Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Post-Soviet States Boost Arms Spending Six Times Faster than Their Economies are Growing

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 23 – Over the last year, the 11 member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States plus Georgia as a group have increased military spending by almost 25 percent, a growth almost six times that of their economies as they have emerged from the recent crisis and one that raises serious questions about stability in many parts of that enormous region.

In yesterday’s “Nezavisimay gazeta,” Vladimir Mukhin notes that defense spending by the 12 former Soviet republics has increased 23 percent over the past year and now amounts to 60.6 billion US dollars, an amount that places an increasing burden on many of these countries and points to new conflicts ahead (

This trend represents “a record growth in the size of military budgets over the last five years,” the paper’s military commentator says, a striking development given that “the majority of developed countries like the US, the UK, France, Germany and other NATO countries” reduced military spending because of the economic crisis.

This increased military spending, Mukhin says, reflects two things. On the one hand, “there exists on the post-Soviet space as before a large probability of the renewal and intensification of both internal and inter-state military conflicts,” something that the governments involved cannot fail to take into consideration.

And on the other, this growth reflects the fact that “several CIS countries have undertake an effort to refit their armies with new types of arms and military technology,” something none of the twelve, except Georgia and Azerbaijan, have done in a major way since the end of Soviet times.

With the assistance of the United States and NATO, Georgia has been refitting and expanding its forces for several years. And Azerbaijan, flush with oil money and interested in recovering Armenian-occupied territories, has boosted its military spending from 3.95 percent of GDP in 2010 to 6.2 percent of GDP this year.

Moreover, Mukhin notes, Azerbaijan is not just spending more on the military: Baku has boosted spending on the development of its own military industry. With that included, Azerbaijan is now spending 8.9 percent of its GDP for military purposes, far eclipsing the 4.1 percent of the much smaller Armenian GDP, Yerevan is spending.

(Armenia may be able to count on the military spending of the unrecognized state of Nagorno-Karabakh, Mukhin notes, which is currently spending “no less than 150 million US dollars a year on defense,” an amount that is somewhat less than 10 percent of that region’s estimated GDP.)

“Considering these factors,” Mukhin says, “it is completely clear that there exists a real chance of a new war in the South Caucasus.” The outcome of such a conflict “is unknown,” he says, although “it is clear that in the event of military acitons, much will depend on Russia as of course it would in the case of war in any hot spot of the post-Soviet space.”

There is also, the “Nezavisimaya” writer says, “a large probability” of the renewal of conflicts within and among the countries of Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan plans to boost its military and security spending this year by 12.6 percent, but it likely lacks the fiscal resources to pay for such an expansion given the continuing economic difficulties Bishkek faces.

Tajikistan, which has also been conducting military operations over the last month against internal opponents, has increased its spending on military needs by 25 percent, and there is every likelihood, Mukhin says, that Dushanbe will be forced to continue to increase spending and will seek assistance from the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty.

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have increased their defense spending at roughly the same rate of their economic growth, with the military burden on the economy remaining where it was in the former and falling slightly in the latter. Kazakhstan meanwhile has kept its military spending at the same percentage of GDP as last year.

Given the revolutionary wave shaking the Middle East, Mukhin suggests, “the powers of the countries of Central Asia where the majority of leaders have been in power more than 20 years and where authoritarian political regimes have been formed, will move toward a sharp increase in military spending” to protect themselves.

If for different reasons, the political situation in Moldova remains unstable as well. For the moment, it is spending on defense at the same rate it was last year, but that may change, especially since “NATO countries are prepared to provide military assistance to Moldova” in the future.

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