Why Global Military Spending Is On The Rise

Global military spending is
on the rise. That means more and better
equipped soldiers on land more warships at sea and more high tech fighter
jets in the skies. In 2018, worldwide, military
spending hit 1.8 trillion dollars. It has reached the highest point since
us at SIPRI have started compiling world data over the
last 30 something years. So what does all this mean? Does more military spending
make the world safer? Or is it a warning
of conflict to come? The last time spending rivaled today’s
levels was at the height of President Reagan’s Cold War arms
buildup in the late 1980s. But the sudden collapse of the Soviet
Union in 1991 changed the game. Military spending soon plummeted. Large scale military conflicts virtually disappeared
for the most part, at least. And the global economy boomed. By 1998, global spending hit its
lowest point since the Cold War. But then… There is a major
incident in lower Manhattan. Apparently, a plane has crashed into one
of the upper floors of the World Trade Center. The September 11th attacks in
2001 prompted a massive U.S. military mobilization for President
Bush’s ‘War on Terror’. Our enemy is a radical network
of terrorists and every government that supports them. As the U.S. and its allies deploy troops to
Afghanistan and Iraq, global spending numbers swelled, until Obama’s first
term, when war fatigue, internal budget pressures and troop withdrawals
pushed spending back down again. So if it wasn’t Iraq and
Afghanistan that propelled military spending to record levels in 2018, what was it? During all of this, a tectonic geopolitical
shift was taking place in East Asia, the rise of China. In 1990, the U.S., the Soviet Union, then
Germany, France, the U.K. and so on made up
the top 10 military spenders. But fast forward to 2018 and
those top spenders have drastically changed. China has jumped from a share of just
2 percent to 14 percent, the second largest behind the U.S. The country’s explosive economic growth allowed
it to increase spending for 24 straight years, culminating in a
2018 budget of 250 billion dollars. So where’s all that money going
to modernize China’s People’s Liberation Army? President Xi Jinping hopes to
fully modernize the military by 2035 and complete training into a
world class force by 2049. They want to assert themselves as a
regional superpower, but also as a world superpower competing
with the U.S. on a military basis. Progress has been swift. Since just 2011, China has gone
from having zero commissioned aircraft carriers to two in operation
and a third under construction. The U.S. in comparison has eleven much more
massive and highly advanced carriers. The Chinese are fielding elite fighter jets
as well, like the J-20 Chengdu and the Shenyang FC-31. Together, these fighters are designed
to compete with America’s latest generation Stealth F-22
Raptor and F-35. U.S. officials claim the Chinese used hacked
F-35 plans to help build these next generation aircraft. And that leads us to cyber warfare. China is spending big there, too. China doesn’t only want
to hack into U.S. computer networks, it wants to find
a way to neutralize U.S. advantages on the
physical battlefield. China has been watching how the
United States has conducted military operations very closely for
the last 25 years. They understand how dependent we
are on information enabled technologies and they have been developing asymmetric
capabilities to deny us those key enabling technologies. China’s also spending money to update
its nuclear arsenal and the bombers and submarines that carry those
weapons of mass destruction. Then there’s hypersonic missiles. They travel more than five times the
speed of sound, making them difficult to detect and neutralize. And if that wasn’t enough, these cutting
edge weapons also come tipped with nuclear warheads. Another really significant area is
China’s development of anti satellite weapons. Space is critical to just about everything
we do with regards to military operations, for reconnaissance, to communicating
with our own forces, to placing weapons on targets. If China or other adversaries can deny
the United States access to space based capabilities that would fundamentally
change the military equation here on Earth. China is also expanding its
military presence beyond its borders. In 2017, China opened its first overseas
base in the African country of Djibouti. China has been flexing its
military muscles in its own backyard as well. China is trying to project power into
the South China Sea, where it has territorial disputes over resource rich
islands and shallow reefs with nations like the
Philippines and Vietnam. China has begun unilaterally asserting
claims over these islands, turning several into full scale military
installations and demanding vessels recognize Chinese authority
in surrounding waters. An international court ruled against
these actions in 2016. The U.S. also rebuffs China’s demands by frequently
sailing Navy ships through the waters, China claims. Still, China shows no
signs of backing down. There is the prospect that the two
sides could get into a skirmish, a crisis, or even potentially a war in
the waters or airspace over the South China Sea, or even more likely,
