How much to spend on armed forces has always been a critical question for governments so as to ensure sustenance of combat efficiency of their armed forces. For any state which faces security threats has to have a strong military, especially when it is subjected to an existential threat having perpetual sort of territorial disputes – directly linked with sovereignty in terms of geography. Pakistan thus fits-in completely to the above narrated circumstances which by compulsion requires to have strong armed forces capable of thwarting any adversarial offensive move in case the nuclear deterrence is challenged.
Every year by the start of June – the month of budget, so-called doves and idealists naively start questioning Pakistan’s defense spending vis-à-vis spending on other development sectors. Although the two domains have connotations and importance, yet it is felt imperative to present counter narrative to idealists’ arguments against defense budget. It goes without saying that the armed forces of any state are the guarantor to its sovereignty besides making lives, properties and social/political liberties secured. But since security, liberty and peace have intangible values, it becomes difficult to equate them with tangible amount of defense budget.
In fact, how much should be spent on military cannot be determined in isolation. It is substantiated by the kind of tasks or probable missions likely to be assigned to military in anticipation of its adversary’s offensive designs. Sequentially, military demands the kinds, types and numbers of weaponry and trained troops for formulating a response strategy. In simpler terms, military spending or budget is directly proportional to the level of threat and chances of their materialization. In military terms, the one who is not prepared is bound to lose not only the territory but, most importantly, the national morale. National morale and resilience is not necessarily to be reminded for being one of the vital elements of the national power. The famous Chinese military strategist/philosopher Sun Tzu argued in his splendid military strategy book, The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Hence, a continuous evaluation of enemy’s military capabilities and intentions vis-à-vis own response capacity has been the trademark of professional armies. Of course, Pakistan being among the most respected professional armies of the world also does not blink to remain steadfast against any potential aggression for which it needs modernization to an economically bearable level. Notwithstanding the above, this article is an effort to solve the puzzle as to why should Pakistan spend on its defense budget by using different angles of rational security challenges prism.
Indian Hegemonic Designs
Theoretically, international relations’ realism tainted anarchic nature remains continuously evolving due to the dominance of security paradigm in states’ various policy formulation processes. The quest for attaining absolute power so as to have status of a major or superpower at global level has been the motivating force for revisionist states. India is no exception for being a known revisionist. While on the other hand, for the developing states, fear of the notion ‘survival of the fittest’ has been a compelling feature in keeping a handsome amount for the military spending.
Late Indian army officer turned strategic analyst, Brigadier (Retired) Gurmeet Kanwal opined that the modernization drive in the Indian Armed Forces makes it sufficiently supportive of the notion that it is on the course of joining the world’s great powers’ club through attaining the capacity to undertake ‘out-of-area’ operations1 i.e., trans-frontier offensive operations. The Indian hegemonic ambitions thus validate the necessity of having strong conventional modernized military buildup compulsorily so as to generate substantial response against the possibilities of actualization of prospective known offensive Indian doctrines, inter-alia, Cold Start Doctrine (CSD).
Proportionate Increase in Defense Budget – A Tangible Need
Another argument generally made against the magnitude of military budget pivots around the conception that Pakistan has an evolving economy which struggles to meet the cost of developing projects. Pakistan’s military command is fully cognizant of the economic stress being faced by the country. Under the stressed economic scenario, the national armed forces have been playing its nation-building role besides ensuring that the defense spending should not tax the economy. The armed forces believe in maintaining a rational balance between conventional forces vis-à-vis India which could sufficiently deter against any military misadventure. However, despite the global voices against the arms buildup and arms race, India has been on top of the list of arms importing countries.2 The 2018-19 report published by SIPRI, a Stockholm based think tank, revealed that India has been the world’s largest arms importer from 2012 to 2017 having a share of 13% of the overall global arms imports.3 More ironically, in SIPRI’s 2019-2020 report, India has been the fourth largest defense spender in 2018. The top five countries were the U.S., China, Saudi Arabia, India and France. Overall, these five countries spent 60% of the world’s total military expenditure.4
India also ranked among top five arms importer of 2018 and was ranked second after Saudi Arabia. The Big Five arms importers include Saudi Arabia, India, Egypt, Australia and Algeria, which account 35% of global total arms’ imports.5
Lately, in SIPRI Military Expenditure Database of April 2020, India yet gain secured 3rd ranking among the leading global first fifteen arms importers.
