Courtesy Reuters

The Next Great Arms Race

DANGER ON THE PACIFIC RIM

Despite the end of the Cold War--perhaps because of it--the nations of East and Southeast Asia are engaged in accelerating arms races with significant implications for regional and international security. The recent sale of American F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan and Russian Su-27 fighter jets to China are part of a larger arms acquisition effort as both countries also upgrade their own military production capabilities. Other countries in the region--Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the two Koreas--are also involved in major arms acquisition programs and the development of high-tech military industries. Although these nations have generally managed to avoid direct combat with one another since the Vietnam War (the short border conflict between China and Vietnam in 1979 being the sole exception), continuing tension in Korea and a number of territorial disputes in the South China Sea area could provide the sparks to ignite a regional conflagration.

The acceleration of regional arms races is made more worrisome by the absence of any regional arms control talks, such as those now under way in the Middle East, and by the growing technological prowess of the leading Asian powers. While most of the NATO and former Warsaw Pact countries are reducing their military expenditures and slowing the development of new weapons, many East Asian countries are raising their military outlays--in some cases by a significant percentage--and investing in the procurement of modern munitions. Even more significant, many of these countries are developing domestic arms industries that are expected to compete on equal terms with those of the more advanced Western countries in the early years of the 21st century.

It is the emphasis on technology imports that sets the East Asian arms races apart from those in the Third World. While the nations of Africa, Latin America and the Middle East tend to import finished weapons systems from their major suppliers, the Pacific Rim countries generally seek the technology with which to manufacture arms of their own. Hence

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