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America Spends About Half of World’s Military Expenditures

Eric Zuesse

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The National Priorities Project headlines “U.S. Military Spending vs. the World” and reports: “World military spending totaled more than $1.6 trillion in 2015. The U.S. accounted for 37 percent of the total.” But it can’t be believed, because, even if other nations aren’t under-reporting their military expenditures, the U.S. certainly is — under-reporting it by about 50%. The reality is approximately twice the official figure, so that America’s current annual military expenditures are around $1.5 trillion, which is to say, almost equal to that entire global estimate of “more than $1.6 trillion in 2015.”

America’s actual annual military budget and expenditures are unknown, because there has never been an audit of the ‘Defense’ Department, though an audit has routinely been promised but never delivered, and Congresses and Presidents haven’t, for example, even so much as just threatened to cut its budget every year by 10% until it is done — there has been no accountability for the Department, at all. Corruption is welcomed, at the ‘Defense’ Department.

Furthermore, many of the military expenditures are hidden. One way that this is done is by funding an unknown large proportion of U.S. military functions at other federal Departments, so as for those operations not to be officially “‘Defense’ Department” budget and expenditures, at all. This, for example, is the reason why Robert Higgs, of The Independent Institute, was able to report, on 15 March 2007, “The Trillion-Dollar Defense Budget Is Already Here”. He found that America’s military expenditures, including the ones he could identify at other federal agencies, were actually already nearly a trillion dollars ($934.9 billion) a year:

“To estimate the size of the entire de facto defense budget, I gathered data for fiscal 2006, the most recently completed fiscal year, for which data on actual outlays are now available. In that year, the Department of Defense itself spent $499.4 billion. Defense-related parts of the Department of Energy budget added $16.6 billion. The Department of Homeland Security spent $69.1 billion. The Department of State and international assistance programs laid out $25.3 billion for activities arguably related to defense purposes either directly or indirectly. The Department of Veterans Affairs had outlays of $69.8 billion. The Department of the Treasury, which funds the lion’s share of military retirement costs through its support of the little-known Military Retirement Fund, added $38.5 billion. A large part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s outlays ought to be regarded as defense-related, if only indirectly so. When all of these other parts of the budget are added to the budget for the Pentagon itself, they increase the fiscal 2006 total by nearly half again, to $728.2 billion.”

Furthermore, “Much, if not all, of the budget for the Department of State and for international assistance programs ought to be classified as defense-related, too. In this case, the money serves to buy off potential enemies and to reward friendly governments who assist U.S. efforts to abate perceived threats. … [As regards] Department of Homeland Security, many observers probably would agree that its budget ought to be included in any complete accounting of defense costs. … The Federal Bureau of Investigation … devotes substantial resources to an anti-terrorist program. The Department of the Treasury informs us that it has ‘worked closely with the Departments of State and Justice and the intelligence community to disrupt targets related to al Qaeda, Hizballah, Jemaah Islamiyah, as well as to disrupt state sponsorship of terror.’”

But, almost everything there relied upon mere estimates, because the Congress and the President always supply to the public numbers that are sadly uninterpretable by anyone who wants to know what percentage of the federal government is actually military.

For example, on April 3rd, the White House, as required by law, sent to Congress “the Seven-Day-After report for the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (Public Law 115-141). The President signed this Act into law on March 23, 2018.”

That’s the current authorized spending for the entire U.S. federal Government. It was broken down there into twelve categories, some of which were for multiple federal Departments, in order to make the reported numbers as uninterpretable as possible — for example, nothing was shown for the Treasury Department, but something was shown for “Financial Services and General Government Appropriations” and it didn’t even mention the “Treasury” Department. And nothing was shown for the Justice Department, nor for the Commerce Department, but something was shown for “Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies” (whatever those are). However, as bad as this is, the military (or invasions) department is even less fathomable from the publicly available reports than those other ones are. The ‘Defense’ Department is the only one that’s still “unauditable” so that in one of the attempts to audit it:

“The audits of the FY 1999 DoD financial statements indicated that $7.6 trillion of accounting entries were made to compile them. This startling number is perhaps the most graphic available indicator of just how poor the existing systems are. The magnitude of the problem is further demonstrated by the fact that, of $5.8 trillion of those adjustments that we audited this year, $2.3 trillion were unsupported by reliable explanatory information and audit trails or were made to invalid general ledger accounts.”

Largely as a consequence of this, Wikipedia’s “Military budget of the United States” is a chaotic mess, though useful for links to some sources (all of which are likewise plagued as being uninterpretable).

