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India: National Security
Country Study > Chapter 10 > National Security


The Indian armed forces have undergone a substantial metamorphosis since the emergence of India and Pakistan from the British Indian Empire in 1947. India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru (1947-64), had deliberately limited the expansion and modernization of the armed forces. The rationale was twofold: Nehru was acutely concerned about the accelerating costs of defense spending, and he feared that an excessive emphasis on the armed forces would lead to the militarization of society and undermine the nation's fledgling democratic institutions. The disastrous performance of the Indian army during the 1962 border war with China, however, led to a reappraisal of defense strategy and spending. Nehru's legacy eroded rapidly as increasing emphasis was placed on defense needs. The success of the Indian military against Pakistan during their 1971 war contributed to restoring the morale and standing in society of the armed forces. During the rest of the 1970s and in the 1980s, India bolstered its regional preeminence with wide-ranging arms transfers from the Soviet Union. In the late 1980s, in an effort to reduce its dependence on Soviet weaponry, India began to diversify its arms sources. It purchased aircraft, submarines, and long-range artillery pieces from France, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), Sweden, and Britain. Simultaneously, it continued its efforts to expand and strengthen domestic capabilities to manufacture a range of weaponry to maximize self-reliance. The results of these purchases and self-reliance efforts have been mixed.

The 1980s saw not only substantial growth in Indian defense expenditures but also the use of the armed forces in support of larger foreign and security policy goals. Specifically, the army saw action against Pakistani military personnel in disputed areas along the Siachen Glacier in Jammu and Kashmir, deployed at considerable cost as diplomatic efforts failed. All three branches of the armed forces, but particularly the army, were used to pursue India's security and foreign policy objectives in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s. In 1989 the new Sri Lankan president, Ranasinghe Premadasa, ended a five-and-a-half-year state of emergency and asked India to withdraw the IPKF. Accordingly, Indian army units returned home with most goals unmet.

In 1988 a smaller, much shorter-lived Indian expedition successfully ended a military coup attempt in Maldives and demonstrated the military's effective use of airborne and naval forces in a joint operation.

India is the preeminent military power in South Asia, but its margin of superiority over Pakistan -- its principal South Asian rival -- has eroded because the central government of India is faced with severe budgetary constraints. In addition, the armed forces are no longer able to obtain sophisticated weaponry at highly subsidized prices from Russia, and substantial numbers of army units are tied down in various internal security duties. Insurgencies in Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, and Punjab have necessitated the use of the army in "aid-to-the-civil power" when the local police and central paramilitary forces are unable to maintain public order. Increasingly frequent outbreaks of communal violence also have necessitated the use of the army to restore calm.

The increased reliance on the army for internal security duties generated concern among senior officers in the early 1990s. Then chief of army staff General Sunith Francis Rodrigues repeatedly expressed his misgivings about the inordinate use of the army to deal with civil problems because such actions increased the risk of politicizing the armed forces and reduced their battle readiness. Moreover, the very nature of counterinsurgent and counterterrorist operations exposed the army to charges of human rights violations. In 1993, at the insistence of the army, the government agreed to examine this growing problem. Discussions focused on improving the recruitment, training, and organization of the various central paramilitary forces.

The air force and the navy underwent considerable growth and modernization during the 1980s, although their plans for modernization and expansion, like those of the army, were hobbled by financial constraints. Nevertheless, the navy has adequate capabilities for coastal defense as well as the protection of offshore union territories in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. The air force is equipped with modern combat aircraft and has moderate airlift capabilities.

Human rights violations in Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and other parts of the country have largely been attributed to the paramilitary forces. The army has willingly acknowledged that some lapses have occurred within its own ranks. It also has court-martialed officers and enlisted personnel charged with breaches of proper discipline and conduct. However, the army has refused to divulge any details about the extent of these problems. The numbers of individuals prosecuted, their ranks, and their names remain outside the public domain. Nevertheless, Amnesty International and Asia Watch have reported on incidents they have been able to document.

Data as of September 1995

Last Updated: September 1995

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for India was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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