It has been three weeks since my last blog entry, ooops. Holiday season.
Obama last week announced changes to the US defence strategy. Among other things, the new defence review mentioned a cut in conventional military forces, and a focus on the Asia Pacific – read, China. The announcement led to much editorial/op-ed activity in India. Many noted that India is right to increase defence expenditure and others that Delhi has been caught sleeping, and must wake up to the new strategic reality in its neighbourhood. ( see article by C. Rajamohan). Will India strengthen relations with the US, to become a key economic and security ally – as Washington hopes? Or, will it remain aloof under the name of non-alignment? ( see Harsh V Pant piece) How will it accomodate the rise of China, with its sea of pearl strategy? And, as few relations are purely bi-lateral, India’s response to these questions will also shape its relationship with the Middle Eastern states. If India becomes the strategic ally that Washington hopes for, to what extent will it tow the washington line in its relations with Iran? All these questions suddenly seemed to have received much attention since Obama’s new defence review.
And, the answer to all these questions, it would seem, is yes, lets keep increasing military budgets.
Foreign Policy’s top story to watch out for 2012 was Indian military spending.A study released by the Deloitte consulting firm last summer noted that “India’s defense spending is growing significantly and at an unprecedented rate…. India is becoming one of the largest military spenders in the world, with the third-largest defense procurement budget in Asia.” The study highlighted that the country is “expected to spend nearly US$100 billion on military procurement during the current five-year plan (2007-2012) and US$120 billion in the following five-year plan period (2012-2017).”
A few points.
The US defence strategy, at least as it stands, is not that new. The strategy speaks in general terms – ‘rise of china’ ‘american dominance’ ‘Iran threat’ ‘strategic ally’ etc. But, it does nothing to specify – who is the enemy/ why are they the enemy… More than anything else, it seems to suggest a change in tactics – counter terrorism, not nation building, drones, not boots on the ground, rather than a grand ‘strategy’. The idea seems to be that America should be prepared ( over prepared, even), in the event of any and all strikes. ( see al jazeera video report)
India seems to suffer from a similar problem. A lack of strategy, and no clear articulation of threats. ‘Threat from China’ ‘Regional Balance of Power’ etc. are phrases that are thrown around all the time. But, these are just ideas – in themselves they will not cause armed conflict. We need to specify the exact pathways through which any of these are a potential threat. Only through such specification can we devise strategy. And, as Chinese military theorist, Sun Tzu noted, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
China,with its so called string of pearls, had a plan, and the expanded military helped execute the plan. But the strategy came first. We are going about it the opposite way. Just military, not strategy. Military capabilities have to be converted to strength, and conversion requires strategy (and leadership).
Such increase in spending seems pointless as long as we continue to be plagued by a lack of strategic thought.Yet,we surge ahead.
India has been noted, and criticized, for its lack of political leadership on defence, derived from its doctrine of strategic restraint. The lack of political leadership in defence matters persists even today.
Stephen Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta argue
‘ India has been one of the biggest importers of advanced conventional weapons in the last thirty years, but this sustained rearmament has not altered India’s strategic position. The armed forces push for modernization, but do not have the authority to mount the national campaign necessary for transforming the security condition of the country. Budget increases delivered by a rapidly expanding economy and access to western technology previously denied to India have led to optimism about Indian military power, but the dysfunction in India’s civil-military relations reduces the impact of rearmament. Arming without aiming has some purpose in persuading other great powers of India’s benign rise, but it cannot be the basis of military planning.’ ( read more here
So, we are once again at the same spot – we decide to increase military spending, everyone jumps on to the band wagon, but none of this will mean anything without clear problem identification, identification of path ways and scenarios, and then a strategy on how to meet the expected challenged.
But, to define these, we should not fall back on realist vaccous terms such as ‘power’, ‘security’, ‘interest’ – these need specification. And the specification and answers to these questions is not just about capability – but about identity – about the kind of global power India seeks to be and what that means for how it orients its foreign policy. Without a clearly articulated idea of the role India sees itself playing on the world stage, it is difficult to even know when we have won or lost particular global policy battles.
Finally, given the dismal year it has been for governance in India, countering the China ‘ threat/rise’ needs a multi-hatted strategy, key to which is surely governance and economy. Thats where we really need to catch up. Not military spending per se.
Cohen and Dasgupta also argues that the restraint is deliberate and reflects india’s belief in a benign international environment/ prioritizing development spending over defence/ commitment to non-violence in wake of colonial legacy. India has, they argue, ‘ a remarkable preference for strategic restraint. Indian leaders simply have not seen the use of force as a useful instrument of politics.But, surely it is worth asking – why is this restraint a bad idea? Three neighbouring nuclear power states seems like reason enough for restraint. Moreover, India’s strength is its soft power, not hard power, something that we would be wise to capitalize on. (We should in fact try and sell the idea that force is not a useful instrument) But the past year has been marked by poor governance by UPA-II, petty coalition politics, with important policy debates amounting to little more than opportunistic opponent bashing by our political leaders.