Global spending on weapons now totals more than US$1.7 trillion, and Russia has overtaken Britain and France to take third place in the world league table, according to research figures released yesterday.
While military expenditure fell last year in most Western countries, including the US, which is facing serious budget deficits, Russia and China have continued to increase their spending on weapons — by more than 9 percent and 6 percent respectively last year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
The US remains by far the biggest military spender, with a defense budget of US$711 billion last year, followed by China, which spent an estimated US$143 billion on its armed forces last year. China has increased its military spending by 170 percent in real terms since 2002, the leading research body says.
Russia spent nearly US$72 billion on arms last year, overtaking Britain (US$62.7 billion) and France (US$62.5 billion) according to the institute. It says Russia is planning further increases, with draft budgets showing a 53 percent rise in real terms up to 2014.
Russia’s growing expenditure was mainly driven by the country’s aim to replace 70 percent of its Soviet-era military equipment with modern weaponry by 2020, SIPRI said, adding that it expects the Kremlin to increase its military spending in coming years.
”They are clearly putting very high priority on building up their military power again,” said Sam Perlo-Freeman, head of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure Project.
He said Russia lacks important modern communications technology for the battlefield and wants to hedge against the US’ overwhelming military might even if there is no current hostility between Russia and NATO.
However, SIPRI adds that many analysts are doubtful whether the industry will be able to carry out such ambitious plans after decades of stagnation after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
China’s increased military spending has caused concern among its neighbors and the US. The recent announcement of a US “pivot” toward Asia is in part the response to such concerns, SIPRI says.
“China’s extensive and growing trade relations with the countries in its neighborhood have been marred by disputes — eg the border dispute with India, a dispute over the Senkaku [Diaoyutai (釣魚台)] Islands with Japan, and contested maritime borders with several nations in the South China Sea — all of which have led to increased tensions,” it says.
Chinese military technology still lags behind the US’, SIPRI said.
“The US is still going to maintain for the foreseeable future overwhelming military dominance,” Perlo-Freeman said. “The US still outspends China five to one, and Russia’s spending is half of China’s.”
However, the report says talk of an arms race in the region may be premature, as both data and analysis reveal a mixed pattern of trends in military expenditure and arms acquisition, with China far from being the only driving factor.
Additional reporting by AP