The political and administrative elite of India has yet to assimilate a fundamental lesson in the management of the Country’s defense policy. Like in almost every other sphere the quality of security will largely depend on the kind of money we are prepared to pay. While making this observation it has to be conceded that there is nothing like absolute security. To that extent the expenditure on security must fall within what is frequently described as affordable; for if we exceed the affordability criteria there may be pretty little left to defend. Obviously affordability has considerable elasticity. The catch is in getting our balance right.
There is an urgent need to bridge the gap between what the defense forces believe they need and what the Government has been giving. This has to be on the basis of an informed debate and not arbitrary.
Since independence the defense establishment has consistently held the view that the nation is not spending sufficiently on the Country’s security. The refrain it would appear has been falling on deaf ears. The neglect in the early years of our independence can be explained away to the belief in the character of our civilization and the principles of Panchsheel, which Nehru bequeathed upon us. But how does one explain the continuation of the same approach even after the Nehru era and under the BJP led present alliance. The BJP has traditionally emphasized nationalism and national security and had been consistently critical of the Congress’s defense policy. Yet in the fiscal management of the Country’s defense apparatus the party’s approach has not been significantly different. In the close to five years that the BJP has been in power the budgetary allocations contrary to promises have been at about the same level as during earlier regimes.
The most glaring example of Defense being given the short shrift was when recently the Finance Minister withdrew approximately Rs. 9000 crores form the capital expenditure budget of the defense Services simply to fuddle figures of the financial year. And this too by someone who has served in the Army and has frequently expressed the view that India does not possess the necessary force surplus required for strategic flexibility. Perhaps the problem is in the institutional mindsets over which the political leadership is unable to prevail.
“¦glaring example is the terrorism and militancy that Pakistan is inflicting on us. Pakistan is pursuing this strategy to compel us to come to the negotiating table and concede the Valley because it knows that we do not have the force surplus to take punitive action against it.
Similarly the management of expenditure has not reflected expected efficiency. To the contrary because of Tehelka and the CVC/ CAG inexplicably choosing to bring defense procurements under special scrutiny some kind of a paralysis seems to have permeated the defense procurement establishment. Regrettably the political establishment instead of being concerned about the Country’s defense preparedness and intelligently monitoring the pace of modernization and capability accretion has resorted to a mindless boycott of the Defense Minister in the Parliament thus further freezing the procurement process. Who suffers? The Military and the Nation. Who benefits? Our adversaries.
Any discussion of the adequacy of defense expenditure must take into account the view that perhaps the expenditure on defense has been sufficient and that the Country could not have afforded more- because of its pressing developmental needs. Militaries the world over are seldom satisfied with the money that they get and therefore while they may be given a patient hearing the Government will sanction expenditure based on its discretion. Though in defense of the Indian military establishment one would hasten to state that because of years of denial and deprivation it has been conditioned to generally ask for just the barest minimum.
If we look carefully at the threats to our National Security and territorial integrity over the past fifty- six years our vulnerability because of inadequate military capability stands out. The invasion in 47/48 can be discounted. But what about 1962, 1965 and the Kargil aggression in 1999 or the covert war being waged against us since1990? Then again we have the problem of China’s intransigence over the border issue or the hostile postures it adopts in support of the occasional bouts of adventurism by Pakistan. Obviously if we had adequate dissuasive military strength our adversaries would have been inhibited from taking such liberties. This could have possibly led to the settlement of bilateral issues on terms acceptable to us and then maybe permitted us to reduce expenditure on defense and focus on development. A more glaring example is the terrorism and militancy that Pakistan is inflicting on us.
China is currently spending six to seven times more than what we spend on defense.
Pakistan is pursuing this strategy to compel us to come to the negotiating table and concede the Valley because it knows that we do not have the force surplus to take punitive action against it. The incidental payoff for Pakistan is that the purely defensive battle against terrorism and insurgency consumes resources that would otherwise be employed by India to create asymmetries in capabilities. Enhanced capabilities that could be employed to increase the cost for Pakistan in the covert war that it is waging- to the extent that we make it so prohibitively expensive that it is persuaded to abandon its aggression and forever forsake the notion of annexing Kashmir.