India not ready to meet its defense needs: analysis
Last week, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman revealed some major structural reforms in India’s dying defense sector, as part of a macroeconomic stimulus related to coronavirus disease (Covid-19), and increased foreign investment Direct in making 74% defense is radical. However, these are all policy changes that have “potential” and must be implemented effectively before their outcome can be objectively evaluated.
Meanwhile, India’s military security challenges, both current and long-term, unintentionally focused on this month, even as the nation is grappling with the pandemic and its tragic impact on millions of citizens.
In early May, the Handwara terror attack saw the Indian army lose a colonel and other personnel, signaling the continued tenacity of the low intensity conflict (SCI) that has been simmering in Kashmir. This is a complex power war where external Pakistani stimulus has permeated the internal security thread with all its corrosive communal elements. It is unlikely to end soon.
India is currently handling an anomalous, albeit low-order, challenge of territorial challenge. The eastern sector of Ladakh saw a clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the Pangong Tso sector. While well below Doklam, media reports indicate that stones were used and it is encouraging that ammunition was not exchanged, as has been the pattern for more than three decades. But the long-standing territorial dispute with China is still alive on national security radar.
The most intriguing element is that Nepal summoned the Indian ambassador on May 11 to present a protest against the construction of a road by India in an area (Lipu Lekh pass to Dharchula in Uttarakhand) that Kathmandu claims is located within his territory.
To add to the spectrum of challenges, reports have emerged that China is improving its footprint in the Indian Ocean (OI) on an island near Male in the Maldives. Therefore, Indian security planners cannot ignore the possibility of a Hambantota facility / access type for the PLA navy on the IO.
And to fill this opaque security challenge, May also symbolizes India’s complex nuclear missile anxiety. The regional strategic environment became difficult for India when China acquired nuclear weapons in October 1964; Subsequent Sino-Pakistani Weapons of Mass Destruction (ADM) co-operation gave Delhi a sui generis security puzzle. The Pakistani nuclear weapon that Beijing had enabled was being used to aid terrorism fueled by religious fervor, which had been described as the Nuclear-Enabled Terrorism (NWET) dilemma.
India attempted to quell its latent anxiety from weapons of mass destruction in May 1998 through Shakti nuclear tests under surveillance by Atal Bihari Vajpayee on May 11. Two decades later, the terrorist regional nexus for weapons of mass destruction became more confusing, and the techno-strategic permutations are baffling.
Does India have the means to effectively deal with this complex spectrum of national security challenges, a part of which is compounded by the current national political-ideological orientation? The answer is no, and for years experts have pointed out that the annual defense allowance cannot maintain the kind of human, material and inventory profile that India needs. The last defense budget (excluding pensions) was Rs 3.37 billion rupees. The amount available for equipment modernization and new acquisitions was shrinking to approximately 32% of the optimal 40% of the budget.
In the Covid-19 context, India’s macroeconomic challenge will worsen. The fiscal deficit is established to violate the recommended limit of 3.5%; the only question is how high would it go. On May 8, the government set central loans for 2020-21 at Rs 12.00 billion rupees, a significant budget increase of Rs 7.80 billion. This fiscal stress will affect the sectors mentioned above as “no plan” in the budget allocation, of which defense is a visible component. Thus, the military is unlikely to receive anything close to Rs 3.50 billion rupees (approximately $ 46 billion). There are also unconfirmed reports of a budget reduction in defense allocation due to Covid-19, ranging from Rs 40,000 to Rs 80,000 crore.
Given that the Covid-19 challenge and its accumulated debris of economic devastation and human destitution will be the highest national priority for some years, India will have to embark on a radical overhaul of its security challenges and roadmap to deal with this complex spectrum. . Many nations face a similar situation, but there are some permanent elements to consider in the Indian context. The strategic geography and its security requirements will not change due to the pandemic. The low intensity conflict fueled by Pakistan and the internal security fabric will be turbulent and the political apex will seek to calm national sentiment in this regard.
What kind of military capacity India needs, its technological makeup, and how it can be cultivated and maintained affordably in a post-Covid-19 world needs careful and objective evaluation. In this context, some of the radical comments attributed to the Chief of Defense Staff, General Bipin Rawat, that justify less defense spending and suggest that the army may have misrepresented its requirements are puzzling, to put it mildly. One hopes that this is not the distilled wisdom of Modi 2.0 in the security domain.
C Uday Bhaskar is director of the Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi.
The opinions expressed are personal.