THE FOLLOWING ANALYSIS APPEARED IN FREE PRESS JOURNAL ON 22 OCTOBER, 2016
In the recent past, India has accelerated defence assets acquisition. Latest media reports suggest that India has agreed to purchase its second Akula Class nuclear submarine at a cost of $ 2 bn from Russia, in a deal that was signed on the sidelines of the recently concluded BRICS summit in Goa. This will be India’s third nuclear submarine with INS Chakra and the new INS Arihant. This comes on the heels of the recently signed deal with France for 36 Rafael fighter jets. Obviously, these assets go well beyond any threat perception emanating from Pakistan.
While, this may sound alarm bells in Pakistan, but under the prevailing geopolitical and regional security circumstances, India is forced to acquire these expensive armaments and it is not alone in this frantic defence assets acquisition race. Analysis of the larger geopolitical power game emerging in South Asia and South East Asia reveal that the entire region is becoming prey to a wild arms race, where India, China and Pakistan - the three nuclear neighbours are suspicious of each other and caught in a vicious circle of outdoing each other.
The growing military presence of China in the Indian Ocean under the excuse of securing its own Sea Lanes of Communications and thereby, trade, which is seen by Indian analysts as a String of Pearls to bind India, gives a clear picture of how China is playing its outsized ambition of becoming a ‘great power’. It is also China’s counter-strategy to balance America’s Pivot to the East.
India’s defence preparedness, on the other hand, is aimed at protecting her economic interests and countering military threats from the Red army. It is, however, perceived as a threat by Pakistan which boosts her arsenal with help from the Chinese. Pakistan has traditionally relied on American support to satiate her defence needs, but Beijing has taken over Washington in defence supplies to Islamabad. Every time India acted aggressively, China has diplomatically stood with Pakistan. However Beijing has never come to Pakistan’s rescue during its military conflicts with India. It has, however, lethally armed Rawalpindi over the years.
In the post-surgical strike scenario, if China starts to worry about India’s more muscular approach threatening her multi-billion dollar investment in China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC), Beijing may not hesitate to offer Islamabad tangible military help. China has not only shed her aloof posture, but has become active on the international platform giving tough competition to the established Western economic and military powers.
According to media reports, Pakistan imports about 63% of its armaments from China. According to research carried out by Stockholm based research institute SIPRI, Pakistan consumes about 35% of China’s arms supplies followed by Bangladesh at 20%, making Beijing the world’s third largest arms supplier. In August earlier this year, China agreed to supply Pakistan eight diesel electric submarines at a cost of $5 bn. These submarines are likely to have capabilities to fire nuclear missiles. This trend is dangerous not only from the conventional war point of view but more importantly because the three nuclear countries are adjacent to each other with the first two having colluded against India.
Pakistan is China’s pawn to keep a check on India’s western flank and simultaneously prepare to choke New Delhi on its eastern front. India’s arms acquisition is justified for two reasons, one, its Air Force and Navy are short of technology and required number of equipment and two, China’s gigantic military build-up.
There has been a meteoric increase in China’s defence spending. According to defence consultancy HIS Jane’s report published earlier this year, because of heightened tensions in the South China Sea, China has accelerated its defence preparedness. Beijing’s annual defence budget is $146 bn and is expected to rise by 5% annually crossing $233 bn by 2020. In contrast, India’s defence budget is meagre $51 bn. However, the Modi government has plans to spend Rs. 50,000 – 60,000 in the current fiscal on new defence deals.
India has enough capabilities to thwart any misadventure from Pakistan and keep China at bay, but looking at China’s mammoth investment to match the American military power, Beijing has raised the stakes for everyone in the region – especially for India.
The situation emerging in South and South East Asia with China and India as key players, is akin to the Cold War arms scenario between the US and USSR. It is for New Delhi to choose whether it wants to become a strong economic power making it a credible military force, or a lethal military power with a weak economy. India certainly cannot afford to be another Soviet Union.