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How Not to Deal with Defense Corruption in India

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials carry a bag of documents after conducting a raid at a building as part of probes into the AgustaWestland bribery case in New Delhi March 13, 2013

The furore over the latest arms procurement scandal in India — this time over the AgustaWestland helicopters — has led, predictably, to calls for greater indigenisation of the military industrial complex, as if excluding foreign weapons-makers will clean up the corruption.

The problem is not foreign suppliers, but a defence marketplace where domestic industry produces low-quality weapons at great cost, often late, which India’s armed services do not want. To the extent that foreign suppliers act in venal manner, it is because India’s defence marketplace is dysfunctional. Excluding foreign sellers only reduces the number of players and externalises the problem; it does not stop corruption.

The so-called “China solution,” which lauds Beijing’s success in weapons development and manufacture, is misconstrued: China’s self-reliance has not produced new conventional weapons. Chinese aircraft, tanks and ships are quite ordinary platforms. Its successes in nuclear, missile, laser, and cyberwar technologies are all unconventional. The causes of Chinese successes in unconventional military technologies are many, but it is worth remembering that the Chinese government has used an extensive spying campaign in pursuit of commercial and military secrets. This consequences of the campaign are now catching up with Beijing as the United States and other Western powers gear up to prevent Chinese infiltration.

As an emerging power, India is better off being seen as a benign force. It is better off buying technology rather than stealing it. It is better off inviting the world to participate in its rise than keeping the world outside and suspicious. Better off acting transparently in the defence marketplace even at the cost of sacrificing secrecy. Better off reforming its procurement system, rather than winnowing down the market. India buys weapons from foreign suppliers not only to develop military capacity but also to build relationships with other key countries that facilitate its rise.

The key instrument of economic efficiency in any market, pricing, is mind-bogglingly inefficient when it comes to armaments. Weapons in the same category made by different manufacturers are not readily comparable, especially at the higher rungs of the technology ladder. There are too few sellers and even fewer buyers to make a truly competitive market. Further, the value of a particular weapon-system in the context of a national security strategy is hard to calculate. Try, for example, figuring out whether missiles or attack aircraft have greater utility; practically every government faced with the decision went with both, the most expensive and least efficient option.

India’s defence market faces these challenges and more. We argued in our book Arming without Aiming that Indian military procurement is disconnected from national objectives. Indian grand strategy de-emphasises the use of force and consequently, the military receives little strategic guidance from the political leaders. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, for example, has repeatedly said at conferences with Indian military commanders that the country’s primary threats are internal, without publicly clarifying the role of the armed forces in meeting internal security challenges. Only the Indian army participates in internal security operations, that too, in well defined areas such as Kashmir; what should the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy do? According to the Constitution, the armed forces are not responsible for internal security. The police, which is responsible for domestic law and order, remains in the hands of the states and outside the ability of the Central government to reform.

On the military side, the result is that the services are left to define the threats they believe the country faces and accordingly they appear to be preparing to fight three different wars against three different enemies. Today, the army thinks it needs an air force of its own, the navy wants to acquire its own thermonuclear capability, and the IAF appears to be planning for wars independent of the other two services. India was one of the first countries in the world to integrate officer training — at the NDA and the Staff College — but everything else seems to be contributing to service rivalries. India’s unified commands are feeble and there is no movement on a new combined defence chief. Only actual wars and initial setbacks seem to produce inter-service cooperation, such as between the army and the IAF in Kargil.

The problem is exacerbated by the lack of military expertise in the political and bureaucratic class. Several retired defence secretaries we spoke with during the course of writing Arming without Aiming reported that it was not until their second or third postings in the ministry that they had acquired a sense of competence in the field. Arun Singh, one of the more respected defence ministers in Indian history, once proposed keeping certain IAS and IFS officers in defence-related positions for much of their careers — in effect creating a specialist cadre within the civilian bureaucracy. Another option might be to bring in outside civilian experts from the academy or journalism into government for short-periods of time like in the American system, but the thought of lateral entry into the civil service, or a defence cadre within the IAS, remains unthinkable.

The Indian defence industry is largely state-owned and has its own problems of bias and corruption that result in cost and quality losses for the armed forces. The DRDO and the defence public sector units operate as a monopoly with attendant failures in innovation, cost, and accountability. The scientific advisor to the defence minister, who shapes procurement decisions, also heads the military research labs, which puts him in the position of evaluating his own work in comparison with those of others. This conflict of interest is not even seen as a source of corruption.

