In Focus

Aatmanirbharta Defense Budget: A Perpetual Threat to Regional Peace and Stability

The continued rise in Indian defense budget under the garb of a frontline state to check the rise of China seriously threatens the stability of South Asia. On the other hand, Pakistan, despite growing challenges, has remained well within its limits and has avoided indulging itself in the arms race.



The defense budget of any country reflects upon its designs, i.e., whether it is offensive or defensive. The 2022 Indian defense budget has an increase of 10 percent which by no means is in favor of South Asian regional stability. The continued out of proportion and undesired increase in Indian defense budget is likely to increase security concerns among its neighbors including Pakistan and thus, may result into forced remedial measures for keeping the strategic balance intact. For maintaining the balance of power, eventually an undesired arms race may begin. An arms race which is being resisted and denounced at international level should be checked internationally at different diplomatic and security related forums. The article is an effort to focus on the Indian designs behind their continuously growing defense budget, the factors which are encouraging India to compromise its development projects in favor of manufacturing lethal weapons and lastly, the kind of impact it will have on South Asian regional security and stability.
Before the facts are analyzed, it is imperative to dilate upon the relevant international relations theory that objectively substantiates the arguments made in the article with respect to the larger Indian military designs.
Theoretical Framework and Its Application on Indian Designs
A critical analysis reveals that the template of Mearsheimer’s Theory of Offensive Realism completely defines the Indian intents with regard to its defense budget increase. India is on the course of becoming a great or major power and has been endeavoring to become a permanent member of the Security Council. In case it materializes, it shall have severe consequences for the South Asian region in particular and East in general.


Modi’s hardliner government with hegemonic policies will naturally prefer having more hard power to increase its area of influence, i.e., the region and beyond. 


Mearsheimer’s Offensive Realism happens to be the type of the neo-realism which is prevalent in international political system and encompasses the driving forces which regulate the behavior of a state in an anarchical international political system. Mearsheimer professed five basic and underpinning assumptions to analyze a state’s behavior. The first and foremost assumption is that the international system is anarchic in nature; second, a power, may it be great or major, shall always possess tangible military with an offensive capacity to be applied on will; third, states always remain skeptical about the behavior of other states and especially those who are in direct competition directly or indirectly; fourth, survival in the international system as a main actor remains the primary objective; and last but not the least, rationality is the basic characteristic of any great power. Mearsheimer opined that a great power or intended great powers keep maximizing their hard power because they are self-centered power seekers for the hegemony who threaten other states in an anarchic international political system. Mearsheimer even stressed the acquisitioning of absolute power so that they have a powerful role for the sake of their survival as dictators themselves and to avoid being dictated. 


This year, India has named its defense budget as ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ which means ‘self-reliant India’ aiming at sustainable indigenization, enhancement in the modernization and infrastructure development in the defense sector.


