Despite Recession, Global Arms Race Spirals

Israeli F-16 warplanes take part in a military parade in Tel Aviv. (AFP/Jack Guez)

Despite Recession, Global Arms Race Spirals

financial crisis has not deterred some of the world's developed and
developing nations from bolstering their military arsenals with
expensive new weapons systems, including sophisticated fighter planes,
combat helicopters, submarines, armored vehicles and air defence

The five largest arms purchasers during 2005-2009
were China, India, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and
Greece, according to the latest figures released Monday by the
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The extended list of prolific arms buyers also includes
Turkey, Singapore, Pakistan, Malaysia, Israel, Algeria, Morocco, Libya,
Egypt, Iran, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Sudan, Chile and

"I think one should stress that political leaders in different
regions of the world have expressed concerns their region is on the
verge of an arms race," Dr. Paul Holtom, director of SIPRI's arms
transfer program, told IPS.

SIPRI data on deliveries and orders shows signs that these
concerns may have grounds as in several regions of tension there is
evidence of reactive acquisitions - for example, it is reasonable to
assume that the Moroccan order for U.S.-made F-16 combat aircraft is
related to the orders and deliveries of Russian-made Su-30MK to neighboring Algeria, he added.

Fighter aircraft accounted for 27 percent of international arms transfers during 2005-2009.

These include 72 F-16E fighter planes to UAE, 52 F-16I to Israel and 40
F-15K to South Korea, collectively costing billions of dollars.

Russian exports of fighter planes include 82 Su-30s to India, 28 to Algeria, and 18 to Malaysia.

The Russians are also hoping to clinch a massive Indian
contract for 126 combat aircraft, ahead of European and U.S. suppliers,
in 2010.

And orders and deliveries of these "potentially destabilizing
weapons systems have led to arms race concerns in the following regions
of tensions: the Middle East, North Africa, South America, South Asia
and South-east Asia," according to SIPRI, one of the world's leading
research institutes on arms control and disarmament.

Since the volume of arms deliveries can fluctuate
significantly from one year to the next, SIPRI uses a five-year moving
average, with arms transfers for 2005-2009 being 22 percent higher than
in 2000-2004.

Dr. Holtom said that SIPRI data show that resource-rich states
have purchased a considerable quantity of expensive combat aircraft.

"Neighboring rivals have reacted to these acquisitions with
orders of their own. One can question whether this is an appropriate
allocation of resources in regions with high levels of poverty," he

According to SIPRI, the five largest arms suppliers during
2005-2009 were the United States, Russia, Germany, France and Britain
accounting for more than 75 percent of all exports of major
conventional weapons,

The United States and Russia remained by far the largest exporters,
accounting for 30 percent and 24 percent of all exports, respectively.

Dan Darling, Europe & Middle East Military Markets Analyst
at the U.S.-based Forecast International Inc., told IPS it might be
rash to predict a continuing upward trend in military spending
worldwide with so many lingering economic uncertainties.

But as the SIPRI figures show, he said, there has been a
consistent rise in defence spending and arms acquisitions in the past
five years.

There are myriad reasons for this, including regional rivalries
(Colombia-Venezuela, India-Pakistan, Turkey-Greece, China-Taiwan, etc);
surplus state revenues; the need for militaries to replace aging
equipment, etc.

Whatever the reasons, arms suppliers such as the U.S., Russia, Western
Europe (France, Germany, Italy, Britain) and China will position
themselves to reap the benefits of this upward trend, Darling said.

Certainly defence expenditure is not going to rise significantly in
Europe anytime soon, largely due to the budget deficit and public debt
troubles weighing on many of the countries there, but also because of
the lack of a direct strategic threat facing the continent.

Selling the public on greater defence expenditure isn't a winning political formula in many European countries, he argued.

"Swimming in its own tide of debt, the U.S., too, may soon be forced to
restrain baseline Pentagon budgets to just above the rate of inflation
in the coming years," he noted.

The regional breakdown of arms deliveries has remained relatively stable over the past 10 years, according to SIPRI.

The major recipient region during 2005-2009 remained Asia and
Oceania (41 percent), followed by Europe (24 percent), the Middle East
17 percent), the Americas (11 percent) and Africa (seven percent).

Asked how best one could interpret the growing arms race in a
recession-struck world, Dr. Holtom told IPS that acquisitions by
regional rivals and states "perceived to be" potential threats
obviously influences procurement decisions and can unfortunately lead
to dangerous spirals, as states seek to keep up with their neighbors'

However, at present, and despite tense relationships, it has proven
difficult to conclude that sizable arms acquisitions alone lead to
conflict - although this factor can certainly influence decision-making
and make the option of using military force to resolve a political
conflict more attractive if your armed forces at the time appear to be
significantly stronger than those of a rival/opponent.

For example, he said, Azerbaijan has been saber-rattling regarding the
frozen conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, following a period
in which it has sought to outspend Armenia with regard to military
spending and acquire more weapons.

Darling of Forecast International Inc pointed out that Latin America is a defence-spending region that continues to grow.

Led by Brazil, many of the countries in the region are undertaking
broad military modernization programs aimed at upgrading aging

The countries of northern Africa (Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia) are
also continuing to put more and more money into defence investment.

But it is in Asia that major defence growth will take place, and which
will serve as the leading market for arms sales, thanks to internal
security concerns and - like Latin America - a region-wide military
re-equipment cycle, he noted.

So while the defence investment of members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) may be held in relative check (at, or slightly
above, inflation rates) over the next few years, other regions across
the globe should continue to experience growing military expenditures
resulting in more arms purchases, Darling predicted.

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