The continued absence of Indian firms in the defence marketplace reflects a deep-seated ideological bias against profit as a motive for productive action. The expectation that Indian private industry, if allowed entry into the military production, will be less corrupt is misguided as well. Doubtless, the government will have greater control over an Indian seller than it does over a foreign supplier, but the actions of businesses alone do not cause corruption; government officials have to take bribes. There is no reason to expect that Indian firms will not be asked to pay up to win contracts.

These dysfunctions persist behind the trope of secrecy. Military-strategic matters are national secrets no doubt, but the process of buying weapons (that are already owned by other countries) hardly needs to be conducted in secret. Similarly, the DRDO, which is not building any unheard of weapon-system, should conduct itself in full public view and allow its scientists to join the peer review system. Closed-off organisations generally fail to innovate; little wonder that only 3 per cent of DRDO scientists and engineers have PhDs. Opening up the military research and weapons procurement process to public view would reduce the potential for corruption, and it would not be worse than the present glacial acquisition process.

Indian defence badly needs reform, but the recommendations of several high-powered committees — including those headed by Arun Singh, Naresh Chandra and the irreplaceable K. Subrahmanyam (Kargil review) — remain ignored by several governments. India needs to begin at the beginning, with a clearer vision of the role of the military and use of force in the country’s rise as a great power. This vision must balance between domestic and external threats to security, include non-military challenges, push through difficult reforms to enhance harmony across government agencies and departments and welcome transparency. With defence matters not on the electoral agenda, we are not very hopeful this will happen without the shock of another crisis.

Publication: The Indian Express
Image Source: © Mansi Thapliyal / Reuters

Brookings Launches the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence (21CSI)

An unarmed U.S.

Washington, D.C. — The Brookings Institution announced today the establishment of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence (21CSI). The new center will be unique in addressing defense, cybersecurity, arms control and intelligence challenges in a comprehensive manner, seeking not just to explore key emerging security issues, but also how they cross traditional fields and domains.

“With the launch of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, Brookings will be at the forefront of research and public debate on the critical security issues of our time,” said Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution. "21CSI will bring together the extraordinary array of scholars already working on defense and security issues at Brookings, along with adding new experts in fields that range from cyber to intelligence policy."

The Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence will be housed in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings and Peter W. Singer will serve as its founding director. One of the world’s leading experts on modern warfare and author of the New York Times bestseller, Wired for War (Penguin, 2009), Singer has founded and managed two previous projects at Brookings, the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World and the 21st Century Defense Initiative.

The center will encompass four key focal points of policy research on security and defense issues:

  • A Defense Policy team will be led by Michael O'Hanlon, one of the most influential and widely published defense scholars in the world, who also serves as director of research in the Foreign Policy program. He will be joined by other resident and nonresident scholars including Senior Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown, a leading expert on counterinsurgency and illicit networks, and Senior Fellow Stephen Cohen, a pre-eminent expert in South Asian security issues. The team will also comprise the Federal Executive Fellows (FEFs), career officers from each military service and the Coast Guard, who spend a year in residence researching and writing on defense topics.
  • The new Intelligence Project, focusing on the nexus of intelligence and policymaking, will be led by Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel, a 30-year veteran of the intelligence community who also served on the National Security Council staff for three presidents. Riedel will be supported by a team of resident and nonresident scholars, including Paul Pillar and John McLaughlin, as well as career officers seconded from the intelligence community, and an advisory group of distinguished former senior intelligence officials and policymakers. The Intelligence Project is the first of its kind to be established at a major research institution.
  • The Arms Control Initiative will combine a focus on existing challenges of nuclear and conventional disarmament with new policy research on the Iranian and North Korean challenges to the nuclear nonproliferation regime. It is led by Senior Fellow Steven Pifer, a former special assistant to the president with substantial arms control experience. Robert Einhorn, currently the State Department’s special adviser for Nonproliferation and Arms Control, is expected to join later this spring as a Senior Fellow. The Initiative will also house a new program designed to cultivate and mentor the next generation of arms control and nonproliferation scholars.
  • The new Cybersecurity project will bring together the work of Visiting Fellow Ian Wallace, a former senior official at the British Ministry of Defence, who helped develop British cyber strategy, as well as its cyber-relationship with the United States, and a team of nonresident fellows, including Noah Shachtman, national security editor at Wired magazine, recently named one of the top 10 cybersecurity writers in the world; Ben Hammersley, a war journalist, noted technology writer, and author of the upcoming book Approaching the Future: 64 Things You Need to Know Now for Then; and Ralph Langner, the cybersecurity expert credited with “decoding” Stuxnet.

