Asia- Oceania region witnessing enormous weapon accumulation in past 10 years, with 46 per cent of the global arms imports only in last five years. Despite developing economies and lowering trade volume, arms race leads the region to a dangerous situation, where bilateral and multilateral disputes adding fuel to fire.
As per Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) data the international weapon trade volume has grown rapidly over the past decade; especially it was raised to 14 percent between the five-years (2012-16) period. India tops the list with 14 percent of global arms imports, followed by China (4.7 percent), Australia (3.6 percent), Pakistan (3.3 percent), Vietnam (2.9 percent) and South Korea (2.6 percent).
Rising arms race clearly depicts that tensions are mounting across Asia-Pacific region, war-like scenarios still hovering around while countries are swiftly pouring vast amounts of financial resources into modernizing their militaries especially into the offensive capabilities. The major players in South-China Sea and Indian Ocean are continuously expanding their military capabilities with foreign arms deals, weapon imports and enhancing there defence production industries domestically and this includes China and its neighboring states like India, Japan and Vietnam.
Vietnam, for instance, jumped from being the 43rd largest importer of arms in 2006-11 to the eighth largest in 2011-16, increasing weapons imports by a staggering 699 percent. Russia accounted for 93 percent of the deliveries to the Southeast Asian nations, which included eight combat aircrafts, four fast attack crafts and four submarines armed with land-attack missiles. With these acquisitions, Hanoi aims primarily at protecting its maritime interests and strengthening its defense against potential external threats, such as China’s augmented assertiveness in the South-China Sea.
South Asia alone accounted for 44 percent of the regional total armament imports. The main reason for this is India, which has been the world’s largest importer of major arms over the past five years. Asia’s second-most populous country buys three times as many weapons as either China or Pakistan, her regional rivals.
India and Vietnam are, apparently, the two world’s largest importers of naval equipment, especially submarines. Russia has supplied 70 percent of India’s arms imports, followed by the US (14 percent) and Israel (4.5 percent). India is currently trying to wean itself off foreign imports. This Indian attitude leads Pakistan to acquire new weaponry to make its defence more effective against any foreign aggression especially at eastern and western fronts. This South-Asian tug of war, would only bring new disputes between Delhi and Islamabad beside already nuclear flash points like Kashmir, Siachin and Sir-Creek Issues.
Pakistan seems to be more open for political and diplomatic dialogues with India but the hard-line policies of Indian premier Narendra Modi, has taken extreme harsh line towards Pakistan, which may swell tensions in South Asia, which is already under severe turmoil due to huge gulf of trust deficit. Nevertheless, both China and Russia will never allow it happen because of their dreams to bring whole Asia at the course of shared economic prosperity under “One Belt – One Road (OBOR)” and Eurasian policy.
China, the largest economy in the region, has the second-largest military budget globally after that of the US, which spends almost three times on military modernization but still this, East-Asian giant remains partly dependent on imports for some key weapons and components, including large transport aircrafts, helicopters and engines for aircrafts, vehicles and war ships.
But, it’s also a reality that Beijing is slowly becoming a major arms supplier in the region at least. China across the world supplying weapons to 37 countries, with most arms supplies, say 35 per cent, to Pakistan, followed by Bangladesh and Myanmar, approximately 20 and 16 per cent respectively. This has given a clear picture that Indian neighboring states are becoming increasingly dependent on Chinese arms and it also shows that Indian arms accumulation will lead the region to more tensions and diplomatic frictions.
If we consider it as an outgoing point, it means that tension between Asian nations will grow and as a result of any nightmare, could lead the Asian region to a disasterous impact and ultimately their fast growing economies lead to a partial or complete halt, which can cause deep impact upon European Union, US, China, Russian and Gulf economies because of their major trade and investments in Asia.
The square-one approach between Vietnam, China, India and Pakistan could be the vast reason for destabilization in the region and could reverse the growing economic gains and ambitions. It’s noticeable that during last decade or so, these countries had inspiring boost in economies especially after almost 50% of production has been shifted from developed nations to Asia. Now, this is also a huge reality that weapon supply to Asia is completely dominated by Russia and the US, and that defence equipment business will force them to keep mum at major disputes in Asia and never tries to resolve them but only to speak about them diplomatically as major players.
Still there are several Asian nations relying on heavy armament imports at cards, majority have procurement contracts ready to deliver or having new agreements signed in with intentions to establish vibrant, innovative and modern defence industries as well. Regional disputes (in South-China Sea, South Asia, Indian Ocean etc), trust deficit, threats of growing non-state actors, terrorism and extremism, are primary driving forces behind arms pile-up? While at the same time, Asia-Pacific nations are experiencing rapid economic developments with major intent to link-up the regions for share economic and trade prospects like China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) under OBOR and ultimately linked them with Eurasian belt.
Consequently, arms race to enhance the possibility of war in already conflict-prone regions. It’s another reality that economic projects needs peaceful atmosphere across Asian region to bring prosperity and development in less developed countries which will be only possible when states prioritize cooperation over competition.