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Friday, 23 February, 2001, 14:13 GMT
Does South Asia spend too much on defence?

13.7 billion dollars - that's the amount India has spent in the past twelve months on defence.

It has cost Pakistan around 20% of its total government spending and Sri Lanka's internal conflict has eaten up some 880 million dollars.

South Asia spends a greater proportion of its income on defence than any region except the Middle East. But health, education and social services receive only a fraction of the funding they need.

Is military expenditure on the Indian sub-continent excessive? Could part of the money be put to better use in social areas? Or is defence a priority which cannot be compromised? Tell us what you think.

A World Today debate on this subject will be broadcast on BBC World Service Radio on Thursday 22nd February at 0045 and 0245 GMT. A selection of your emails will be read out during the debate and daily on the programme leading up to the debate at 0040GMT and 0240 GMT. This Talking Point is now closed. A selection of your comments are published below.

It would be wise for them to invest in developing their infrastructure which could help boost their economies

Sunil, Malaysia
It is indeed a sad situation. More than half of the South Asian population live in the clutches of poverty, and their respective governments are investing more and more money in defence. It would be wise for them to invest in developing their infrastructure which could help boost their economies.
Sunil, Malaysia

We, as westerners, have a narrow-minded view on the Indian subcontinent. We have a habit of blaming the 'uneducated' people in South Asia for spending too much on defence when it is our fighter planes, missiles, rifles etc that are bought.
Spartacus, UK

South Asia's defence spending is a symptom of its border insecurity and the legacy of colonialism. The amount of spending acts as a deterrent to further escalation of current disputes.
Nyear Yaseen, UK

It's a great shame for South Asia to spend hard-earned money on the arms race and military build-up when half of the population cannot have a nice meal a day. This money should be used for education, health and other social services that would help wipe out poverty and restore dignity in the world. South Asia is still regarded as the least developed region of the world despite its military might. A piece of bread can remove hunger but not a piece of bullet. The arms race in South Asia is indeed a luxury rather than a necessity.
Monirul Q. Mirza, Bangladesh/ Canada

With unresolved conflicts still raging across the subcontinent, how could one expect India or Pakistan to reduce their defence budgets? The primary step is to initiate a dialogue between adversaries so that an attempt is made to resolve the conflicts. India, as the dominant country in the region, must agree to talk to Pakistan so that a solution to Kashmir can be devised. Otherwise, South Asia will continue to live under the threat of nuclear war.
Zeeshan Amin, Pakistan/ USA

Through military expenditure the people are kept ignorant of their own problems

Faris Kasim, Pakistan/ Kashmir
The biggest problem is that through military expenditure the people are kept ignorant of their own problems. People living outside India and Pakistan realise that it's ridiculous for both of them to waste so much money on defence, but the propaganda in both countries is so empowering that no citizen of Pakistan or India will ever even think about rejecting defence expenditure. By focusing the people's attention on useless threats like India attacking Pakistan and vice versa, no one thinks about the deteriorating condition they both are in.
Faris Kasim, Pakistan/ Kashmir

The United States, being the biggest arms producer and exporter in the world, always makes it known that they are against the arms race in South Asia. This is all a false image. After all the arms industry is one of the most lucrative in the US and if all conflicts stop, who will buy the arms?
Sam Wickramasinghe, Sri Lanka

Excessive defence spending reflects the fact that it also covers the interests of the world defence industry. It's a combination of ignorance, false pride, mis-judgement and corruption. South Asia would have been the best place to live if we had not had to spend so much on defence.
Shahid Hafiz, Bangladesh

With a better educated population many problems can be solved: the birth rate can be controlled and it will be harder for politicians to get away with fraud. Education should have the highest priority in any country. Spending money on it is contributing to a better future. How much time is it going to take for countries like India to realise that?
Fabrice Das, Germany

Defence expenditure is a waste of resources

Thiruvengadam Ramakrishnan, USA
Defence expenditure is a waste of resources, be it in South Asia, Europe or the US. India's apprehensions about China and Pakistan are justified by events of the recent past. Pakistan feels the same way about India, and China about the West. Sri Lanka talks of peace to secure arms on credit, but is intent on maintaining the Sinhala-only status quo. What can the West do about it? Don't sell arms to South Asia, and indeed, to anywhere else. Pious talk is cheap, refusing fat profits is difficult.
Thiruvengadam Ramakrishnan, USA

Much has been said about India spending on defence and 'begging' for help with the Gujarat earthquake. Let's make no mistake, the biggest help has come from the Gujarati Diaspora and the rest of the Indian community, in India and abroad, and they fully support adequate defence spending to counter the threats that exist there.
Ashesh, USA

