India has officially displaced China as the world's largest arms importer, despite unveiling a defense budget this week that's less than half the sum allotted by Beijing. The story behind the stats is the failure of India's drive to create an indigenous defense industry, of course, a problem largely resulting from a reluctance to turn the business over to private players.
The conventional wisdom is that the US is an unreliable friend -- the kind who might cut India off at any time. But if India plays to its weaknesses, as it were, and accepts the offer on the table from Washington to become its new weapons supplier, its $38.5 billion defense budget could cement the much-ballyhooed “strategic partnership” absent of any other concessions in New Delhi's proposed foreign policy thrust of “non-alignment 2.0.”
India was the world's largest arms importer between 2007 and 2011, according to the latest data from the StockholmInternational Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the Times of India reported Tuesday. Meanwhile, China, which was the largest recipient of arms exports in 2002-2006, fell to fourth position in 2007-11, due to the growth of its indigenous arms industry.
Buying American could pay dividends for New Delhi, which is trying to juggle its strategic partnership with the US and an oil partnership with Iran. Most likely, that was the impetus behind India finally getting behind action in Syria (against its long-standing policy of doing nothing, generally, and saying nothing, as much as possible). And it may have played into Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent statement that India is “inclined” to back a UN resolution against Sri Lanka for alleged war crimes and human rights abuses – even though it is both likely to be vetoed and promises to strengthen Colombo's ties with Beijing.
Just a few days ago, after all, India was reportedly speculating that the US might impose economic sanctions against it because of its continued trade with Iran – in the news today due to a new agreement on sugar exports.
Even if India does send its $38 billion to California's defense sector, Washington will no doubt continue to pretend that there is no reason, apart from insanity, to disagree with anything America says or does around the world. But the gravity of those statements, and their consequences, would surely change.
If there's one thing that's even more American than hypocritical moralizing, it's the certainty that the customer is always right.