India’s defence policies, defence industry and R&D have become a hot topic of interest in the world. No wonder, India has been a major player in world geopolitics for decades, but some have only noticed this recently. Many saw India as merely a demographic power; those who were a little more positive would say the world’s largest democracy. India is a scientific, technological and military power. Actually it could only reach this status because of all of the above, and not just because the size of its population and its armed forces, which are relatively small for a country of this massive scale.
India is a vibrant democracy that has played a responsible role in the world. It is surprising that not enough world leaders acknowledge the extraordinary fact that India is the only nuclear power on earth that has explicitly renounced a “first strike policy”. This shows admirable refrain and responsibility.
India’s defence forces’ most sacred duty is to protect its territorial integrity, sovereignty, its people and interests. It should be no surprise to other great powers that India is not just another element on their strategic planning charts, not a major pawn in a new Cold War by proxy. The country is not anybody else’s first line of containment, and if India does effectively deter some potential expansionist policies of some other powers, it does so in its own interest. This said, India has actively pursued world peace and stability, something that can only be achieved through a solid engagement with a responsible foreign policy, and a solid defence strategy, which means strong, well-trained and equipped armed forces. It should be noted that India’s military has been exemplary in its respect for civilian democratic rule and the protection of this great democracy.
The reason that explains the frenzy over India’s defence: the sheer size of the market. There is a complicated balance to strike between the legitimate and indispensable indigenisation of Indian defence industry, and a battle-ready military. If you lean too much towards the first, you can disrupt the readiness of the armed forces in short- and medium-terms; if you lean towards the latter, you can cripple India’s industrial development for decades.
Keep the nation safe, while developing national defence and hi-tech industries, but, above all, stop relying exclusively on offsets and soon to be obsolete technology transfers, and start concentrating on defence R&D. There are many nations and industrial powers which are not only willing to transfer the latest that they have, but are also eager to start a revolutionary programme of joint technology development with India—and not just with the DRDO, the defence R&D department, but essentially with the private sector, where the future of this industry lies. You cannot defend tomorrow’s India with yesterday’s technology. If a programme takes decade to develop, there is a flaw somewhere which needs to be corrected or simply shelved. It may look like failure, but the end of a bad solution can be the beginning—it almost always is in the history of human development, the beginning of a major breakthrough. I believe in the brilliance and capacities of this great nation and of its scientists, engineers, military and private sector. The country has solid bases to become a super industrial and technological power, and defence can be one of its main, if not the most important, driving forces.
Let’s point out that many of our everyday gadgets (mobile phones, GPS, etc.) come from the space programmes and defence industries. This is about general development of the nation’s economic and industrial capacities, and not just the specific sectors of defence and aerospace industries. The key is not to sacrifice readiness to an ill-conceived industrial nationalism, which must not be confused with the urgent need to strengthen the nation’s defence industry with Make in India policies. What is at stake is not only India’s economic and industrial development, but above all its security, sovereignty, territorial integrity and the future of the democracy.
Aristegui is former Spanish ambassador to India