February 9, 2024:
India has long been the largest customers for Russian arms exports. Because of the Ukraine War Russia has been unable to deliver orders to India on time, if at all. That, and growing quality and performance problems with Russian weapons, has India increasingly turning to Western suppliers. Over the last twenty years Russia has supplied 65 percent of the $60 billion in weapons purchases India made. Despite that, there has been a trend towards obtaining Western weapons and Western countries have been cooperating with India to make this easier. That means making deals with Indian firms to produce Western weapons in India. The Western countries are willing to transfer technology and supply training to make this happen. Western nations will work with India if Indian forces have any problems with Western weapons. This superior customer support is another reason for favoring Western weapons.
At the same time India has had increasing problems with Russian weapons and, because of the Ukraine War, Russia has been unable to deliver Indian orders on time. India also noted that it was superior Western weapons that were causing Russia so many problems in Ukraine. There are other factors. Both the United States and India consider China a military threat. Finally, India feels more capable in opposing China because of growing Indian economic power. Indian GDP doubled in the last decade; from $1.7 trillion in current dollars to over $3.5 trillion now. This made India the fifth largest economy, surpassing Britain ($3.2 trillion) and France ($3.2 trillion). The rest of the top five are the U.S ($21 trillion), China, Germany ($4.1 trillion) and Japan ($4 trillion). Chinese GDP growth is slowing although in the last decade it more than doubled from $6.1 trillion to $18.3 trillion. Over three decades of spectacular economic growth in China resulted in the Chinese GDP becoming fourteen times larger than it was in 1989. In that same period the U.S. GDP doubled. After World War II India had a larger GDP than China and never felt the same urgency as China to modernize and expand its economy. Since the 1990s India has been trying to catch up.
But India has not been as effective in keeping up with the Chinese military in terms of modernization. Indian threats to oppose Chinese military moves carry little weight with the Chinese or anyone else who analyzes the situation. Actions have consequences and, in this case, it means China can push India around on their mutual border. China intends to keep pushing until it regains its claimed lost territories. Currently the Indian GDP growth rate is increasing faster than China’s, but the Indian defense budget does not benefit. Indian military modernization plans remain on hold as the politicians try to figure out how to enrich themselves from all the additional money now available for spending. China notices this persistent corruption and is encouraged to push ill-equipped and supported Indian troops back from disputed border areas.
India was neutral towards the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That makes sense because India has one of the largest armies in the world but has avoided getting involved in any wars. Even the Indian border disputes with China have been largely free of lethal violence. Border activity with China is more push and shove than opening fire.
This is in contrast to the many nations that support the Russian invasion because they have a lot in common with Russia as they tend to be aggressive and warlike dictatorships or those with ideological or economic reasons to back Russia. These supporters include Belarus, Eritrea, China, Iran, Mali, Myanmar, Nicaragua, North Korea, and Syria. All these supporters agree that the West is a problem for them and Russia. Even before the 2022 invasion, Russia insisted that its operations in Ukraine were part of an effort to defend Russia from growing NATO efforts to destroy Russia.
India has no problems with NATO and many of India’s trading partners are NATO members. Russia, on the other hand, was a major trading partner until the Cold War ended in 1991 and it was downhill from there. India considered the Russian invasion of Ukraine a mistake but officially remained neutral. That invasion turned India away from Russia as an arms supplier. Indians saw no problem with that because they had been losing confidence in Russian weapons for over a decade. For Russia that meant the loss of their largest arms export customer.