Mr Richard Bitzinger, from the S. Rajaratam School in Singapore, joined Griffith Asia Institute this week to present his thoughts on the regional arms race in the South Pacific. He explained that there is growing antagonisms over territorial and EEZ (exclusive economic zones) claims in the South China Sea, along with an increasingly assertive Chinese military presence in the region. This has impelled many countries in the region to begin expanding their militaries. Consequently, many countries in the region have for the past decade been on a veritable “shopping spree” for advanced conventional weapons — particularly naval systems, such as submarines and large surface combatants. This been enabled by a corresponding increase in military spending.
Mr Bitzinger went on to explain that these acquisitions do not necessarily fit the model of an “arms race,” as laid out in prevailing theory — that is, mutually adversarial relationships, explicit tit-for-tat arms acquisitions, the intention of using arming in order seek dominance over other regional players, etc. Additionally, the number of actual numbers of arms being acquired are, for the most part, relatively small — certainly too small to have much of an impact on Chinese behavior.
The regional re-arming process is significant in that the types of arms being acquired goes beyond the mere modernization of regional militaries, and, as such could greatly alter the nature and character of regional conflict, should it occur. In addition, this process of arming, while perhaps not an “arms race”per se, could still contribute to a classic “security dilemma.” Consequently, such arming could still be potentially destabilizing to regional security in the long run.
Richard A. Bitzinger is a Senior Fellow with the Military Transformations Program at the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies, where his work focuses on security and defense issues relating to the Asia-Pacific region, including military modernization and force transformation, regional defense industries and local armaments production, and weapons proliferation.
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