On 1 March 2011, Chris Hellman headlined “The Real U.S. National Security Budget: The Figure No One Wants You to See”, and he estimated (using basically the same approach that Higgs had done in 2007, except less accurate than Higgs, due to failing to base his numbers on “the most recently completed fiscal year, for which data on actual outlays are now available” but instead using only the President’s budget request) that at that time, the U.S. Government was spending annually on ‘Defense’, “$1,219.2 billion. (That’s more than $1.2 trillion.)” That amount was far less than the totals that the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Defense had been reporting, in some of its periodic investigations (such as the one just cited), to have been missed or undocumented or falsely ‘documented’ as having been spent, by that Department; but, for some mysterious reason, the American people tolerate and re-elect ‘representatives’ who ‘debate’ and rubber-stamp such corruption, which is of enormous benefit to corporations such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing, whose sales and profits depend upon the U.S. Government and its allied governments. Any such privatization of the ‘Defense’ industry, in America or any other country — treating its military operations so as to produce profits for investors (investors in mass-murder) — thus guarantees that the national-security function will be heavily loaded with lobbying and graft, because the military industry’s entire market is to one’s own government and to its allied governments: it’s not a consumer market, but a government one. Thus, privatized military suppliers grow virtually to own their government; democracy consequently becomes impossible in such nations. And, one outcome from that is the uninterpretable financial reports by America’s government, regarding ‘Defense’.

For example, probably fewer than 1% of Americans have even been informed by the press as to what the currently authorized annual federal spending for the ‘Defense’ Department is. When the Washington Post, on 23 March 2018, reported their main story about the FY 2018 federal spending authorizations (“In late-night drama, Senate passes $1.3 trillion spending bill, averting government shutdown”), the figure for the ‘Defense’ Department was buried inconspicuously in a 52-word passage within that 1,600-word ‘news’-report, which was otherwise loaded with distractive trivia. This buried passage was: “The legislation funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2018 budget year, through Sept. 30, directing $700 billion toward the military and $591 billion to domestic agencies. The military spending is a $66 billion increase over the 2017 level, and the nondefense spending is $52 billion more than last year.” That’s all. For readers interested in knowing more, it linked to their 2,200-word article, “Here’s what Congress is stuffing into its $1.3 trillion spending bill”, and all that it said about the military portion of the new budget was the 27-word passage, “defense spending generally favored by Republicans is set to jump $80 billion over previously authorized spending levels, while domestic spending favored by Democrats rises by $63 billion.” Though 23 categories of federal spending were sub-headed and summarized individually in that article, ‘Defense’ wasn’t one of them. Nothing about the budget for the U.S. Department of ‘Defense’ — which consumes more than half of the entire budget — was mentioned. However, the reality was that, as Defense News reported it, on 7 February 2018 — and these figures were unchanged in the bill that President Trump finally signed on March 23rd — “Senate leaders have reached a two-year deal that would set defense spending at $700 billion for 2018 and $716 billion for 2019.” This year’s $700 billion Pentagon budget thus is 54% of the entire $1.3 trillion FY 2018 U.S. federal budget. Another article in Defense News on that same day, February 7th, noted that, “‘I’d rather we didn’t have to do as much on non-defense, but this is an absolute necessity, that we’ve got these numbers,’ said the Senate Armed Services Committee’s No. 2 Republican, Sen. Jim Inhofe, of Oklahoma.” So: 54% of the federal budget wasn’t high enough a percentage to suit that Senator; he wanted yet more taken out of non-‘defense’. How can people (other than stockholders in corporations such as Raytheon) vote for such a person? Deceit has to be part of the answer.

Using similar percentages to those that were employed by Higgs and by Hellman, the current U.S. annual military expenditure is in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion. But that’s more than the total authorized federal spending for all departments. Where can the extra funds be coming from? On 5 February 2018, CNBC bannered “The Treasury is set to borrow nearly $1 trillion this year”. Then, charts were presented on 10 May 2018 by Dr. Edward Yardeni, headlined “U.S. Government Finance: Debt”, in which is shown that the U.S. federal debt is soaring at around a trillion dollars annually; so, that extra money comes from additions to the federal debt. Future generations of U.S. taxpayers will be paying the price for the profligacy of today’s U.S. aristocracy, who receive all the benefits from this scam off the public, and especially off those future generations. But the far bigger losses are felt abroad, in countries such as Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Ukraine, where the targets will be suffering the consequences of America’s invasions and coups.

