Tuesday, May 5, 2009

An Arms Race Coming to the Pacific

This was entirely predictable:
Almost two decades after the end of the cold war, a new arms race may be under way in the Pacific. Responding to the expansion of China's military, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd sparked a storm of controversy on Saturday when he released a report calling for a $72 billion expansion of the military over the next 20 years.

Among other upgrades, Australia would purchase 100 F-35 fighter jets, 12 hunter-killer submarines, 46 Tiger helicopters, and 100 armored vehicles, while also investing in cyber and electronic warfare technologies, according to the 140-page report titled "Defending Australia in the Asia-Pacific Century: Force 2030."

Japan is also making noises:
Speaking in Perth yesterday, Mr Nakasone said Tokyo was worried about China's splurge on defence.

"Certainly in relation to China, as you've indicated over the last 21 years, China has continued to increase its military expenditure in double-digit figures, and from the point of view of the region it is an issue of some concern," he said.

The general view in East Asia is that the U.S. will increasingly be unable to maintain its military dominance in the region. Because of this, countries such as South Korea, Japan, and Australia face internal pressures to assert their military capacity and tip the balance back against China. And, in many cases, this might be encouraged on some level by Washington, given the expense in maintaining a military presence on four corners of the earth. Given that all three countries, as well as Taiwan, could become nuclear armed in a matter of years, East Asia is poised to become a tinderbox. The main question is timing - how quickly or slowly all these factors come to the fore, and begin interplay with each other.

From China, a reaction :
A Chinese military strategist, Rear-Admiral Yang Yi, told the Herald yesterday that Australia had spawned a new variation of "the China-threat thesis" that could be emulated by other nations and encourage them to accelerate their rearmament programs.

"I really can't understand this stupid, this crazy idea from Australia," he said. "I am very concerned and worried about it."

China faces several obstacles to expanding its international influence, if that's the route its leadership chooses. 1) It is still mostly a poor, to middle income country, with a per person GDP (PPP), at around 100th in the world. 2) Empires based upon the notion racial or ethnic superiority, or prominence, are over. Germany and Japan both spectacularly failed to achieve this during the Second World War. The United States, with its multiculturalism (less than 50 % of K-12 students are "white"), is a society more people around the world can visually identify with. 3) Geographically, China faces the same constraints it has through history. It is surrounded by economically developed foes, and its shear size makes it difficult to avoid internally fragmenting. 4) It is in no sense a free or democratic society, even by the limited standards of Western bourgeois democracy, such that exists in Japan, South Korea, and increasingly, India. This makes it brittle and prone to internal repression, or collapse, during times of social or economic stress.

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