21CSI will focus on cutting-edge, in-depth, policy-relevant research and programming, designed to help shape the public policy debate and inform policy-makers. Bringing together a diverse group of experts and scholars, it will seek to promote collaboration across the various policy domains, in order to better understand the rapidly evolving, increasingly complex 21st century battlefield.

“We’ve created 21CSI in response to the enormous changes playing out in the global security environment,” said Martin Indyk, vice president and director of the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. “To address the diverse range of issues in this field, we’ve assembled a world-class team of researchers, who are some of the leading voices on the current challenges driving security policy today, as well as how we should think about tomorrow.”


Arming without Aiming : India's Military Modernization, Revised with a New Preface

Cover: Arming without Aiming, revised
Brookings Institution Press 2012 223pp.

India has long been motivated to modernize its military, and it now has the resources. But so far, the drive to rebuild has lacked a critical component—strategic military planning. India’s approach of arming without strategic purpose remains viable, however, as it seeks great-power accommodation of its rise and does not want to appear threatening. What should we anticipate from this effort in the future, and what are the likely ramifications? Stephen Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta answer those crucial questions in a book so timely that it reached number two on the nonfiction bestseller list in India.

 “Two years after the publication of Arming without Aiming, our view is that India’s strategic restraint and its consequent institutional arrangement remain in place. We do not want to predict that India’s military-strategic restraint will last forever, but we do expect that the deeper problems in Indian defense policy will continue to slow down military modernization.”—from the preface to the paperback edition

Praise for Arming without Aiming:

"Much has been made of the emergence of India on the global stage. In Arming without Aiming, Cohen and Dasgupta provide an expert assessment of what India’s rise means for its unevenly modernizing military, which is destined to become the third largest in the world. Anyone with an interest in the growing rivalry between India and China, or in the impact that a stronger, although still extraordinarily outdated, Indian military will mean for U.S.-India ties, should read this. This is an important book on an important subject, which is likely to remain unparalleled for many years."
—Edward Luce, Washington bureau chief, Financial Times

"India’s rise to power will remain incomplete until it acquires, and develops, the capacity to effectively utilize the full panoply of military power. Although India has made impressive strides in this direction in recent years, Stephen Cohen’s and Sunil Dasgupta’s Arming without Aiming demonstrates how much still needs to be done. This cautionary tale will be required reading for all those concerned about Indian defense policy and military modernization."
—Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

"The book is an empathetic, objective, and comprehensive narration and analysis of the evolution of Indian defense policy and management. The Indian strategic establishment is groping to find ways and means of safeguarding its progress toward becoming a twenty-first-century knowledge power in an international community still dominated by strategic thought from the World War II era. Steve Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta have brought into bold relief this somewhat inchoate and as yet not fully formulated effort. This will be a required reading for all senior service officers, civil servants, politicians, and academics engaged in Indian security."
—K. Subrahmanyam, Indian defense expert


Stephen P. Cohen
Sunil Dasgupta


Ordering Information:
  • {9ABF977A-E4A6-41C8-B030-0FD655E07DBF}, 978-0-8157-2254-0, $24.95 Add to Cart

Law, Order, and the Future of Democracy in Pakistan

A plain clothes policeman holds a weapon as he walks down the streets during a firefight with gang members in Karachi April 28, 2012.  (Reuters/Athar Hussain)

Editor's Note: Paper presented to the NIC-EUISS Conference on Pakistan “Looking towards 2025: drivers of democratic consolidation and stability,” Paris, France, 20-21 May 2012

The optimistic title of this conference attempts an even more optimistic objective: that we understand the factors that will shape Pakistan by the year 2025, and predict how these factors will influence Pakistan’s slow crawl towards democratic consolidation.

There is also a contradiction: democratic consolidation may be inversely related to “stability” if by that we mean the continuation of an oligarchic political order, usually termed “the establishment”. Over sixty years of an establishment-dominated political order—whether by the army or by the army in cooperation with civilians—has not made Pakistan a democratic country in most senses of the word, except that the aspirations of many Pakistanis are to have democracy Pakistan-style. This aspiration is held by many in the army, which would like to have political leaders that can govern Pakistan up to its own high standards.

