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Andrey Gubin

PhD in Political Science, Assistant Professor at the International Relations Department of Far Eastern Federal University, RIAC Expert

Today, the Asia-Pacific region is not just a part of the global periphery, but rather a place for potential confrontation between both “great” and “rising” powers. This is evidenced by a general growth in defense spending by key actors as well as by a “reformatting” of the regional security configuration, linked to the changing role of the Unites States and active interference by non-regional actors, such as India.

Today, the Asia-Pacific region is not just a part of the global periphery, but rather a place for potential confrontation between both “great” and “rising” powers. This is evidenced by a general growth in defense spending by key actors as well as by a “reformatting” of the regional security configuration, linked to the changing role of the Unites States and active interference by non-regional actors, such as India. Pre-existing conflicts and increased economic competition are forcing Asia-Pacific countries to resort to the logic of military confrontation and to build up their defense capabilities, both in quantity and quality, in order to protect their national interests.

Asia-Pacific Parabellum

By the beginning of the 21st century, the Asia-Pacific region has become the largest regional buyer of arms and military equipment, surpassing even the traditionally "hot" Middle East. The consequences of the recent economic crisis have had almost no effect on the volume of trade in this sector. Political considerations are compelling regional states to "keep themselves fit.” Even in the period between 2000 and 2003, a difficult time for the world economy, the cost of weapons purchased by Asia-Pacific countries amounted to $35.4 billion [1]. Given the size of the region and the substantial purchasing power of member countries (a result of continuous GDP growth over the last 12 years), the Asia-Pacific region has become a vitally important market for the leading weapons manufacturers from the U.S., the European Union, Russia and Israel. In addition, economic competition is growing in the Pacific area, which is having an adverse effect on international stability. External developments, such as the strengthening of India and piracy in the Gulf of Aden, are significantly impacting the regional situation.

According to Jane's, from 2008 to 2012, global arms sales grew by 30% to $73.5 billion. By 2020, this figure may double [2]. Such growth figures are achieved only as a consequence of the increasing purchasing share of such countries as China and India of the world arms trade. It is expected that by 2021 the share of the U.S. will be 30%, while the share of other Asia-Pacific countries will amount to 31%.

Due to a gradual reduction of defense spending, over the next eight years, Washington will not be able to allocate more than $472 billion towards its military needs. Meanwhile, the total military budget for the Pacific states will exceed $501 billion [3]. According to SIPRI, growth in arms expenditures will hit new records: in 2012, the corresponding figure totaled $1.75 trillion, 0.5% less than recorded in the previous year. Despite the fall in expenditures in real terms, this number is still higher than the total of military spending at the peak of the Cold War.

Photo: SIPRI
World military spending, 2012

In general, it is obvious that balance in the international arms market is gradually shifting towards the Asia-Pacific. This can be partly explained by the presence of several major conflicts, such as the "nuclear issue" on the Korean Peninsula, the Japan-China dispute over the islands Diaoyu and Senkaku, the dispute between Japan and Korea over Takeshima and Dokdo and multilateral conflict over the Spratly archipelago. There has also been ongoing competition between India and China, Japan and China, China and Vietnam, Japan and the Republic of Korea, Thailand and Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia, etc. All of these developments are provoking a real "arms race" in the region. This has led to an increase in not only the number of combat systems acquired, but also an improvement in their quality. In the near future, experts believe that the U.S. and Western Europe will lose their technological superiority, because, due to their evolving needs in modern combat systems, Asia-Pacific states will be forced to buy more advanced equipment that they will not only develop, but also copy [4].

Customer countries increasingly are demanding that global arms suppliers invest in their defense industry. For example, negotiating the delivery of Dassault Aviation 126 aircraft, Indian authorities put forward the condition that Indian companies should be responsible for 50% of all work and services under the concluded contract [5].

We are seeing that all countries in the Asia-Pacific region are taking all possible steps to acquire access to advanced technologies from around the world: they are increasingly acquiring licenses to manufacture weapons, attracting investment, creating favorable conditions for investors and engaging in industrial espionage.

In this regard, our particular concern today is that in the face of rising competition and falling demand in other regions, arms manufacturers are becoming more and more aggressive in competing for shipments to the Asia-Pacific region. These actors are offering not only all available weapons systems, but any systems they are individually developing as well as technology and licenses.

