Hans J. Morgenthau asserted in his renowned work Politics among Nations that the desire for power on the part of various nations, each striving to maintain or overturn the status quo and the policies designed to protect it, necessitates a balance of power. The terms ‘strategic stability’ and ‘arms race’ were established in response to the competing states’ aim of maintaining balance and stability.
Prior to the overt nuclearization of South Asia in 1998, three major wars between India and Pakistan highlighted the latter’s inability to bridge the conventional gap. Pakistan’s covert nuclear weapons served as an effective deterrent to India’s conventional and nuclear threats at that time. However, twenty years after India and Pakistan joined the nuclear club, conventional deterrence remains crucial to maintaining strategic stability in South Asia. The delicate balance of power in the region has been impacted due to Indian expansion and build-up of forces, which could result in a new arms race among regional powers. Pakistan’s armed forces have a lower defense budget in comparison to other contemporary armies; this, however, has not translated into a compromise on professional standards and they rank as the 9th most powerful military in the world. To offset the Indian differential of defense budget and quantitative edge in defense forces, the Pakistan Army has undertaken qualitative enhancement in conventional fighting capability, which counters Indian hegemonic designs and desire to achieve conventional asymmetry over Pakistan.
The unprecedented challenges both on the western and eastern fronts as well as hybrid warfare challenges, have not translated into a demand for an increase in the defense budget. Over the past fifty years, Pakistan’s defense budget as a percentage of the GDP has gone down from 6.50% of the GDP in the 1970s to 2.54% in 2021. In Budget 2021-22, ‘Defense Services’ was allocated Rs 1,370 billion out of total budgetary resources of Rs 8,487 billion which is 16% of the total budgetary resources. Out of this 16% allocation, the Pakistan Army gets Rs 594 billion or 7% of the total budgetary resources. A recent report of SIPRI places Pakistan at 23rd in the list of world’s top 40 countries with the highest military expenditure, one position below where it was in 2020.
As per the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database and The Military Balance from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the countries that spend more on defense in comparison to Pakistan (2.54 GDP) include Oman (12% of GDP), Lebanon (10.5%), Saudi Arabia (8%), Kuwait (7.1%), Algeria (6.7%), Iraq (5.8%), UAE (5.6%), Azerbaijan (4%), Turkey (2.77%), Morocco (5.3%), Israel (5.2%), Jordan (4.9%), Armenia (4.8%), Mali (4.5%), Qatar (4.4%), Russia (3.9%), the United States (3.4%) and India (3.1%). While Pakistan has the 7th largest military in the world, its expenses are one of the lowest. Per soldier, the US spends $392,000, Saudi Arabia spends $371,000, India spends $42,000, Iran spends $23,000, and Pakistan spends $12,500 per year.
Even though Pakistan’s Full-Spectrum Deterrence Doctrine has already succeeded in preventing a full-scale military attack by India, Pakistan has been pushed to modernize its conventional capabilities by the persistent conventional imbalance and India’s revisions to its conventional doctrines. The following table highlights the Pakistan Conventional Weapon Modernization.
|Conventional Weapon Modernization|
|VT-4 Tank||Modern Tank having defensive responses and offn punch of Pakistan Armed forces land mnvr through enhanced rgs, protective measures and all weather, all terrain, comprehensive night fighting cap|
|HIMAD||Long range Air Defense weapon system|
|SH-15 Med Artillery howitzer||Self-propelled arty system which has boosted the reach and lethality of Pakistan Army’s fire power|
|J-10 C||Fighter aircraft with long range missiles|
|ATAK T-129||Turkish-origin attack helicopter|
|Mi-35||Russian-origin attack helicopter|
|LY-80||Chinese-origin air defense system|
Due to the conventional asymmetry vis- à-vis India, the Pakistan Army must invest in force multiplier platforms, long-range and deep strike capable weapon systems including strategic and cruise missiles along with developing redundant and survivable command, control, communications, computer, cyber, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C5ISR) systems. To gain strategic advantage against Indian hegemonic ambitions and maintain strategic balance in the South Asian region, Pakistan Army is also focusing on enhancing indigenous capabilities, investing in research and development, upgrading human resources in emerging technologies and enhancing bilateral cooperation with allies in various sectors. Statements from the military leadership also point to the realization of the necessity of modernization, not of conventional systems only but also of emerging technologies. As stated by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in 2021, the army will focus on enhancing its capabilities in ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) and cyber domains. Once can predict that the future will hold added and tangible efforts to that effect. A foundational step in that direction was the inauguration of the National Cyber Security Academy at Air University, Islamabad which should create a domino effect military modernization using emerging technologies leading to an RMA in Pakistan.
The developments mentioned above suggest that Pakistan Army is undertaking a two-way military modernization program aimed at establishing a conventional deterrent capable of countering India’s denial techniques as well as its limited warfare objectives. In the South Asian strategic environment, reliable conventional deterrence will reduce the possibilities of conventional warfare.