By Anum Fayyaz
The initial drop in military spending after the end of the Cold War has not been sustained. Although the number of armed conflicts is diminishing, military expenditure is rising in almost all regions. But there are a number of reasons for the rise in militarization and in military spending in many parts of the world.
The attack on New York and Washington were seized on by the Bush Administration to justify the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the subsequent sustained increase in US defense expenditure for the “war on terrorism”. Many other countries followed the suit. Despite the decline in the traditional perception in some countries e.g. Western Europe of risk from an external conventional attack by an aggressor state, military establishments have used the “counter terrorism” argument to lull the public into acquiescence in high levels of military expenditure. This has been accompanied by a lack of transparency and the absence of effective oversight by parliaments and public opinion.
In several developing countries with sharp regional tensions, the fear of conventional military attack remains real (e.g. Pakistan/India, Israel/Iran, etc). This helps to justify high military spending. Internal instability, mainly in poorer countries, is however a growing factor behind the perception of security threats within states, e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. The strategy in response to this is often a development of “counter insurgency” warfare, both urban and rural. New types of conventional warfare techniques and weaponry are being developed to meet this threat.
Disarmament and arms control has generally floundered, despite some successes such as the conclusion of the Cluster Munitions Convention. The Bush administration withdrew from, or remained inactive in, most disarmament frameworks, helping to keep them stalled. This picture may now be changing, but not all for the better. The Obama administration brought the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, but this was largely offset by the rise in military spending on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Obama administration has increased the US defense budget by 1.6% and pursues the reinforcement of NATO, partly for the growing NATO-led war in Afghanistan and partly due to pressures from ex-Soviet bloc states eager to retain a strong NATO in the face of a resurgent Russia.
The traditional nationalistic regard for the prestige and power status of military power is as powerful a motive as ever. As newly industrialized countries such as India, China, Brazil increase their economic power, so they tend to seek the prestige of military power. Other countries also seek prestige in a similar way. This motive is both a reaction to US dominance, and reflects the perception that military power projection is needed to safeguard access to declining quantities of non-renewable energy resources or other raw materials.
The sharpened international competition for scarce fuels is increasing international tensions over control of these resources, with a danger of more “resource wars”. This provides an important long-term stimulus for increased defense spending.
A related, but as yet undeclared, motive for greater military spending may be to contain the growing threat of internal disturbances arising in poor countries ravaged by climate change, and associated cross-frontier migration. This reinforces the general perception of growing instability.
The military have exploited public support for humanitarian interventions in disaster relief, peace-keeping and conflict situations, in order to secure the “militarization” of humanitarian relief, usually through protection of relief convoys and of endangered civilians. This has boosted the image of the military, but it has blurred the distinction between such activity and the development and humanitarian work being done in the field by aid agencies. Much of the work done by the military could be done by civilian agencies which could also be a reason for higher defense spending.
Developing countries with rapidly growing economies, such as India and Brazil, now playing larger roles in international economic decision making are maintaining significant real increases in their military spending, partly for reasons of power projection and prestige. But the sharpened perceived threats from internal or regional instability, minority grievances, and in some cases insurgency play a role in many countries’ defense strategies – not least the poorer ones – to the detriment of other kinds of spending, such as infrastructure, health and education, which are more socially desirable.
India’s military spending increased by 24% in 2009 and is still on the rise. It has recently joined the club of countries that have constructed nuclear submarines. The main motives or threats behind India’s defense decisions, apart from prestige and the desire to rival China’s regional dominance is doing, include long running tensions with Pakistan over Kashmir and terrorism, as well as restless minorities within the nation’s borders.
Pakistan’s high military spending is in the face of internal and Afghan Islamic extremism, tension with India over Kashmir and nuclear rivalry with India. According to chief military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the increase in Indian defence spending was Pakistan-specific.
“Pakistan usually makes its defence allocations with the objective of maintaining certain conventional parity with India,” he said.
The growing tensions between both these countries and India’s ambitions have lead to such huge defense spending despite their widespread poverty and socio-political problems. India gets away with such a high military budget owing to its democratic government and a fast growing trillion dollar economy which gives it greater purchasing power. Pakistan does not have it as easy as India in its military development particularly because of its mounting international debts and a series of military dictators creating political instability.
The main security threat to Pakistan is not only seen as the military power of its rival India. Rather, it also comes from Afghan Islamic extremism, internal instability and the growing socio-economic problems for example unemployment in the country. Higher military spending generates few jobs which are unsuited to current Pakistan circumstances of rapidly rising unemployment and competition for government financial support.
Anum Fayyaz has M.Sc. in Defense and Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad and is currently working as a Research Fellow at South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI).