The analysis of the trends in defence spending and procurement in Asia has revealed a sustained arms build-up since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. While this was not immediately apparent in the fi rst few years following the end of that confl ict, there was clear evidence that throughout the 1980s, the states in Asia were making efforts at expanding and modernizing their armed forces. The end of the Cold War in 1989 did not end tensions and confl icts in Asia, although it did lead to the end of the confl ict in Cambodia and Vietnam’s rapprochement with ASEAN. There remained signifi cant confl icts, for instance, in the Korean peninsula, the Taiwan Straits and between India and Pakistan. However, despite evidence of rapid military modernization and sensational press assertions of a regional arms race in the early 1990s, analysts argued that in fact what was happening in Asia did not amount to an arms race, and that it was merely a process of arms modernization, that is, the maintenance of the status quo in the arms race dynamic. 1
The aftermath of the Asian fi nancial crisis in 1997 provided another opportunity to assess the pace and direction of Asia’s arms modernization. The most affected countries were Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea. In the case of South Korea, it made little difference to its defence spending and modernization plans, given the existential threat from the North, and the strong support of its ally, the United States. While it took several years for defence spending in Thailand to recover, it did so remarkably quickly in the case of Indonesia. By 2000, defence spending in Indonesia had recovered despite the severe political and economic impacts of the crisis. 2 The Asian fi nancial crisis had no impact on China and India, the two rising great powers, both of which markedly increased their real defence spending over the period from 1996 to 2001. 3 In the cases of both North Korea and Pakistan, the failure to compete in conventional terms with their adversaries, i.e. South Korea and India respectively, led them to develop nuclear weapons. In Southeast Asia, Singapore continued its military
force and navy. Thus, despite the economic crisis, there appeared to be an unstoppable momentum to military modernization throughout Asia. The result was that states in the region possessed increasingly capable armed forces with the range, mobility and fi repower to carry out a much wider range of operations, including offensive warfare, than before.