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Monday, April 23, 2012
By : Defence News Admin
India is now the world's biggest importer of weapons, mostly from Europe and Russia. It is also purchasing nuclear-powered submarines from Russia and is in the market for a modernized fleet of battle tanks.
  • It is said that this is the best time to be an arms salesman in Asia.

    India's successful launch on Thursday of an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile capable of dropping a nuclear bombs on Beijing or Shanghai is the latest move in an ever growing regional arms race to counter the perceived super-power ambitions of China.

    However, there are other factors at work as well. Local rivalries and the sense among several increasingly wealthy Asian nations that their militaries should be able to defend their sovereignty and reflect their new status are also driving forces.

    It is not accurate to talk of an Asian arms race solely fuelled by an increasingly assertive China.

    Although the rivalry in Asia between India and resurgent China has been evident for all to see in recent years, it has been matched by significant increases in bilateral commercial relations, and New Delhi has usually passed off it's major increases in military spending as a response to it's violence-prone neighbour Pakistan.

    During the testing of the Agni 5 missile, the Indian government did not bother to deny that this weapon is a direct response to China’s own nuclear warhead and intercontinental missile arsenal.

    Indeed, in recent months Indian officials have been quite open in saying they regard China rather than Pakistan as the country’s greatest military threat.

    India is now the world's biggest importer of weapons, mostly from Europe and Russia. As well as possessing a large and sophisticated domestic arms industry, New Delhi recently announced it will buy 126 fighter-bomber aircraft from the French company Dassault. It is also purchasing nuclear-powered submarines from Russia and is in the market for a modernized fleet of battle tanks.

    According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India has increased its military spending by 66% since 2002, while China which working from a more primitive level of military technology, has increased it's spending by 170% in the same period.

    China, with a military budget SIPRI estimates at $143 billion last year, is second only to the United States in military spending, though a distant second. India, with a 2011 budget of $49 billion, is seventh globally, but third in Asia after China and Japan.

    But while SIPRI has found a general increase in military spending in Asia and Oceania in 2011, the overall average is on 2.3%. In real terms, that's a flat line in the last couple of years and lower than the 6.3% average increase in defence spending between 2000 and 2009.

    But the average hides significant real increases among those countries that feel most threatened by China’s evident determination to be able to project military power across Asia and Beijing’s increasing assertiveness, especially concerning territorial disputes such as with its neighbours in the South China Sea, with Japan over the Senkaku islands and with India over large tracts of their 3,400-kilometre common border in the Himalayas.

    Vietnam, which has sometimes violent confrontations with China over ownership of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea and which was invaded by China in 1979, has increased military spending by 82% since 2003. The Hanoi government is intent on buying surface warships and submarines to counter China's increasing naval capabilities.

    The Philippines, which Beijing picks on as the weakest of it's neighbours in it's territorial disputes, is only now starting to rebuild it's decrepit navy.

    But Manila is also reviving it's long moribund military alliance with Washington as the administration of President Barack Obama has reasserted it's focus on Asia in response to appeals from it's allies to confront the China threat.

    As well as beefing up military exercises with allies like the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand, the U.S. is opening a new Marines base in Australia within convenient reach of any problems in the South China Sea.

    For it's part, Australia intends to double the size of it's submarine fleet from six boats to 12, primarily in response to China's increasingly long naval reach.

    But Indonesia, whose military spending has grown by 82% since 2002, is no longer intent on regional expansion the way it was 40 years ago.

    Indonesia is an archipelago is over 18,000 islands, many of them pirate havens, and Jakarta wants a 'minimal essential force' to be able to control it's territory.

    Large increases in military spending in Cambodia and Thailand have been driven by the long running and ongoing border dispute between the two countries. But in Thailand's case the increases are also a response to its simmering separatist insurgency among Muslim ethnic Malays in the south.

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