India, Fifth Largest Military Spender Globally

Issue: 5 / 2017By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)Photo(s): By Dassault Aviation

India emerged as the world’s fifth largest military spender, ahead of its arch rival Pakistan, says a new report from a European think tank. Three out of the top five military spenders are from Asia, suggesting how military conflicts are spreading across the subcontinent. While India was beaten by China and Saudi Arabia, the list of world’s top 15 military spenders does not include Pakistan. With a spending of $611 billion and a year-on-year growth of 1.7 per cent, the United States remains the top most military spender in the world followed by China with a spending of $245 billion and a growth of 5.4 per cent. However, by Chinese standards, the growth rate is lower than what the communist country achieved in the past.

The European think tank referred to in the news item above is the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the information has been drawn from its latest report entitled “Trends in World’s Military Expenditure, 2016.” However, based on the 13.1 per cent enhancement in the allocation for the Indian defence budget for the financial year 2016-17, as also reduction in military expenditure in Russia and Saudi Arabia on account of the depressed oil prices that have imposed considerable strain on their finances, IHS Inc, a research firm in the United States, has placed India in the fourth slot in the global ranking pertaining to defence spending. A forecast by Craig Caffrey, Principal Analyst at IHS Inc, indicates that over the next five years, expenditure on defence by India will outpace that of all other major defence spenders.

There is no doubt that India has been investing substantial part of its national resources in the acquisition of military hardware. In the last two financial years that the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been in power, the former Minister of Defence, Manohar Parrikar, cleared projects for the acquisition of military hardware that is valued at Rs 4,00,714 crore. This is over and above the 141 contracts worth approximately Rs 2,00,010 crore that were concluded in the same period. However, despite these figures that undoubtedly may appear impressive, the share of GDP allocated to the Ministry of Defence, has only reduced from 1.8 per cent in the budget for 2015-16 to a humble 1.65 per cent in the budget for 2016-17. Even the armed forces of our hostile neighbour Pakistan that are much smaller in size, commandeer a share of over 3 per cent of GDP!

Global ranking of nations based on analyses and reports by renowned think tanks might somewhat erroneously convey the impression that India is engaged in some sort of a competition to excel in defence spending. Nothing could be further from the truth. What is relevant for the nation is that the Indian armed forces at all times are maintained in a fit state to take on any challenge to national security that may arise even at short notice. To achieve this state of preparedness, as a first step, it would be necessary to carry out a realistic assessment of both short- and long-term threat to national security interests that are no longer confined to the boundaries of the nation; but extend well beyond from the Middle East to the Strait of Malacca.

It would be reasonable to assume that today, as also in the foreseeable future, the most serious threat to national security will emanate from the northern neighbour China. Relations with China since 1962 have been strained and marked by frequent transgression across the line of actual control (LAC). Arunachal has always been targeted by China and the recent visit by the Dalai Lama to the area has only served to heighten tensions between the two nations. The South China Sea is another area where the interests of India and China appear to be in conflict. But a development that is of critical importance to the security of the nation is the rapidly growing nexus between China and Pakistan.

While Pakistan by itself has the potential to foment trouble in the state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) as also sporadic action along the line of control (LoC), it is not capable of posing serious or any military threat by itself. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that passes through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a part of J&K over which India has claim, as also the involvement of China in the development and management of ports on the Southern coast of Pakistan, have long-term implications for India’s national security interests.

Currently, the Chinese armed forces are nearly twice the size of the Indian armed forces. In the region, China has by far the highest record in respect of expenditure on defence. The report from SIPRI estimates that China can be attributed with 48 per cent of the total expenditure in the region on defence. A report by another think tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) published in 2011, had estimated that given the current level of spending on defence, China will be able match the military capability of the US in about two decades. China has only increased her defence spending significantly after the publication of the report by IISS, reaching $166 billion last year as against $56 billion by India.

In the pursuit of national objectives, the ground realities of the security scenario are of vital importance. Global ranking related to defence spending is really of no relevance.