Such an out of proportion arms buildup by Pakistan’s eastern neighbor India is alarming and cannot be overlooked, thus, compelling to allocate reasonable military budget amount.
Analyzing China Factor Vis-à-Vis Exponentially Increasing Indian Budget
India has been calculatedly criticized for its hefty defense budget allocation which is seen tangent to the South Asian strategic stability and fragile peace. In response to the concerns raised by international commentators against arms buildup, Indian leadership has been hedging behind the argument that the Indian military modernization effort, both qualitatively and quantitatively, has been due to the Chinese threat factor. Unfortunately, the argument prevails substantially among the doves internationally and regionally, including domestic critics who do not hesitate to criticize Pakistan’s defense budget allocation. Pakistan; however, does not buy the subject argument and believes that the Indian arms modernization is nothing but South Asian rather Pakistan-centric with a purpose of securing regional hegemony.
Statistically, out of seven Indian Army commands, less Eastern Command, all commands i.e., Northern, Western, South-Western, Southern and Central Commands are poised towards Pakistan. To be more specific, all three Indian Strike Corps are also Pakistan-oriented, including 1 and 2 Strike Corps in Pakistan specific South-Western and Western Commands respectively, while 21 Strike Corps down in Southern Command. These Strike Corps have the bulk of Indian Armored formations including Armored Divisions, RAPID (Strike) and Independent Armored Brigades. None of these armored formations — the main punch of any conventional army — are China biased. Hence the Indian argument for its conventional military modernization vis-à-vis Chinese threat loses its steam and value. Foregoing in view, critics of defense budget must understand that Pakistan’s defense budget requirement is not by choice but by compulsion.
Nuclear Deterrence Vs. Pakistan’s Defense Budget
Anti-military budget proponents also make a plea that since Pakistan has nuclear deterrence in place, there is no need to have a large standing military. As an upfront argument, it seems logical; however, it is not that simple.
Indian extraordinary defense budget is oriented towards its military’s modernization in terms of both quantity and quality. A modern Indian military would obviously question the efficacy of Indo-Pak deterrence calculation.6 The out of proportion arms buildup indicate that either India does not have trust in its nuclear deterrence value or else it sees space for a conventional war of either an all-out or limited magnitude while staying below India’s self-perceived Pakistan’s nuclear threshold. Such an approach by the Indian military strategists does not gel with the South Asian strategic stability equation.
India must not forget that if a war is initiated by her, Pakistan would be at liberty to choose reactionary retaliation in terms of magnitude, time and space. For instance, post-Pulwama Indian uncalled aggression was befittingly responded by Pakistan’s Air Force’s indigenously built JF-17 Thunder aircraft. Had Pakistan not spent on acquiring the state-of-the-art technology of the JF-17 aircraft, perhaps the scenario would have been different amid extremely hostile statements from Indian military and political leadership. Thus, it must be understood that the vitality of defense capability is of paramount importance. Independence and sovereignty have the price which great nations happily bear, provided they have rationale and judicious reasons to believe.
Avoiding the Tag of Rogue State
From the arguments made above, it can be concluded that in spite of having nuclear deterrence, a strong standing military is needed to address ‘below the nuclear threshold’ misadventures by an adversary. In case Pakistan opts to threaten the Indian side with nuclear weapons use against every Indian conventional aggression, particularly of a lower magnitude, it can have consequences at political and diplomatic levels. Straightaway, in a globalized environment, any state taking such a position will ask for being tagged as an irresponsible and nuclear rogue state. In addition, it will also demonstrate weakness at the conventional level, both in terms of equipment and morale of troops. The silver lining between overt nuclear signaling and getting blamed for being a rogue state has to be identified by the policy and decision-makers. For that, a substantial defense budget is calculated with extreme care so as not to get embroiled into a situation where nuclear signaling becomes essential. Thus, maintenance of a potent conventional military capability is of paramount necessity.
Non-Kinetic Warfare – An Emerging Security Paradigm
The alarmists who voice against military spending argue that since kinetic warfare has become obsolete and thus has been taken over by the non-kinetic forms of warfare, which does not employ physical forces, the defense spending has to be cut substantially. The most quoted example by them is of the Cold War Model which had seen the most sustained and successful application of non-kinetic domains which resulted in dissolution of the superpower Soviet Union by mere application of non-kinetic means i.e., informational and psychological warfare including media onslaught, arms race resulting in economic overstretch, diplomatic coercion resulting into political and gradual isolation and, finally, the Afghan Proxy War.
