Challenges of Defence Economics

There are several operational difficulties that one faces while analysing the economics of defence in the Indian context – Varun Ramachandra(_quale)

Keith Hartley in his book “The Economics of Defence Policy” describes defence choices as complex because they have to be made in world of uncertainty and assumptions are on the basis of likely future threats(internal, external, and/or via non-state actors). Today’s choices may not be sufficient for tomorrow’s threats or worse still, today’s choices might be irrelevant tomorrow.

In such a scenario, the defence budget cannot be viewed as a stand alone entity. The larger question of how much of our national resources be directed to defence is an important one and deserves holistic treatment(pardon the cliche).  As AK Ghosh in his book “India’s Defence Budget and Expenditure Managament in a Wider Context” suggests “to say that it(defence budget) ought to be larger or smaller, without regard to its internal components or the external components that define it, is worse than useless”.

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There are several operational difficulties that one faces while analysing the economics of defence in the Indian context(or perhaps even in a global context) and this post explores the complexities one faces while studying this area.  The challenges can be classified as

  • Semantic
  • Accounting
  • Obfuscation

Semantic – Currently, there is no clarity on what constitutes as military expenditure and what constitutes as security expenditure. For constitutional and operational reasons internal security is the mandate of Ministry on Home Affairrs whereas the external defence is the mandate of Ministry of Defence. That said, there are several grey areas. Eg., Border Roads Organisation under the MoD has a peace time mission of “Contributing to the Socio-Economic Development of the Border States”. There are several strategic reasons for such assuming such roles, primarily being development and nation-building, but an analysis on whether this constitutes as military expenditure(and if it is being accounted for) is required.

Accounting – Currently, the services follow a cash accounting model which does not capture the market value of current asset and liabilities. A cash based process is a single entry accounting process which records cash transactions but does not capture non-cash transactions. This is a major challenge because large swathes of land and precious resources like spectrum and human resource are not captured while allocating newer resources. This results in unknown spending as opportunity costs are involved. (Some thoughts on accrual accounting by experts can be accessed here)

Obfuscation – As a strategic and a security measure there is definitely a need to obfuscate certain aspects of the defence budget. But care must be taken to ensure that the defence expenditure does not come under civilian heads (if however there is a case for it, it must certainly be justified and necessarily not concealed) . This adds an extra layer of complexity while analysing the economics of defence services.

Varun Ramachandra is a policy analyst at Takshashila Institution. He tweets @_quale

photo credit: Crossed wires via photopin (license)

 

 

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