china's navy -- 10/6/14

Today's selection -- from Asia's Cauldron by Robert D. Kaplan. Like most countries, including our own, as China's economy has grown, so has its military. And since the territory between countries in East Asia is more seascape than landscape, much of its military growth has been in its navy:

"It is a harsh but true reality: capitalist prosperity leads to military acquisitions. States in the course of rapid development do more trade with the outside world, and consequently develop global interests that require protection by means of hard power. The economic rise of post-Civil War America in the late nineteenth century led to the building of a great navy. The culmination of industrial development in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century was an arms race that helped cause World War I. ...

"It is the very steepness of Asia's economic rise (and particularly of China's until recently) from the 1970s through the first decade of the twenty-first century that causes its leaders to pound their chests militarily. Whereas it took Great Britain nearly six decades to double its per capita income during its industrial revolution following the late eighteenth century, and America five decades to do the same following the Civil War, China doubled its per capita income in the first decade after its late-twentieth-century takeoff. As a whole, Asia's per capita income rose sevenfold in less than six decades following 1950, reports Asia expert Bill Emmott, a former editor in chief of The Economist.

"Asia's military rise has followed in tandem with its economic rise, Desmond Ball, professor at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre of the Australian National University, reports that from the late 1980s to the late 1990s defense outlays rose so dramatically that Asia's share of global military expenditure nearly doubled, from 11 to 20 percent, Asia's share of arms imports increased from 15 to 41 percent of the world total. ... In 2011, China's defense budget rose another 12.7 percent to nearly $100 billion. Though the U.S. defense budget is $708 billion, 'the two are headed in opposite directions.' Moreover, China's total military-related spending was estimated by the Pentagon to be $150 billion in 2009, and has surely moved higher since. China is now the world's second largest military spender, with China and Japan far ahead of Germany and Russia in military expenditures. ...

Of particular note is the feverish acquisition of submarines, as surface warships become more vulnerable to offensive missiles. 'Submarines are the new bling, everybody wants them,' Bernard Loo Fook Weng of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore told me. Note that submarines are moving, undersea intelligence-gathering factories. Unlike aircraft carriers for example, which in and of themselves constitute statements of national prestige and are useful for a variety of missions, including humanitarian relief, submarines are about sheer aggression. ...

"China has over sixty submarines and will have around seventy-five or so in the next few years, slightly more than the United States. China 'is outbuilding the U.S, in new submarines by four to one' since 2000, and by 'eight to one' since 2005, even as the U.S. Navy's ASW (antisubmarine warfare) forces have diminished, write James C. Bussert of the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center and Bruce A. Elleman of the U.S. Naval War College. ... India, South Korea, and Vietnam are expected to acquire six more subs apiece by the end of the current decade, while Australia will acquire twelve new subs within twenty years, though recent budgetary restrictions may affect this statistic downward, ... Singapore, a tiny citystate at the southern extremity of the South China Sea, is now among the world's top ten arms importers.

"South Korea may be the best example of this defense (and particularly naval) craze in the Asia-Pacific region, In 2006, South Korea decided to more than double defense expenditures by 2015, to $1.24 trillion.

"All of these Asian navies are dwarfed by that of the United States, but whereas each of them is increasing in size, the number of U.S. warships over the decades will decrease in number. ...

"Future projections are obviously dangerous because of the flaw of linear thinking: current trends rarely continue as they have in the past. But given how China has constituted a great world civilization and seen great empires for the overwhelming majority of its history going back thousands of years, it is reasonable to see the last 150 years of weakness as an aberration that is now being rectified."


Robert D. Kaplan


Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific


Random House


Copyright 2014 Robert D. Kaplan


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