Notwithstanding its pervasive corruption and enormous uncounted waste, the U.S. military is, by far, the U.S. institution that is respected above all others by the American people. A great deal of domestic propaganda is necessary in order to keep it that way. With so many trillions of dollars that are unaccounted for, it’s do-able. All that’s needed is a tiny percentage of the huge graft to be devoted to funding the operation’s enormous PR for ‘patriotism’. And this treasonous operation has been sustainable, and very successful (for its ultimate beneficiaries), that way, in the U.S., at least for decades.

I have previously explained why specifically military corruption has come to take over the U.S. Government, but not certain other governments

. And the result of its having done so has by now become obvious to people all around the world, except in the United States itself. Furthermore, ever since the first poll was taken on that matter, in 2013, which showed that globally the U.S. was viewed as the biggest national threat to peace in the world, a subsequent poll, in 2017, which unfortunately was taken in fewer countries, showed that this negative impression of the U.S. Government, by the peoples in those fewer countries, had actually increased there during the four intervening years. So: not only is the situation in the U.S. terrible, but the trend in the U.S. appears to be in the direction of even worse. America’s military-industrial complex can buy a glittering ‘patriotic’ image amongst its own public, but America’s image abroad will only become uglier, because the world-at-large dislikes a country that’s addicted to the perpetration of invasions and coups. Just as bullies are feared and disliked, so too are bully-nations. Even if the given bully-aristocracy becomes constantly enriched by their operation, economies throughout the world suffer such an aristocracy, as being an enormous burden; and, unfortunately, the American public will get the blame, not America’s aristocracy — which is the real beneficiary of the entire operation. This deflection of blame, onto the suckered public, precludes any effective response from the publics abroad, such as boycotts of U.S.-branded products and services might be. Instead, American tourists abroad become increasingly perceived as ‘the ugly American’. The restored ‘Cold War’ — this time with no ideological excuse (such as communism) whatsoever — could produce a much stronger global tarnishing of America’s global reputation. The beneficiaries, apparently, just don’t care.

first posted at The Saker

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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The case of the INF Treaty

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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On February 1, 2019, President Trump suspended US compliance with the obligations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

 The INF Treaty had been signed in 1987 by the USA and the USSR, to which the Russian Federation succeeded.

 As official documents state, the motivation for suspending US compliance with the Treaty is based on the fact that “Russia has repeatedly violated the Treaty with impunity”.

 The text of the INF Treaty had been drafted after over seven years of negotiations.

 The “second” Cold War to which the 1987 INF Treaty wanted to put a limit regarded political and military events of great relevance: the war in Afghanistan for Russia; the action of the Polish trade union Solidarnosc and, on the other hand, also President Reagan’s doctrine on the global Communist danger.

 The first step was taken by the USA, which in no way wanted the relocation of the SS-20 missiles to the Warsaw Pact countries and to the Middle East.

 With their 5,000 km range, the SS-20 missiles were bound to completely change the defense doctrine of NATO’s European sector.

 As maintained by Michel Tatu in his book, La bataille deseuro missiles, it was the end of the great Soviet influence operation started in 1968.

 This was also at the origin of the explicit INF prohibition – until to date – of using the intercontinental missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

 However, why has President Trump currently taken such a clear-cut reaction? Certainly, the US President has accused precisely Russia of having broken the INF treaty. The reason, however, is simple, namely the Novator 9M729 system.

 This missile system has the same range between 500 and 5500 kilometers, which is the whole range of the INF Treaty.

 It was test fired for the first time in 2015. It has a maximum tangency rate of 6,000 kilometers. The tangency rate is the point beyond which an aircraft no longer has propulsive balance.

 The warload is 500 kilograms and its speed is 900 kilometers. The 9M729 is currently deployed in the Trans-Bajkal area, east of Lake Baikal, in St. Petersburg’s region, in Southern Russia, in Syria and in the Kaliningrad exclave.

 The danger is obvious, as well as the strategic importance of the new Russian medium-range missile system.

 The USA has responded with the normal procedures of the INF Treaty. Russia, however, has recently carried out a demonstration of the 9M729 system precisely for NATO, in which the US, British, French and German representatives were voluntarily absent.

 Here, however, the mechanism becomes strictly political: while the USA is moving away from the INF Treaty, in early 2019 Russia stated that it would feel free to build all the non-INF missile systems it deems useful.

 Apart from the 100 models of 9M729 already built and positioned, Russia wants to play its new supremacy in the sector of hypersonic weapons, in strategic correlation with China and South-East Asia.

