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Why a calmer Asia is buying more arms?

India and China accounted for 16.7 percent of the money spent on the military globally in 2020

Why a calmer Asia is buying more arms?

An Indian Air Force fighter jet flies over a mountain range in Leh, the capital of the union territory of Ladakh bordering China, on September 15, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

This week, weapon producers, dealers, generals, an estimated 30,000 delegates and buyers will put their heads together in London’s Excel center to ink lucrative arms deals covering “air, space, land, naval and cyber" warfare.

The ‘next-generation technology’, dedicated to space and to be showcased on the sidelines of the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms trade fair, is yet another attempt to link the security of a nation with its overall development.

DSEI 2021, one of the largest arms fairs in the world, is all about the glamorization of weapons.

The UK’s ministry of defense and the department for international trade are official supporters of the four-day event, starting Sept 14. As the biggest spender on defense than any other European nation, Britain has rolled out the red carpet for countries to arm themselves to the teeth.

Britain also hosts another arms fair, AOC Europe 2021, in October. The 25-year-old flagship event is more concerned with “electronic warfare, electromagnetic spectrum management operations, cyber electromagnetic activities and Information Operations (IO).”

On its website, organizers of the biennial DSEI event claim to connect "governments, national armed forces, industry thought leaders and the entire defense and security supply chain on a global scale."

DSEI 2021 has drawn flack from Catholic bishops in the UK and peace groups who said weapons trade causes conflict around the world, and as Pope Francis said, was “drenched in blood.”

"The conflicts fueled by this trade harm the poorest communities, force people to flee their homes as refugees, and have devastating consequences for our environment," said the statement, signed by English bishops William Nolan and Paul McAleenan, Scottish prelate William Kenney, and other faith-based organizations like Pax Christi and Caritas Social Action network.

“We must never ignore, or allow ourselves to become complicit in, the destruction of human life and violations of human dignity made possible by the sale of weaponry,” they added.

London mayor Sadiq Khan told the organizers to “reconsider” their event as the city was “home to many people who have fled conflict and suffered as a consequence” of weapons “like those exhibited at DSEI.”

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The efforts to establish controls on arms trade via the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are currently stuck due to a lack of openness and transparency by both arms suppliers and their recipients, which include repressive regimes.

The 2013 UN pact restricts the sale of arms when used for the “commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 or attacks directs against civilian objects.”

For several centuries, the weapon trade has been a safe bet with predictable returns year after year. In 2020 in the midst of economic downturns related to the Covid-19 pandemic, the world spent $1981 billion on military expenditure – the highest since 1988, 9.3 percent higher than 2011 and 2.6 percent more than 2019.

Last year’s mammoth military expenditure was heavily concentrated in two of the world’s five regions: the Americas (43 percent) and Asia and Oceania (27 percent).

The rise in 2020 was primarily due to a hike in spending by two Asian powerhouses – China and India – that accounted for 62 percent of total military expenditure in Asia, the world’s biggest arms market at present. 

India’s military expenditure was $72.9 billion to make the largest democracy in the world the third biggest military spender in 2020, according to a database by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, an independent body dealing with global security.

Though authoritarian China’s military spending of $252 billion in 2020 was no match for the $778 billion shelled out by the imperial US to keep its top slot intact, Beijing posted a spectacular rise of 76 percent growth during this period.

Since the end of the Cold War, both the superpowers have been citing each other as threats in pursuing their global strategic interests. While The US is home to top five arms firms like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, China maintains the largest armed forces in the world.

Housing 37 percent of the global population of roughly 7.7 billion, India and China accounted for 16.7 percent of the money spent on the military globally last year.

Stressing capability-building and self-reliance, the Asian neighbors are currently experimenting with cyber, space, precision conventional strike, artificial intelligence, and third-party state and non-state actors. While China is playing its cards to influence, intimidate, deter, and actually fight on a global scale, the Indian ambitions are reduced to its regional superpower status and ability to toe Washington’s line.

The regional rivals have fought a war in 1962 and view each other with suspicion. Their armies often clash in the high-altitude Himalayan region.

With a total of $49.1 billion in 2020, Japan was the second-largest spender in East Asia, behind China, whom it views as a threat along with hermit kingdom North Korea.

Saudi Arabia, another big-time spender in Asia, had to cut its defense spending due to low oil prices. However, the kingdom spent $57.5 billion in 2020 and is engaged in a war with neighboring Yemen.

Israel, which enjoys special military ties with the US, spent $21.7 billion in 2020, a 2.7 percent rise compared with 2019.

Southeast Asian power centers like Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand also hiked their military spending in 2020 due to the numerous territorial disputes in the South China Sea and to "contain China.”

Military expenditure and trade in arms are increasing in Asia though the continent faces no threat by terrorists, banditry, piracy, kidnapping, and political imbalance between federal governments and their subsidiary provincial regions.

Asian governments are currently on a spending spree incommensurate with their economic growth and growing technological prowess. Their reckless development of offensive military capabilities, lavish military spending, and the regional arms race may push Asia ‘closer to conflict.’

For the neo-rich Asian nations, the size of their arsenals matters and many of the weapons they are going to purchase at the London trade fair are, simply put, more potent and deadly and will make Asia a more highly and tightly regulated place.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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