The conventional narrative is that the world is threatened by the assertive China and Russia. The inconvenient narrative is that China is modernising, while US priorities are misguided, Dan Steinbock says.
When China recently launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier, New York Times saw it as “a milestone in President Xi Jinping’s drive to extend China’s military reach far beyond its shores”. First reports surfaced in early 2016, when Washington Post headlined, “By 2030, South China Sea will be “virtually a Chinese lake”.”
The US Navy commissioned its first aircraft carrier in 1922. Today, it has 19 of the 36 such ships plying waters around the world. The same goes for overseas military bases. While China’s first overseas military base in Djibouti has been portrayed as a world threat, the US has almost 40 “named bases” around the world, military deployments in more than 150 countries, and over 300,000 of its personnel abroad.
What about military expenditures?
The conventional narrative is that China has become assertive, while the West is ignoring its defence needs. This view is backed with the newly-released SIPRI report, which suggests that in the past decade military spending in China and Russia increased 118 percent and 87 percent, respectively. America remains the greatest military spender, but US spending plunged almost 5 percent in the past decade.
Yet, realities are more nuanced. After the end of the Cold War, many observers expected a “peace premium” and a significant plunge of military expenditures. In reality, defence spending increased from the mid-1990s to the early 2010s. Then, expenditures plateaued, due to secular stagnation in advanced economies and the fall of oil prices in oil-exporting countries, many of which are major military spenders.
The new list of top-10 military spenders includes the US ($611 billion), China ($215 billion), Russia ($69 billion), Saudi Arabia, India, the core EU economies, Japan and South Korea. Together, they account for three-fourths of the total. Yet, Washington spends more dollars a year on its military than the next seven biggest spenders combined – which penalises living standards in America and stability abroad.
Moreover, the US defence system is still the most innovative in the world, but that leadership is in danger of failing, due to erosion, as I argued in a major US report, The Challenges for America’s Defense Innovation (Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, November 2014).
About the Author
Dan Steinbock is the Founder of Difference Group and has served as Research Director of International Business at the India China and America Institute (US) and a Visiting Fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (China) and the EU Centre (Singapore). For more, see http://www.differencegroup.net