India’s defense budget for the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 is likely to be around 80 billion USD, surpassing that of the United Kingdom and Russia. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the Indian defense budget will be more than 76.5 billion USD and is estimated to be the third largest in the world only behind the United States and China with 773 billion USD and 229 billion USD, respectively. However, SIPRI indicated the figures to be 801 billion USD and 293 billion USD, respectively.
According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), currently, India has more than 1.4 million active troops with an additional 11 million reserve military personnel. Further, it has around 2.6 million paramilitary forces which are primarily tasked with border security and to fulfill domestic needs. It is worth noting, here that during the Fiscal Year 2020-2021, the Indian Defence Budget was almost 73 billion USD and in less than two years, it has witnessed a hike of almost 4 billion USD.
It is worthy to probe this increasing defense budget, especially during the times of Covid-19 and its devastating impact on India. Since January 2020 till date, more than half a million people have perished from the virus and still, the international community is fearing the death rate to be much higher than the Indian government’s official numbers. However, the Indian government seems ambitious in increasing its defense budget at the cost of the well-being of its citizens.
Analysis and Afterthought
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Atma Nirbhar Bharat” (Buy and Make in India or self-reliant India) is a desperate initiative to make India self-reliant, especially by making it less dependent on foreign arms and equipment. In this regard, Tata and Mahindra & Mahindra are playing a vital role to achieve the indigenization drive. In his recent speech to mark India’s 75th Independence Day, PM Modi hoped to make India a lot better through economic development by 2047. He argued that “I urge youth to dedicate the next 25 years of their lives for the nation’s development.” He also stated 5 pledges to realize this dream for a developed India, and by “removing any sign of servility, pride in heritage, unity and fulfilling our duties.”
Since Modi’s ascent to power, he is giving special attention to the ever-growing needs of the Indian armed forces by allocating more defense budget. He seems convinced that a developed India could only be possible if its armed forces are strong and capable of responding effectively to all threats to national security – foreign and domestic. For instance, in the aftermath of the humiliation faced by India in February 2019 when Pakistan shot down 2 Indian MiG-21 fighter aircraft, PM Modi was quick to lament the delayed delivery of French-built Rafale Omni-role fighter aircraft. He was adamant about the operational capabilities of Rafale and was fully confident that the outcome of the air battle would have been entirely different had the Indian Air Force acquired the said jets earlier.
Does more Budget mean more capabilities?
While keeping in view the Bofors Guns Scandal involving the Indian officials and Swedish defense manufacturer Bofors, it is hard to assume that the acquisition of more capable equipment could transform the armed forces into having enhanced operational capabilities. It is worthy to argue that besides India’s acquisition of Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft from Russia, it exhibited a hollow response to Pakistan’s Operation Swift Retort in February 2019 and could not overwhelm the attacking Pakistani JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft.
Also, the Indian defense policymakers showed great enthusiasm in erecting a Mountain Strike Corps in 2013; however, almost a decade later it is nowhere to be found. Further, where did the Mountain Strike Corps vanish when the Chinese overpowered Indian armed forces in the rugged and mountainous terrains of Doklam and Galwan Valley.
Why was the Indian Army given preference?
Out of the almost 80 billion USD, the Indian Army was chosen to be allocated 56 percent, amounting to around 45 billion USD. The army has more than 1.2 million active troops and such an allocation of funds seems realistic. However, it was argued that an intense inter-services rivalry among the uniformed services of the Indian armed forces was responsible for the lack of jointness in operations and the Indian Army wanted a dominating role over the other branches.
It was also noted that the army desired the air force and navy to have a secondary and supportive role, where they could have little autonomy to conduct independent operations. In hindsight, despite PM Modi’s desire of acquiring Rafale fighter aircraft and strengthening the air force and navy, the majority allocation of the defense budget for the Indian Army tells an entirely different story.
However, regardless of the Indian defense budget going towards any branch of its armed forces, such strategic initiatives could disturb the fragile strategic stability in South Asia and could lead to a renewed arms race beyond that.
For the past decade, India’s military spending has grown at a soaring pace of 9 percent per year and such spending has significantly enhanced its military capabilities. However, following the latter, it is unclear whether India is seeking power or security. In any case, the intentions of Indian policymakers remain uncertain – which could contribute to instability or security dilemmas for the regional states.
Indeed, it is a misery that currently India is spending a total of almost 3 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense only. Such a huge amount could be used amicably for development purposes which could have a positive impact on India and the region as well. Resultantly, the large sum spent on Indian defense would have an inevitable impact on Pakistan’s defense spending, as Islamabad cannot remain passive to such developments. The Indian PM Modi’s wish of making India a developed country in the decades to come is understandable.
However, history reveals that no nation can develop and prosper in isolation while having hostile relations with its immediate neighbors. PM Modi’s dreams of a prosperous India could only become reality if he abandons regional hegemonic ambitions and adopts a policy of economic connectivity.
The author is a Research Associate at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), Pakistan. He co-authored the book Realism and Exceptionalism in U.S. Foreign Policy: From Kissinger to Kerry (2020). He can be reached at email@example.com. The views in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.