The Plan is the Country's Defence

By Jawaharlal Nehru

Speech during debate on Demands of the Ministry of Defence, Lok Sabha, March 21, 1956

My colleague, the hon. Minister of Defence, will no doubt deal with the broad issues raised in this debate and with the criticisms and suggestions made. I have intervened to draw the attention of the House to certain broad and basic principles of the lines of defence and more especially, the problems that we have to face.

I have noticed in the course of the debate today a certain concern and anxiety about recent events, amounting almost to an apprehension, lest India might be attacked by our neighbouring country and we might not be ready for it. The number of recent border incidents, and more especially the fact that a great foreign country is giving military aid, has led, no doubt, to this apprehension. It is perfectly true that the situation today in regard to the defence of India has been very much affected by this factor of military aid coming in from a great country and we have to view this situation, therefore, in this new light.

The hon. Member who spoke just before me asked us to have the latest equipment and the best training. What exactly does that mean? In nothing, I think, has there been such a great technological improvement as in war equipment. Of course, the latest example of that, the final example, is the nuclear weapon, atomic bomb or hydrogen bomb. That is the culmination of this process. It means that no country in the world, excepting the two great Powers, is adequately defended, because only they have enough of these nuclear weapons. How, then, does one judge the adequacy of a country’s defence?

Obviously, if some Power which has nuclear weapons at its disposal choose to attack India, from the purely military point of view we have little defence. It may be that from other points of view we may yet be able to meet this menace of the atomic bomb, because a people that have vitality, strength and unity, and a people that will not surrender whatever happens, can never be defeated. I have often said, therefore, that the real answer to the atomic bomb lies in other spheres. I mention this because in the final analysis what counts is not your soldier or your military weapon, but the spirit of unity of the people, the will of the people to survive in spite of every difficulty and every menace.

If I am confident about India, that confidence depends more on the spirit and unity of our people than on other factors. If that is weak, for me it just does not matter how many tanks or how many aircraft we may put in. Technology has developed so rapidly that if, unfortunately, there is a great war in the future, probably every book that has been written in the past about warfare and every weapon that was used during the last war and previously, would be out of date. Judged from that point of view, we in India and nearly all the countries of the world, excepting a very few, are completely out of date and there is no help for us at present.

What is the equation of defence? In what lies the strength of a people for defence? Well, one thinks immediately about defence forces—army, navy, air force. Perfectly right. They are the spear points of defence. They have to bear the brunt of any attack. How do they exist? What are they based on?

The more technical armies and navies and air forces get, the more important becomes the industrial and technological base of the country. You may import a machine or an aircraft or some other highly technical weapon and you may even teach somebody to use it, but that is a very superficial type of defence because you have not got the technological background for it. If spare parts go wrong, your whole machine is useless. If somebody from whom you bought it refuses to supply a part of it, it becomes useless, so that in spite of your independence you become dependent on others, and very greatly so.

From that point of view probably there are very few countries in the world that are really independent, able to stand on their own feet against the military strength of others. Therefore, apart from the army, navy and so on, you have to have an industrial and technological background in the country.

Supporting all this is the economy of the country. If the country’s economy is not sound, it is a weak country. I can give many examples to this House of countries which for the moment may have a good army, but whose strength is really superficial, because the army depends on outside factors, foreign machines, foreign economy, foreign help. Such a country is essentially a dependent country, though called independent.

The equation of defence is your defence forces plus your industrial and technological background, plus, thirdly, the economy of the country, and fourthly, the spirit of the people. Looking at the countries of the world, there are only two at the present moment which may be termed, from the military point of view, absolutely in the front rank. There are many other countries in between. Where do we come in the picture? Here we are, backward technologically and industrially, and yet, except for Japan, probably more industrialized at the present moment than any other country in Asia. I am leaving out the Soviet territories, and even in regard to China, which is making great progress, I think it may well be said that at the present moment we are somewhat in advance in some ways, industrially considered; certainly not in a military way. They have a huge army. We have a relatively small army. But I am talking about industrial development and not of other matters. We belong, therefore, to the so-called under-developed countries, though more advanced in some matters. Take atomic energy. Probably we are in the first half a dozen countries of the world or somewhere near that. I do not exactly know; it is difficult to say. We are certainly not among the first three or four. We are in the next rank.

An hon. Member, I am told, said here : “What is the good of your Five-Year Plans? You must concentrate on defence.” That is a grave statement to make. But the Five-Year Plan is the defence plan of the country. What else is it? Because, defence does not consist in people going about marching up and down the road with guns and other weapons. Defence consists today in a country being industrially prepared for producing the goods and equipment of defence. The right approach to defence is to avoid having unfriendly relations with other countries. Some hon. Members in this House who talk in rather aggressive terms of neighbouring countries, and want to take brave action sword in hand, serve no cause, certainly not the cause of this country.

