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Who Are ASEAN’s Biggest Military Spenders, Really? 

ECONOMY / POLITICS / May 17, 2017

By Dan Steinbock

The conventional military narratives highlight aggregate expenditures and downplay per capita spending. Realities are more nuanced, both globally and in Southeast Asia.

 

The conventional narrative is that China has become assertive, while the West is ignoring its defense needs. According to SIPRI research, in the past decade military spending in China and Russia increased 118% and 87%, respectively, while US spending plunged almost 5%.

Yet, the list of top-10 military spenders includes the US ($611 billion), China ($215 billion), Russia ($69 billion), followed by Saudi Arabia, India, major EU economies, Japan and South Korea. Together, they account for three-fourths of the total. Washington spends more dollars a year on its military than the next seven biggest spenders combined – which penalises US living standards and stability abroad.

Moreover, the US is escalating. The Trump administration is planning a huge Reagan-style rearmament and requesting $54 billion; an almost 10% increase in a single year – even as its public debt amounts to $20 trillion (105% of US GDP).

Indeed, military spending should also be assessed in per capita terms. In this view, Saudi Arabia and the US lead, with $2,000 and $1,900 per person, respectively. The two are followed by Europeans, South Korea, Russia and Japan. In contrast, China and India come last (with just 8% and 2% of the US level, respectively).

There is a deep gap between current realities and perceptions of military spending. ASEAN nations are not an exception to the rule. 

 

In the past decade, increases in military budget in per capita terms have soared in Saudi Arabia (40%), but been slower in China and India (less than 15% each); and even less in Russia (6%). Moreover, in the past decade, per capita incomes in China and India increased strongly (10.8% and 8%, respectively). In both, military spending has increased faster but after a very low starting point.

There is a deep gap between current realities and perceptions of military spending.  ASEAN nations are not an exception to the rule.

 
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About the Author

Dan Steinbock is the Founder of Difference Group and has served as Research Director of International Business at the India China and America Institute (US) and a Visiting Fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (China) and the EU Centre (Singapore). For more, see http://www.differencegroup.net











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