Monday, May 25, 2009

New Age Diplomacy

Mao, the great leader of China once said “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”. When he said that, he might not have known how his successors would stand true to it. China’s biggest export after toys and cheap electronics is arms and ammunition. Interesting that this business is mostly illegal and conducted with under-developed or developing countries. Most of the time these weapons are given out for free or at very cheap prices (China’s forte) to various nations. Countries that benefit from such deals are usually poor African nations or pariah states like Zimbabwe or North Korea. Let us forget the military aspect of such deals and concentrate on political implications.

Most nations purchasing their military equipment from China are usually short on cash or politically sensitive. These weapons are not the latest weapons but based on old Soviet era designs. As we all know, China has a thing about reverse engineering everything may it be a simple pistol or a complex system like a fighter aircraft. Since they have been building such dated equipment for a long time, their production cost is very low. Low cost allows China to give military equipment as gift to a really poor nation. By providing such gifts, China ensures that receiving nation depends on China to keep its armed forces operational. Such an arrangement not only gives China leverage over that nation but also creates a market for their goods. In most cases, these impoverished nations have political problems and countries with bloated moralities – like India – are not willing to trade with them. In such a case, military aid and civilian goods are a blessing for them. Another interesting fact is that China is never shy of dealing with any country. They are not really bothered about legitimacy of rulers or political inclination of their client state. Unlike erstwhile USSR, China has no intentions of spreading communism or meddling with internal affairs of a country. A very recent example would be recent operations conducted by Sri Lanka against LTTE. Although China is a major supplier of arms to Sri Lanka, they never sent military advisors to advise them or train them. Instead it was Pakistan that sent its officers to train Sri Lankan forces. And Pakistani officers have been training them for last three years (phew).

Point of all my rants is, India also has large production lines for churning out Soviet era equipment and some newer equipment too. Moreover we help many countries with foreign aid and stuff, but we hardly provide them with any military equipment. Instead of just putting our money down the drain we would do better to provide them with military equipment like weapons, military vehicles and aircrafts/helicopters. This way we can literally get a bang for our bucks in terms of diplomatic advantage. Closer ties lead to more business with such countries, both in terms of military equipment and civilian goods. We need more and more such deals and there is a financial angle to it. While we import military equipment worth Rs. 30,000 crores every year, our defence exports are pathetic 1% of our imports. Yes our export figures just stand between Rs. 300-400 crores. Most of our military imports consist of cutting edge systems. So it only makes sense to export military hardware and use that money to fund building our own defence industry and churning out latest equipment for our forces. This way we can not only save lot of foreign exchange but can build competencies and generate more employment.

Exporting weapons to such rag-tag countries busy killing each other might sound unethical to many. Yes it is unethical if you just look at the smaller picture. But it is completely OK if you consider interests of our country and her citizens. In case such deals have to be kept under the wraps so as not to invite international attention, such deals can be conducted under names of shady organizations. Try and watch Lord of War starring Nicholas Cage to get an insight in the world of illegal arms trade. In earlier times, countries used to play gunboat diplomacy, where they would send their powerful warships to 'persuade' non-complying nations. Since times have changed, we can play gun-trade diplomacy to extend our sphere of influence. All said and done; our bureaucrats are doing a wonderful job of killing such exports. Recently one such deal worth Rs. 300 crores with Bolivia was shot down by Ministry of External Affairs on stupid grounds. If that deal had gone through, our military exports would have just doubled.

O Lord, protect my country from those suffering from myopia.


  1. Hummm... Good explanation of Sri lanka issue. But..
    I don't agree with you on point of providing military help to impoverished nations. Because we are not china/pakistan who are traders of violence.

    Dialogue and Discussion are most powerful weapons for all problems in the world, provided atleast one party has patience and can think logically.

  2. And that is the biggest mistake my friend. Ethics and morals have no place in international politics. We are so good at playing politics internally but when it comes to international arena, we are stopped by ethics and morals.

    Interest of our nation are more important than ethics.