ambit of national security. So even if constrained by the excruciating challenges of strengthening the nationhood through investments in the fields of education, health, poverty eradication and economic development, India remained as the world’s seventh highest spender in defence. But as India marches into the second decade of the twenty-first century, the question remains whether our investment of over two lakh crore rupees per annum to maintain the world’s fourth largest defence forces is paying the right dividends. Does it deter those compulsive aggressors from their intuitive pursuit of dismembering India? Is India’s equation of investment against achievement of deterrence even? We owe this examination to the thirty per cent Indians who live in poverty and yet contribute to national security, while much of our defence allocation goes to keep the arms-exporting developed world in good health.

Adversarial Neighbourhood

Hard-nosed strategic analysts opine that India is central to an adversarial neighbourhood. Two of the largest, China and Pakistan, are overtly animus. Nepal and Bangladesh view India as the potential threat; Myanmar keeps its distance and Sri Lanka often plays truant. In building mutually beneficial inter-dependency, Bhutan is the only saving grace, analysts point out. Without delving into investigation over the alleged failings of our state-policies, the fact remains that a facade of bonhomie apart, ours is a most lovelorn region and that given an opportunity, there would be none to resist taking bites off India with due self-justification of course.

But that is the reality of international politics, a nation so central to the region is expected to have such issues. What however renders the regional situation stand out is the adversarial combination of many poisonous factors – territorial ambitions, religious and ideological bigotry, neighbourhood nuclearisation, collusive proliferation, terrorism and high spending on conventional military muscle, all directed at India. The situation is further exacerbated when every neighbouring nation is embroiled in internal revolt in one form or another and each of them finds some excuse to ascribe their problems to India. In light of India’s proclaimed abhorrence of any offensive intent, she is but a state besieged from within and out as she is constantly undermined by internal rebellions, usually instigated externally. India’s future will be decided by the manner in which she deals with that siege. Meanwhile, there is no escape from building up effective military deterrence to keep the predators at bay.

Credibility must emanate from demonstrated capability to defeat the adversary’s aggression or defensive opposition…

Theology of Deterrence

Strategists define ‘deterrence’ as a form of ‘negative incentive’ to control an adversary from actuating his hostile intent, aggressive or preventive. Consequently, it addresses the adversary’s psychology, beckoning him to understand that actuation of his hostile intent would fail to bring the intended profit as commensurate to the trouble taken. Truly, it is but a factual algorithm that is to be backed up by ‘convincing credibility’ of imposition of ‘deterrence of punishment’. Credibility, in turn, must emanate from demonstrated capability (like a snake bite) to defeat the adversary’s aggression or defensive opposition (like a porcupine’s quill) as the case may be. This is the easier, tangible part of deterrence but costly to achieve in measurable terms. The real complexity, however, lies in fine-tuning the ‘intangible factors’ that decide its effectiveness in convincing the adversary to desist from undertaking inimical acts even if ritualistic sabre-rattling goes on. To succeed, persuasions of this nature require in-depth knowledge of the target society’s values and the construct of its rationalities as well as delusions.

For the developed – nay, dictating world, deterrence is aimed at keeping their advantages secured from potential obstructionists. This they are in position to do through the imposition of political, economic and military deterrence, the last recourse being considered to be the most immediate and effective. In rest of the situations, deterrence subsists on the powerful adversary’s ‘self-deterrence’ which may be borne out of political compulsions, civilised sentiments or fear of falling into a sticky cesspool of unending hostility. Here, the weaker party’s propensity of unleashing overt or covert insurgency and terrorism to deny the intended objectives of aggressive behaviour also plays its part, i.e. ‘deterrence of denial’ of, so to say.

Experience tells us that military deterrence has to be case-specific, to be construed in terms of the particular mode of warfare that it aims to prevent – conventional, sub-conventional and nuclear modes, for example. In other words, deterrence has to be addressed specifically to every adversary identified and further, to each modes of threat posed by such adversaries. For example, Pakistan’s hostility against India needs to be deterred at the conventional, proxy war, nuclear as well as terrorism levels. This one is an example of ‘complex deterrence’ that involves firstly, deterring each of the players, state as well as non-state, who sets the agenda in Pakistan, and secondly, institution of credible measures to defeat hostile acts in all of the above mentioned modes. With a perpetually adversarial China also in the fray, it is India’s unkind obligation to subscribe to this kind of complex deterrence.

