Publication: Survival: Global Politics and Strategy April–May 2017
20 March 2017
With so much attention being devoted to maritime security competition in Asia, including in the South China and East China seas, it is easy to forget how peaceful the region has been for several decades. In East Asia, no major power has been involved in so much as a limited inter-state war since China’s brief armed conflict with Vietnam in 1979. Peace among South Asian states has been broken more often, but mainly by circumscribed armed conflicts between India and Pakistan, including their most recent and very limited Kargil War in 1999.
This is an impressive record for a region that was riven by major wars in the middle of the twentieth century. But it does not mean that the making of military preparations has been abandoned in Asia. The region’s growing powers are devoting significant resources to their armed forces. Asian countries now spend $100 billion a year more on defence than all of the European members of NATO combined.1 Of particular note, China has emerged as the second-largest defence spender in the world after the United States. Beijing’s 2015 military budget was more than three times that of India’s, Asia’s second-largest defence spender, and almost four times as large as the combined defence spending of the 11 Southeast Asian states.2