Mera Bharat Maha ‘Armed’
INDIA may have some of the highest rates of poverty, some of the worst figures for child malnutrition and female illiteracy anywhere, but in the eyes of global arms dealers India is still the fabled land of diamonds strewn on its sidewalks. Not surprising at all, given the huge amounts successive Indian governments have been spending on purchasing expensive arms to bolster their self-image as a regional power, keep the anti-Pakistan hysteria going and lining the pockets of corrupt politicians and defence bureaucrats.
According to the latest Yearbook released by the reputed Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India’s arms imports increased 72 percent in 2002, making it the world’s second largest buyer of arms from abroad. China was the number one arms importer last year with 14 percent of the world's total.
Between 1993 and 2002, India spent a total of over US$9 billion on purchase of arms, making it one of the top clients of the global arms industry anywhere. In the same period Pakistan spent around US$5.8 billion, a staggering sum given the country’s size and precarious economic situation.
According to the SIPRI report, besides importing conventional weapons both countries continue to produce fissile materials and to develop missiles, and may have between 100 to 400 nuclear weapons between them.
Over the next decade, Indian armed forces will receive 140 new generation Su-30 combat planes, over 300 new tanks and a dozen new warships from Russia. Talks are on to acquire an aircraft carrier from Russia, new submarines from Russia and France and a US$1.2 billion Falcon airborne warning system from Israel.
(Incidentally India has become one of the biggest customers for Israel’s arms industry in recent years. Thanks to the ‘generosity’ of the Indian government in 2002 Israel ranked fifth among global arms exporters behind Russia, the United States, the European Union and Japan.)
India is also overhauling its navy, negotiating for the transfer of an old Russian aircraft carrier, and for the leasing of nuclear-powered submarines and long-range maritime reconnaissance planes.
While traditionally rivalry with Pakistan has been an excuse for boosting defence spending, in recent years- encouraged by their masters in the US – Indian politicians and military strategists have pitched China as the ‘number one enemy’. "It cannot be ignored that every major Indian city is within reach of Chinese missiles and this capability is being further augmented to include submarine-launched ballistic missiles," said the 2002 annual report of the Indian defence ministry.
Talking about ‘reach’, what the Indian state does not say is that before developing its missiles China has also put food, health, education and other basic requirements within the ‘reach’ of their people. And that is something India should do way before squandering scarce resources on armaments to fulfill the designs of US imperialism and our own domestic elite’s grandiose notions of becoming a world power.
ONE of the many mysterious episodes in the run-up to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq was the case of the missing portions of the Iraqi declaration on banned weapons programs submitted by Saddam Hussein’s regime to the United Nations.
In a breathtaking display of imperialist arrogance US officials, then, took away the Iraqi dossier from the UN and returned it with several sections of information removed – under the pretext that it contained details of nuclear weapons production that could ‘fall into the wrong hands’. The real motivation for this drastic move was of course quite different.
A nine-page table of contents in the dossier included chapters on "procurements" in Iraq’s nuclear program and "relations with companies, representatives and individuals" for its chemical weapons program. The US move to censor parts of the document was meant to hide the names of western companies that helped Baghdad amass a nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal.
So when the invasion of Iraq finally happened under the pretext of Saddam’s possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) the irony of it all was not lost on many people. The very same weapons manufacturers who reaped huge profits selling Iraq its WMDs all these decades were set to make another fortune by going to war against Iraq for buying the WMDs!
If the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq was about oil, strategic control of the middle-east and a show of imperialist strength to the rest of the world it was equally about the key role that the armaments industry has come to play in the sustenance of global capitalism.
With worldwide spending on defense touching US$794 billion in 2002, arms manufacturers in the developed countries today have both the motive and the means to start, stop or prolong indefinitely any war around the globe. In the United States in particular, along with the oil cartels, the arms manufacturers are among the most influential lobbies shaping state policies. The United States accounted for 43 percent of global military expenditure in 2002, up from 36 percent in 2001.
Ever since September 11 the US military-industrial complex of death and destruction has had a bull run – first due through the militarisation of US society in the name of ‘Homeland Security’, next through the US war on Afghanistan and now with the invasion of Iraq.
Since September 11 the US military budget has jumped from US$329 billion in 2001 to over US$380 billion in 2003. In addition to these increases in regular appropriations, the Pentagon has received over US$30 billion in emergency and supplemental funding, and the US Congress has authorized roughly US$3 billion in new military and security aid for U.S. allies in the war on terrorism.
Spending on homeland security has doubled, from US$18 billion to US$38 billion per year, and a new Department of Homeland Security has been created. The cost of the war in Afghanistan stood at $15 to $20 billion early this year. Independent estimates of the costs of the war on and occupation of Iraq put the price tag at US$100 billion or more.
Based on current Pentagon spending projections, U.S. military spending will total US$4.3 trillion during this decade, with annual spending on national defense topping US$500 billion per year by 2009.
There is nothing very new in this story of imperialism resorting to war to keep its economy thriving and ensuring its complete domination of global resources. The current phase of US aggression neatly comes at a time of deepening economic recession not just within its own borders but also in most industrialized countries around the world.
