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Game of Thrones: Arms Race in Southeast Asia?

The traditionally small, inward-looking militaries of Southeast Asia are no longer relying solely on the U.S. for regional security. They have been steadily expanding and upgrading their own forces as China’s power rises and disputes over South China Sea islands heat up. Reuters has details on this change in posture:

As Southeast Asia’s economies boomed, defense spending grew 42 percent in real terms from 2002 to 2011, data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows.

High on the list are warships, patrol boats, radar systems and combat planes, along with submarines and anti-ship missiles that are particularly effective in denying access to sea lanes.

As the Game of Thrones and the accumulation of high-tech weaponry continue, there is one obvious beneficiary: the global arms industry:

With defense budgets in many Western nations under pressure, Asia is attractive for makers of weapons, communications gear and surveillance systems. Lockheed Martin and Boeing’s defense division both expect the Asia-Pacific region to contribute about 40 percent of international revenues.

Southeast Asia’s economies and military budgets are dwarfed by the likes of China and Japan. Even South Korea’s military budget is larger than the combined defense budgets of all of Southeast Asia combined. But by buying cost-effective, high-quality military assets, these countries, located along strategic waterways, will increase their ability to secure their coasts and shipping routes and acquire a measure of deterrence against China.

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