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Increased international transparency in military spending is possible

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Authors: Dr Nan Tian and Pieter D. Wezeman

On 20 October the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly will discuss the annual report by the UN Secretary-General containing military expenditure data submitted by UN member states. In keeping with the trend seen in recent years, the number of UN member states participating in the reporting process for 2017 is comparatively low.

However, analysis by SIPRI indicates that many non-participating member states, including countries in sub-Saharan Africa, now release much of the relevant data into the public domain. Thus, the challenge for the First Committee is to encourage member states to submit this data directly to the UN.

Low reporting levels

The UN Secretary-General’s annual report has been published since 1981. The reporting mechanism was created after an agreement between member states that sharing information on military spending would be a useful confidence-building measure, which would increase the predictability of military activities, reduce the risk of military conflict and raise public awareness of disarmament matters.

However, low participation levels have been a long-standing problem—a problem that has worsened in recent years. Participation in the reporting process has declined from annual levels of participation of an average of 40 per cent of UN member states in 2002–2008 to 25 per cent in 2012–16. A total of 49 of the 193 member states submitted reports in 2016. In 2017 the UN Secretariat received reports from 41 governments in time to be included in the 2017 report. As in previous years, it is expected that a few other states will report later in the year.

The functioning of the reporting mechanism has been the subject of discussions by a UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE), which convened for a total of three weeks in 2016–17. The GGE noted that the causes of the low level of participation in the reporting mechanism should be established through an empirical study. Nonetheless, the GGE suggested a number of possible causes, including the following:

  • reporting fatigue among government officials involved in international confidence-building-related instruments;
  • lack of confidence in the information submitted to the report;
  • lack of perceived benefit, in particular when the government information is made available elsewhere in the public domain; and
  • lingering concerns about the sensitivity of the data.

The low level of participation is all the more remarkable considering that SIPRI based its military spending figures for 2016 on government documents for 148 countries, most of which are available in the public domain.

The case of sub-Saharan Africa

Published UN records show that, as of September 2017, no sub-Saharan African country had submitted an annual report on its military expenditure to the UN; it was a similar story in 2016. However, while they do not participate in reporting at the international level, many sub-Saharan African countries do make a substantial number of their budgetary reports available at the national level. SIPRI monitors these reports and has found considerable improvements in transparency in recent years, specifically in terms of availability, accuracy, reliability, ease of access and level of disaggregation.

Availability

Only five of the sub-Saharan African countries in the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database had no military spending information for the calendar year 2016 (47 of the 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa are currently included in the database). This is a far cry from the complete absence of submissions to the UN military expenditure report for that year. Of the countries that reported military expenditure budgets, 6 also published ‘revised budgets and actual spending’ documents, while an additional 12 published ‘revised budgets’.

SIPRI’s research shows that for the period 2012–16, only two countries (Ethiopia and Equatorial Guinea) did not provide official government budgetary documents. Most countries publish documents annually with some releasing them biannually and quarterly. Long delays in publication are rare. Only two countries now seem to delay the release of budget documents by a year (Gambia and Guinea-Bissau).

Ease of access

Ease of access to the relevant budgetary information is essential for true transparency in military expenditure. Of the 49 sub-Saharan African countries, 34 have official budget documents published on their Ministry of Finance (MOF) websites, while 8 countries have no information on their respective government (MOF or other) websites and 7 do not have an official MOF website.

The MOF websites of the 34 sub-Saharan African countries where budgetary information is published are generally easy to navigate, follow a logical order of access to information and do not place restrictions on downloading of budget documents. Problems, however, arise in the case of countries with no information on their MOF website. In most of these countries issues such as poor website design (ease of navigation) and low levels of internet technology capacity (e.g. broken links or poorly maintained websites) all hamper public accessibility. There are numerous examples where governments have announced the release of budget documents but due to website or internet capacity problems the documents are inaccessible (e.g. Botswana and Gambia).

Disaggregation

Information disaggregation breaks down military expenditure into different and more detailed elements offering a more precise picture of the resource allocations within the military sector. Indications that spending is not in line with policy can be the first warning of possible resource mismanagement or corruption. By contrast, spending that is aligned with defence policy is a clear sign of confidence building at the national and regional levels.