Increase in India’s Defense Budget-2022 and Indian Strategic Intentions
The volume of defense spending by a state reflects upon its intended defense policy, i.e., offensive, defensive or offense-defence policies. In other words, it is indicative of its political leadership’s friendly or hostile intentions. Modi’s hardliner government with hegemonic policies will naturally prefer having more hard power to increase its area of influence, i.e., the region and beyond. The Indian political regime would also pursue policies which keep their neighbors subjugated whether by increasing their economic dependency or else by extension of its hard power through undesired military maneuvers while living below the threshold of starting an all-out war.
Notwithstanding, on February 1, 2022, the Indian Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman announced an increase of 9.8 percent in Indian Defense Budget which soared to USD 70.6 billion. For the last three years, Indian Ministry of Defense under Modi’s government has been receiving the highest share of Indian budget, i.e., almost 14 percent, which is unprecedented. This year, India has named its defense budget as ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ which means ‘self-reliant India’ aiming at sustainable indigenization, enhancement in the modernization and infrastructure development in the defense sector.
The attractive slogan given to the Indian defense budget of 2022, i.e., ‘self-reliance’ sounds normal but it has a flip side which will soon be tangent to the international and regional peace. How come India has become so technologically advanced in a short time that it has decided to set its course to the attainment of self-reliance in defense industrialization? The answer is simple. It is because of the grant of unprecedented, unjust and biased memberships of India to technology control regimes; thus, ensuring an assured access to the advanced defense technologies, courtesy of the U.S. and its like-minded western states. It includes the memberships of Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) that exercises check on technologies leading towards the development of short and long range lethal ballistic missiles besides unmanned delivery means of strategic weapons, Wassenaar Arrangement (WG) that is aimed at exercising control over both conventional weapons and sensitive dual-use goods/technologies and Australia Group (AG) which controls the exports of technologies which can contribute towards the development of chemical-biological weapons. India got its memberships through the U.S.’ support in years 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively. Presently, only the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is pending for India which could not materialize due to China’s opposition. It is also a known fact that the need for having these export control regimes was felt due to India’s illegal diversion of civil nuclear technology towards the development of nuclear weapons in 1974 when Buddha was made to smile, unnecessarily. Realism prevailed shamelessly and now the same India is being given membership of these regimes due to vested U.S. interests and its like-minded states even at the cost of global peace and stability. For instance, India silently diverted the space technology acquired for peaceful uses under Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) rubric, towards building anti-satellite weapons which was tested in 2019, i.e., just after two and a half years of MTCR’s membership. Even the U.S. was surprised but preferred mere lip-service to denounce Indian act of becoming the fourth state having the capability of space weapons. Indian leadership did not take the criticism, rejected the outcry and claimed it to be its sovereign right to develop weapons for self-defense. Despite India’s proliferation replete track record and rude attitude towards global non-proliferation efforts, the U.S. is still strangely lobbying for India’s entry into NSG even without China’s vote; albeit, it has not been successful to date.
India, which is clearly on the trajectory of becoming a great power, is investing heavily in building its defense capabilities. However, India is checked by the rise of China. India has been successful to sell the impression that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is all out to extend its frontiers both economically and physically. India triggered the situation in Ladakh itself by initiating construction work in disputed areas and is now pretending to be the sufferer of Chinese hostilities, while airing the Tibetan independence issue using the defected Tibetan monks in India. India projected China as a threat to global and regional peace and has thus been justifying the unusual increase in its defense budget.


Despite India’s proliferation replete track record and rude attitude towards global non-proliferation efforts, the U.S. is still strangely lobbying for India’s entry into NSG even without China’s vote


