East-West military gap rapidly shrinking: report

LONDON Tue Mar 8, 2011 11:02am EST

1 of 2. Members of the Chinese Navy's honor guard wait for U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to review military troops at Bayi Building in Beijing January 10, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

Related Topics

LONDON (Reuters) - Western cuts and swiftly rising defense spending in emerging economies are redrawing the global strategic map, a leading think-tank said on Tuesday, with the danger of conflicts between states also rising.

In its annual Global Military Balance report, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said the shift in economic power was already beginning to have a real military effect and closing any strategic gap.

"Western states' defense budgets are under pressure and their military procurement is constrained," said IISS director general John Chipman. "But in other regions -- notably Asia and the Middle East -- military spending and arms acquisitions are booming. There is persuasive evidence that a global redistribution of military power is under way."

Asian Pacific nations particularly China were increasing defense spending by double digits annually, he said, with growing evidence Western states were losing their technological edge in areas such as stealth technology and cyber warfare.

Most estimates suggest Washington still accounts for roughly half of all global defense spending each year, much of it spent on conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Estimates of Chinese defense spending vary wildly, with many analysts suspecting it dramatically underreports.

"HALF A GENERATION"

According to the report, the United States spent $693 billion on defense in 2010 -- 4.7 percent of its GDP -- compared to China's $76 billion (1.3 percent/GDP) and Britain's 57 billion dollars (2.5 percent/GDP).

Speaking to Reuters after the report launch, Chipman said if current trends were continued it would still take 15-20 years for China to achieve military parity with the U.S.

"We're talking about half a generation," he said. "The United States has always said it would never let another power get to parity so in the next few years it is going to have to make some very significant decisions on what it does."

In the shorter term, he said much of the equipment China was aiming to acquire such as the submarines and anti-ship missiles was designed to dent the dominance of U.S. aircraft carriers in nearby waters particularly the Taiwan Strait.

Beijing's military growth was itself driving other nearby Asian powers to ramp up their own purchases, he said, while worries over Iran coupled with strong oil revenues were driving similarly rapid expansion in Gulf military forces.

It was too soon to say whether the rash of uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East would prompt authoritarian rulers to focus more on internal security threats, he said.

Exchanges of fire along the borders of Thailand and Cambodia as well as between North and South Korea showed that the risk of local state-on-state war was back on the map after a decade of focus on more fringe threats such as militancy, he said.

"It had become conventional wisdom bordering on cliche that interstate conflict was a thing of the past and now that's being called into question," he said.

(Editing by Ralph Boulton)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (2)
jsanmig wrote:
This is silly and premature. “Reports” like this come out all the time, and are usually aimed primarily at boosting defense spending for someone’s pet projects. What has China come up with lately? A “carrier killer” missile and a “stealth fighter”, both as yet untried so we don’t know if they really work. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly evident that China views interstate conflict as an obstacle to its own interests. The main reason China puts up with North Korea’s antics is that they fear a collapsed NK more than they fear an erratic but stable one.

Mar 08, 2011 12:50pm EST  --  Report as abuse
mgunn wrote:
Neocons will love this study. But the surest way to have the best military and country in the world is to have reasonable expenditures on military forces so you can have them forever rather than go bankrupt.

Exaggerating foreign forces does not help. But it lets politics pander to the majority who are ignorant. According to this study the chinese are going to be amazing! We develop F4, F14, F16, F18, F117, F22, F35, B1, B2, and there are MANY MANY more over the past 60 years esp if you consider prototypes that never went into production, a long rich history of development and testing, and they build one or two prototypes and they are going to be equal??? We have 11 carrier strike groups with a long development history of many more since WW2 and they never had any and they are suppose to be equal in 10-15 years??? We have forward bases and islands everywhere like Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, Diego Garcia, Japan, S. Korea, Turkey, Iraq, etc etc etc and they are going to approach something like this in 10-15 years???? Wow.

Mar 09, 2011 10:14am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.