At the time of writing, of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa for which military spending information is available for the period 2012–16, a total of 31 have provided disaggregated budgets. Whereas, 16 have provided no disaggregation of their military budget.

Insights from sub-Saharan Africa

The sub-Saharan African example shows that international transparency in military spending is possible. A substantial amount of relevant information exists in publicly available national reports. SIPRI has observed vast improvements in military sector transparency in the past five years. The number of public defence policy documents or white papers continues to grow and useful budgetary information is now also becoming more readily available. Countries such as the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia, which previously provided almost no military spending data, now publish disaggregated military budgets and, in the case of CAR, even actual outlays. Others have in recent years constructed public websites where documents can be found.

It is to be hoped that the existence of extensive and relevant budgetary information in the public domain will be highlighted during the First Committee discussions. The challenge for the First Committee is to encourage member states to submit this data to the UN. What is clear from SIPRI’s analysis is that the lack of participation by member states in the reporting process is unrelated to the availability or sensitivity of the information. Since states already report such information nationally, in some cases in a detailed manner, incentives must be offered for these member states to also report to the UN.

The advantages of transparency in the military sector are well known; thus, the discussions on poor participation must focus on the issues of reporting fatigue, the perceived lack of relevance and the required resources (human and capital) in a way that demonstrates that the benefits of collective transparency outweigh the small effort needed to submit already available information. 

For more detail on the issues discussed in this Backgrounder see SIPRI’s forthcoming (early 2018) report ‘Transparency in Military Expenditure: the case of sub-Saharan Africa’. First published in SIPRI.org

(*) Pieter D. Wezeman is a Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme (SIPRI).

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Defense

The Encroaching Impact of Arms Trade on South Asia’s Geopolitics

M Waqas Jan

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In his famous farewell address to the American Public in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower had both defined and warned against the encroaching influence of what was then termed as the US’s ‘Military-Industrial Complex. ’Speaking of the growing synergy between the US Military and the US’s fast rising defense and arms industry, President Eisenhower (himself a highly decorated former US General) had taken both time and considerable thought to highlight what he believed was a grave threat to the ideals of peace and prosperity for which the United States had stood for within the Post-War scenario. What’s more, he had said it right in the middle of the Cold War at a time when the US was engaged in an arms race for survival with the Soviet Union.

Six decades later, as one surmises the far-reaching impacts of the same Military Industrial Complex on the present day’s international politics, President Eisenhower’s warning seems more like the realization of a cryptic prophecy more than anything. In fact it has become increasingly difficult to find a parallel to the way the intersection of money and power affects global peace and prosperity, the way it is affected by the intersection of defense and foreign policy at the hands of the world’s arms industries.

This is best exemplified today by how lucrative arms contracts at the state level have increasingly come to take growing precedence over key foreign policy decisions, particularly by the world’s major powers. Thus, it is no secret that the world’s foremost arms importers enjoy considerably close ties with their suppliers. This is markedly apparent in the long history of close ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia which have increased manifold since the latter recently took over India as the World’s largest arms importer. The importance given to Saudi Arabia’s defense contracts in the US is such that the entire diplomatic fallout from the Jamal Khashoggi affair last year was presented as an unnecessary inconvenience by none other than President Trump himself.

The same bonhomie is also visible in the US’s growing defense and strategic ties with India. As the top importer of arms for the entire previous decade, India’s lucrative market for arms contracts is fuelled by its fast rising economy as well as its need to modernize its aging soviet-era platforms.

Whereas the bulk of India’s military hardware is sourced from Russian defense manufacturers, US defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing have consistently eyed gaining a wider share of the Indian market. This includes the delivery of the first of 22 Apache attack helicopters and 15 Chinook helicopters made to the Indian Air force earlier this month.  It also includes a similar deal that was recently signed between the United States and India to purchase 24 Sea Hawk helicopters to further expand the latter’s naval capabilities.

Yet, perhaps the most lucrative opportunity for US defense contractors coming out of India is the Indian Air Force’s latest tender for 114 fighter aircraft to replace its soviet era MiG squadrons. Worth around $18 billion, the Indian government’s requirements are based around developing an indigenous production base built on large-scale transfers of technology, training and maintenance operations. With the long-term goal of reducing its dependence on imports and developing its own local arms industry, India’s requirements thus extend beyond the mere procurement of platforms. Instead, they involve a unique opportunity for the world’s foremost arms manufacturers to gain a long-term foothold within the Indian market, while simultaneously investing in the country’s rapid economic growth.

