January 2, 2007Foreign AffairsSecurity

Giving up the advantage, voluntarily

Slowing down India’s military modernisation is another of Dr Manmohan Singh’s bad ideas

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Wonks call it the security dilemma: when a state takes measures to improve its own security, other states feel threatened and the situation may escalate into a war that none of the parties actually desire. Pakistan, in this interpretation, feels threatened by increases in Indian defence expenditure and takes measures to counter it in a variety of ways—from cross-border terrorism, proxy war to the build-up of missiles and nuclear warheads. Surely, toning down defence procurement (implicitly signaling the abandonment of war as an option) on India’s part should lower Pakistani hackles and help the cause of peace?

Well yes, only if you and more importantly the Pakistani general staff believe that not increasing India’s military edge will sufficiently assuage Pakistani insecurities. It requires a tremendous leap of faith (and leaps of faith make for very poor strategic thinking). And as Ajai Shukla writes (linkthanks Yossarin), that is exactly what the UPA government is doing. Not only is India preventing sophisticated arms purchases by Pakistan, it is going to the extent of going slow on purchases that would sharpen its own military edge.

But that’s only part of the story. The bigger story is that India’s decision to circumscribe its military procurement to mollify Pakistan plays right into the hands of not just China, but of the United States as well. It has long been China’s strategy to use Pakistan to keep a lid on India expanding its power in the region. Jihadis in Jammu & Kashmir and tensions along the India-Pakistan border tied up Indian forces and the Indian strategic planning bandwidth away from theatres involving China. Just as hostility between India and Pakistan benefited China, it now stands to gain—at India’s expense—from the peace process’ too. While the UPA government seems set to put the brakes on India’s military modernisation, China’s transformation of its military from a labour-intensive to a capital-intensive one continues apace.

Supporters of the UPA government are likely to cite the India-US strategic relationship as the answer to Indian concerns over the relative Chinese ascendency in the Asian balance of power. Well, there are two problems with that argument. First, the UPA government itself has contended, with some merit, that it does not see the India-US partnership as directed against China. Second, partnership should not mean that should come to rely on the United States for its own security. It is a stretch, but India should avoid becoming another Taiwan, Korea, Japan or even a United Kingdom.

Trading off India’s conventional military edge in return for Pakistan’s agreement to stop cross-border terrorism is a extremely bad bargain. Especially because contrary to what Shukla writes, sponsoring terrorism is for Pakistan the option of first resort, while war for India is the option of last resort. All it amounts to is unilateral arms control by India. While the efficacy of arms control itself remains debatable, even its strongest supporters note that the agreements must be reciprocal. By entering into the bargain, will not only find itself disadvantaged in the Asian balance of power. It will also find that the Pakistanis will sing a different tune once they sense that India has taken the option of war off the table.

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