Major General Gagandeep Bakhshi—a combat veteran of many skirmishes on the Line of Control and counterterrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab—is the editor of the monthly journal Indian Military Review, focusing on security issues. Among other honors, Bakhshi has received the Sena Medal and has written over 26 books. His latest book on India’s national security crisis will be coming out at the end of this month. The Diplomat’s Tyler Roney interviewed Bakhshi about China-India military relations, including the possibility of an arms race.
China’s military spending dwarfs that of India to the tune of $36.3 billion to $112.2 billion. Do you think India has any plans to close that gap? Also, recently, China announced a 12.2 percent raise in its military spending, turning that $112 billion into $131 billion. Should this be a cause for concern for China’s neighbors?
China’s current defense budget is $132 billion —even that does not reflect the true scale of its defense spending, including R&D. If you add all that, it is really in the region of $160 billion. This gap is opening serious windows of vulnerability. The current UPA government is singularly responsible, and we are hoping the next administration in Delhi will speed up critical arms acquisition projects. We may not be able to match China dollar for dollar but a safe proportionality has to be maintained. This is why there is an urgent need for deeper strategic cooperation between India, Japan and Vietnam.
Indeed, China has mocked some of India’s hardware, including the Agni-V in 2012, calling it a “dwarf.” Given India’s diplomatic advantage with the West, is there any real reason for India to want to keep pace with a growing and increasingly aggressive China?
The aim is to deter China from any kind of adventurism. In 2008 they were following a cautious policy of “hide your abilities—bide your time.” But, in 2009 there was an abrupt and significant change. China’s military felt that, with DF- 21D Missiles, it had the answer to the U.S. Carrier Battle Groups, and its anti-access strategy became workable. Since then, China has turned very aggressive against all Asian neighbors—including Southeast Asian nations, Japan, Vietnam and India in particular. The Agni-V is not such a dwarf; it puts Beijing in range and the Chinese know that well. It is time for India to pay China back with the same coin for its highly provocative support of the rouge state of Pakistan. For this, we need to pull out all stops and cooperate closely with Japan, Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia.
Noticeably, Japan and India have been seeking closer ties, with many assuming it is to ward off pressure and power from China. What does India hope to gain? More specifically, is there anything to gain for India in the intractable island disputes between China and Japan?
India has the advantage of buying the best technology from both the East and the West. We just need to speed up our arms acquisition drive which has been badly derailed by the UPA. In the meantime the military math dictates the need for a solid India-Japan-Vietnam combination to check China’s uncalled for aggression. China today has 913 fourth-generation fighters. India has some 322 and Japan 277. The logic of cooperation is in the numbers. At the very least it will complicate Chinese decision making and tie down resources—disabling China from focusing on any one neighbor. The biggest danger comes from China’s water hegemony and, for India, its efforts to divert the waters of the Tibetan rivers.