Felix Heiduk

An Arms Race in Southeast Asia?

Changing Arms Dynamics, Regional Security and the Role of European Arms Exports

SWP Research Paper 2017/RP 10, August 2017, 31 Pages

Southeast Asia is arming massively. In the past decade, military spending by the region’s states has risen by 57 percent on average. China’s increasingly aggressive behaviour in the Pacific is frequently cited as the trigger for this leap in arms purchases. However, as this study will show, domestic and foreign-policy factors other than the ‘China factor’ have also been decisive for the increase: lasting territorial conflicts, domestic militant revolutionary movements and the powerful political influence of the military. Even if no direct link can be shown to exist between an arms race and an increasing likelihood of violent conflict breaking out, this does not mean that Southeast Asia is gaining in stability through the current arms build-up. On the contrary, the quantitative and qualitative expansion of military capacities has increased both threat perceptions and distrust in the region. In this context, Germany and many of its European neighbours would be well-advised to rethink their role as central arms suppliers to Southeast Asia more strategically and critically. Germany and the EU currently view the arms trade with Southeast Asian customers primarily from an economic perspective. What is needed, however, is a political and strategic discourse on the impact of their arms exports.

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