Thursday, May 31, 2012

Feeding our fears

In India, life expectancy is low, infant mortality high, education erratic, and illiteracy widespread, despite that country's status as the third-largest economy in Asia, behind China and Japan. India's annual economic growth rate has fallen from 9 percent to 6.1 percent over the past two and a half years.

Yet last year India was the world's leading arms purchaser, exemplified by a $20 billion purchase of high-performance French fighter planes. India is also developing a long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads, as well as buying submarines and surface craft. Its military budget is set to rise 17 percent this year to $42 billion.

Some 250 million Chinese officially are considered poor. Its economy is cooling and bottoming out. China, too, is in the middle of an arms boom that includes beefing up its navy, constructing a new generation of stealth aircraft, and developing a ballistic missile that is potentially capable of neutralizing U.S. carriers near its coast. Beijing's arms budget has grown at a rate of some 12 percent a year and, at $106.41 billion, is now the second-largest on the planet.

Taiwan is buying four U.S.-made Perry-class guided missile frigates, and Japan has shifted much of its military from its northern islands to face southward toward China. The Philippines are spending almost $1 billion on new aircraft and radar, and recently held joint war games with the United States. South Korea has just successfully tested a long-range cruise missile. Washington is reviving ties with Indonesia's brutal military because the island nation controls the strategic seaways through which pass most of the region's trade and energy supplies.

Australia is also re-orienting its defense to face China, and Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith has urged "that India play the role it could and should as an emerging great power in the security and stability of the region."

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