It is a common belief that weapons exports are most frequently used as a means for achieving military and strategic goals - strengthening partnerships, supporting allies, and increasing cooperation and interaction with armed forces from other countries. Military supplies can also be a powerful tool for demonstrating geopolitical patronage and can even guarantee the security of the state receiving them [6]. In this regard, our particular concern today is that in the face of rising competition and falling demand in other regions, arms manufacturers are becoming more and more aggressive in competing for shipments to the Asia-Pacific region. These actors are offering not only all available weapons systems, but any systems they are individually developing as well as technology and licenses. This has stimulated a qualitative leap in the capabilities of regional armed forces and has greatly increased the potential for conflict in the Asia-Pacific. Since the beginning of 21st century, the Pacific states have been gradually acquiring new capabilities, such as long-distance military strikes, invisibility, integrated command, and the so-called C4ISR technology (Command, Control, Communication, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance).

These trends are greatly complicating the international situation in the Asia-Pacific region and any military conflict, even a minor one, might result in colossal losses of human and material resources and bring down the regional economic system.

Korean renegades

For a long period of time, the lion's share of weapons supplied to the Asia-Pacific came from the United States. Following the end of the Second World War, the U.S. acquired the status of undisputable hegemon in the Pacific area. However nowadays, even traditional U.S. allies since the signing the San Francisco Treaty in 1951, are seeing that priorities have shifted in the ever-changing world.

Just as the countries of the region are trying to pursue independent foreign and trade policies, they are also actively diversifying their defense supplies, including for the purpose of avoiding dependence on any single exporter.

In light of active economic growth in China and the increasing aggressiveness of Japan’s foreign military, foreign and technical policy, the Republic of Korea is trying to achieve, if not independence, but a reduction in its dependence on Washington. While Korea has long been a key market for U.S. combat systems, the specifications of these systems weapons have not always played a decisive role during contract negotiations. Instead, political factors also loomed large. Washington did not hesitate to apply strong pressure on Seoul to secure profitable deals. However, the decision by Seoul to refuse to purchase eight U.S. helicopters MH-60R of Sikorsky group, instead choosing cheaper but equally high quality competitive products (the AW159 Wildcat British produced by Italian company AgustaWestland) was a complete surprise. The value of the transaction was 600 billion won (more than $500 million) [7].

It should be borne in mind that from 2008 to 2012, the number of weapons purchased by the Republic of Korea increased by 688% [8]. From 2013 to 2018, Seoul plans to purchase weapons at a total of $64 billion (70 trillion won), a huge sum of money. U.S. dominance in the supply of these systems is not a guarantee. One type of a "contract of the century" is the FX-3 project, calling for the purchase of 60 fighters in the amount of $8 billion. The most realistic contenders are Lockheed Martin, offering its fifth generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; Boeing, offering the F-15 SE Silent Eagle and the European concern EADS with its Eurofighter jet. All three proposals are 15-40% more expensive than the allocated budget allows for [9], which is creating a real opportunity for Russian Su-35 or Chinese J-10 to participate in the tender, a surreal development.

The new Park Geun-hye presidential administration in Korea is clearly focused on social projects, which over the long run will affect defense spending. In 2013, this amount will be only 3.8% higher than in 2012 and reach approximately $33 billion [10]. In order to reduce expenditures, the country has cut spending on programs to buy new combat helicopters, drones and air tankers, participation in which U.S. companies were expected to take part. However, financial difficulties have not changed the policy pursued by the Korea aimed at achieving a technological breakthrough in the field of national security.

Thus, it appears that the situation in South Korea will most probably offer the first evidence that American military-technical and military-political hegemony in the region is being undermined. This is especially true in light of the recent Korean-Chinese rapprochement, declared by the leaders of the two countries during their meeting in Beijing [11].