Similarly, India has been continuously blaming Pakistan as a state responsible for exporting terrorism. However, India had a good beating by the Pakistani Air Force Falcons in 2019 after it violated its airspace by hedging behind Pulwama false flag operation. India, which could not get the desired political objectives in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir despite abrogating articles 370 and 35A of its constitution, is now hell-bent to erase Kashmir’s special identity through extensive use of force for which better incentives for soldiers, besides weapon systems is much needed and thus, an exponentially increasing defense budget is the only way through. Moreover, the unceremonial withdrawal of the U.S.-led NATO forces from Afghanistan has disturbed Indian security calculus.
India under Modi’s government has been pushed towards hardliner Hindu nationalism and is no more a secular state. Modi’s fascist nationalist policies have enraged Sikhs and Muslims alike and both majority communities after Hindus besides so many other minorities have started feeling unsecure. People are on the streets and Modi regime is being bashed all across India, however, Modi is surviving due to his anti-Pakistan narrative. Modi himself is a member of the Indian hardliner right-wing nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is known for its atrocities against minorities and believes in Hindu domination in India on the pattern of Nazism.
Moreover, due to the openly known anti-Chinese policies by the U.S. and its like-minded states, India has developed a kind of romance with them and is being seen as their frontline state which can checkmate China’s increasing influence beyond its borders. The Belt and Road Initiative in general and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in particular is being projected as threat to the U.S. and Western interests. India is thus being given all incentives to attain great power status vis-à-vis China. India has fully cashed the opportunity and secured its strategic interests intelligently. Being seen as a counter-weight to China, India is increasing its hard power through increased defense budget.
Pakistan’s Response Options to Increasing Indian Defense Budget
A critical appraisal of Indian defense budget is mandatory by Pakistan’s security institutions that are compelled to minimize the increasing gap between military capabilities so as to secure a better future for our generations to come. The foremost principle while deciding the defense budget remains Minimum Credible Deterrence (MCD) at the tactical and strategic levels, while ensuring not to blink towards developing side of the country. On the Pakistani side, austerity remains the pathway while seeking defense budget. Pakistan Armed Forces, who are by the people’s side, even compromised the increase in their pay and pension during the economically challenging era of COVID-19. 
Pakistan has been relying more on training and motivation of its armed forces besides ensuring flawless maintenance of its already held equipment to meet the ends while standing tall and prepared against any adventurous enemy, may it be internal or external. Pakistan Armed Forces believe in men behind the gun and not the gun itself. The difference of professionalism between Pakistan Air Force pilots vis-à-vis Indian Air Force has been acknowledged globally. 
Pakistan, despite being subjected to multiple threats on domestic and international fronts, has remained resilient to address them while living well within means. Due to known security compulsions, it has the sixth largest armed forces, but being a national army it ensures meager defense spending just over USD 10 billion. The primary reason for less defense spending is that it doesn’t have any expansionist designs or aims at becoming a great power but primarily only to secure its existence. Pakistan’s strategic geopolitical location surrounded by states having influence on international political system, i.e., Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, India, and China, besides Indian Ocean makes it strategically important for employing the crisscrossed interests of global powers. It hardly had any peaceful era during its existence since 1947 so it has to have strong and well trained armed forces for defense. In the last couple of years, Pakistan Army has successfully enacted border fence along Iran and Afghan borders which has reduced terrorism acts substantially. Pakistan Army completed the project by using its indigenously created funds so as to put minimum possible burden on the national exchequer that is meant for the country’s developmental projects.


The Belt and Road Initiative in general and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in particular is being projected as threat to the U.S. and Western interests. India is thus being given all incentives to attain great power status vis-à-vis China.


Pakistan’s bright future is associated with the success of CPEC and internal security. Pakistan Army as per the orders of the incumbent political government is determined to meet both objectives. Due to hard areas, new posts are required to be built having additional gears to survive against an invisible enemy. Such extra security requirements are even being met on self-help basis. Pakistan Armed Forces’ unity of command is the main catalyst behind maintaining the morale, motivation, professionalism and dedication to the cause. Pakistan Armed Forces’ top brass is well aware of the country’s evolving and challenged economy, thus preferring the least possible defense budget. 
Conclusion
The trend of increasing Indian defense budget is concerning. Peace has to be given a chance. Vested singular interests of the powerful states have to be replaced with togetherness and equity for the sake of global peace and prosperity. 
The world community is required to learn, the sooner the better, that India, which is being strengthened diplomatically, militarily and economically as a counterweight to China has vested strategic interests, especially when it is being governed by globally known Hindu extremists. Indian expansionist designs are writing on the wall and cannot be denied. The element of status quo is not in their diplomatic and military doctrines. India’s forced influence on its eastern borders inter-alia, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh is well known. The world community is needed to look into the self-reliant Indian defense budget which clearly aims at building unchecked military offensive capabilities and getting out of the strings attached to the defense deals made by India, if any. In case the world community influenced by the western strategic interests does not carry out a passionate reality check of their biased and unjust strategic favors to India, the time is not far away when all shall repent their misdoings. Damage control may not be possible and our forthcoming generations will have to live in an unpredictable and hopeless environment.


The writer is Pro-Vice Chancellor and faculty member of IR Department at DHA Suffa University (DSU), Karachi. He is an expert on strategic and security issues and frequently writes for international and local journals, magazines and newspapers.
E-mail: [email protected]

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