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Two defense initiatives pertaining to India have become victims of uncertainty. Defense Minister A K Antony recently said there were “problems” in the acquisition of Russian-built aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov for the Indian Navy. The matter primarily relates to cost escalations partly because of delays in Russia’s own naval dockyards. As a result, the induction of the warship has been postponed to at least 2008, when according to earlier plans; this should have joined the fleet by the end of the year or early 2008.
 
The other initiative that has got stalled is the testing of India’s missile testing program, possibly under American pressure. According to reports, India has put its programme to develop inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM) on hold and has capped it to a maximum range of 5,000 km for now. Capping missile capability at 5,000 km sends a message that India is not targeting anything beyond Asia. Sources correlated this move with the Indo-US talks on the civilian nuclear deal being poised delicately. Strategic experts slammed the government for capping the programme.

In India, the muscular variety of militarism has always been popular and the flames of it have been well and regularly fanned by ultra patriotic sections of the population which has equated strength and prosperity with military superiority and machismo. Although historically, military power has been paramount and has determined the equation of power, the definition and balance has begun to change since the end of the Second World War. Although the five big allied powers remain militarily powerful, it is no so much military power that determines their pre eminence in world affairs today. 

Countries like Singapore and the numerous gulf emirates in the Middle East have little to speak of militarily. But their strategic importance has only grown over the years because of their strong economic and financial might.
That has proved more sustaining than military prowess. In fact, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister; Lee Kuan Yew has in his book “The Singapore Story” as well as in several speeches asserted that the secret behind Singapore’s rapid development was an investment in and an attitude of pursuing excellence in education leading to a culture of meritocracy. Singapore’s military might is negligible.

 

India ’s recent acknowledgment as a player of some significance on the world stage has also happened because of its economic prowess and not because of its military brawn. In fact, the fact is that with the kind of problems associated with the Admiral Groshkov visible in the Air Force too and the once highly respected army increasingly fatigued and stretched as well as often accused of human rights abuses, the sheen of the military has started going off.
 
One argument that could be made for Singapore and the Gulf States is that they have prospered because of the protection of the US protection – both nuclear and conventional. While this is true, this in fact was a highly strategic move. By accepting this option, countries like Singapore never surrendered their national sovereignty and identify but rather this allowed them to use the millions of dollars that would have been tied up in defense to be used in health care, education and infrastructure development that allowed them to leap frog over those who were busy tanks and guns. North Korea is an extreme example of a country that sought refuge in the might of arms and ended up in penury.
 

So is it time that we rethink and redefine nationalism and what constitutes a strong country? The notion of huge armies stiff and starched marching out to conquer and defeat is more an epithet of the imperialism we love to hate than the symbols of a vibrant democracy. May be the rising value of the Rupee against the dollar is a better advertisement of our might than the sonic boom of missiles. And so in that light perhaps our strategists should revisit our understanding and doctrine of defense. As a parting shot, I can not but comment on the irony of the defense establishment investing in intercontinental ballistic missiles when larges swathes of the country face terrorism and insurgency and the primary functional role of the Army today is counter insurgency measures combating the enemy within our borders and not some entity outside.

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