It is one thing for us to be perfectly prepared, because, however peaceful our policy may be, no responsible Government can take the risk of an emergency arising which it cannot face. But any kind of blustering attitude neither is becoming a dignified nation, nor is it safe. It is a sign of weakness, not strength. Therefore, we must cultivate friendly relations, and we must spread the feeling that no quarrel is big enough for war to be required to settle it. To put it differently, war today is, and ought to be, out of the question. Then we come to the second aspect. The real strength of a country develops by industrial growth, which implies the capacity to make weapons of war for the army, the navy or the air force. You cannot develop an isolated industry without a general background of industrial development. You cannot have a factory producing tanks in the absence of other industrial development in the country. A factory producing aircraft can be erected only if there is a large supply of technically trained people. Therefore our immediate object should be, both from the point of view of economic development and that of defence, to build up industry, heavy industry in particular.

The criticism may be justified that we ought to have started thinking in these terms even earlier. But the point is that we are at least today thinking in terms of building up heavy industry, iron and steel, machine-making plants, and production of oil.

Take this business of oil. Most of your machines will become completely useless without oil to run them. If we do not produce enough oil in this country, well, the big machines get tied up. There will be nothing to run them with. Now, we come up against a grave difficulty. Let us admit for the moment that we are proceeding along right lines—those right lines being the industrialization of the country, which is good from the economic point of view as well as for defence. But industrialization takes time.

What will happen before you are strong enough? You may get knocked down in the course of the next ten years. And all your saying ‘we are not ready for an attack’ will not prevent the enemy from attacking you. This is a difficult problem that every country has to face, to balance immediate danger with considerations of better security later on. If you think too much in terms of immediate danger and concentrate on it, the result will be that you never get strong enough tomorrow and the day after. Your resources are being spent not in productive ways, not in the growth of real strength, but in temporary strength which you buy or borrow from others. You get a machine from outside. You use it and it does give you some temporary assurance, although it is not very great. But, as I told you, if some part goes wrong, and somebody fails to replace it, you are helpless.

And this difficulty has become even more real for us because of recent developments, more especially the military aid that has come in fairly considerable quantity to our neighbour country. I do not think that there is any marked likelihood of war. In fact, I would very much doubt if any such war is at all likely to take place. And I am trying to think objectively, not merely because I wish it so. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the possibility of an emergency arising. I want to take the House into confidence. The difficulty is this: if we lay too much stress on present-day safety, which ultimately means the purchase of big machines of various types from abroad in adequate quantity, we undermine the economic progress that we envisage. It is a difficult problem for this House to face.

It is quite easy for some hon. Member to say : “Push away your Five-Year Plan and do this. But that is almost a counsel of despair. We cannot sell tomorrow and the day after, because of our fears of today. At the same time, we have to provide for today. That is the problem. I do not pretend to give an answer to the problem here in this House, because it is not a problem which arises at this minute; the problem is there in its broad context, and we shall have to face it from day to day, month to month. To a slight extent, the problem is always there with every country. But the problem has been thrust upon us rather forcibly and rather urgently by these pacts and military aid.

I do not wish the House to think that we are unduly anxious, but we certainly are not complacent about it. I think we would be anxious undoubtedly if we did not feel confident of the spirit of the country, the unity of the country, or lacked the assurance that whatever our views might be in many petty fields, over these large questions there can be no difference.

This, in the final analysis, is the major problem : how far, to ensure safety today, we are to sacrifice and delay tomorrow’s development. Some time later in this session this House will be considering the Second Five-Year Plan. In considering that, it will have to bear in mind this particular problem, because if the advice of some hon. Members is adopted in regard to our defence, we shall have to throw overboard the Second Five-Year Plan, if not completely, at least a good bit of it.

It is largely for these reasons that we have deprecated this business of military pacts and alliances and military aid being given. We would welcome civil aid for development of the country, which really strengthens the country much more than the other type of aid and which has no other implications for neighbouring countries. But the way things have developed in Asia and elsewhere has been rather unfortunate and it has brought this atmosphere of tension and fear in its train.

I have endeavoured to be perfectly frank with the House because this problem is troubling us. It is not a problem to be dealt with in a small way here and there; it is a problem which extends itself not to a few days and months but goes on. We hope that whatever decisions we arrive at from time to time we shall naturally communicate to this House, because other matters will be affected by those decisions, whether it is the Five-Year Plan or some other scheme of development. We cannot proceed in this without the fullest understanding, sympathy and support of the House.

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