Not an Arms Race: Parsing Asia’s Defense Spending

Not an Arms Race: Parsing Asia’s Defense Spending

Editor's note: This briefing and the CSIS report on which it is based was co-authored by Priscilla Hermann and Sneha Raghavan.

The U.S. strategic “pivot” toward Asia announced by President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in January 2012 has reinvigorated research efforts on defense policies in the region. However, a detailed analysis of defense spending by key Asian countries, crucial to understanding their military priorities and capabilities, has been lacking. In an attempt to fill this gap, the Center for Strategic and International Studies recently completed a study on the five largest Asian defense spenders: China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Together, these countries account for some 90 percent of defense spending in Asia, and three of them -- China, India and Japan -- were among the top 10 defense spenders in the world in 2011.

Contrary to the trend in the United States and Europe, these five countries, driven by strong economic growth, have steadily increased their defense budgets in the past decade (in constant 2011 U.S. dollars). However, they continue to field personnel-heavy militaries and allocate relatively smaller shares of their budgets to the research, development and acquisition of new military capabilities, suggesting an emphasis on quantity over force quality.

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