in my view, over Taiwan. The island of Taiwan, once under
mainland China’s control, broke away during China’s communist
revolution with U.S. support and now governs
itself as a democracy. But today’s mainland communist leadership
still claims the island. Most analysts don’t believe that China has
the ability today to launch an amphibious invasion of Taiwan and take
the country over by force and occupy it. What concerns more observers is the
possibility that China might use some of its increasing military capabilities to
try to blockade or coerce Taiwan into politically unifying
with the mainland. President Xi Jinping has ramped up
military exercises around Taiwan and further diplomatically isolated the island since
he came to power in 2012. The other thing to remember about China’s
military spending is a lot of its military spending is actually
directed internally toward maintaining political stability within China. 2019’s unrest in Hong Kong has prompted
concern over how China might use its upgraded military capabilities. After weeks of protests, the People’s
Liberation Army released this video showing soldiers conducting battle exercises
in urban environments and quelling simulated civilian unrest. The overall worry? a newly empowered China will not be
a benevolent player on the world stage. Instead, using its military
prowess to bully weaker neighboring countries and to suppress its own people
or those it claims it represents. This worry has helped prompt
spending increases throughout the Asia-Pacific region, countries as diverse
as Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Australia all increased
spending in 2018. Vietnam started buying submarines. Taiwan started developing more anti
aircraft missiles for instance. Japan is also starting
to modernize its weapons. Overall, in the whole Asia, it’s
almost seen as action reaction. But perhaps most
importantly, the U.S. has taken notice, too. The United States remains the
world’s undisputed foremost military power. Its budget is larger than the
next eight biggest spenders combined. The United States defense budget actually
still dwarfs China by a significant margin. Not only is the United States still
the number one defense spender in the world, but most of the other
major spenders are also U.S. allies. Countries such as South Korea,
Japan, Germany, France, Britain and so on. In 2018, U.S. military spending hits 649 billion dollars,
an increase of four point six percent from 2017 and the first time
the budget had increased at all since 2011. China’s rise remains a
major factor behind the increase. China’s expanding its influence into the
Pacific, which has always been this area controlled by the
US since World War 2. So it is this pushing the boundaries
of sphere influence between China and U.S. China’s expanding power has
been on the U.S.’s radar for years. But President Trump’s election ushered
in a particularly hawkish national security staff. This staff has pushed the idea that the
world is entering a new era of so-called great power competition, reviving
justifications for the large scale conventional forces and nuclear arsenals
that fell out of style after the collapse of
the Soviet Union. To help prepare for potential conflict in
this perceived new era of great power competition, the Trump administration
has fast track military modernization and expansion plans, from
recruiting more soldiers to upgrading the Navy’s aircraft carriers,
completing the acquisition of the new F-35 fighter jet platform,
designing next generation bombers and submarines, upgrading nuclear forces, dumping
money into cyber operations and more. This spending shows few signs of
slowing down, with the U.S. charting a defense budget
increase for 2019. And it’s not all about China. There is also a Russian resurgence
under way that few saw coming. The view back in the late 1990s
is that we were always going to most likely be dealing
with a benign Russia. That’s fundamentally changed. From President Vladimir Putin’s snatching
of Crimea to his destabilization of Ukraine, election meddling in the
West, advanced cyber capabilities and cutting edge hypersonic missile technology, Russia
is back in the great power game. It’s been increasing spending since 2011 and
had a very big and expensive modernization program until
about 2016. And then as the program is nearing its
end, we of course see the spending taper out and slightly decrease. That resurgence has prompted considerable
spending increases in former Soviet states fearing
Russian aggression. Increases include Poland, Bulgaria,
Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. So does 2018’s record spending
levels mean conflict is imminent? These numbers do indicate issues
of increased tension, increased rivalries, possible conflicts that might occur. I think the question is
whether spending causes conflicts. So far, no definitive answer, but
there definitely is a relationship there. Global military spending by itself
is not necessarily the problem. Rather, the spending reflects how countries
are seeing their interests and their beliefs that they are in
competition with other great powers and that they have to prepare
for the possibility of conflict.

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