INDIA is heading day by day into the continuous modernisation of its military built-up, aspiring to become the giant arms trader of South Asian region. It outdoes China as the world’s largest importer of weapons systems, indicating the country’s intent of modernizing its military abilities and demonstrating capabilities beyond south Asia. It is feared that the whole Asian security is fuelling arms trade now as the region has accounted for 46 percent of global imports over the past five years. As according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), six of the world’s ten largest arms importers are in Asia and Oceania.
The international trade volume of major weapons has grown continuously over the past decade, rising by 14 percent between the five-year periods 2006-10 and 2011-15. India falls on the top of the list, accounting for 14 percent of global arms imports, followed by China (4.7 percent), Australia (3.6 percent), Pakistan (3.3 percent), Vietnam (2.9 percent) and South Korea (2.6 percent). South Asia alone accounted for 44 percent of the regional total. The main reason for this is India, which has been the world’s largest importer of major arms over the past five years. Asia’s second-most populous country buys three times as many weapons as either China or Pakistan, its regional rivals. India and Vietnam, for instance, are two of the world’s largest importers of naval equipment, especially submarines.
One of the main reasons for this high level of imports is identified by SIPRI that India’s arms industry has thus far largely failed to produce competitive indigenously designed weapons. Therefore, since 2011, Russia has supplied 70 percent of India’s arms imports, followed by the US who supplied 14 percent and also Israel by 4.5 percent. Likewise, with the support of the US President Barack Obama recently, India managed to enter into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a 34-nation wherein the officials and concerned personals are now drawing up plans to make use of this new status. With access into the MTCR, India would now be able to import and export ballistic and cruise missiles. This effectively means that India would now be able to import American drone and predators and enhance its offensive capability which would seriously undermine regional strategic stability. As a consequence, regional deterrence will also be severely damaged.
India joining the group will also pave the way for the purchase of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV), like the Predator from the United States. In addition, membership would facilitate the export of the Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missile to Vietnam in a bid to check China, and also enable India to obtain technologies from overseas to complete development of its homemade UCAV. Owing to the fact that India remains one of the largest and an active importer of weapons system or weapons trade with an 11 % trek in its 2015-16 defence budget, which has increased to 40 billion dollars over the time. Similarly in 2012, India tested its intermediate range Agni-V ballistic missile with a range of 5000 km.
Likewise, India plans to buy Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter aircraft from Russia, multi-role Rafale fighter jets to a naval vessel recently commissioned in Mauritius, reconnaissance assets and satellites and is also building a two-tiered Ballistic Missile Defence shield in close collaboration with Israel. Paradoxically, if India is accepted in the NSG, though the chances are very bleak, then by achieving its new diplomatic status, it will fuel up its un-ending appetite for arms trade, nuclear weapons, delivery systems, cruise and ballistic missile and much more. In this context India will be further enabled to utilize its freed up domestic resources for arms stockpiling, improving the quality and quantity of its nuclear arms, which will jeopardize strategic stability of the region.
Ironically, India is seeking to boost arms exports 20-fold in a decade to $3 billion, a push that if successful, would transform one of the world’s biggest importers into a major seller of defence equipment. Nevertheless, this largest spending on arms trade could be taken as a strong indication provoking a full-scale regional arms race in the region. Thus the driver of this drastic arms race is a classic security dilemma. That is, “the attempt by one country to increase its own security by increasing its military strength has the effect of creating insecurity in neighbouring states.”
— The writer works for Strategic Vision Institute, a think tank based in Islamabad.