The latest edition of India’s biennial defence expo, held in New Delhi recently, was one of the largest exhibitions of such equipment in the world. These expos are usually aimed at the Indian military establishment, the largest buyer of military goods after Saudi Arabia. Studies have shown that in many developing countries, weapons procurement rose even during the recent global financial crises. The value of arms deals worldwide had reportedly almost doubled in 2011 to $85 billion from that of the previous year.
Leading the pack in arms sales were companies from the US, Russia and the European Union. Ironically, these nations claim to be the champions of world peace. No wonder former US president Jimmy Carter said during his campaign in 1976: “We cannot have it both ways. We cannot be both the world’s leading champion of peace and the world’s leading supplier of arms.” He was often ridiculed for his soft approach.
Those opposed to the arms industry highlight that there is too much attention on nuclear and chemical weapons (as sanctions and talks with Iran and Syria have shown), but little is done to curb the sale of conventional weapons. Some of these weapons—like artillery and rockets supplied in large numbers to rebel groups by world powers—can be devastating for unarmed civilians. It is this moral dilemma that has, until now, prevented India from resorting to arms exports. But, the counter to the moralists is that no one really cares for the high moral ground India adopts, not least those countries that shape world opinion. Currently, India’s defence exports are about 2 per cent of what it produces.
But India’s imports are 17 per cent of the world’s arm bazaar, with almost all of the procurement being vendor-driven, not need or capability driven. While most powerful countries often make a strategic doctrine and manufacture or buy weapons to service that need, India has always bought weapons and created its doctrines around them! This is partly because of the Indian military’s insistence on the best or nothing. This gives Indian defence companies no opportunity of growth. With the defence ministry insisting on protecting its public sector companies, capable private companies are denied a level playing field. In the next few years, Indian ordnance factories could produce 2 lakh or so products that can easily be used by our armed forces—like boots, helmets, grenades and certain types of ammunition and tactical missiles. India’s armed forces would do well to buy these systems. This would reduce the endless delays in procurement and dependence on global arms manufacturers. Given encouragement, our scientists can do a superb job, as the Agni and BrahMos missiles have shown. The reason why India’s strategic weapons programme is so successful is that India could not buy these off the shelf.
There is now a demand for the BrahMos missile, and a few other Indian products, even in developed countries. This must be encouraged. It will enhance India’s diplomatic clout and bring in foreign exchange. What India now needs is a champion to help increase defence exports by dispensing bureaucratic inertia. And, Indian missions abroad (defence attaches, especially) need to change their mindset from being buyers to sellers. China has gone from being the second-largest importer to being among the biggest exporters. Could India, one day, do the same?
This essay is Courtesy, THE WEEK, 23 February 2014
Maroof Raza is a commentator on strategic affairs.
To know more about Maroof Raza, visit: www.maroofraza.com