08 February 2008

A New Arms Race?

Or rhetoric for domestic consumption (in Russia and abroad)?

The BBC reports that Putin, addressing his advisory state council, declared in response to NATO missile-defense deployments, that "It is already clear that a new phase in the arms race is unfolding in the world."

Time for a brief reality check / hastily-researched figures and back of the envelope calculations...

PPP-adjusted GDPs: United States, $13,860,000,000,000; Russia, $2,076,000,000,000 (CIA factbook).

Looking just at the U.S. and Russia, the former in 2005 spent 4.06% of its GDP on the military. Russia's numbers are not known, but making a brief calculation it would have to spend roughly $562.7 PPP-adjusted US dollars, or 27% of its GDP annually, to match U.S. defense spending. Since it has a fair degree of catchup to do in order to, as Putin implied, restart an arms race in hi-tech weaponry, it would probably have to spend considerably more. According to globalsecurity.org, Russia budgeted in 2006 $22.3 billion (non-PPP adjusted) for its military, already a 23% increase on the previous year. A new armaments program for the years 2007-2015 was also announced in the sum of $186 billion - but it's unclear whether how much of this sum would be on top of annual military spending. In brief, Russia doesn't seem to be the best-positioned candidate for an "arms race" with the United States - even before counting the other NATO countries.

Of course, both countries continue to possess the ability to destroy the world several times over, which leads to the question: what exactly would they be racing toward?

My half-baked attempt to rationally assess the likelihood of Putin's remarks being meant seriously, of course, falls easy victim to the observation that there doesn't need to be a rational basis or real material capability in order to construct an "arms race," as attested to by the late Cold War from, say, 1970 onward.

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