But if the US elites hope to rescue global capitalism with death and destruction then they should be aware that they are not alone in this game and there is some serious competition ahead – from the European Union – the world’s new wannabe superpower.
For example, while political differences did play a role in the very public spat between the US and ‘old Europe’ over the Iraq war at the heart of the conflict lies inter-imperialist rivalry over global resources and markets. The armaments sector in particular is emerging as a key area of rivalry because of the role it plays in capitalist economies of (a) helping offset losses made in the so-called ‘civilian sector’ during times of recession and (b) accelerating the development of new military technologies that have widespread commercial applications also.
The US invasion of Iraq has hastened the public revelation of tensions between the US and EU in this critical sector. These tensions were on stark display recently at the opening of the prestigious biannual Paris Air Show in mid-June as top U.S. military and aerospace figures boycotted the event.
An important venue for marketing not only commercial but also military aircraft, the Paris Air Show has in recent decades been dominated by US manufacturers, and the last time it was held, over 60 billion dollars worth of orders were booked at the event. This time the Pentagon banned the traditional aerial displays by its military pilots and scaled down its presence in what is widely seen as a deliberate snub to the French organizers of the show.
Responding to the snub, in an unusually candid statement Michele Alliot-Marie, France’s defense minister accused her counterpart Donald Rumsfeld of American supremacism and U.S. industry of waging "economic war" on Europe. (And all this within two weeks after Presidents Jacques Chirac and George W. Bush held a summit to kiss and make up following their bitter war of words over Iraq.)
"The American Defense Secretary (Donald Rumsfeld) believes the United States is the only military, economic and financial power in the world. We do not share this vision," Alliot-Marie told Le Monde newspaper in an interview coinciding with the opening of the air show. Alliot-Marie urged European firms to stand together to resist what she called an American "economic war."
While the US and the EU have been involved in an ‘economic war’ ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is only since the NATO bombing of Kosovo in 1998 that the EU leaders have opened up a new front in this ‘war’— by mooting the creation of a new European security arrangement independent of the US.
The Kosovo war exposed clearly the incapability of the EU to carry out so-called ‘peacekeeping’ actions in the former Yugoslavia and its high dependence on US forces to ‘sort out problems’ in its own backyard. For example, European aircraft flew only a third of the air sorties flown in the Kosovo war.
Soon after the NATO operation, European leaders announced plans to set up a European Rapid Reaction force (RRF) capable of dispatching up to 60,000 soldiers on ‘peacekeeping, crisis management and humanitarian’ duty at short notice. While EU spokesmen have insisted that this new force would not undermine the unity of NATO, the US has taken this as a clear declaration of NATO’s demise.
Even before this, there had already been calls for the development of a "European defense identity" to reflect the EU’s potential strength as a world power. The French had long been seeking to develop the Western European Union organisation (basically the European arm of NATO without the U.S. and Canada) as a self-starting European Union defense organisation.
However, for the EU to catch up with the US on defense spending and preparedness is not going to be easy and will mean huge expenditures in building new production capacities, training personnel and investments in research and development.
Currently while in terms of troops and aircraft numbers the EU is a match for the US the fact is that its forces are neither under any unified command nor are they deployable with the same ease as their US rivals. There are over two million troops in uniform in Europe, half a million more than the Americans and there are 2,800 EU attack aircraft compared to half this number in the US armed forces.
However each of the US planes can fly day and night and in all conditions while only 10% of the huge European fleet can match this performance. The US has 250 wide-bodied extra-large planes which can transport troops to wherever there is a crisis. In the whole of Europe there are only 11 planes that can do the same.
There are also differences between the US and EU in their level of investments in the defence sector. The US for example, spends 14 times more than Europe on military related R & D. In terms of defence related revenues also obviously the US is way ahead of the EU with its arms exporters accounting for more than half of all the armaments purchased around the world. (Incidentally, some 42 percent of the world’s post-cold-war arms sales are made to the Middle East, most of it American hardware).
As a temporary measure, while they develop their domestic capabilities, to compete with the US some EU countries like Germany are investing heavily in Russian arms production. Not surprisingly the value of Russian arms exports, on the rise since 1999, increased by more than $1 billion to $4.8 billion last year. With 36 percent of global deliveries, Russia overtook the United States as the world’s largest supplier of arms to other countries in 2002.
All this could change in the coming years with the Iraq war spurring on EU politicians to push seriously for developing a massive arms production industry, independent of the US and Russia, and commensurate with their ambitions of becoming a world power.
Just in the past few years the EU has forced through key policies among its members aimed at creating what its military planners call ‘a common defence industrial base’ by the setting up of budgets for joint armaments related projects, a common procurement system and integration of their armed forces.
As a senior EU official explained while addressing the European Air Group, which combines the air power of major EU members, a few years ago "the idea of a united European defence industries is not some misty eyed Europeanism, it is based on hard-headed industrial logic. If we enter the new century with a multitude of competing national companies and industries attempting to find a place in a global market dominated by giant American companies then the result will be industrial suicide."
In the world of global capitalism the only alternative to industrial ‘suicide’ is obviously social ‘homicide’ by boosting the arms industry. The accelerating rivalry between the US and EU arms makers threatens to bring more strife and misery to the rest of the world.