Russia Direct releases a new Brief “The Asia-Pacific Military Buildup: Russia’s Response,” which outlines how Moscow views the threat of growing military escalation in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Asia-Pacific military buildup: Russia’s response. Photo: Reuters

Many have speculated about stronger economic links between Russia and Asia in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis as part of a broader pivot by Russia to Asia. Yet, Russia’s hope to establish closer ties with countries such as China might be hampered by the increasing military buildup in the Asia-Pacific region, as indicated from a new Brief, “The Asia-Pacific Military Buildup: Russia’s Response.”

China’s rise as a new dominant power in the region and the world poses serious challenges not only for the United States and East Asia, but also for Russia.

“East Asia is becoming increasingly important as a way of enabling Russia to diversify its foreign political and economic ties and to establish itself as a Euro-Pacific power,” wrote one of the authors of the report, Anna Kireeva from Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University).

She points out that increasing geopolitical instability – including territorial disputes in maritime waters off the coast of China, a growing military buildup across the region and the rise of nationalist sentiments – might result in new security concerns for Moscow.

Against the backdrop of regional conflict, long-standing and exacerbated in recent years, countries in the region are actively expanding their military capabilities,” she explains. She also analyzes the implications of this buildup for regional security and the steps Russia should take for its own security.

Modernization of the naval forces in East Asian countries began in the 1980s in parallel with an increase in defense spending, from an 11 percent share of the global total in the mid-1980s to a 20 percent share in 1995,” she warns. “East Asian defense spending now accounts for 24 percent of all defense spending globally.” 

Kireeva quotes research findings from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute(SIPRI) to illustrate her warnings: From 1989 to 2012, China's defense spending increased by 750 percent, from $18 billion to $157 billion. In 2013, according to SIPRI, China's military budget was $188 billion.

While some experts suggest that a full-scale arms race is taking place in Asia-Pacific, Kireeva is hesitant in expressing such an assessment.   

“What is going on in the region is not an arms race, but rather a military buildup with a wary eye on one’s neighbors, fuelled by growing nationalist sentiments,” she argues. “The highest priority spheres are those that enable countries to successfully control the maritime space, that is, their naval and air forces.”

Meanwhile, Kireeva’s co-author, Petr Topychkanov of Carnegie Moscow Center, raises the problem of nuclear proliferation in the region. He warns that the development of military nuclear programs in the Asia-Pacific region represent two basic threats to the global nuclear nonproliferation regime: the threat of “vertical proliferation” – expansion of the nuclear capabilities of nations in this region, and the danger of “horizontal proliferation” – the transfer of nuclear materials, technology or weapons to other countries or to terrorist and extremist organizations.

According to him, the “vertical proliferation” scenario may “increase the probability of nuclear weapons being used either in a war between nations, or during acts of aggression or terrorism against other countries.”

At the same time, he mentions the challenges posed by the deployment of ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems in the region.

“If the international divide continues to grow, and China, Russia, and the United States fail to agree on missile defense cooperation and the strengthening of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the entire system of disarmament and nonproliferation will begin to collapse,” he argues. “In that case, the danger of regional armed conflicts and their escalation will increase significantly."

To what extent does the arms buildup in Asia-Pacific threaten the security of Russia, the U.S. and East Asian states in the region? What risks do nuclear programs and ballistic missile defense programs in Asia Pacific pose for Moscow and Washington? Subscribe and download the full version of the Brief to find out.