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loading... Do Big Guns Mean Better Security?

Author: Sunil Khilnani
January 16, 2010


At a time when the state is likely to use more force to solve internal and external conflicts, we need a more evolved and nuanced view of the role and purpose of force as a tool for securing our national aims.

Of the many supposed lessons of the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai, few have thus far yielded real changes: The outraged middle classes did not come out to vote, no civic sense or community arose phoenix-like in our cities. But the attacks did create one soft consensus: that India needs to spend more, much more, to assure the country's security.

More Black Cat units. More speedboats. More and better guns for the police. More fighter planes and faster fibre-optic networks. Several months after the attacks, the government increased the non-nuclear defence expenditure by more than a quarter. One of the highest one-time increases in our history, it pushes the military budget to approaching $30 billion (Rs1.3 trillion). Today, defence spending consumes around 2.35% of GDP-though small in comparison to, say, the US (4.7%), it is in fact larger than it looks, given the idiosyncratic way the Indian military budget is defined. The major part of that increase is for buying new arms and equipment.

Our most distinguished political figures of the 20th century, whose intellectual energies were applied to thinking about how to minimize the role of force, might have been dismayed by this military expansion. The goal, back then, was to keep India away from military conflicts and wars, which were viewed as a product of the Western will to world domination. But our world is different from the one in which they lived. And as nice as it would be to transfer our entire defence budget to efforts at improving education, as little Costa Rica did after World War II, the fact is that India lives in a particularly turbulent part of the world-a place in which force is a necessary precondition for survival.

Even as I foresee the role of force increasing in our collective lives as a nation, I remain troubled by the general consensus that we can simply spend our way to safety. As it happens, this concern is occasionally shared by our own defence minister, A.K. Antony. "Allocation of money has never been a problem," he said at a conference last year. "The issue has rather been the timely and judicious utilization of the money allocated." But the question of whether, in fact, we are making judicious use of our monies is only part of my worry. I wonder as well whether we've thought hard enough about the role of force itself: what it can and cannot do, in a world of new and various threats.

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