"Hot Southern Guys"

Photo: globalopsanalysiscenter.com
People's Liberation Army Air Force

Perhaps the most dynamic development concerning military activity by the states in the region relates to Southeast Asia. The Southeast Asian arms market is quite small; its total is estimated at $2-3 billion annually. However, it is quite diverse in terms of supplier, especially if we compare it with Northeast Asia. The USA, Russia, Britain, France, Sweden and China are operating successfully in the region. Just as the countries of the region are trying to pursue independent foreign and trade policies, they are also actively diversifying their defense supplies, including for the purpose of avoiding dependence on any single exporter. A striking example of the openness of the regional arms market was offered when, at the aerospace exhibition in Singapore, Thailand purchased six Swedish fighters "Gripen" and control aircraft costing $ 600 million. In the future the number of “Gripens” purchased will increase to 40. At the same time, Bangkok has acquired anti-ship missiles in China, self-propelled howitzers in France and assault rifles in Israel [12].

Malaysia purchased a batch of tanks PT- 91 in Poland, front-line SU-30 fighters in Russia, multiple launch rocket systems in Brazil and corvettes in Germany. In turn, Indonesia used a loan of $1 billion to buy Russian SU-27 and SU-30 fighters, submarines, combat helicopters, patrol boats and land-based weapons systems. Even Singapore has created an extensive network of suppliers of weapons - 24 tactical F-15SG fighters were purchased in the U.S., the “Västergötland” and "Sermen" submarines were bought in Sweden, "Leopard 2A4" tanks from Germany, and anti-aircraft missile systems from Russia and Sweden [13].

It is obvious that the acquisition of advanced weapons systems by Southeast Asian countries will lead to an aggravation of the classic “security dilemma”, when improvements in the security sphere for one participant are achieved at the expense of another, bringing instability to neighboring countries.

According to some estimates, the total arms market of Southeast Asian countries will grow as the region's economies gradually recover, and the governments increase their defense budgets. For example, after the coup in 2006, the Thai military junta raised military spending by 34% in 2007 and by 24% in 2008. Moreover, the ten-year plan for the development of the armed forces approved in November 2007 provides for the allocation of about $10 billion to the modernization program beginning in 2009, which over the long run will increase its share of GDP share from 1.4% up to 2% by 2014 [14].

Other countries in the region are showing a similar trend of expenditures according to SIPRI. For example, Malaysia's military budget has almost doubled from 2000 to 2011 - from $1.7 to 3.26 billion respectively. Jakarta has tripled its the defense spending during the same period - from $2.2 to 6.8 billion, without even taking into account its trade credits. Singapore, whose military spending from 2000 to 2012, rose from $4.6 to 9.7 billion, is not going to stop there and is ready to purchase high-tech combat systems [15].

It is quite logical to assume that improvements in the military capabilities of Southeast Asian countries are significantly destabilizing the situation in the region. One of the areas of confrontation is the so-called Ambalat opposition block in the Celebes Sea, disputed between Indonesia and Malaysia, where tensions will gradually increase if the parties do not abandon the logic of military confrontation. We should bear in mind that countries in Southeast Asia (especially Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia) have traditionally used offset schemes when signing agreements about the supply of arms and military equipment and compensated a certain share of the costs by substituting consumer goods (mostly rice, palm oil, fruit, textiles, etc.). These practices lend support to local producers.

Perhaps, in order to increase its share of military-technical cooperation, Russia needs to revise its system of relations with foreign partners, in particular, in order to begin the joint development of high-tech arms and sales of weapon technologies as well as to create licensed production in foreign countries.

In recent years, Southeast Asian countries have also actively claimed that military and dual-use technologies should be transferred over to their widespread adoption in the industry. However leading suppliers still do not support this position. However, with increased competition in the arms market, this issue may become more and more relevant. It is obvious that the acquisition of advanced weapons systems by Southeast Asian countries will lead to an aggravation of the classic “security dilemma”, when improvements in the security sphere for one participant are achieved at the expense of another, bringing instability to neighboring countries.

It is likely that in the near future, the regional security subsystem will undergo significant changes, including those caused by more aggressive actions by Beijing and Washington. Both countries are actively competing for the dominance in Southeast Asia. At the same time, taking into account the situation in South Korea described above, the rise of China is even more likely. This situation is complicated by competition between Malaysia and Indonesia and the growing interest in the region shown by India. In this regard, it is possible to speak about an escalation of tensions in Southeast Asia, but the likelihood of a full-scale armed conflict is low. Most likely, regional players require defense capabilities for mutual deterrence and in order to preserve their independence from Washington, Beijing and Delhi.

