Pakistan ups ante with big military boost

The Herald- Pakistan has revealed a massive increase in its military budget, the third nuclear power in Asia to unveil a significant increase this year, adding credence to fears of a growing arms race on the continent.

Chinese-Pakistani fighter jet JF-17
Chinese-Pakistani fighter jet JF-17

China, Pakistan and India were the only countries to increase their nuclear weapons stockpile last year, as the rest of the world reduced its warhead numbers.

In its budget this week, Pakistan announced it would increase defence spending by 15.7 per cent to $6.3 billion for 2013-14.

The army, ostensibly fighting a Taliban-led insurgency in the tribal north-west, but regularly accused of harbouring and supporting terrorists, was allocated the most, a little more than $3 billion for the coming financial year.

Underlining its political influence in Pakistan, the military appears immune from a severe government austerity drive. In the same week as the army got hundreds of millions more, Pakistan's Prime Minister told his cabinet ministers their budgets would be cut by at least 30 per cent.

But globally, the new military money adds to a climate of rising arms spending by the region's three nuclear powers.

Pakistan's announcement follows India's budget, in which military spending rose by 21 per cent to $42.7 billion, and China's, which increased military spending 10.7 per cent to $115.7 billion.

India has a lengthy arms shopping list. It is close to signing a deal to buy 126 French Rafale fighter jets for $12 billion, and is in the market for more than 400 combat helicopters. It is building, with Russia, 250 stealth fighter jets, and its own nuclear-powered submarine.

China is building two new classes of missile submarines, new stealth jet fighters and an aircraft carrier-killing ballistic missile as it continues to develop its cyber warfare capabilities. China is the second largest military spender in the world, though well behind the US, whose astronomical defence budget - $682 billion - still surpasses all of the other top 10 military budgets in the world combined.

But the sharp rises in Asia counter an easing of military spending across the world.

Last year worldwide military spending fell for the first time since 1998, by 0.5 per cent to $1.75 trillion. Asia surpassed Europe for military spending for the first time.

US, British and Japanese military budgets all shrank last year. The Australian Defence Force cut its military spending from $26.6 billion to $25.5 billion, according to figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. China, India and Pakistan were the only nuclear-armed countries to increase their nuclear stockpiles last year, a SIPRI report said this month.

Exact figures are hard to ascertain, but it is believed all three countries added about 10 working warheads to their stockpiles. China now has about 250 warheads, Pakistan between 100 and 120, and India between 90 and 110.

Russia and the US reduced their stockpiles. Russia now has about 8500 warheads, the US, 7700. France maintained its warheads at 300, Britain at 225 and Israel at 80.

SIPRI does not regard North Korea and Iran as nuclear powers yet. Their weapons programs are still in their infancy. Rising military spending in Asia was a troubling trend, Britain's secretary of state for defence, Philip Hammond, told the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore this month, especially given the continuing mistrust between countries now armed with rapidly modernised militaries.

"Worryingly, this expansion is taking place within the context of unresolved historic territorial disputes and competition for resources which, without greater mutual understanding and trust, have the potential to escalate and become, at best, a prolonged source of instability and, at worst, a driver of conflict."

Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith said secrecy around military build-ups created suspicion. He urged countries in the region to be open with their defence plans. "Military modernisation, coupled with longstanding maritime and territorial disputes and continuing potential flashpoints, raise the risk of strategic misjudgment or miscalculation. This underlines the need for strategic transparency," he said.

The SIPRI report described the peace that now held in Asia as "fragile", drawing attention to tensions between China, India and Pakistan. All three make claims on the disputed province of Kashmir, with Chinese and Indian troops caught in a tense stand-off during a border dispute earlier this year.

Asia 2012 military spending to top Europe's - Reuters reports on Mar 7, 2012

Asian military spending will top that of Europe in 2012 for the first time in centuries, a global defence survey said on Wednesday, pointing to high regional economic growth and an increasingly ambitious China.

The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said U.S. military spending was also falling with withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan - although Washington's $739 billion budget still dwarfs that of other nations.

With the Pentagon explicitly refocusing its strategic attention on Asia, the annual Military Balance report said it was clear that a major historical shift was underway.

With China's military spending - an estimated $89 billion in 2011 - roughly doubling every five years, other growing Asian states were also funnelling money into their military programmes, the report said. That brought conflict risks.

"There's no doubt we are seeing a major shift," John Chipman, IISS director-general John Chipman told Reuters on the sidelines of the report's launch.

"What we see in Asia is just about every kind of strategic challenge - from 19th century style territorial disputes to economic rivalry and potential new nuclear weapons states ... We need to manage that."

Diplomatic effort and confidence-building measures were necessary to stop disputes between a variety of Asian powers in the South China Sea and elsewhere - together with other regional and economic rivalries - from escalating, he said.

The United States has said it will move additional military resources to Asia, including marines to Australia and combat vessels to Singapore.

Beijing has condemned such plans, accusing Washington of being unnecessarily belligerent. Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, India and other nations in the region are also increasing their forces, particularly naval craft.


In the short term, Chipman said it was important not to overstate Beijing's capability or ambitions. Despite considerable investment, he said, China still lacked a working aircraft carrier although it continues to conduct trials with a former Soviet carrier. In contrast, the United States had 11 powerful super carriers, although some are always in refit.

China continues to maintain many more personnel, about 2.3 million compared to 1.6 million by the United States. But even if current trends were to continue, IISS says it would take about 20 years for Beijing to match Washington's current military spend.

Beset by economic crisis and with few immediate security threats, however, Europe's military clout is seen declining.

Defence spending for European members of NATO had dropped below that of Asia, even if Australia and New Zealand were stripped from the Asian figure.

Last year's Libya conflict, the IISS said, showed what could be done with a small number of sophisticated military assets. But it also highlighted serious shortcomings in Europe's defence capabilities - such as surveillance, air-to-air refuelling and munition stocks - that had to be filled by the United States.

"It's clear that Europe is now focusing much more on the 21st century rather than the 19th century style of managing conflict - more institutions, more diplomacy, more multilateral engagement, less pure focus on military power," Chipman said.

Despite the current focus on Iran and worries of conflict over its nuclear programme, Chipman said Western military interest in the region also already seemed to be on the wane.

"The countries that have been close to the United States - Israel, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates - are already worrying that the United States is losing its vocation for the region," he said, pointing to rising local defence budgets. "But for now the U.S. focus cannot just be on Asia because of the importance of the Middle East."

The Herald


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