India’s Defence Minister AK Antony’s recent answer in Parliament confirms what the 2012 report of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) revealed a couple of months ago: India is now the world’s largest importer of arms, accounting for 10% of all conventional weapon and ammunition purchases.
Following India are South Korea (6%), Pakistan (5%), China (5%) and Singapore (4%) — these five countries together account for a 30% share of the global conventional arms imports, while Asia and Oceania put together will raise this figure to 44%. The implications of these statistics are serious since the global conventional arms trade is worth an annual $60 billion, and it has risen by 24% over the last 5 years (2007 – 2011) because of growing militarisation in Asia.
Globally, the top five exporters of conventional arms are the United States, Russia, Germany, France, and Britain. Interestingly, following development of its domestic arms industry, China is now the world’s sixth largest exporter of weapons in the world. What an irony it is of international politics that the five permanent members of the United Nation’s Security Council are also the world’s top arms exporters!
Is it possible for countries to promote peace and security in the world while they are at the same time merchants of death, trading in arms in rapacious pursuit of profits?
It is not, and the Tony Blair government’s spurious ethical foreign policy is a good example. Tony Blair spoke of resolving the cycle of poverty and war in Africa which he called a blight on the world’s conscience. But this did not stop his government from selling to Tanzania a $40 million military air traffic system, even if that impoverished country had only 8 military aircraft.
In 2002 when India and Pakistan were engaged in fairly aggressive nuclear posturing, Tony Blair visited India and Pakistan, expressing the hope that Britain could have a ‘calming influence’ in the region. In that trip his government sold India 60 Hawk jets worth $1.6 billion even though it was clear that this sale would threaten regional stability.
Blair’s government scuttled an inquiry into corruption allegations against British arms manufacturer BAE, citing ‘national interest’.
It is quite possible to point out another irony — how could India, whose Father of the Nation is considered the prophet of non-violence, be the world’s largest importer of arms? An estimated `24,475 crore was spent during 2010-11 for defence imports. The latest projections are that over the next 10 years an estimated $100 billion would be spent by India on arms, and some 30 % of that would be allocated for imports. Defence manufacturers around the world are licking their lips in anticipation.
Analysts have pointed out that this level of defence spending is necessary for India. There are 7,000 kilometres of sea coast, 314,400 square kilometres of territorial seas and 14000 kilometres of land borders to be guarded. India shares land borders with six countries, two of whom she has had major wars with. Both these neighbours, Pakistan and China, have high defence spending too, so deterrence is the only way forward.
But the insane doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is now outdated and increasing numbers of the world’s citizens are asking for a new thinking that will base foreign policy not on military might but cooperative relations, more people to people contact and respect for human rights.
Relatively new democracies like India which are still developing countries need to get the priorities right. According to the multi-dimensional poverty index developed by Oxford University, there are more poor people in eight of the northern Indian states than in the 26 countries of sub-Saharan Africa. According to a study based on the multi-dimensional poverty index, the situation of Madhya Pradesh state in central India with 70 million inhabitants is not different from the desperate poverty of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). India and the DRC should do more to be proud members of the commonwealth of nations and to rank higher in the UN’s Human Development Index.
An arms race diverts resources from that essential task of human development. It increases instability and because of the secretiveness of negotiations, provides ample scope for corruption. An arms race benefits only the defence manufacturer.
Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu called the arms trade a new form of slavery whereas another Nobel laureate for Peace Oscar Arias Sanchez, declared “When a country decides to invest in arms, rather than in education, housing, the environment, and health services for its people, it is depriving a whole generation of its right to prosperity and happiness”.