India’s Increasing Military Expenditure: Implications for the South Asian Security

India is one of the top nations which has been increasing its military expenditure, weapons import from multiple countries and private firms, and defence budget. Over the last three decades, India has been experiencing momentous variations in its military-strategic thinking resultantly this brings the significant changes in its defence policies as well. In this regard, India has been trying to revolutionize its military capacity via importing sophisticated conventional arms. Recently, a report published by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on 27th of April 2020, shows that “global military expenditure sees a largest annual increase in a decade reaching $1917 billion in 2019”. SIPRI’s database entertains that the total global military expenditure represents an increase of 3.6 per cent as compared to the previous year 2018. Moreover, the five largest spenders in 2019 according to statistics computed by SIPRI were the U.S., China, India, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, respectively. SIPRI statistics also show that two Asian states, namely China and India, have featured among the top three military spenders for the first time.

As far as India is concerned, it has increased its military expenditure by 6.8 per cent as compared to 2018 reaching $71.1 billion. According to Siemon T. Wezeman (the Senior Researcher at SIPRI) “India’s tensions and rivalry with both Pakistan and China are among the major drivers for its increased military spending”. This massive increase in the Indian military expenditure makes it the world’s second-largest arms importer after Saudi Arabia. Delhi has involved in various deals and agreement with the world’s top nations for the import of military technology. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed $3 billion in defence deal with President Trump during his visit to India in February 2020. According to this deal, the U.S. would provide helicopters and other equipment to India’s military. Moreover, the U.S. is fully assisting India in its desire to acquire global power status through military means. Pentagon in October 2019 stated that “the bilateral defence trade between Washington and Delhi expected to reach $18 billion by the year-end”. In addition to this, the U.S. State Department in 2019 said that it is going to sell India “MH-60R Seahawk helicopters ($2.6 billion), Apache helicopters ($2.3 billion), P-8I maritime patrol aircraft ($3 billion), and M777 howitzers ($737 million)”.

This growing Indo-US nexus in defence has continued since long such as both the nations concluded a significant communication agreement in September 2018 named Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) to facilitate closer defence cooperation. In August 2016, India also signed a military logistic agreement with the U.S designated the Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) to counter the growing maritime influence of China. This agreement allows both the nations to govern the use of each other’s land, air and naval bases for repair and resupply.  Ash Carter the then U.S. Defence Secretary and Manohar Parrikor (Indian Defence Minister) said that “signing of the agreement would make the logistics of joint operations so much easier and so much more efficient”. Another agreement named General Security and of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) signed between Delhi and Washington in 2002. it paves the way for greater technological cooperation in the military sector. Similarly, GSOMIA also “allows the sharing of classified information from the U.S. government and American companies with the Government of India and Defense Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU).

There can be various reasons behind India’s military modernization; however, its military buildup raises severe questions for creating instability and posing security threats to the regional states, particularly Pakistan. Pakistan and India are considered the arch-rivals in nuclear South Asia since conventional violence between them could quickly turn into a nuclear war. As far as the deterioration of the security situation of South Asia is concerned, Delhi played an essential role in worsening the security and generating threats for the stability of the region. South Asia region has already been considered the most sensitive part of the world because of a massive increase in traditional and non-traditional security threats, particularly after the incident of 9/11. In this regard, a report published by SOS Children’s Villages Canada about the poverty in India states that “two-thirds of people in India live in poverty: 68.8% of the Indian population lives on less than $2 a day. Over 30% even have less than $1.25 per day available – they are considered extremely poor. It makes India one of the poorest countries in the world; women and children, the weakest members of Indian society, suffer most”.

It is the situation of poverty in India where people are dying because of poverty, hunger, and strife. In contrast, its rulers are spending a tremendous amount of money on military expenditures as well as their lavish lives.”

Instead of focusing on multiple problems such as poverty, corruption, instability, inequality and violation of minority rights, barbarism over Muslims etc. India is bent upon increasing its defence budget. It exposes Indian hegemonic designs for the South Asian region. It is ultimately becoming the primary reason for instability and insecurity not only for Pakistan but also for other regional states.Furthermore, both India and Pakistan are considered arch-rivals in the South Asia region. Multiple unresolved problems cause their power asymmetry to prevail such as Kashmir, constant warmongering by the political leadership as well as Indian military, Indian involvement in Balochistan, and Indian massive military modernization etc. Besides, after the establishment of BJP government India aspires to be the world power such as PM Modi after taking office in May 2014, said to his diplomats that “to help India position itself in a leading role, rather than [as] just a balancing force, globally”. Likewise, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the then foreign secretary of India, also entertained that “country now aspires to be a leading power, rather than just a balancing power”. These all force postures and recent military developments by Indian government pose some severe implications and dangers for regional peace and stability.

Irfan Mahar
Irfan Mahar
The writer is working as a Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, and Ph.D. scholar in the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad,Pakistan.