The role of the military is changing from fighting wars to pre-empting conflicts. India needs money to procure military hardware for surveillance, like UAVs, night-vision glasses, GPS and efficient communications equipment to be prepared for conflicts. A strong navy is needed to patrol the seas so as to secure peace in the Indian Ocean. Higher military budget should be used for sophisticated equipment; which does act as a deterrent. Thus with higher military budget comes peace; with peace comes security and stability, which allows for a healthy climate for development.
Priyank, USA/ India

South Asia is the most volatile and troubled spot in the world

Irfan Ayub, Canada
There is no disregarding the fact that South Asia is the most volatile and troubled spot in the world and also represents the widest majority of people who live in poverty and hunger. You cannot justify the millions of dollars that are spent on military expenditure since hundreds of people die every day because they have no food to eat, no place to live, no clothes to wear and they drink contaminated water.
Irfan Ayub, Canada

It's a rippling effect. The US spends more on defence, China also does it. If China does it, India also starts and causes Pakistan to increase her defence expenditure.
Manish, India

Since a mutual distrust exists and to bring about peace in the region will take a period of time, it is justifiable for each country to show might of force on the exterior. This may not help in controlling the economy or in solving the common man's poverty situation but one must remember that the South Asian region is equally troubled and disturbed just as Palestine and Israel are.
Sean D'Souza, USA

I think that the defence spending in India is sufficiently justified given its hostile neighbours. on the western side is the unstable Pakistan. On the eastern side is China - both close allies. This leaves India totally boxed in. In these circumstances, India needs sufficient stock piles of weapons to protect its vast economic interests as well as its vast population.
Eshwar, India

The expenditure has to be viewed in terms of decades of problems and not in the present context

Sandeep Pai, USA
Well we live in a very hostile world. Especially South Asia is very volatile always has been. A lot of problems have been pushed aside. But with countries taking sides and forming axis it has become necessary to invest in defence. The expenditure has to be viewed in terms of decades of problems and not in the present context.
Sandeep Pai, USA

For India, a country that has over 80 per cent of its population living in abject poverty, many millions, sleeping and begging in the streets, to continuously beg the rest of the world for help to feed and house those suffering in Gujrat and elsewhere, it is grotesque when it is spending over 13 billion on defence. On who will they use all this military hardware? They cannot go to war against either China, or, Pakistan! Such a conflict would wipe out Asia! So, India, feed and educate your people. Don't waste your precious resources on such a wasteful exercise. The only people that benefit from such an activity are the multi-national arms manufacturers, or, bankrupt countries like Russia.
Rahim Khan, England

We always blame on Third World countries for their defence expenditure. The United States and some western countries spend much more on defence and do not have any problems compared to what India is facing. India has two hostile neighbours (one of them happens to be China), I think she doesn't see any other hope.
Casey, USA

Pakistan has the problem of their big and powerful army that is not ready to yield power to the constitutionally elected representatives of the people. It has always been the politicians who want good economic ties with India but the Pakistan army always comes into action at the "right time" to dethrone an elected government and reverse the process for their survival lies in bad relations with India, else who would pay for huge defence expenditure.
Ahmad R Shahid, Pakistan/USA

Time and time again India is raising the stakes, spending more and more, its only objective is to disable Pakistan, mainly economically. In part it has succeeded, it is for the Indians to decide whether having most of their population living in poverty is price worth paying for this game. As for Pakistan, it can't afford to spend less, always catching up with new weaponry the Indians develop, had India not developed atomic weapons, it is highly unlikely that the Pakistanis would have bothered.
Ahmad Alam, UK

Some people who are commenting here forget that their country was responsible for the massacres in Bangladesh and three wars with India, so they shouldn't be surprised that India spends so much. With the kind of neighbours living next door India has no other choice. Think about it a country that for most of its existence has been ruled by military dictator is commenting about India spending on defence!
Abhay, India, USA

It is truly ironic that India is asking for monetary help for earthquake victims, yet at the same time is engaged in purchasing military hardware worth more than 1 billion dollars from Russia. Are there really such compulsions from outside, not of India's own doing, which necessitate such twisted priorities? Or, is it the case of a distorted world-view of those who rule that nation?
Traiq, USA

India spends less than 3% of GDP on defence in an environment which is not conductive to its strategic interests. With its growth trajectory and global positioning in the years ahead, it needs all-round strength - nuclear, naval and air.
Shiva Iyer, USA/ India

India's delusions of being a super power fuel military expenditure in South Asia. I wonder what its 500 million citizens who live in abject poverty feel there is worth defending with such enormous sums.
Naved, USA

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19 Oct 00 | South Asia
South Asia spends more on defence
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