The counter narrative to the argument is not very difficult to understand whose central thesis says that non-kinetic warfare is preferred by two adversaries or belligerents when they find no major advantage in physical employment of forces due to the fear of more losses vis-à-vis expected gains as not only the conventional war is too costly, it is also too difficult to limit and is potentially too damaging – even to the victor.
Since Pakistan’s independence, it has remained embroiled in a state of perpetual conflict with its archrival India due to unresolved territorial disputes, including the core issue of Kashmir. Until Youm-e-Takbeer i.e., May 28, 1998, Pakistan’s primary threat remained kinetic centric and so were the nature of military responses. However, after South Asia’s overt nuclearization, the threat paradigm became very complex, that included not only multi-faceted kinetic but also non-kinetic challenges from India besides from other hostile or potentially hostile actors.
Unfortunately, Pakistan has been subjected to multiple fault lines or vulnerabilities inter-alia, political disharmony, societal differences, religious and ethnic divides and, above all, weak economy, which provide exploitable opportunities to non-kinetic oriented adversary. Pakistan’s security agencies did not take long to grasp the changing operational paradigm and employed laser focus on the non-kinetic dimension of the threat so as to formulate viable, prudent and effective response strategies. Needless to emphasize that challenges to the Pakistan’s military have increased exponentially in terms of the magnitude of complexed external as well as internal threats. The domains in which prudent and befitting response strategies have been formulated and being employed effectively include information operations/media war, cyber warfare, 4th and 5th generations of warfare, sub-conventional warfare, proxies, espionage and intelligence operations and effect-based operations.
Pakistan’s defense spending requirement thus has naturally multiplied but sensing the requirement of development, Pakistan’s military planners have formulated calibrated response strategies by tactfully utilizing the existing resources. For instance, last year when budget 2019-2020 was to be announced, Pakistan military voluntarily relinquished its share of the budget pie besides an increase in already meager pay and allowances of officers and troops.
The novel act of the armed forces sufficiently demonstrates their confidence in their deterrence value which is kept to minimum in its quantum while ensuring its credibility covering the full spectrum of threats.
Defense budget allocation has a paradox attached to it. The more the defense spending, less could be the development. However, consequently if defense budget is curtailed, sovereignty and independence of the state would get a direct negative impact. Thus, a fine balance has to be ensured by the fiscal policymakers while remaining fully cognizant of the threats emanating from enemy’s kinetic and non-kinetic offensive potential.
Conventionally, Pakistan has amply demonstrated its response quality in the last quarter of February 2019 against archrival India which contemporarily is hostage to its hardliner political elite. In other words, putting the armed forces’ budget on the lower side vis-à-vis India; despite the latter being internationally recognized largest arms importer for the last five years could be detrimental and needs serious deliberation before taking down-side position against Pakistan’s defense budget which is already at its lowest ebb. Pakistani military and political leadership are fully aware of the fact and thus would be extremely cautious to avoid falling prey to the Indian bait of luring Pakistan into a debt trap by overspending on defense.
The writer is a PhD, Pro-Vice Chancellor and faculty member at DHA Suffa University, Karachi. The author is a former Visiting Research Fellow at Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS)/Centre for Non-Proliferation Studies (CNS), California and Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico, USA. He is an expert on security and strategic issues who can be reached at [email protected] and @DrAhmedSaeedMi1.
1. Gurmeet Kanwal, “Responding to US Pivot To The Indo-Pacific India’s Pro-Active Role In Meeting Emerging Security Challenges,” Monograph Submitted at The Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, USA. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/fmso-monographs/197134/download.
2. Khurram Abbas, “Indian Military Buildup: Impact on Regional Stability,” Journal of Current Affairs, Vol. 1, Nos. 1&2: 123.
3. ‘India is World‘s Largest Arms Importer: SIPRI,’ Hindustan Times, February 20, 2017, www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-is-world-s-largest-arms-importersipri/ story-Ahi6LhqR7WcZStOyDuIRKL.html.
4. ‘SIPRI Year Book 2019, Summary’: 6. https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/2019-06/yb19_summary_eng_1.pdf.
5. Ibid, 8.
6. Gurmeet Kanwal, “India’s Military Modernization: Plans and Strategic Underpinnings,” Policy Brief at National Bureau of Asian Research, Washington, D.C. (September 24, 2012), accessed October 29, 2017, http://www.nbr.org/research/activity.aspx?id=275#.UqnWcdKVPWN.
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