“Not a Pacific” Ocean and Russia

In light of the events taking place in the Asia-Pacific region and the priorities established by the new Foreign Policy Concept of Russia, the future of military-technical cooperation of our country with the leading players in the Pacific is attracting special interest.

Photo: smallairforces.blogspot.com
Thai Army inducts its first Mi-17's

According to the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC), states in the region can be divided into three groups, depending on the degree of interaction between Russia and Asia Pacific. The first group includes countries with which the military-technical cooperation has a long history. This is developed on a regular basis and with significant volumes of concluded contracts (Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar). The second group includes Bangladesh, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Singapore, which are involved in cooperation on a small scale. The third group represents countries with which we do not have any cooperation (Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Maldives, Brunei, Nepal, Fiji and Papua New Guinea). This is caused both by objective reasons (a lack of funds for the purchase of arms and military equipment) and the focus of these countries on Western suppliers of military products [16].

Perhaps, in order to increase its share of military-technical cooperation, Russia needs to revise its system of relations with foreign partners, in particular, in order to begin the joint development of high-tech arms and sales of weapon technologies as well as to create licensed production in foreign countries. The FSMTC believes that its patrol ships, engineering systems and radar systems [17] will become quite popular in the region. The recent experience of military-technical cooperation with China has shown that the transfer of Russian technology ultimately results in losses because of the common practice of “adapted copying” used by our foreign partners. Therefore, we have to significantly tighten the conditions of license agreements, which, in turn, will reduce the competitiveness of our products.

Russia's share in the market of arms and military equipment of the Asia-Pacific region is roughly 20%; the share of the U.S., according to the data from 2011, is 42%. However, in light of fierce competition, even just maintaining one’s position on the regional market is very difficult. However, Russia is planning to sign contracts for large supplies of arms and military equipment to India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and China [18].

Russia will suffer negative consequences because of a significant reduction in military-technical cooperation with China if China achieves “self-sufficiency” in armaments planned for 2015-2020. A similar situation may develop with regards to India, which has started to pursue an active policy for developing its own defense industry.

Moscow is trying to hold its own in such a complex, but promising region. In 2011, Vietnam received its first batch of four Su-30MK2 fighters. In all, the plan was to deliver 8 planes worth about $400 million. In the first half of 2011, the Myanmar Air Force received the first batch of 20 MiG-29 fighters ordered under contract with RAC "MiG " worth $553 million. According to the contract signed in late 2009, 10 MiG-29B and six MiG-29SE jets as well as four MiG -29UB for combat and exercise will be delivered to Myanmar. The ground forces in Thailand bought three medium transport Mi-17V-5 helicopters, at a cost of $29.1 million dollars, including the supply of spare parts and training. "Rosoboronexport" signed another contract in 2011 to supply China with 123 AL- 31FN engines valued at more than $500 million. Russia also completed the delivery of nine radar picket helicopters Ka -31 to China. In addition, in 2007, China signed a contract for the supply of the nine anti-submarine Ka-28 helicopters. It is also expected to deliver a batch of 37 infantry fighting vehicles (BMP-3F) to Indonesia, worth more than $100 million. Seventeen such vehicles were delivered in the past and the contracts for the supply of the Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters and aircraft armament systems [19] are being currently carried out.

More than 90% of Russian arms exports to the Asia-Pacific region go to China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. Deliveries to other countries of the region are more sporadic. In some large markets, especially those in South Korea and Singapore, the products created by our military-industrial complex are not well represented. Experts believe that, due to a gradual reduction in exports to China, we will have to seek new markets. Since it is unlikely that Russia will supply South Korea and Singapore with off-the-shelf equipment, the most promising option for Russia in the field of military-technical cooperation may be the joint development of weapons systems [20].

More than half of Russian military exports to the Asia-Pacific region and neighboring India are combat aircraft [21]. In this regard, our positions will largely depend on the development of programs for constructing new aircraft and modernizing existing ones, including the construction of the Su-35 fighter, the fifth generation PAK FA fighter, the Yak-120 trainer aircraft and various helicopters. With regard to other systems, our positions are not as strong and promising.