The law and order problem is correctly defined in the call for papers as the persistence of ungoverned areas, the continuation of militant and criminal violence throughout the country, and low levels of government accountability. The historically expanded role of the military and the groping of the judiciary for a role somewhere between acquiescence and excessive activism are both symptoms and causes. Indeed, this is the core of Pakistan’s problems: there are many, many problems, they are both causes and consequences, they are interrelated, and there are obvious solutions to each, but Pakistan lacks the capacity to systematically undertake internal reforms.

I think that the reasons for failure vary from issue (or factor) to issue. For example, the existence of “ungoverned” areas did not mean that they were ungovernable. India had such areas in its northeast including a separatist movement supported by other countries and with a sturdy base abroad, but it has slowly and systematically used the strategy memorably described to me as “first we hit them over the head with a hammer, then we teach them how to play the piano.” Pakistan, as we were recently reminded, has never tried this; emulating the British they deemed the Tribal areas and frontier provinces too difficult to manage. In a recent opinion piece the American columnist, David Ignatius, writes that Pakistan has missed the opportunity of the century by not working with the large NATO and American forces across the border in Afghanistan; together they could have launched a project that would have begun to establish the writ of the Pakistani state; instead, a mixture of paranoia and the temptation to use the tribals in a proxy war against both India’s presence in Afghanistan and American and ISAF forces proved to be too great.[1] No one will shed any tears when the backlash sweeps over Pakistan, and there is already talk of the importance of “containing” this new Pakistan, no longer a friend but still a danger to itself and its neighbors.[2]

No one solution fits all problems, there are fifteen to twenty variables (depending on who and how one is counting), and we still have no good idea which are fixable and which are permanently going to cripple Pakistan. Nor do I have a good idea which must come first and which can be deferred: I think both questions should be at the core of thinking about Pakistan’s future.  In short, there is a methodological hiatus in contemporary studies of Pakistan, epitomized in the ambitious title of this conference (why not 2030, 2050, or next year?).  To put it succinctly: if you don’t know where you are going any variable will take you there.

Turning to the law and order sector, there have been numerous—and usually good—studies of what needs to be done.[3] The police have to be depoliticized, they have to be well-funded, they need modern equipment, and they need to be reprofessionalized. They are not hopeless—some policing is done very well in Pakistan, and the leadership of most police services is competent, and some are more than that. There also has to be an effective judiciary, independent and concerned about the administration of justice, so police can deal with professional matters, not worry about becoming either agents of the politicians or de facto law courts on the streets and in the interrogation rooms.

This has not happened for one major reason, and several smaller ones. The major reason is the diffident attitude of Pakistan’s armed services, especially the army, towards the police, or towards any other institution of the state or provinces authorised to carry weapons and use deadly force, and which is not under army control (this seems to apply ambivalently to the various private armies and militia groups tolerated by the army for political and strategic purposes). The army simply will not abide a loss of this monopoly, and all other armed forces must be either so weak or so small as to present no imaginable threat to the army’s monopoly of the legitimate use of force within Pakistan, let alone across Pakistan’s borders.

Another, but less important reason for the failure to reform Pakistan’s police services is that it is not a high priority for the political community itself, which finds a corrupt and incompetent police force more amenable than a highly professional one. And, while raising and arming their own street gangs, politicians have been able to reach an understanding with the police forces on local law and order issues—in plain words, as other weakly-governed regions of the world, there is a nexus between the police, the criminals, and the politicians, all of which confirms for the army its need to maintain a tight lid on all three, lest the army itself become infected.

Pakistan’s courts present a somewhat different picture. Long craven and submissive, the courts—led by the Supreme Court—are attempting to restore a normal balance between them and the political community, while also maintaining good relations with the army. The courts are trying to compress two hundred years of constitutional evolution into one decade, and this will be a long and difficult process under the best of circumstances, but at least the journey has begun. What is problematic is that the natural constituency of the courts, the lawyers, are not the shining liberals that some have portrayed them to be.  Others can speak more expertly on this than I, but will the hard core pro-Jamaat lawyers tolerate a truly independent judiciary? The so-called Lawyers’ Movement was anti-dictatorship, but is it pro-democracy?

Again, we come back to the army. Some very distinguished lawyers came to the army’s rescue in the Ayub years when it needed a “doctrine of necessity,” to justify the imposition of martial law during a period of domestic and international crisis. Will this happen again?

