Are South Asian Arms Sales in the U.S. National Interest? The Foreign Policy Implications.

Author:Dorschner, Jon P.
Position:Commentary and Analysis - Essay

April 2016

In 1989 I wrote an article urging the United States to stop selling weapons in South Asia. (1) It took a liberal stance, arguing that such a step would enable the U.S. to occupy the moral high ground. The U.S. should not sell expensive weapons systems to some of the poorest countries on earth. The U.S. sells weapons to both India and Pakistan, which they then use in senseless wars against each other. The U.S. reduces its credibility as an honest broker by selling weapons to both protagonists, and cannot honestly mediate the Indo/Pakistan conflict.

In his latest book Indian security analyst Bharat Karnad (2) approaches this issue from a very different perspective. Karnad is a hardcore realist. He wants India to assume its rightful place among the world's "great powers" and become a formidable military power. However, he sees Indian dependence on weapons systems imported from the United States and other developed nations as a drag on Indian potential. He calls for India to eschew imports and embark on a radical indigenization program to replace imported arms with those made by an expanded Indian arms industry that includes both the public and private sectors.

At first glance it appear there is considerable light between the liberal take and Karnad's realist stance. In actuality, there is considerable overlap. Arms imports drain the Indian national exchequer. They consume valuable resources better spent on economic development and poverty alleviation. India's number one problem is poverty. Unless and until India makes sufficient inroads into its excruciatingly high poverty rate, it will never become a world power.

Karnad correctly asserts that India could produce practically everything needed by its armed forces if it took the necessary steps to mobilize its potential. Such a development would have a profound positive impact on India's economic development. Instead of spending valuable hard currency abroad, India would use its funds to put its own people to work. Indigenous weapons systems would be considerably cheaper than imported ones, freeing up funding for investment in Indian infrastructure and social programs. India could change from an arms importer to an arms exporter, further boosting the Indian economy.

As a realist, Karnad insists all foreign policy decisions must benefit India's national interest. The same holds true for American foreign policy decisions. The overwhelming majority of American policy makers shares...

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