According to the estimates of some experts, Russia will suffer negative consequences because of a significant reduction in military-technical cooperation with China if China achieves “self-sufficiency” in armaments planned for 2015-2020. A similar situation may develop with regards to India, which has started to pursue an active policy for developing its own defense industry (including through the help of foreign investment). Opportunities for Russian exports will be also affected by a sharp reduction in technological advances in its defense sector, observed after the end of the Cold War [22] .

Another factor affecting the state of Russia's military security in the Asia-Pacific region is, in particular, the presence of states with a high level of defense spending, with numerous and well-equipped armed forces undergoing reform and modernization [23].

In this regard, our country will not only have to find ways to increase supplies of military equipment to Asia-Pacific markets, but also to actively put into service the latest weapons designs so as not to become a "technological outsider" and a "second-rate power.” If the latter occurs, there may be significant negative effects for Russian foreign policy in the Pacific, since indeed this is not a quiet ocean.

1. Richard F.Grimmett, Conventional Arms Transfer to Developing Nations, 1996-2003. Washington, US Congressional Research Service, August 26, 2004. pp. 11, 37.

2. Asia-Pacific Arms spending to outstrip North America’s to 2021 // The Japan Times. 2013. June, 26. URL: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/06/28/asia-pacific/asia-pacific-arms-spending-to-outstrip-north-americas-by-21-analysts/#.Uh7Z_BDeL3E

3. Top-Selling Item . // «Vzglyad». 2013. 25 June. URL: http://vz.ru/economy/2013/6/25/638660.html

2. Aggressive Asian military spending driving global arms ‘explosion’ // The Washington Times. 2013. June 25. URL: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jun/25/aggressive-asian-military-spending-driving-global-/

5. The East is Entering the Arms Race//Voennoeobozrenie. 2013. 2 July. URL: http://topwar.ru/30215-vostok-vhodit-v-gonku-vooruzheniy.html

6. R. Bitzinger, Proliferation of Arms and Building up Military Capacity in the Asia-Pacific Region: modern weapons systems // Security Challenges in the Asia-Pacific Region: the Russian and U.S. View. - Vladivostok, 2006,– p.172

7. South Korea Rejects U.S. Weapons// «RossiyskayaGazeta». 2013. 21 February. Available online URL: http://www.rg.ru/2013/02/21/orugiye-site.html

8. http://www.lefigaro.fr/conjoncture/2013/06/26/20002-20130626ARTFIG00318-les-ventes-d-armes-explosent-dans-le-monde.php

9. South Korea Rejects U.S. Weapons// «Rossiyskaya Gazeta». 2013. 21 February. Available online URL: http://www.rg.ru/2013/02/21/orugiye-site.html

10. According to SIPRI data URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures

11. http://www.cntv.ru/2013/06/28/ARTI1372383764333410.shtml

12. Richard A. Bitzinger and Curie Maharani The Southeast Asian Arms Market // International Relations and Security Network. 2008. April 9. URL: http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Articles/Detail/?ots783=4888caa0-b3db-1461-98b9-e20e7b9c13d4&lng=en&id=54233

13. Ibid

14. Richard A. Bitzinger, S.Rajaratnam Southeast Asian Military Modernization. School of International Studies, Singapore. February 2011. URL: http://www.eastwestcenter.org/fileadmin/resources/washington/images/events/Bitzinger_PowerPoint-_EWCW_2-2-11.pdf

15. According to SIPRI data URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures

16. http://www.armstass.su/?page=article&aid=115551&cid=43

17. Ibid

18. V. Suvorin, Russian and the Arms Market in the Asia-Pacific Region// Mir I Politika. 2012. 5 November. URL: http://mir-politika.ru/1899-rossiya-i-rynok-oruzhiya-v-aziatsko-tihookeanskom-regione.html

19. V.Suvorin, Ibid

20. S. Denisentsev, The Arms Market of the Asia-Pacific Countries// the RIAC Internet resource URL: /inner/?id_4=440#top

21. Ibid

22. V. Karyakin, The U.S. Military Policy and Strategy in the Evolving Geopolitical Situation of the Present Day World: Мoscow, 2011. 226-227.

23. V.Karyakin, Ibid, pp. 223-224.

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