Moscow. Last year,
the three nations with the world’s biggest military expenses were the United States
($547 billion), the United Kingdom ($59.7 billion) and China ($58.3 billion).
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published
these figures in its 2008 annual report. There are other estimates, but they are
not radically different.
Many research organizations and the media tend
to base their comparison of various countries military might on their defense
budgets, although their estimates are often disputed, sometimes by the objects
of their studies.
Although such comparisons are very relative, they are
a point of departure for analyzing the military potentialities of different countries.
Reports of international institutions which study the strategy and national military
potentials, such as the London-based Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) and
SIPRI, are considered the most accurate.
Only recently, Chinas defense
budget was a little over $20 billion. What stands behind its leap in military
expenses? What war machine will it have in the future? Many countries, above all
Chinas nextdoor neighbours, are interested in answers to these questions.
The growing economy is the main catalyst of Chinas boosting military
potentialities. Its industrialized export oriented economy (China is increasingly
becoming the worlds producer of absolutely everything - from man-made flowers
to cars) requires adequate military protection. And China has is ambitious in
raising its military and strategic profile.
Despite successes in the last
few decades however, Chinas armed forces are still rather backward, which
another incentive for increasing military spending.
Its ground forces are
relatively numerous but it does not have enough modern military hardware; its
army air defense system is weak, and its artillery is insufficiently mobile.
same is true of Chinas air force. Most of its combat aircraft are copies
of Soviet war planes of the 1950s. The number of modern aircraft is negligible.
Chinas industry is not developed enough to produce modern aircraft independently.
It cannot manufacture a number of important aggregates at the level of the leading
Thus, its engines for combat aircraft are still
below their Western and Russian counterparts in economic fuel consumption and
overhaul period. In order to close the gap, China will have to make considerable
investments, primarily to modernize its industry. Chinas airlift force is
also weak. It does not have enough medium and heavy military transport aircraft.
development of the navy in China is impeded not only by its rather backward industry
but also by the fleets second-rate role in its military potential.
distinct from the majority of industrially advanced countries, Chinas fleet
is not an independent branch but part of its Peoples Liberation Army (PLA).
This subordinate position, that is, orientation to army tasks, limits the Chinese
fleet to coastal missions.
The Chinese Navy primarily operates in territorial
waters and a 200 mile-long economic zone. For actions in the open sea, China has
a very limited number of multi-purpose nuclear-powered submarines and shore-based
Xian H-6 (Tu-16 licensed copy) missile-carrier aircraft.
But this situation
is changing, and the PLAs navy is expected to receive its first aircraft-carriers
in the coming decade.
Escorted by an adequate number of frigates or destroyers,
they will be able to operate in far-away waters. As other nuclear powers, Chinas
strategy is largely based on the nuclear deterrent.
At present, it is equipping
its nuclear forces with new DF-31A missiles, which can destroy targets at a distance
of 11,000 km. It is also introducing into its fleet nuclear-powered missile carriers
of the 094 type, which are harder to detect than their predecessors (092-type
submarines) and equipped with JL-2 missiles capable of hitting targets on other
Experts believe that all in all, China now has 300-400 nuclear
charges. This amount is much below the Russian or US potentials but the situation
is gradually changing.
On the whole, Chinas armed forces are capable
of carrying out any regional missions, but in strategic potentialities (that is,
in nuclear deterrent, and ability to transfer troops over considerable distances)
they are lagging behind even their Russian counterpart, which is not at its prime
at the moment, to say nothing of the United States.
This situation is most
likely to remain the same in the next 10 to 15 years. After all, China is not
going to have tough military confrontation with anyone.