 There are also the special weapons, such as Poseidon – a drone carrying a nuclear warhead under the sea that is later blown up near the coast, thus generating a radioactive tsunami – or the Oniks system, a naval-use missile with an operating speed of 2.5 Mach and a very high degree of interoperability.

 Hence, the USA has still the ability and capacity for technological reorganization, with the projects already completed and those still in progress, but Europe remains exposed.

 Caught between two fires, the EU will remain alone, i.e. between President Trump’s US substantial coldness in repeating the old formula of European defense, in which the USA deals with the missile and cybersecurity side, and the EU countries of conventional programming and planning.

In any case, however, the new weapons and even the end of the INF Treaty enable the Russian Federation to expand its own attack options – which may also be unpredictable – while the US response options are consequently more limited.

 However, how does the EU respond? There have been many negotiations before the termination of the INF Treaty – which will occur in August 2019 – but now the die has been cast.

 Hence, what could be the solutions to this new break in the old bipolar Cold War system?

 As a first move, we could think about an extension of the New START Treaty, signed in 2010 by President Obama and his Russian counterpart, Medvedev.

 Through an expansion of the New START Treaty, we could think about a US full intelligence coverage of the new Russian defense technologies.

 An opportunity that would hardly be repeated under other conditions.

The New START Treaty could favour two very important operations, both in terms of political climate and of do ut des: the protocol relating to a Treaty for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia, and above all the Protocols I and II for the establishment of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Africa.

 Another option could be a Russia seeking the clash in Europe, considering the significant surplus of nuclear and conventional weapons compared to NATO and the United States.

 Obviously, however, Russia will wait for the right moment, which will be decided by the coordination of strategic positions also in the other regions: the Asian, South-East Asian, Arctic and Indian ones, up to the Latin American system.

 Moreover, we also need to consider the large and increasingly wider Chinese missile arsenal, 90% of which is already outside the scope of the INF Treaty.

 With a view to using its large missile arsenal, China’s first goal could be to remove the threat of the US Navy from its coasts and, above all, from the disputed areas of the South China Sea.

 The other goal will be to later avoid US missile presence in Japan, of course, and in the waterways ranging from the Indian Ocean to Southeast Asia.

 Furthermore, Russia could use its temporary missile advantage to divide NATO between the pro-Trump Eastern Europe and the EU West, which is less interested in the clash with Russia.

 Another problem is the coupling between the new Russian medium-range missile system and the over 2,650 Chinese missiles.

 This can certainly happen, but without having Europe as a goal, which may possibly be targeted by the missile forces present in the Maghreb region.

 There may be a Russia-China conflict for the Arctic in the future, albeit in at least ten years.

 All this will happen only if there is no new treaty for intermediate weapons, which – as already seen – has diverging interests, but also strategic at outs.

 For example, removing tension opens up increasing opportunities for agreement.

 In this case, considering the type of medium-range missile weapons, with a new INF Treaty it would be a matter of substantially freeing the oceans, especially the Pacific one.

 Furthermore, given the cost of missile upgrade – for which 8 billion US dollars would be needed for US missiles only -we could imagine that a new treaty would create new and huge economic resources, which would be very useful for both the USA and the Russian Federation.

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Turkey: As S-400s arrive, passions burn on

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On July 12, the first shipment of the Russian S-400 air defense missile systems arrived at Mürted Air Base near the Turkish capital Ankara. Washington has been extremely opposed to Ankara’s decision to acquire the S-400s ever since Russia and Turkey signed an agreement on the procurement of the advanced missile system in September 2017. Washington has suspended Ankara’s participation in the program for the production and supply of F-35 fighters, and the US Senate warned that if Ankara went ahead with the deal it would come under sanctions in keeping with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

NATO has reiterated its concern about the arrival of the S-400 systems to Turkey, arguing that this could affect the interoperability of the Alliance’s armed forces and that all defense systems of NATO member countries must be interconnected (and, apparently, be bought from the US).

Turkey, meanwhile, continues to resist US pressure: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hails the S-400 deal as “the most important in our history”; Defense Minister Hulusi Akar insists that the purchase of the Russian missile systems is an objective necessity, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy urges Washington to avoid steps that could harm bilateral relations.

Turkey underscores the symbolic, if not demonstrative, nature of the deal with Russia, with Ali Turan, deputy head of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Justice and Development Party, describing the start of S-400 deliveries as the result of the steadfastness and fortitude of the country and its leadership.

