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Asia overtakes Europe in military spending

This seems like a pretty significant shift: Asian defence spending is this year set to exceed that of Europe for the first time in modern history as European Union nations slash their military budgets and Chinese expenditure accelerates, a leading think-tank reports on Wednesday.In its analysis of Asian defence spending, IISS reports that expenditure increased ...

WON DAI-YEON/AFP/Getty Images
WON DAI-YEON/AFP/Getty Images

This seems like a pretty significant shift:

Asian defence spending is this year set to exceed that of Europe for the first time in modern history as European Union nations slash their military budgets and Chinese expenditure accelerates, a leading think-tank reports on Wednesday.In its analysis of Asian defence spending, IISS reports that expenditure increased overall by 3.15 per cent in real terms in 2011. China, Japan, India, South Korea and Australia accounted for more than 80 per cent of total Asian defence spending.

The IISS says Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are all investing in improving air and naval capacities, as are India, Japan and South Korea. However, China, the region’s top spender, has – according to IISS estimates – increased its share of regional expenditure to more than 30 per cent.

This seems like a pretty significant shift:

Asian defence spending is this year set to exceed that of Europe for the first time in modern history as European Union nations slash their military budgets and Chinese expenditure accelerates, a leading think-tank reports on Wednesday.In its analysis of Asian defence spending, IISS reports that expenditure increased overall by 3.15 per cent in real terms in 2011. China, Japan, India, South Korea and Australia accounted for more than 80 per cent of total Asian defence spending.

The IISS says Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are all investing in improving air and naval capacities, as are India, Japan and South Korea. However, China, the region’s top spender, has – according to IISS estimates – increased its share of regional expenditure to more than 30 per cent.

By contrast, European expenditure presents a very different picture. The IISS notes that last year’s Libya campaign highlighted gaps in the capabilities of European states in targeting, tanker aircraft, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

I’m actually a little surprised it’s taken this long. Europe has only a fourth of the population of Asia, no individual economies that rival the size of China or Japan, and, with the exception of the Balkans, no major military conflicts since the end of World War II. Asia meanwhile has seen massive military buildups on the Korean peninsula, the India-Pakistan border, and, of course, China’s military modernization. 

The demilitarization of the European continent is actually even a bit more dramatic, as the U.S. military will be moving units away from the continent as part of its planned pivot to Asia. In the short term this demilitarization seems to make sense given the priorities of European economies, but taking the long view, it’s a pretty momentous development in modern history. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

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