Yes, India risks its national security with low allocations to defence spending.
For a developing country that is committed to enhancing the quality of life of its citizens, defence is usually the last thing on the nation’s mind. Yet, no government that is committed to such a cause can ignore the existing physical and psychological security threats. These threats are more than just ordinary in India, a country located in a dangerous neighbourhood and facing both internal and external threats. Comprehensive national security helps a nation attain its aspirations, and robust security is a subset of that. India has a robust military machine. However, the lack of a national security strategy, a national strategic culture and a transformational approach towards its military capability prevent it from obtaining optimum benefit from its defence expenditure.
Resource allotment -
The defence budget is increasingly looked at as a means to provide incremental resources to other sectors, since procedural delays prevent its optimum and timely expenditure. Does this mean that the resource allotment is sufficient for India’s defence spending and only mismanagement is responsible for the lack of optimisation? Far from it.
In February, the Army transparently deposed before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence and stated two pertinent things: one, 68% of its equipment was in the vintage category, and two, with the new budget allocation of 1.47% of GDP, the sustenance of at least 24 capital projects is in jeopardy. The Army received ₹268.2 billion for modernisation as against its demand for ₹445.7 billion. With the Doklam crisis and the necessity of mobilising the Siliguri-based Corps, along with other priority resources from many other sectors to make up existing deficiencies and optimise the Corps’ capability, the Army expended almost its entire allocation of the transportation budget. In January, it had no money to even hire vehicles. The revenue budget amounts to a little over 80%, leaving little for capital expenditure through which modernisation is to be executed. Drawdown of a manpower-intensive Army that consumes the revenue cannot be done overnight. Thus, even as this drawdown is seriously executed, we cannot allow modernisation to languish.
Military security involves the development of such capability to deter potential adversaries from undertaking inimical activities that may result in forms of adventurism or even proxy interference in a nation’s affairs. The result may never translate into immediate tangible gains. Since understanding of national security at the bureaucratic and decision-making levels remains abysmal, the focus on modernisation has suffered. With huge bureaucratic controls, and a Defence Ministry with no military presence, the comprehension of priorities itself remains suspect. This can only be overcome if decisions are timely and procedures for acquisition are fast-tracked. Also, financial support should be sufficient with systems which do not call for a lapse of financial resources, once allotted. Without higher allocation, the armed forces may be unable to reach even the first level of transformation they seek.
Managing expenditure -
Management of expenditure also needs a complete revamp. Amid the focus on prevention of potential corruption, the larger picture of timely and optimum capability development has been ignored. Arguably, limited leakages could still be acceptable if timeliness of delivery is achieved even as more efficient procedures are implemented.
(This article was originally published in The Hindu on the 20th of April 2018, and has been republished here with the permission of the author. Read it here.)