“Turkey is a strong country, which makes decisions based on its interests, and occupies its place in the world thanks to its army, nation, leader and development dynamics.” 

The “Eurasian” Fatherland Party normally supports the government when it comes to foreign policy issues. In a written statement, the party’s leader Doğu Perinçek noted that “Turkey has showed once again that it will not bow to Atlanticism. True to [Kemal] Ataturk’s covenants, Turkey regards itself as a Eurasian country, and the S-400s are a means of upholding this process. They signify the birth of a new world where Turkey should occupy a leading position.” 

The majority of Turkish media outlets demonstrate wholehearted and at times highly emotional support for the country’s military-technical cooperation with Russia. In an interview with A Haber TV, a Sabah newspaper correspondent Okan Müderrisoglu thus commented on the start of the S-400 shipments to Turkey: “Today’s concrete step marks the beginning of a new period in both political and strategic aspects. Turkey is giving up its lopsided orientation (in foreign policy) and emphasizes the priority of its own national interests.”

His opinion was echoed by the prominent political analyst Ceyhun Bozkurt, who wrote: “Turkey now has an alternative that allows us to challenge the United States. And this alternative is Russia.”

Most of the posts in Turkish social media are in the same vein.

That being said, many in Turkey – about a third of the population, according to various opinion polls – are still opposed to the purchase of the S-400 systems.

Among them is Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the country’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who believes that Turkey should buy the Russian air defense systems only if it really needs them. His deputy, Veli Ağbaba, believes that the S-400 delivery is a reflection of the inconsistent nature of Ankara’s foreign policy. The CHP’s political opponents did not miss the chance to lash out against their rival though, with the press secretary of the ruling Justice and Development Party, Omer Celik, saying that the CHP’s position runs counter to Turkey’s national interests, and that the opposition leaders simply spread around the views of the United States.

At the same time, the political opponents of the Turkish government are more interested in having sanctions promised by the US Senate actually imposed on Ankara, than in the S-400 deal itself. An article recently published by the well-informed Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, where he confirmed, quoting his sources, that the US is not bluffing when it threatens to slap sanctions on Turkey, caused a big stir in the Turkish media.

Few people in Turkey really have any doubts about the prospect, however – they just wonder how severe these US sanctions are going to be. According to the respected journalist Murat Yetkin, the country is bracing up for “hard times” both at home and abroad, above all in the economic sphere. Similar fears are expressed by Ümit Kıvanç from the opposition Gazete Duvar: “Sooner or later sanctions will come, our already damaged economy will weaken even more and the economic pressure on our people will grow. Our position within NATO and on the international scene will change and, as a result, the country will face new problems.”

Still, the course of events have prompted the US expert on the Middle East Nick Heras to say in an interview with Agence France Presse that he was not sure that Turkey will always remain in the US camp. And this prospect is clearly haunting many US leaders who seem to have finally realized that the Turkish people, with their sense of national patriotism, will not bend under pressure. On the other hand, people in the East are used to making deals, and Washington will certainly try hard to keep Turkey as an ally. Ankara has had ample opportunity to appreciate the benefits of maneuvering between various centers of power. So, despite all the tough mutual rhetoric, voices of reconciliation are already being heard coming from both sides.

According to information leaked to the US media, the White House initially postponed and then canceled what could have been a sharply-worded statement by the Pentagon concerning the start of S-400 deliveries to Turkey. Senator Lindsay Graham, a close ally of Trump, visited Turkey and suggested that if Ankara mothballs the S-400s and buys US-made Patriots, it will be able to avoid sanctions – a thinly veiled truce offer.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar keeps saying that his department continues to consider the acquisition of US air defense systems. In a telltale statement made during the recent G20 summit in Osaka, President Erdogan said that “technologically, one S-400 is worth three Patriots. We might still consider proposed supply conditions though. If the conditions are equal to the S-400 (deal), we would buy Patriots.”

It looks like the Russian-Turkish deal on the supply of the S-400 air defense system will only bring closer together the members of the “Astana troika,” as Turkey may need Russian and Iranian experience to offset US sanctions. Moreover, Bloomberg, citing its sources in the US government, has already described US sanctions on Ankara as imminent. In the meantime, Washington fired a warning shot across Turkey’s bows by lifting the embargo on arms supplies to the Republic of Cyprus.

Simultaneously, Western media reports describe the first shipment of the Triumph S-400 air defense systems to Ankara and their assembly in Turkey by Russian experts as a serious headway in relations between the two countries, not only in the military sphere, but also in the political one, and that such systems may also appear elsewhere in the region.

