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Asia Now Spends More on Defense Than All of Europe

Historians may mark 2012 as a key year in tracing Europe’s decline as a global military player. For the first time in centuries, annual defense spending among Asian countries has exceeded that of European countries.

Reuters summarizes “The Military Balance: 2013“, an annual report by IISS, a British think tank:

China’s defense spending in real terms rose 8.3 percent between 2011 and 2012, while in Asia as a whole, spending rose 4.94 percent last year.

At the same time, nominal defense spending among European NATO members had shrunk to around 2006 levels due to budget cuts, the IISS said in “The Military Balance 2013”.

“Indeed, the increase in Asian spending has been so rapid, and the defense austerity pursued by European states so severe, that in 2012 nominal Asian spending ($287.4 billion) exceeded total official defense spending not just in NATO Europe, but across all of Europe, including spending by non-NATO European states,” it said. […]

“China is now clearly the second-largest defense spender in the world,” it said, adding that if it could sustain economic growth, it could match U.S. levels between 2025 and 2028.

Another sign of the Asian arms race: the five largest arms importers from 2007 to 2011 were all Asian states—in order, India, South Korea, Pakistan, China, and Singapore.

Part of this trend has to do with the financial crisis. The Europeans are still squabbling over reforms and stagnating economically, while Asian countries have bounced back better.

And part of it has to do with geopolitics. Asia today in some ways looks a lot like Europe on the eve of World War I, with nationalist jealousies and border disputes fueling instability across the continent. By 1945, Europe was on its knees, and it has arguably never recovered its once-dominant global stature. So it’s far from a sure thing that an Asian military buildup is a sign of health.

But causes and consequences aside, this is an important turning point to mark in the shape of the world in the early 21st century. For good or for ill, the times they are a-changin’.

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