Western countries are feeling the financial pinch and have slashed their military spending accordingly. However, as a SIPRI researcher tells DW, other countries are grasping the opportunity to close the gap.
Carina Solmirano is a researcher with the Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
DW: Why did the six big military spenders cut their budgets in 2011?
Carina Solmirano: Most of the countries which cut their military expenditures did it as a result of efforts to reduce the budget deficits. This is clearly the case in France, Germany, the UK and the United States especially. In 2011 these countries finally felt the effect of the financial and economic crisis and the deficit crisis that affected many countries around the globe. So they decided to implement different measures to deal with this, one of the measures has affected the military budget. Then there is another picture with Brazil for instance. Brazil also had a fall in military expenditure in 2011 after growing almost continuously for the last 10 years. Brazil cut its military expenditure mainly as a way to slow down its economic growth and to reduce inflation. And then we have the case of India which is a country that has continuously increased its military spending and during 2011 it actually did it in absolute terms
Are the Western countries in danger of losing their military clout, seeing that China and Russia are increasing their military budgets?
Not necessarily. We need to take into consideration that the US is by far the largest military spender. It accounts for approximately 40 percent of global military expenditure. So for the US I think it poses no type of challenge or concern. But what we see definitely is that for instance Russia has overtaken the UK and France and it is now the world's third-largest spender when it comes to military budgets, the second one is China. So in the case of Europe what it looks like in future is some of the budgets of these countries, especially the UK, Germany and France will continue having slight decreases, it will not be a tremendous fall, but it will continue dropping in the next years, and we need to analyze in the future whether there is going to be a geopolitical change or impact due to these changes. I don't think there is necessarily a concern of losing military influence. I think that China and Russia are now clearly aiming to become larger global powers and other countries in Europe may be falling behind those two countries.
The US is still No.1, with China second and Russia just behind. Isn't that a shift in the balance?
does change the balance but the US and China have for quite some time been the two largest spenders globally speaking. Russia is the one that this year is changing a little bit the old balance. Russia had a large increase in 2011, and is now number 3. The European countries have been facing in a different way their own economic problems, and I think that's why in some cases the picture of Europe shows more weakened economies with large deficits in some countries and in some small countries the impact has been even larger in terms of cuts to the military budgets. There is a shift in the balance, but this shift began prior to 2011. China and Russia have both been developing their economies and militaries for quite some years now.
What do these two countries hope to achieve by increasing their military budgets. Is it only to modernize their armies?
In the case of Russia for instance, it is interesting, they have announced that they will continue the increase of their military spending as part of a so-called state armament programme. That was approved by president Medvedev in late 2010. So there are plans already to increase the budget by 53 percent in real terms up until 2014. And they also have this plan up to 2020 that covers arms' procurement and research and development, and that includes more than $700 billion (532 billion euros) for expenditure to modernize the army. China has a similar situation where they have begun a programme to modernize not only the equipment but also the armed forces to improve the conditions for instance of the troops and also to catch up in terms of the technological gap that they have with the US. So for that they need to modernize and do it at a faster pace in terms of building and procuring new equipment and doing research and development.
What influence will the withdrawal from Afghanistan have?
The withdrawal from Afghanistan, at least from the US side, brings all these concerns about what is going to happen in that region. I mean it is extremely volatile, you have Afghanistan and you have spillovers in Pakistan and other neighboring countries. I still don't see what the role of China and Russia will be in that region though. I don't think they are necessarily looking into how they would intervene in the future in other parts of the world. I think it is this is mostly about geopolitics. Russia and China are part of the so-called BRIC-bloc of economic powers (Brazil, Russia, India, China - the ed.). They are definitely trying to strengthen or improve their regional power status and they do it also by increasing their military capabilities. We have for instance the case of China which is a large economic power that is now trying to also use that influence by showing that they also have the military capabilities to stand out as an economic power. So I think it is part of a global aim to position itself in a better place vis-à-vis the US.
Interview: Sabine Hartert
Editor: Rob Mudge