Neither will Pakistan remain content with the possession of Kashmir nor will China rest with Aksai Chin taken…

Little, however, is discussed of what we may refer to as the ‘reverse deterrence’. This one causes the threatened party to arm itself to catch up with the power differential or to devise asymmetric means to prosecute its hostile designs. India’s nuclearisation after being hemmed-in from the North and West, is a fallout of the first category of reverse deterrence, while Pakistan’s official sponsorship of terrorism in India after failing to wrest Kashmir through conventional wars, is a result of the second. Presenting a despised prospect of getting stuck in a long-drawn mass uprising and irrationality of nuclear brinkmanship, are other example of reverse deterrence.

Political theorists argue that in the contemporary era of mass empowerment, it is unnecessary, even forbidding, to capture territories to sustain national progress. One, the urge of tapping economic advantages that prompted one nation to capture another’s territory, can be better met today by surrogate means. Two, the cost of keeping a hostile population suppressed is so heavy that it undermines rather than strengthening the aggressor’s society. Notwithstanding the fact that the determinants of deterrence in our part of the world are somewhat different, it is important to note that the act of being deterred has cultural connotations. Therefore, the Western ideals of sanctity of life and liberty, preservation of societal assets and most of all, the expected norms of rationality in decision making, may mean differently to the power-wielders in this part of the world. Having been agitated by provocative perceptions, many of them have given themselves over to fanatic delusions. To them, chastising an inferior intransigent, revenge against humiliation and defence of religion, ideology or culture, may take precedence over preservation of life and property and the profit-loss equation or even their own existence as an individual, group or a nation. Obviously, Western norms may not be fully relevant here. We have to devise our exclusive formulae to deter hostility in our neighbourhood.

Presently, India’s investment in imposing military deterrence has kept the Sino-Indian border-line quiet…

Interplay of Deterrence in South Asia

In the South Asian context, the key agents of instability besides the usual power-game of developed nations are – one, the common curse of internal instability; two, a fanatically obsessed Pakistan and three, a power hungry China. The latter two are bent upon possessing parts of India even if that means poisoning their own society. Thus, we find this predatory duo relentless in their mission to add new territories and control even more yonder. Yes, neither will Pakistan remain content with the possession of Kashmir nor will China rest with Aksai Chin taken. To go about that business, the duo have colluded to strike at the only nation that might some day, be capable of biting into their piece of the claimed pie.

Obviously, therefore, in a neighbourhood wherein xenophobia and predatory urge are so celebrated, there must exist the seeds of war. The other forms of deterrence having little significance in the regional context – so limited the mutuality of political and economic stakes are – the sole recourse left for India to prevent such seeds from sprouting is to impose military deterrence against both. There is little India can do to change such a situation. To protect her existential integrity, therefore, she must remain obliged to commit substantial resources from her meagre kitty to deter the duo from keep launching schemes to dismember her with military might.

Click to buy

Obviously, India’s deterrence has to be comprehensive, credible and cost-effective. Presently, India’s investment in imposing military deterrence has kept the Sino-Indian border-line quiet. It has even attracted China’s endorsement but tardy adherence to various Confidence Building Measures. India’s military deterrence, therefore, has worked so far. But since China is emerging from her quietude that she had adopted as a state policy to nurture modernisation and some trailers of her regional hegemonies are already in evidence, there are three issues which need deep consideration. These are: one, whether her current mood of military tranquillity on the borders will continue; second, given the feverish development of logistical infrastructure in Tibet, for how long will the tranquillity last; and third, how strong must India’s military deterrence be for China to keep the issue of borders settlement reserved solely for a politico-diplomatic solution.

1 2
Rate this Article
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Gautam Banerjee

former Commandant Officers Training Academy, Chennai.

More by the same author

Post your Comment

2000characters left

One thought on “The Economics of Defence: Investment vs Deterrence

  1. Completely agree with Lt. Banerjee’s assessment. India’s defense strategy should be largely based on two premises. One, build offensive capabilities to exceed Pakistan and China, not to start a war but to send a clear message to both of the price of starting a war. Second, bankrupt Pakistan by egging it to compete with India in new weapons systems and upgrade of the military machine. Pakistan is already a basket case economically yet they support worldwide terrorism due to it’s faulty dna. They will continue to beg, borrow and steal to declare bigger rockets and more nuclear bombs. Most of these developments are meaningless due to the anarchial and bankrupt state of affairs in Pakistan. Any more pressure to spend meager resources on the defense projects will accelerate the disintegration and demise of Pakistan.

More Comments Loader Loading Comments