From our partner International Affairs

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Military Modernization of ASEAN States: The New Agenda

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The discourse about the international security and defense affairs have always been impregnated with the dynamics of security dilemma. Even today, when complex interdependence has connected states in multiple ways, the global politics still tends to favor Machiavellian norms. Therefore, it is forcefully propagated that the security of the state depends upon the strength of their armament. Apparently, it sounds perfectly reasonable, to have the recent generations of arms in abundant quantity to deter the ‘enemy. But what if a state has no enemy? Or at least does not have any immediate enemy in the general sense of the term. Should such a state focus its resources to build a mighty defense sector and take part in an arms race? The answer that might pop in our minds is No. Unfortunately, this is true in the case of South East Asian states. In the last few years, the ASEAN states’ military spending has nearly doubled. Most notably, Thailand and Indonesia’s military budget has been snowballing at the rate of 10% on a year by year basis. It is interesting to note that Vietnam arms import has spiked 700% over a decade, making it one of the top 10 purchaser of arms. Other ASEAN states have been increasingly importing fighter jets, frigates, helicopters, submarines and the like.

The emerging situation in the region could be analyzed from these three different perspectives. Firstly, South East Asian states have increased their military spending as a consequences of US withdrawal from the region and mounting concerns about China’s growing regional as well as global influence. As ASEAN states generally enjoy cordial relations among themselves and the spirit of regionalism is very much prevalent in both their bi and multi-lateral relations. Besides, these states have, by and large, remained peaceful in world affairs. Therefore, considering this first perspective has its own problems, it might be true to some extent, that the recent surge in spend spending is aimed at countering China, with which they share friendly ties, or filling some security void. Secondly, some experts argue that south East Asian states’ military spending is according to their GDP rate, and has remained stable over the period. Therefore, this ‘surge’ is normal. Lastly, according to some scholars, we need to look at what these states are actually buying to understand the whole situation. These scholars argue that, these states have been spending the money on ‘modernizing’ their armament that have, otherwise, been hardly functional for years. So, for this standpoint, this surge in military spending is nothing more than normal efforts to modernize state weaponry.

Nonetheless, this is where the actual problem lies. Why should states seek to modernize their weaponry when there is no such apparent reason and when this weaponry has been “barely functional for years”? Armaments, like other machineries, need constant maintenance, supervision and regulation. And all of this requires a lot of resources. Even if a state’s military spending is in accordance with its GDP, armament or its modernization, whether qualitatively or quantitatively, must not be ‘justified’.  Since cold war, international politics has seen many disarmament efforts, be it conventions on chemical or biological weapons, denuclearization zones, Arms trade treaty or Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty. It is a high time that instead of making it customary to have some modern armament, states must come together to break this norm. Particularly, South East Asian states, that have no deeply embedded antagonism, neither within the region nor outside it, could have reversed the norm of owing “modern military weaponry”, that would most likely again remain ‘barely functional for years’ on end.

Moreover, as previously mentioned, what these states have been importing is telling. However, how this modernization in armament has been reoriented is equally important, as many of the regions military strategies are shifting their focus away from countering insurgency to external defense and conventional warfare.  While domestic factors do play a key role here. For instance, Thailand doubled its military spending after the military coups of 2006 and 2014. And Myanmar has justified its arms buildup on the pretext of having to deal with various insurgent groups within the state.  Though particularly in Myanmar’s case, instead of spending heavily on military and committing gross atrocities against its very own Rohingya community, it should have provided shelter to them.

Although various studies refute that there is any instrumental link between armament and warfare. But given that, when such efforts are aimed at strengthening capabilities for external warfare, it is likely that it might spike some mutual distrust at some point in the future. But it’s not simply the matter of the conflict that ‘might emerge’, the problem here is, an undaunted prevalence of spending on weapons at international level that has quietly legitimized, justified and warranted the buying and selling of lethal weapons. So much so that, such a state of affair is usually vindicated and rationalized into a ‘broader context’ of necessities of owning vast weaponry to secure stability. Sadly, such broader context is rarely ‘broad enough’ to include human rights and humanitarian perspectives in the contours of world politics.  

The South East Asian States are engulfed in an unending arms race for their survival. To sum up, the discourse on international security and defense that focuses so much on arms buildup needs to be realigned with the new realities of the time. South East Asian states should come up as a norm changer by diverting their resources from extensive defense spending to the human resource development. Progress and development in economy, society, science and technology will pay off in much better ways than investment of precious resources in arms race.

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