Peace-Loving India The World’s Largest Arms Importer

India is in the middle of a multi-billion dollar military spending spree
that has quietly seen the country of Mahatma Gandhi and non-violent
protest emerge as the world’s largest importer of arms. It is expected
to retain that position for at least the next five years.

As the country works to expand its regional strategic influence and to
counter what it considers existential threats from Pakistan and China,
India now accounts for nine per cent of all global arms purchases. Its
current defence budget of $36bn – an increase of around 11 per cent on
the previous year – is more than double what it spends on education and
health combined.

Speaking last week in Delhi, defence minister AK Anthony, said: “India
has always been a votary of peace and advocated peaceful relations with
all nations. [But] we need to ensure optimum deterrence to fully
safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation. Peace
and security go hand in hand with social and economic progress and
depend upon one another.”

Delivering the keynote address at a conference on arms acquisition,
where officials confirmed India’s position as the world’s biggest
importer, Mr Anthony added: “Today, the nature of warfare has shifted
and challenges range from asymmetric threats, terrorism, internal
disturbances as well as conventional warfare in a nuclear backdrop. On
our part we need to develop the latest strategic and conventional

Over the past five years, more than 80 per cent of India’s defence
purchases have come from Russia. But the splurge has seen defence
contractors from around the world taking up long-term residency in
Delhi’s five-star hotels, vying to fulfill demands from all three wings
of the armed services. Recent purchases have included 155mm howitzers
from the UK for the army, C-17 Globemaster heavy-lift planes from the US
for the air force and submarines from France for the navy.

One of the most sought-after contracts concerns a $11bn order for 126
fighter aircraft. The Indian authorities have whittled a short-list down
to just two contenders, the Typhoon produced by Eurofighter, a
consortium made up of British, German, Italian and Spanish
manufacturers, and the Rafale, produced by the French company Dassault.

In an indication of the sharp-elbowed nature of the scrabble for the
contract, Indian journalists were briefed over two days last week about
the abilities of the Typhoon in presentations organised jointly by the
Royal Air Force and BAE systems, the British firm involved in
Eurofighter. During the sessions at the Royal International Air Tattoo
at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, which also included presentations
from the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Richard Dalton, and his German
counterpart, Aarne Kreuzinger Janik, the journalists were told that in
recent operations in Libya the Typhoo had demonstrated its “exceptional
multi-role capability” and had outperformed the Rafale.

Analysts say India’s spending spree is driven by several factors,
including – with the exception of shipbuilding – an inadequate domestic
defence production capacity. Strategically, it is driven by both
defensive concerns, particularly in regard to what is considers Chinese
growing ambitions in south Asia, and a desire to project power and
influence regionally. Its spending on arms leapt after the Mumbai
attacks of November 2008.

Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal, director of the Centre for Land Warfare
Studies in Delhi, said: “Pakistan is an immediate threat because of
proxy wars. China remains a longer term threat…China is engaged in
strategic encirclement of India. It has done this through proxies such
as Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Burma. It’s a potential source of

India’s top brass, remindful of the embarrassing drubbing it received in
1962 at the hands of the Chinese, is deeply suspicious of China’s
relationship with Pakistan. It is also sensitive about Beijing’s ongoing
claims over territory in both Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh and its
road-building projects in those areas. Belatedly India has begun looking
to improve its own infrastructure in these remote areas.

“There are also internal conflicts in India – not just in Kashmir, but
in regard to [Maoist rebels],” said Siemon Wezeman, of the Stockholm
International Peace Research Institute, which first revealed India’s
position as the largest arms importer earlier this year. Data collated
by the institute showed that China, South Korea, Pakistan and Greece
were the other major importers of arms. The top five exporters over the
last five years were the US, Russia, Germany, France and Britain.

India’s defence budget only equals two per cent of GDP and in terms of
total military spending Delhi is in 10th place, behind not only the US
and China, but Britain, Germany and Saudi Arabia. Many within the
military establishment believe India should increase its defence
spending even more, to around three per cent of GDP.

Yet some analysts and industry insiders detect an uncertainty within the
broader Indian establishment about what role it should play. While
India might purport to take on a larger regional position, as evidenced
by moves such as a recent defence agreement signed with the Maldives,
there remains an apparent reluctance to take on greater
responsibility.There are also strong voices within India who argue that
in a country where hundreds of millions of people are living in poverty,
there are more pressing spending priorities.

The representative of one major US weapons manufacturer who spends many
months of the year in India, said there was an opportunity for Delhi to
do more, for instance, in helping police sea-lanes in the Gulf, and
other areas strategists refer to as the global commons.

Over afternoon tea at Delhi’s Taj Palace hotel, the representative, who
asked not to be identified, asked: “Is India happy with the idea of
exporting security? There is a fundamental dichotomy…The military
civilian separation is quite wide. But it’s coming to a head. The
security issue is growing. India feels threatened by China and does not
know what to do.”

Brig Kanwal was even more blunt. “We have a very passive strategic
culture,” he said. “India is not comfortable with power itself, leave
alone the use of force. India has the potential to become a key player
but as President Barack Obama said, with power comes responsibility.” 

Read More AT:

  • Anonymous

    Why are the Indians so preoccupied with China? Always trying to compare itself to China, interm of military stengths and economic development. Look, the Chinese don't give a damn to India. So stop dragging China into your xenophobic precoccupations. It will take India another 20 years to catch up. China is only interested in the USA, which has a shown a clear strategy of encircling China in order to try to preserve its miliatry domination in the world.