National and International Issues

India’s Arms Obsession and Power Psychosis

Generally, a country’s ranking in the global arms register is considered synonymous with its position in the international hierarchy of military/strategic power that fortunately or unfortunately is not the case with India. According to the SIPRI Factsheet April 2020, India has recently ranked 3rd in global military spenders list, following the U.S. and China, no matter how ominous or otherwise this reality may turn out for the South Asian region. The exceptional variant that singles out India from the generalization is the very definitional understanding of a great-power. In simple terms, a great-power is a country which is self-sufficient in military technology: producing major weapon systems and has an independent logistic stamina in the other sinews of warfighting, a status which India is far from achieving, notwithstanding its fixation with global strategic power and domination.   


Modi government ideologically treats China as their prioritized rival or main competitor other than Pakistan. With deliberately crafted India’s decades long uncompromising stance vis-à-vis China, India has earned the unqualified support of the major Western powers led by the U.S.  and that is the raison d'être of its cooption as ‘Pivot’ of the U.S. Asia Pacific Strategy. That has specifically enabled India to procure highly sophisticated state-of-the-art technologies in almost all fields of military systems worth many billions of U.S. dollars. Under PM Modi, India is relatively much more eager than before in countering and competing with China under the guise of its strategic partnership with U.S. Gaining supremacy in South Asia serves dual objective of Indian government: first, to win the hearts of Hindu nationalists while exercising anti-Muslim policies and secondly,  to project its power vis-à-vis Pakistan.

India’s current status of third largest global military spender and second largest arms importer is a clear manifestation of its obsession with arms inspired domination. However, arms acquisitions alone do not axiomatically mean a great-power. But it can certainly bring more instability to an already volatile region. Indian course of military expansion and domination under BJP’s extremist ideology can gestate a number of consequential conflicts from the existing territorial disputes with China and Pakistan, with far-reaching regional and extra-regional ramifications.



This brief article aims to suggest that India’s rapidly growing arms acquisitions and its ambitions to project military force doesn’t correspond to its position in the global hierarchy of strategic power. It underscores India’s appetite for regional domination, and identifies the future implications of India’s arms acquisition process.  
India has emerged as a hungry acquirer of arms and has continually enhanced its aggressive military capability to achieve a prominent place in the global military hierarchy. Internationally reputed Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) Factsheet March 2020 identified the top five major arms importers i.e., Saudi Arabia, India, Egypt, Australia and China, accounting for 36 percent of total arms imports in the years 2015-2019 where India stands as the second largest arms importer of the world. Later, according to SIPRI Factsheet April 2020, the global military expenditure is estimated to have been USD 1917 billion in 2019, the highest level since 1988. There is 6.8 percent rise in India’s military spending in 2019 that makes India ranking internationally 3rd in 2019 for the first time since the WWII order. 


After initial miscalculation of Chinese’s intentions that China might tolerate Indian gradual territorial encroachment, India seems to be in a state of alarm on China’s resistance of the India’s ambitions of territorial control under the guise of infrastructure development. In the near future, India might seek to internationalize the Ladakh dispute to draw in the U.S. and the West to acquire more arms and sophisticated technologies. The dispute carries the potential of spilling over into a wider conflict.   


Indian defence budget for the year 2020 as announced on February 1, 2020 figured USD 73.5 billion. This figure depicts an increase of about 9% compared to the previous defense budget in its national budgetary outlays. This growth rate represents a major shift in India’s strategic and military thinking dominated by the extremist RSS’ Hindutva ideology.1 India is stretching its arms acquisitions in three ways: i) purchase latest aggressive weaponry for its army, navy and air force, ii) enhancing its missile defence shields, and iii) moving towards militarization of space. Indian military modernization and weapons purchases have gained a much faster pace under Modi’s rule. It is also fast achieving the cherished objective of simultaneously preparing for a two-front war with China and Pakistan respectively. During the U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent visit to India in early 2020, strategic partnership between U.S. and India has achieved another milestone with more than USD 3 billion defence deal that provides New Delhi with multilayered military systems. With massive arms being acquired under the guise of its rivalry with China and in support of its proactive military policy, India simultaneously aims at an aggressive war posture against Pakistan. Moreover, under the Indian aggressive regional posture and the belligerent intents, arms acquisition is designed to re-attempt military adventurism against Pakistan at the expense of regional peace and stability. 
There is overwhelming consensus among arms control experts that obsessive acquisition of arms breeds arrogance, militarism and desire for domination. Regional domination has emerged as a cardinal principle of Indian foreign and security policies right from Nehru era until today, with the only exception of India’s behaviour with the extra-regional great-powers with whom Nehru sought security through political strategies, e.g., non-alignment with the Cold War blocs and peaceful co-existence with China. However, India relied on the excessive use of brute military force vis-à-vis her small neighbours to establish India's domination as a regional great-power. However, in the Nehru era, India's economic, industrial, and technological under-development did not permit a great-power role beyond the South Asian region. India always resisted, or at least strongly protested, against what it called a 'great-power intrusion' into its defence perimeters formerly covered by the India’s application of Forward Defence Policy against China from 1958 onward collapsed during the 1962 War, after which it embarked on a policy of massive arms acquisitions with assistance from the former Soviet Union, whose 1968 Asian Security Plan against China came in handy to materialize the Indian arms ambitions. India dexterously exploited the Soviet courtship to play military midwife to Bangladesh by underwriting the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation in August 1970.  Dismembering Pakistan did not satiate Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s appetite for the use of military force and she annexed the independent state of Sikkim to absorb it into the Indian Union. Indian military occupation of the Siachen Glacier in 1983-4 and turning it into an active war zone at the top of the world, where there are more deaths due to harsh weather than actual fighting, is yet another gruesome manifestation of India’s rapidly growing militarism. From 1984 to 1988, India built blue water navy, once again with assistance from the erstwhile Soviet Union by acquiescing to its policy of war in Afghanistan, in which India stood solitary against the international consensus on the Afghan conflict from 1980 to 1988.  