These aspects are clearly evident in Lockheed Martin’s most recent sales pitch to India regarding the F-21 Fighter Aircraft. Offered as an exclusive India only upgrade of the widely used F-16fighter aircraft, the F-21 is being marketed as a highly viable solution to India’s modernization needs. With its production line planned on being based in India, Lockheed is aiming to build on last year’s announcement that it would be transferring the production of the F-16’s wings to its joint facilities in India by 2020.

If carried through, these developments are likely to have a serious impact on the trajectory of US-India relations for many decades to come. This in turn would also significantly affect both China’s and Russia’s approach to South Asia, particularly with respect to Pakistan. In fact much of the discourse on the development of Indo-US military ties is already based directly on the US’s strategic rivalry with China over the Indo-Pacific region. They very raison d’être for the Quadrilateral alliance, and the re-designation of the US Military’s Pacific Command to the ‘Indo-Pacific Command’ are all cases in point. 

However, going back to President Eisenhower’s warning over the encroaching influence of the US’s Military-Industrial Complex, the above developments assume a slightly different context when viewed from the perspective of the US’s powerful defense lobby. That while the benefits of supplanting Russian defense contractors with US ones within India’s growing arms industry may not be stated as an explicit policy objective by the US State Department or the White House ;there are definitely many in Washington that would wholeheartedly welcome such a scenario.

From a purely realist perspective, many would consider the above developments simply as one of the many instances of real politik that characterize our world today. However, for the few idealists left amongst us, it is becoming increasingly difficult to assess whether the US’s major arms agreements are serving as a subordinate corollary to, or a key determining factor of its foreign policy choices. As a super-power that has long predicated its actions on the ideals of maintaining peace, freedom and stability, it is quite troubling to witness its foreign policy so increasingly and unabashedly driven by power, greed and profitability, especially in this day and age.

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IISS Research: Europe cannot defend itself without U.S.

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International research institutes very often provide assessments which cause just a revolution in the thinking of ordinary people and even politicians. Such reports give impetus to decisive actions and revision of existing strategies and politics.

One of such reports is “Defending Europe: scenario-based capability requirements for NATO’s European members” made by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). An independent open-source high-level assessment of how the defence of Europe, would look if the United States had left NATO and did not contribute militarily has been published in May.

Though it is stated that research paper “does not intend to predict future conflicts nor the intentions of any of the actors involved”, it gives Europe the reasons to rethink situation and take some actions.

The 50-page report applies scenario analysis to generate force requirements, and assesses the ability of NATO’s European member states to meet these requirements.

The experts give two scenarios for the development of events in the absence of financial support from the U.S. The first scenario examined deals with the protection of the global sea lines of communication (SLOCs). In this scenario, the United States has withdrawn from NATO and has also abandoned its role of providing global maritime presence and protection, not just for its own national interest but also as an international public good. It thus falls to European countries to achieve and sustain a stable maritime-security environment in European waters and beyond, to enable the free flow of international maritime trade, and to protect global maritime infrastructure. The IISS assesses that European NATO members would have to invest between US$94 billion and US$110bn to fill the capability gaps generated by this scenario.

The second scenario deals with the defence of European NATO territory against a state-level military attack. In this scenario, tensions between Russia and NATO members Lithuania and Poland escalate into war after the US has left NATO. Russia uses its ally Belarus to deploy troops in its territory.

Belarus (borders Poland and Lithuania) puts its armed forces on alert, its military and air-defence command and control (C2) structures are integrated into Russian networks, and there is a limited mobilisation of reserves. Russian logistic, air defence and C2 units deploy to Belarus, as does the full 1st Guards Tank Army and an air-assault brigade.

This war results in the Russian occupation of Lithuania and some Polish territory seized by Russia. Invoking Article V, the European members of NATO direct the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) to plan Operation Eastern Shield to reassure Estonia, Latvia and Poland, and other front-line NATO member states, by deterring further Russian aggression. European NATO also prepares and assembles forces for Operation Eastern Storm, a military operation to restore Polish and Lithuanian government control over their territories.

