Is military the only way to defend a nation?

“France and India are two great democracies… therefore we are prime targets for terrorists who cannot abide by liberty, democracy or culture. We must, therefore, co-operate more on security,” former French President Hollande had said when India signed a deal to buy 36 fighter jets from France. The Rafale deal is the subject of fiery confrontation between the government and the opposition. This is not a subject only for India. To put the US defense spending in context, it is the equivalent of the GDP of Saudi Arabia (646 Billion USD). Countries spend billions and billions of dollars in defense. We need to first understand the term defense. The role of a government is to help its citizens live fulfilling and healthy lives on a daily basis. To achieve this, we need to have a safe and secure country. The safety and security may be threatened by external and internal forces. We spend so much money on military capabilities but is military the only way to defend a nation?

When we spend so much money on defense, what are we spending on? The three assumptions why countries keep investing in defense are 1. Territorial sovereignty is constantly threatened by enemy nations and stateless actors 2. Citizens are safe if external threats are neutralized. 3. Building military capability is the most effective way to respond to deal with the above two assumptions. The military definitely validates the first assumption but does this hold true for assumption 2 and 3? While the French President’s statement sounds fascinating and makes every citizen in a country feel very safe, what is the reality?

NCRB 2015 statistics, India

According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, the deaths due to terrorist and insurgency in India in 2016 is only 256 as compared to a whopping 150,000 deaths in road accidents, 34,000 rape victims and over 24,771 dowry-related deaths. In the US, there were 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms” and gun violence by its own citizens causes more deaths than terrorists in their country. The data clearly points to the fact that our safety and security are compromised on a daily basis in our homes, in our roads, and in our communities while we keep investing a significant amount of our GDP in the military.

One might argue that if the military was not there, there would be more terrorist attacks and that countries will have to face Kargil type of situations. It may be true to some extent but if you look at all the terrorist attacks in recent times, they were all carried out in Guerilla mode in London, Nice, Paris etc. The military is not equipped to deal with these kinds of acid attacks, truck attacks, knife attacks in crowded places. These incidents are on the rise and they have clearly disrupted the military model. In fact, nations need to invest in their police who understand local crimes much better and more importantly, look for new ways to safeguard citizens. Technologies like drones could be leveraged to do the job.

It is now very obvious that the last two assumptions are invalid. Let us look at the first assumption — If we don’t have the military, then our territorial sovereignty will be threatened by enemy nations and stateless actors. Let us take the case of Pakistan and China. Can Pakistan and India afford to engage in a full-blown war for more than a month? Do these countries have the monetary power to spend so much on a war? China has not invaded any country in the last 40 years. Even with India’s full force, China can easily defeat India if they hypothetically end up in a war. It is the same case for India defeating Pakistan in the eventuality of a war. There is no need to add up to your arsenal when you know that there is an enemy who can defeat you with your full might and the other can be defeated with its full might.

So the real question is can we actually afford to abolish the military? Are there examples of any country that has abolished the military? How do they fare? Costa Rica abolished military in 1948 and doesn’t have a defense budget. They invested their money in nation-building initiatives. Today it has more teachers than policemen, achieves almost 100% of their energy from green sources for two straight years in a row and is driving some progressive laws including shutting down its zoos. It is a small country surrounded by powerful neighbors but their progressive outlook has lifted a whole nation and is providing inspiration to the whole world.

Also, if we don’t have a military, maybe our citizens will start to behave responsibly like the Costa Ricans. You can’t engage in unnecessary abusive banter in social media because you will then know that your small actions could create unnecessary hatred towards your country. You will have a responsibility, however selfish it is, to protect your country so that you and your family can live happily. Right now, that responsibility is shifted to a few 1000 people who leave their families to work for the military in hostile conditions and slog for us in heat and cold sacrificing their lives for people who take no responsibility for the country. Maybe such a move will also temper our aberrant behavior to a large extent.

Leaders need to think about how to make every citizen responsible for their country. Abolishing military could be a very powerful way to make every person accountable. After all, India is the first country that won its independence on the strength of its non-violence movement led by Gandhi and so this is not new. If every citizen starts thinking about the repercussions of his/her action on the country, then the country will be clean. The public behavior will be great. The online behavior will be great. Rules and laws will be respected. When each person stands up for the country, the country is safe.

Finally, the massive budget we spend on the military when millions of citizens don’t have access to food, water, and education is atrocious. If a country like India spends that money to educate its people, provide free healthcare for citizens from low-income groups and create employment opportunities for young people, we will become a developed nation. Maybe then, we have something to protect and safeguard. Right now, let us think responsibly and avoid spending on defense.




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Viji (விஜி)

Viji (விஜி)

I write on politics, business, AI and movies

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