The fact, that by the sheer size of its geographic and demographic capacity and its consequential economic volume, India had been an inherent regional great-power, cannot be disputed. That India had also inherited a large military organization and related infrastructure at the time of its independence from the British is also not disputable. However, India’s use of military force to annex the princely states of Hyderabad and Junagadh on the pretext that the ‘autocratic’ rulers of those states has no right to accede to Pakistan, but applying a diametrically opposite criterion on Kashmir that its ‘autocratic’ Maharaja was the legitimate authority to decide its future, indicated India’s aggressive intents, and is an aggressive policy tradition specifically unique to India alone. Indian troops marched into the Portuguese colony of Goa in 1961 despite Portuguese Government’s recognition of the Indian claim on the colony and a willingness to vacate after negotiations. The U.S. President, John F. Kennedy remarked to Mr. B. K. Nehru, the Indian Ambassador to Washington D.C. at that time. He said: “What you have done now, any self-respecting country would have done to assert its sovereignty, but you should not have preached us morality for fourteen years. You had no business to indulge in "holier than thou" attitude when you are just like any other nation. The reason why people are criticizing you is that they have seen a minister coming out of a brothel”.2


The trajectory of arms pursuits is inevitably triangular in the region where India is competing with China while drawing Pakistan into an unintended arms race to counter Indian bellicosity under the impact of conventional military asymmetry. 


