Most Asian nations have been expanding their military budgets and capabilities in recent years. Now there is a new rush by Southeast Asian countries to acquire submarines because they have the money to pay for them.
On Jan. 1, Vietnam received its first of six Russian Kilo-class submarines. The last one is expected to be delivered in 2016. Myanmar intends to create a submarine force by 2015. Thailand plans to include the purchase of submarines in its soon-to-be-announced 10 -year armed forces development proposal. Thai officers are already enrolled at submarine training schools in Germany and South Korea, two potential submarine suppliers.
These countries are not arming against each other. The arms expansion is a reaction to increasing uncertainty about the distribution of power in the region, caused largely by the extension of Chinese naval power into the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. But Chinese naval expansion is not likely to be halted by these submarine fleets. China will simply augment its anti-submarine capability. Each expansion only adds to regional suspicion and tension.
Much of this arms competition is propelled by growing wealth in Southeast Asia, which is tied to the 21st-century global economy. These countries and China should realize that increasing their armaments can only undermine their security as well as the stability that nurtures their economies.