Dining on Weapons

A report in the online edition of India Today, INDO-US RELATIONS HIGH ON TECH starts off imaginatively with

Imagine a commercial satellite blasting off from the Sriharikota Space Centre with NASA-ISRO painted on the launch vehicle. Or building modern weapons using Indian software and US technology. It is the kind of vision Indian and US strategists dine on.

While the Indian and US strategists dine on the mouth-watering prospect of building modern weapons, the poor in India get to dine on nothing. To a large extent, chronic hunger is a consequence of the strategic dining that takes place all over the world. To quote from my article Dollar Auctions and Deadly Games:

Nations are not monolithic entities. They are comprised of groups with different incentives and interests. Even in the so-called developing world there are groups whose interests align more closely with corresponding groups in the advanced industrialized countries (AIC). Politicians and arms dealers in poor countries stand to gain as much from conflict escalation as do the owners of the military-industrial complex of the advanced industrialized countries. The crowds that stand at the sidelines and cheer on the combatants are the leaders, the commanders, and the arms manufacturers of all the countries that are in the conflict as well as those that just supply the arms. The average citizens in both the countries stand to lose not just in terms of human lives but also in terms of a lower standard of living necessitated by the hardships imposed on them to pay for the military hardware bought from the AICs.

In a recent op-ed piece titled “Stopping America’s Most Lethal Export” in the New York Times, winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize Oscar Arias wrote: “While the arms industry profits, people throughout the world suffer… the true weapons of mass destruction are the jet fighters, tanks, machine guns and other military exports that the United States ships to non-democratic countries –a record $8.3 billion worth in the 1997 fiscal year, the last year for which figures are available.” Aside from anything else, the incontrovertible fact is that war is costly for all except for weapons manufacturers.

Why is India poor is the question that I continue to ask. There has to be a complex set of reasons, some more fundamental than others. Some are systemic and structural; some may be idiosyncratic and some universal. I think that one of the fundamental reasons for persistent poverty of developing countries is the arms export industries of the advanced industrialized countries, with the US leading the whole immoral pack. India’s poverty is partly attributable to India’s arms purchases.

Can India opt out of buying weapons from the US? Perhaps yes if the US stops giving military aid to Pakistan. But the game that the US plays is simple: give away military hardware to Pakistan and sell India military hardware to keep a step ahead of Pakistan. The leaders of Pakistan and India are either too stupid or too immoral (or both) to stop the game. In the meanwhile, the people of all developing countries suffer.

The Buddha said, First do no harm; then try to do good.

I think he should have also said, First stop being stupid; then try to be clever.

Using ICT and other fancy tools for development is very clever. But it would be better if policy makers were to stop being stupid and not spend so much money trying to build more deadly weapons and to channel those resources into human development. Only when we have stopped being stupid, should we then ask what clever thing can we do to improve our lot. Otherwise all this futzing around with questions such as can ICT promote development is a silly and senseless exercise in futility.