The IISS assesses that European NATO members would have to invest between US$288bn and US$357bn to fill the capability gaps generated by this scenario. These investments would establish a NATO Europe force level that would likely allow it to prevail in a limited regional war in Europe against a peer adversary.

The matter is some of the capabilities provided by US forces, such as logistics and sustainment for land forces, may be relatively straightforward if not cheap to replace.

However others are almost unique to the US, and it would be difficult to substitute European capabilities.

One of the implications of this research is the enduring importance of the US in military terms for the defence of Europe. This study provides a reality check for the ongoing debate on European strategic autonomy.

The IISS assesses that the recapitalisation across the military domains would take up to 20 years, with some significant progress around the ten- and 15-year marks.

Europe should also take into account that though this scenario is only hypothetical, in reality Russia and Belarus continue intensive military training. In October they are going to conduct massive joint military exercise Union Shield 2019 simulating joint military activity in case of armed conflict. There is concern that Europe has capabilities to appropriately react on such activities without the U.S.

In other words, the authors of the report demonstrate the direct dependence of the European countries on the U.S. in military sphere and even prescribe a certain path of action to be pursued by European NATO governments. If Europe really wants to be independent, it should start with increasing its capabilities and break a deep dependence on the U.S. and its money.

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Turkey is the Guarantor of Peace in the Black Sea region

Asim Suleymanov

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The wider Black Sea region—which brings together the littoral states plus neighbouring countries—is experiencing a rapidly shifting security environment that combines large-scale conventional military threats, internationalized civil wars and protracted conflicts, as well as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) challenges. As such, a fragile set of states caught between the Euro-Atlantic community, on the one hand, and Russia and its allies, on the other, has emerged as a key interface between the two security communities.  

Since the 1990s, most of the world’s identified cases of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials—fissile materials, in particular—have been located in countries around the Black Sea. The nuclear security situation in the region is further complicated by the existence of areas with unstable governance and protracted conflicts such as in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and areas of Eastern Ukraine since 2014.

The Washington’s open, aggressive behavior in the international arena pushes traditional allies away from it. But despite the escalation of the conflict with Turkey, the United States, being the founding member of NATO, is still pursuing the goal of strengthening its presence in the Black Sea.

Today, the main allies of the White House in this region are the leadership of Georgia and Ukraine, who dream of entry into NATO and accept all the imposed conditions.
However, for more than 80 years the presence of warships of non-Black Sea powers, that could enter the sea via the Bosphorus, has been regulated by the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits. According to it, the total non-Black Sea tonnage, with few exceptions, is limited to 15 thousand ships. It prevents the emergence of something more significant there than a detachment of light forces, one or two large warships. At the same time for warships there are restrictions on the class and duration of stay. In particular, ships of non-Black Sea states can stay in the water area for no more than 21 days.
Any attempts to violate this document will be extremely negatively perceived by Turkey, that should be one of the leading players in the region. It is impossible to revise the convention without the consent of Turkey, and only supporting by Ankara country can provide overwhelming superiority in the Black Sea.


In such a situation, the Pentagon considers it possible to use the navigable channel of Istanbul for the passage of American aircraft carriers, that will connect the Marmara and the Black Sea. A channel of about 50 km in length will run parallel to the Bosphorus, while the Montreux Convention will not extend to it. The construction of Channel Istanbul will be completed in 2023.

By the end of construction, everything will depend on the leadership of Turkey. If Ankara concedes and allows the passage of the US Navy aircraft carriers through the new channel, it will surrender all its positions in the Black Sea to the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, NATO member countries (this is not about Bulgaria and Romania) maintain a military presence in the Black Sea region. The Sea Shield 2019 naval drills ended in mid-April, and the reconnaissance ship HMS Echo of the British Royal Navy continues to carry out its mission in the Black Sea.

The US Navy already has 11 atomic high-speed aircraft carriers, each with about 90 aircraft. If we imagine that a small part of them will be placed in the Black Sea, then Russia will receive a defensive response. And then all the terrible scenarios of hostilities are likely to happen.

There is a hope that the Turkish government has enough resilience and determination in confronting the harsh rhetoric of other NATO partners.

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