India’s Attempt at Militarization of Outer Space and Arms Grabbing Spree

India’s Attempt at Militarization of Outer Space and Arms Grabbing SpreeRecent anti-satellite missile test by India has raised concerns globally, since space is the common heritage of mankind, and every nation has the responsibility to avoid actions which can lead to the militarization of this arena. There is a need to address gaps in the international space laws to ensure that no one threatens peaceful activities and applications of space technologies for socio-economic development. Boasting of such capabilities is reminiscent of Don Quixote’s tilting against windmills.

The relationship between the U.S. and India is growing into a strategic partnership against rising superpower China, evidenced by a sky-rocketing 557 percent increase in arms sales between India and the U.S. over the last five years. The U.S. is also supplying India with advanced military equipment, which includes long-range maritime patrol aircraft, strategic transport aircraft, and combat helicopters. Apart from these, India has bought air-launched cruise missiles from France, surface and submarine-launched cruise missiles from Russia, and loitering munitions, commonly known as suicide drones, from Israel. Israel is identified as the third major defence partner of India, and the movement of arms from Tel Aviv to New Delhi has increased by 285 percent between 2008–2017.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has released the data in its annual report, on March11, captioned ‘Trends in International Arms Transfers-2018’; for five years (2014-2018). According to the report, India has been among the top five arms importers in the world for decades. India was the world’s second-largest arms importer from 2014-18; it accounted for 9.5 percent of the global total. While for the period 2013-2017, India accounted for 13 percent of global arms imports and was the world’s largest importer. Regarding tensions between Pakistan and India, a senior researcher with SIPRI has maintained that India’s growing demands for weapons is driven by its fear of Pakistan and China, but India “remains unable to produce weapons itself.” However, “China, by contrast, is becoming increasingly capable of producing its own weapons.”

India only notionally ceded top spot to Saudi Arabia owing to decrease between 2009-13 and 2014-18, partly due to delays in deliveries of arms produced under license from foreign suppliers, such as combat aircraft ordered from Russia in 2001 and submarines ordered from France in 2008, the report stated. These include S-400 air defence systems, four stealth frigates, AK-203 assault rifles, a second nuclear attack submarine on the lease, and deals for Kamov-226T utility helicopters, Mi-17 helicopters and short-range air defence systems. India is seeking to diversify the sources of its arms imports, and in an effort in this regard, has inched closer to the US and its allies.

China is the fifth biggest arms exporter in the world. Its weapons sales have increased by 38 percent in the last five years. Large increases in arms supplies to Bangladesh and Algeria accounted for much of the growth in total Chinese arms exports in this period. Interestingly, China is also the fifth largest arms importer in the world. However, it has made a 19 percent decrease in the import of weapons since the 2008-2012 period. The bulk of Chinese purchases was from Russia, France, and Ukraine.

The US was the top arms exporter in the world during 2013–2017. Its share of total arms exports globally rose from 30 to 34 percent over the past five years, as it delivered major weapons to at least 98 states in the last five years. SIPRI has also ranked the American nation as the 14th largest importer of weaponry as well. The US imports most of its arms from its NATO allies Germany, France, and the Netherlands. States in the Middle East accounted for 49 percent of US arms exports during this period, Saudi Arabia being the largest beneficiary with 18 percent of total US arms exports.

The report has termed Russia as the second largest arms exporter in the world, although export of major weapons by the country has decreased by 7.1 percent over the past five years. In 2013–2017, Russia delivered major weapons to 47 states. A total of 58 percent of Russia’s arms exports went to its top three recipients: India, China, and Vietnam, which accounted for 35, 12 and 10 percent, of the total exports respectively. Surprisingly, Russia is not on the list of the top forty global arms importers identified in the report.

Trends indicate that the flow of arms increased to Asia and the Middle East in the past five years, perhaps as a result of heightened tensions around new conflict zones, while there was a decrease in the flow to Africa, the Americas and Europe.

Jan Eliasson, Chair of the SIPRI Governing Board stated, “The increased flow of arms raises concerns over their impact on international peace and security…It stresses the need to improve and implement international mechanisms such as the Arms Trade Treaty.”  Active conflict zone is sucking-in higher quantities of arms, while economically declining and relatively calmer countries and zones are cutting down its arms imports. A typically out of sync case is that of India, besides huge domestic defense production complex, it is amassing all sorts of weapons from all over the World. It is essentially a case of overreach at the cost of the well-being of an ordinary Indian.

Pakistan has taken a wise course, it is not competing with India, weapon by weapon, but is maintaining strategic equivalence due to its superior thought process and weapon employment strategies. Conflict analysts have noted that despite heightened tensions along the border with arch-rival India, as well as internal conflicts, Pakistan has decreased its arms imports substantially over the past five years. Pakistan pledged only $7 billion for its armed forces this fiscal year and purchased only 2.8 percent of all weapons sold in the world between 2013-2017. The Indian defence budget for 2018-9 is over $46 billion; and in addition to a huge “Make in India” effort for its military-industrial complex, India is also midway of its import oriented force modernization outlay of $ 120 billion spread over ten years.

The US needs to exercise caution in providing weapons to India, most of which are not India’s necessity, these only feed to India’s ambition of becoming a regional rogue. And, hopefully, the countries which have in the past strongly condemned demonstration of similar capabilities of the militarization of outer space by others will be prepared to work towards developing international instruments to prevent military threats originating from outer space.


The writer is founding Chair of Pakistan Focus; email:[email protected]

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Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal

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