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Arms imports in Asia

March 19, 2012

A study shows Asian countries are the largest weapons importers in the world with India, Pakistan and China leading the race. Experts believe Asia's obsession with arms can be devastating for its social development.

Image: Reuters

According to a study released on Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Asia and Oceania accounted for 44 percent of arms imports between 2007 and 2011. Globally, the overall volume of weapons imports has also increased by 24 percent during this period, reported SIPRI.

India, said the SIPRI report, was the largest arms importer in the world between 2007 and 2011, accounting for 10 percent. India is closely followed by South Korea with six percent, Pakistan and China with five percent each, and Singapore with four percent of arms imports.

According to SIPRI, these five countries accounted for almost a third of the volume of international weapons imports.

The report also noted that some Asian countries were seeking to decrease their reliance on Western countries for arms purchases by developing local armament industries. China, which was the world's top arms importer between 2006 and 2007, is now fourth on the list. Since then, its arms exports have multiplied manifold, according to the report.

One of the biggest buyers of the Chinese weapons is Pakistan. "While the volume of China's arms exports is increasing, this is largely a result of Pakistan importing more arms from China," the report noted.

Indo-Pakistani conflict

An Indian soldier takes cover during gun battle between Indian military and militants
India accuses Pakistan of supporting Islamist terrorism in the regionImage: AP

Siemon Wezeman, a researcher at SIPRI, told Deutsche Welle that the protracted Indo-Pakistani conflict was the main reason India and Pakistan were so obsessed with importing arms. The other reason, he added, was that the domestic armament industries of the two countries were still underdeveloped.

"The Indo-Pakistani conflict has played a very important role in this arms race, and it is continuing to play an important role," said Wezeman. "On top of that, India feels threatened by China. India sees China as a potential threat to its security, partly because China is a partner and an ally of Pakistan and also because India shares a long disputed border with China. India also thinks that in order to be a regional power it needs to show its muscles."

The social cost

Wezeman, however, said the arms race in Asia was certainly hampering the social progress of the region, as Asian countries were bent on spending more money on weapons than on social development.

"It makes you wonder how countries like India and Pakistan, which are not well developed, can spend so much money on weapons."

On the other hand, Manoj Joshi, political editor at the Times of India newspaper, said India was justified in spending money on building its army, and that in comparison to Pakistan and China, India spent less on arms in relation to its GDP.

Picture of a slum in Pakistan
The majority of South Asians lack basic facilities such as food, shelter and clean waterImage: AP

"India's defense expenditure is not even four percent of the GDP, whereas if you look at China and Pakistan, they have a much higher proportional figure," Joshi told Deutsche Welle.

Joshi said India was "a country with large defense requirements." Despite these figures, Joshi believed that in many areas the Indian army is ill-equipped.

"They are falling behind in modernization programs. Paradoxically, we need more (arms) rather than less. We need more weapons; we need more imports because India does not have an adequate arms industry."

Nusrat Sheikh, a Berlin-based development expert of the Pakistani origin, and Vice President of the DIP Forum - which promotes German-Indo-Pakistani relations - told Deutsche Welle that the arms race in South Asia "is clearly undermining the region's social and political development." 

"Necessary resources are being diverted from social to military uses."

Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Sarah Berning