Towards zero defence expenditure

If countries did not have to spend on military, imagine the development they could bring to their citizens

By Author D Samarender Reddy   |   Published: 16th Jun 2020   12:06 am Updated: 16th Jun 2020   12:08 am

The military budget of India is a portion of the overall budget of India. The military budget finances employee salaries and training costs, maintenance of equipment and facilities, support for new or ongoing operations, and development and procurement of new weapons, equipment and vehicles.

Can you guess what the military budget of India is? The allocation for defence during fiscal 2020-21 stood at Rs 4,71,378 crore ($65.86 billion). That is nearly Rs 1,50,000 crore more than the amount allocated to the following sectors combined: education (Rs 99,300 crore), power and renewable energy (Rs 22,000 crore), rural development (Rs 1,23,000 crore), healthcare (Rs 69,000 crore), and welfare of senior citizens (Rs 9,500 crore).

Just imagine if India did not have to spend this huge amount on the military budget, how much good it can do to all-round development and welfare of its citizens. Now think how much every other country must be squandering similarly on the military.

Prisoner’s Dilemma

That being the case, we can well ask the question: “What if every country disbanded its army?” The problem in doing so is one of trust and cooperation. Every country will be better off if it does not have any defence expenditure. But a country cannot take that unilateral decision to not spend on defence because if its neighbour does not follow suit, its security will be under threat. Hence, it is rational for it to spend some amount on defence, and the neighbour faces a similar symmetric situation. This is called the Prisoner’s Dilemma in game theory.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is as follows (adapted from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy): Ram and Shyam have been arrested for robbing a bank and are placed in separate isolation cells. A clever prosecutor makes the following offer to each: “You may choose to confess or remain silent. If you confess and your accomplice remains silent, you go free but your accomplice gets life imprisonment. Likewise, if your accomplice confesses while you remain silent, he will go free while you get life imprisonment. If you both confess, you both will go to jail for 10 years. If you both remain silent, you both will go to jail but only for one year. If you wish to confess, you must leave a note with the jailer before my return tomorrow morning.”
The “dilemma” faced by the prisoners here is that, whatever the other does, each is better off confessing than remaining silent: If Ram remains silent, he gets life imprisonment (if Shyam confesses) or one-year jail term (if Shyam remains silent); whereas, if Ram confesses, he gets 10 years’ jail term (if Shyam confesses) or goes free (if Shyam remains silent); similar considerations apply to Shyam’s decisionmaking. But the outcome obtained when both confess is worse for each (10 years in jail) than the outcome they would have obtained had both remained silent (one year in jail).

A common view is that the puzzle illustrates a conflict between individual and group rationality. A group, whose members pursue rational self-interest may all end up worse off than a group whose members act contrary to rational self-interest.

Trusting Others

But it has to be realised that there is a simple solution to the Prisoner’s Dilemma. If you allow prisoners to cooperate with each other under conditions of trust and credibility (although here it is precluded by they being isolated from one another), then you can arrive at an optimal solution that is best possible for both parties under consideration – they both will remain silent trusting the other’s response.

How can the above insight be applied to nation-states to get them to cooperate under conditions of trust and credibility so that they can all achieve the optimal solution of zero expenditure on defence? Well, let the United Nations (UN) take the lead and hold wide-ranging and comprehensive discussions with every nation to get them to see the rationality of not spending any money on the military. The UN needs to convince each country that it can get the other countries to follow suit.

That is not enough though. Because the current stockpile of weaponry and defence equipment has to be accounted for and taken out of the possession of each of the countries harbouring them. Even for this seemingly difficult task of getting each country to voluntarily disband its military hardware, the countries can be nudged into doing so by assuring them that other countries will be made to follow suit.

Standing Army

Of course, in this exercise the UN can get all countries to do it simultaneously. These stockpiles of the arms and weaponry can then be used for maintaining a standing army by the UN to intervene in any international disputes, whose solution, arrived at, say, through the International Court of Justice, one of the parties is not adhering to. After all, is that not how disputes are settled between different territories within a nation-state now? Then think of each nation-state in this scenario as a territory, all of which territories come under one nation, the UN.

Some may think that this is a naïve proposal. But, believe me, sometimes there is more wisdom and sense in naivety than in sophistication. This is one of those cases. Moreover, with this ‘naïve’ solution, not only can nations get huge savings of defence expenditure, which can then be used for developmental activities, but also since wars would have been eliminated, there will be no loss of life, limb, property and progress.

For the diehard sophisticated kinds who may not find the above naivety acceptable, they could consider the above arguments with regard to the nuclear warheads stockpile. Once they are amenable to that, then one can hope that in time they will apply similar considerations and logic to conventional weaponry.

(The author is content writer; blogs @


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