India’s 2nd nuclear tests in May 1998 were a demonstration of how obsessively she sought the pursuit of strategic power at a time when the international community was striving to reach a broad agreement on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and other elements of the nuclear nonproliferation regime. It not only broke the moratorium on nuclear testing, but compelled Pakistan to restore strategic equilibrium in South Asia that has been trampled by India. It’s worth reiterating that India’s declared rationale for the acquisition of nuclear weapons is that these weapons are the currency of international power that entitle India the great-power status and concomitant membership of United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Coincidentally, India initially considered non-proliferation regime and the NPT as discriminatory but herself seeks permanent membership of the UNSC, which is the worst den of discrimination in the entire world. Presumably, a seat in the UNSC might satiate India’s great-power psychosis: to have political power to help get decisions of her domineering choices and draw favors like other great-powers are habitual of doing. 
However, according to Ashley Tellis, whether India becomes a great power depends on its ability to achieve multidimensional success in terms of improving its economic performance and wider regional integration, acquiring effective military capabilities for power projection coupled with policies for their use, and sustaining its democracy successfully by accommodating the diverse ambitions of its people.3 This would likely provide India wider acceptance in the field of military technology with other great-powers, like its entry into Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenaar Arrangement and exemption in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), where India would undoubtedly create blockades for Pakistan to deny it the essential technologies. While doing so, India seems to be shutting its eyes to the necessity of being able to regionally cooperate and integrate with other nations, e.g., at the SAARC level.  Indian militarism is a direct outcome of Indian arms acquisitions and desire to subjugate non-Hindus in the Indian domestic population, dominate smaller neighboring states and buildup strategic power equations with China and Pakistan in the Indian Ocean region. 
Modi government ideologically treats China as their prioritized rival or main competitor other than Pakistan. With deliberately crafted India’s decades long uncompromising stance vis-à-vis China, India has earned the unqualified support of the major Western powers led by the U.S.  and that is the raison d'être of its cooption as ‘Pivot’ of the U.S. Asia Pacific Strategy. That has specifically enabled India to procure highly sophisticated state-of-the-art technologies in almost all fields of military systems worth many billions of U.S. dollars. Under PM Modi, India is relatively much more eager than before in countering and competing with China under the guise of its strategic partnership with U.S. Gaining supremacy in South Asia serves dual objective of Indian government: first, to win the hearts of Hindu nationalists while exercising anti-Muslim policies and secondly,  to project its power vis-à-vis Pakistan.  
Since Narendra Modi came into power, India’s longing for major arms acquisitions, concomitant militarism in usurping the fundamental rights of the Indian Muslims and lower castes, and urge for domination and territorial expansion, e.g., by abrogating articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution to integrate Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian Union, has increased manifold. Jammu and Kashmir has the world’s highest density of the presence of Indian military forces. That this must not happen in a democratic state can hardly be disputed. Moreover, Indian government passed Citizenship Amendment Bill in 2019 that amends 64-year-old Indian Citizenship law, which retrospectively prohibits age old legitimate migrants from becoming Indian citizens. The fundamental rights of the peoples of Kashmir that have been agreed not only in the UN Security Council resolutions but the Indian Constitution itself is a living reality, which  is being suppressed by rapidly growing Indian militarism under the burden of India’s arms acquisitions. The extremist Hindu establishment under Narendra Modi, who is a fanatic follower of Hindu Nationalist outfit Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), serves the bellicose mindset ideologically confronting and militarily suppressing Muslims. 
The recent developments in Sino-Indian military confrontation on the border in Ladakh are worsening the conflict probability between China and India in which the latter might embroil Pakistan. The May 2020 cross border skirmishes between India and China erupted in Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) due to India’s unilateral development of permanent habitat infrastructure for its armed forces in a disputed territory without consulting China. It speaks clearly about India’s mala fide intent. More recently, the confrontation seems to be escalating in the form of increasing Indian casualties. After initial miscalculation of Chinese’s intentions that China might tolerate Indian gradual territorial encroachment, India seems to be in a state of alarm on China’s resistance of the India’s ambitions of territorial control under the guise of infrastructure development. In the near future, India might seek to internationalize the Ladakh dispute to draw in the U.S. and the West to acquire more arms and sophisticated technologies. The dispute carries the potential of spilling over into a wider conflict.   
According to Richard Weitz, Hudson Institute’s defence analyst, the most dangerous aspect of security in South Asia “is almost certainly the nuclear arms racing between India and Pakistan.”4 The rapidly growing Indian military modernization and expansion is likely to draw Pakistan in another security dilemma in an effort to balance and counter Indian threats. This type of Indian adventurism has greater chances of challenging the South Asian nuclear threshold with greater intensity than before and jeopardizes regional security, deterrence equilibrium and strategic stability in South Asia. The trajectory of arms pursuits is inevitably triangular in the region where India is competing with China while drawing Pakistan into an unintended arms race to counter Indian bellicosity under the impact of conventional military asymmetry. 
Stephen Cohen identified that the Indian government and many Indians do not see their country as being bound by strategic restraint.5 They want India to behave like a great-power in the mold of the U.S. and post-WWII Britain — assertive powers willing and able to defend their interests with the use of military force whenever required. This is the reason why great powers have accounted for the majority of wars in history, something India is emulating.    
Conclusion
It is evident that India has entered into a self-propelling arms race capable of automatic combustion with growing militarism under its hegemonic ambitions. India’s current status of third largest global military spender and second largest arms importer is a clear manifestation of its obsession with arms inspired domination. However, arms acquisitions alone do not axiomatically mean a great-power. But it can certainly bring more instability to an already volatile region. Indian course of military expansion and domination under BJP’s extremist ideology can gestate a number of consequential conflicts from the existing territorial disputes with China and Pakistan, with far-reaching regional and extra-regional ramifications. 
These are clear and multiple evidences of acts of bellicosity from the Indian government that originate from militarism, war mongering, and appetite for arms and domination. An aggressive leadership in the possession of deadly arms gets more menacing and unpredictable.


The writer is the founding President & Executive Director of the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad since 2013. He is an eminent defence analyst and holds a PhD in War Studies, King’s College London (1987-91) and specialized in Strategic & Nuclear Studies. 
E-mail: [email protected]


1.  "Bi-Monthly Seminar: Report "India's Military Modernization And Counter Force Temptations: Impact On Regional Security", February 13, 2020 | Strategic Vision", Thesvi.Org,  2020, https://thesvi.org/bi-monthly-seminar-report-indias-military-modernization-and-counter-force-temptations-impact-on-regional-security-13th-february-2020/ 
2.  Zafar Iqbal Cheema, Indian Nuclear Deterrence: Its Evolution, Development and Implications for South Asian Security (Oxford, OUP, 2010), p. 28. 
3.   Ashley Tellis, "India As A Leading Power", Carnegie Endowment For International Peace, 2016, https://carnegieendowment.org/2016/04/04/india-as-leading-power-pub-63185. 
4.   Richard Weitz, “South Asia’s Nuclear Arms Racing,” Diplomat, October 1, 2011, http://thediplomat.com/2011/10/01/south-asia%E2%80%99s-nuclear-arms-racing 
5.   Stephen P. Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta, Arming Without Aiming ([United States]: Brookings Institution Press, 2013).

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