Asian Conversations - an online magazine to explore Asia's future

A call to arms

Partly in response to cross-border terror attacks and with one eye on beefy China, India’s interim defence budget for 2009-10 increased to US$29 billion, up a sharp 35% from 2008-09, but still roughly 2.2% of the estimated 2010 GDP. Pakistan meanwhile increased defence allocations for the 2010-11 fiscal year by 17% to US$5.18 billion (3.1% of the 2010 GDP).

While hard to pinpoint with any degree of precision, China’s defence budget for 2010 increased roughly 7.5% to US$77.9 billion, or 1.6% of the country’s 2010 GDP. This is a comparatively smaller increase compared to previous years that saw annual hikes of over 10% in military spending. Neighbouring Japan and South Korea, fearing Chinese expansionism and blind-sided by bellicose North Korean outbursts, have increased their spending too. Japan estimates a figure close to US$276 billion to be allocated to defence over the next five years (2011-2015), while South Korea is increasing budgets by 5.8% to US$27.1 billion (approximately 2.9% of GDP).

A 2011 defence budget of US$5.4 billion has been approved in Thailand, a 10% hike over 2009, and equivalent to roughly 1.7% of GDP. The Indonesian government was expected to increase defence spending by more than 20% in 2010, with a figure of US$4 billion, or 0.75% of GDP.

The Middle East remains on the boil. Saudi Arabia has doubled its defence spending from US$22 billion in 2002, to US$41.27 billion in 2009. In 2008, Saudi Arabia spent a whopping 8.2% of its GDP on defence, compared to a world average of 2.4%. Iran’s military expenditure meanwhile was estimated at US$9.17 billion in 2008, or 2.7% of GDP.

The Israelis are pumping US$17.1 billion into defence, a climb of 25%. In 2008, US$16.2 billion was spent on defence, a sum deemed by The Economist as the highest per capita outlay in the world at US$2,300 per head. Turkey is also set to increase its budget for the Defence Ministry by 7.6%, up from US$10.5 billion to US$11.3 billion. – Kanishk Verghese