The answer to this question is easy: Pakistan will revert to military rule, including the suppression of the courts and the faulty professionalization of all parts of the law and order machinery unless a new role is found for the armed forces, and the political community begins to perform up to a moderately competent standard. I made this argument thirty years ago,[4] but nothing has changed since then, except that Pakistan’s economic and optician decay has accelerated. In a book published in 1985 I argued that the army had to find a responsible and respectable role, other than that of chief political party and tutor to the Pakistani nation. To do that, normalization with India was necessary, so that the army could devote itself to other worthwhile tasks (I suggested an expanded international peace-keeping role as one such task).

This argument raises two questions of supreme importance—and we do not have definitive answers to either of them. First, have some of the factors that will shape Pakistan’s future reached the point of no return—that nothing can be done to reverse what is generally a negative trend across the board?[5] Second, in the case of the army’s role in Pakistan, is normalization with India possible, and would that divert the army from its dominant position in the state, or merely strengthen it? Since we are some distance from normalization this question is moot at the moment, but may become a live issue should the process go forward.

As for the irreversibility of Pakistan’s economic decline, the huge youth bulge (combined with weak educational assets), the growth of sectarianism, the erratic performance of Pakistan's politicians, are all unknowns. We can predict likely futures in each instance for a short period, a year to five years, but speculating to 2025 seems to me to be naïve and a waste of time. The NIC did this several years ago when it asked a group of non-officials to predict Pakistan’s future.[6] They were, on balance, quite pessimistic. Was this useful to know?  Obviously, some of us will be more optimistic, some of us more pessimistic, but without a serous analysis of the factors that will shape Pakistan's future, and how they interact, this will be a feel-good (or feel-bad) exercise that lacks a strong analytic base and has zero policy implications. Knowing that the experts feel one way or another is not very helpful information unless we know what they are expert about, and no one is an expert on events that have not happened.[7]

[1] David Ignatius, “Pakistan blew its chance for security,” Washington Post, May 17, 2012

[2] Bruce Riedel, “A New Pakistan Policy: Containment”, New York Times, October 14, 2011

[3] See the writings of the former policeman, Hassan Abbas, e.g. Reforming Pakistan's Police and Law Enforcement Infrastructure: Is It Too Flawed to Fix? (USIP, 2011), also Hassan Abbas, Pakistan 2020: A Vision for a Better Future (New York: Asia Society Pakistan Study Group Report, 2011).

[4] Stephen P. Cohen, The Pakistan Army (Berkeley: University of California Press 1985), with multiple editions and revisions.

[5] My approach has been to divide about sixteen different factors or variables in to four major clusters and I am indebted to my co-authors for suggesting how these might shape Pakistan’s near-term future, five to seven years from now (about 2017). The first cluster includes  educational and demographic variables, propelled or retarded by the economy, a second includes the different beliefs about the “idea” of Pakistan and what it means to be a Pakistani, a third is Pakistan’s “stateness,” the competence of state organs, including the police and military, and the ability of the political community to organize itself to govern, and, fourthly, the influence of outside states and forces upon Pakistan; this includes not only the obvious candidates, such as India, China, and the United States, but also Pakistan’s vulnerability to the negative effects of globalization. See Stephen P. Cohen, “Pakistan: Arrival and Departure,” chapter in Cohen and Others, The Future of Pakistan (Washington, Brookings Press, 2011).

[7] For my own discussion of what others have written about Pakistan’s future see the Afterword to The Future of Pakistan.

Image Source: Athar Hussain / Reuters

Pakistan’s Economy at a Crossroads: A Conversation with Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Finance Minister of Pakistan

A computer screen reflected in a glass window of a booth where a broker monitors market at the Karachi Stock Exchange

Event Information

April 18, 2012
10:30 AM - 11:30 AM EDT

Falk Auditorium
The Brookings Institution
1775 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC

Register for the Event

On April 18, Foreign Policy at Brookings hosted Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, minister of finance of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, for a conversation on the economic future of his country. In the first visit to the United States by a senior official since Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's historic trip to India, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh discussed the state of his country's economy and the steps taken by Pakistan to overcome the challenges among other issues crucial to the future of his country.

Dr. Shaikh is a noted economist with a doctorate from Boston University, having served for many years in the World Bank as a senior official. Currently a member of the Pakistan Senate and the Pakistan People’s Party, Dr. Shaikh has served as finance minister since 2010.

Brookings Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel provided introductory remarks, and Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Teresita C. Schaffer moderated the discussion.



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