The disclosure by defence minister Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha that India paid more money to the USA than to Russia for purchase of arms is not at all surprising. During the last three years, India’s defence purchases were to the tune of `83,458 crore. The country imported arms worth `32,615 crore from the US. The corresponding figures for Russia, France and Israel were `25,364 crore, `12,047 crore and `3,389 crore respectively. What is noteworthy is that the US has replaced Russia as India’s single largest supplier of arms and ammunition. As successor of the USSR, Russia had been enjoying a special position until a few years ago.
Though non-alignment was India’s stated policy, it found itself gravitating towards the erstwhile Soviet Union when it supported India on many issues in the UN Security Council. The agreement India signed with the Soviet Union in the wake of the Bangladesh crisis also solidified their relations. The credit and other facilities the Soviet Union extended to India also encouraged it to rely more on Soviet-made weapons. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, India realised it was risky to put all its eggs in one basket. The civil nuclear deal India signed with the US during Manmohan Singh’s first term as prime minister significantly altered their bilateral relations.
The diversity of India’s sources for arms and ammunition is reflected in the list Jaitley has supplied to the Rajya Sabha. It gives the distinct impression that value for money is what guides India in making defence purchases. Such a policy is bound to stand the country in good stead. Nonetheless, a country like India, which has high ambitions, cannot afford to be seen as dependent on other countries for its defence requirements. To command international respect, India has to reduce its dependence on other nations to fill its arsenal. In other words, India cannot escape the need to strengthen its defence industry so that it is able to meet all its defence needs from sources within the country.