Sunday, November 18, 2012

Patterns of Defense Spending in East Asia

A couple of my recent posts at the Diplomat have concerned defense spending patterns in East Asia.  On general trends:

There are at least three potential interpretations of the increase in Asian defense spending. The first is straightforward; Asian powers are beginning to transform post-Cold War economic growth into military power, producing more modern, competent, and capable military organizations (especially at sea and in the air). The broad trend of defense growth suggests that these increases represent balancing against one another, perhaps with a focus on China.
A second interpretation, however, implies that the great powers of Asia feel relatively secure, and have not yet begun to engage in the kind of defense buildup that would suggest real concern about their safety.  In American political culture, dire warnings about the paucity of the defense budget are common, and yet few-to-no Asian countries devote nearly the same resources to defense as the U.S. In this interpretation, the absolute increases represent simply the results of economic growth, perhaps looming larger in the imagination because of simultaneous cuts to European budgets. 
A final interpretation is that the atmosphere of relative security in Asia depends on U.S. military hegemony, and that this hegemony depends on the willingness of the United States to spend and the willingness of potential competitors not to spend. U.S. military capability does not yet appear so threatening that enemies have balanced in response, and the potential for U.S. intervention in any given conflict holds down expenditures.

And on the character of the arms industry specifically:
An arms relationship represents both an economic and a political commitment. What’s at stake in making such a commitment? While Sino-U.S. competition likely won’t descend into the kind of alliance structure that predominated during the Cold War, some navies could nevertheless find themselves on the “wrong side” of political competition in the Western Pacific, which could leave them vulnerable. Committing to one supplier creates a relationship of dependency, with the client needing to stay in the good graces of the patron in order to maintain access to spares, munitions, and modernization kits. The smaller navies of Southeast Asia need to decide how best to develop force structures in a future which may see competition between the United States and China. 
On this last, see also this report (which is considerably better and more in depth than my post).

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