The chart above accompanies an article by my colleague Rama Lakshmi on India's recent emergence as the world's largest arms importer. The South Asian giant is now also trying to boost its own defense industry, emulating China's transformation from being the world's leading arms importer in 2006 to one of the top global exporters of weaponry seven years later (as you can see above).
What's also apparent in the chart is the widening scope of the arms race in Asia, where China's rise has given other regional players cause for concern. Taiwan, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh are all among the world's top arms buyers. For the two South Asian countries, these are expenditures that come despite other crippling pressures on their economies. From frozen disputes along the Himalayas to the roiling "cauldron" of the South China Sea, Asia is not short of potential flash points for conflict.
In 2010, India surpassed China as the world's top arms importer, purchasing warships, jet fighters and all sorts of other goodies for its arsenal from a host of vendors in the U.S., France, Russia and elsewhere. Russia, in particular, has emerged as the world's most eager exporter of arms, with sales booming despite its diplomatic hostilities with the West this year.
An expanding, modernizing military is, in some regards, an inevitable outcome of a nation's growing economy, with its strategic interests further afield. But the continued pace of acquisitions in Asia ought to furrow brows, writes the Financial Times' David Pilling:
There are two obvious concerns about a burgeoning arms race that is only likely to gather pace in coming years. One is that, especially in poorer countries such as India, Vietnam and China, where there are still hundreds of millions of poor people, public funds are being lavished on prestige military purchases with no social value. The other concern is just the opposite. When it comes to arms, the only thing worse than spending on useless equipment is spending on weapons that actually prove useful.Almost every Asian nation is building up its capacity in the air and on the sea. The people of the region must hope that it is a complete waste of money.