In the 15th year of its nuclear tests, India has abstained from the just concluded UN Arms Trade Treaty, having become the largest importer of arms in the world last month. What happened to the stability and security that the nuclear bombs were supposed to bestow on us?

P K Sundaram,

Just as the news of adoption of the first-ever Arms Trade Treaty by the United Nations poured in, I tried searching for India’s stance and I found the Times of India’s breaking report silent. This is not surprising as India has abstained from this historic arms trade regulation pact which received the support of 154 out of 180 countries. While 3 countries – Iran, Syria and North Korea opposed this treaty, India abstained along with 23 others like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia etc.

International-Arms-Trade-Treaty-BananaIndia opposed the proposed treaty since the beginning. Pakistan, being a friendly neighbour when it comes to arms race, has been supportive of India’s stance, but it surprised the world by supporting the just treaty at the last moment.

The US under the Bush administration had vehemently opposed the treaty, but President Obama engineered a reversal of the stance and finally got his country to support the pact, despite immense conservative pressures like those from the National Rifle Association.

India’s insatiable arms obsession

Last month, India made it big into two global lists: it came 137th in a list of 186 countries in the global human development index, and it became the world’s largest  arms importer accounting for the 12% of the world’s total arms trade. India’s share in global arms trade has gone up by 25% – in the period between 2003-2008, it purchased 9% of the total arms transferred in the global arms market.

The report titled Trends in International Arms Transfers published by the reputed Stockholm Institute of Peace Research (SIPRI) listed India as the world’s biggest importer of arms between 2008 and 2012. The global trends of arms transfer reveal a lot. While all the 5 biggest important were Asian countries – India (12 per cent of global imports), China (6 per cent), Pakistan (5 per cent), South Korea (5 per cent), and Singapore (4 per cent), all the major exporters of arms were from the West: US, Russia, Germany and France. China replaced the UK as the 5th largest exporter of arms.

Alarmingly, SIPRI’s press release notes that “Several countries in Asia and Oceania have in recent years ordered or announced plans to acquire long-range strike and support systems that would make them capable of projecting power far beyond their national borders”, while mentioning India’s acquisition of nuclear powered submarine from Russia last year. Israel and the US are biggest beneficiaries of India’s military shopping spree, both signalling and resulting in major implications for its foreign policy.

India: Rising Weapons Expenditures After 15 Years of Going Nuclear

India’s increasing arms imports defy the claims of the nuclear hawks since 1998 that induction of nuclear weapons would bring stability and security for the country.  May 11th this year would mark 15 years of India’s nuclear tests in Pokhran. India’s defence expenditures – on both nuclear and non-nuclear weapon systems – have increased dramatically since then. Contrary to the claims of providing stable security to India, the nuclear weapons have pushed India to acquire more death machines. India’s defence budget has gone up from Rs. 35,277 crore in 1998 to a whopping 2,03,671.1 crore in 2013. In 2012-2013, India spent 1.93 trillion, or $40 billion, marking an increase of 17 per cent over the previous year. India has been recently spending much more on naval and air forces compared to the army, a trend indicative of its rising power projections and self-perception. It’s defence expensesbetween 1992 and 2012 have shot up by 1005%. 41% of which goes into acquisition of new weapons. In 2012, while it’s GDP grew by 6.7%, figures on defence expenditure growth varied between  by 13 to 19%.

Unabated Arms Race in South Asia

Arms race – both nuclear and conventional – is going unbridled in South Asia. Both the countries have been upgrading their nuclear arsenals, qualitatively and quantitatively. While India goes on to define its ‘minimal credible deterrence’ maximally, Pakistan has diversified its nuclear arsenals by including tactical nukes January this year. Add to this the frequent missiles tests, of ever increasing ranges and payloads. South Asia is also home to gigantic military exercises on both sides – recently Indian Air Force did its biggest-ever exercise called Operation iron Fist in Pokhran with nuclear-capable missiles. Pakistan, at the start of this year, had conducted a huge military exercise called Saffron Bandits.

Glaring Poverty Amid Super Power Dreams

Compare the facts on military build-ups with the shame of poverty in both the countries. While more than 40% people go to sleep without food in Pakistanmore than 230 million Indians go hungry daily. 37% of Indian deaths are still caused by “poor country” diseases like TB and malaria. A recent Oxford study has suggested that Nepal is reducing poverty faster than India. India’s While our national budget is hijacked by the security establishment, India last year ranked worst place among the G-20 countries for being a women – in terms of female education, health and safety. In terms of gender equality, in fact India fared worse than Pakistan in the UNDP human development report published in march 2013.

Needless to say, this huge stockpile of arms will push India into further belligerence and uglier conflicts. While India-Pakistan border has found place in the Guinness book of world records to be the world’s largest militarized territorial dispute, Indian political elite has been using heavily-armed tactics to subdue the dissenting sections of society – from the adivasis in the midland to the ethnic minorities in the north-east and elsewhere.

It is time to call the bluff of the political leadership in India which has twisted and perverted the peaceful and Gandhian credentials of our country to pay lip service to peace while indulging in worst kind of adventurism and a criminal distortion of national priorities.