For those who do not believe that history has a nasty habit of repeating itself, welcome to the 5th Industrialised arms race that has now officially started. The pedigree of this well-trodden, competitive process in the industrial age started with the 2nd Reich in the decade that leads to WW1 in 1914 and was followed by the rise of the 3rd Reich in the 1930s which led to WW2 in Europe. Coincidently, Japan flowed through to war in the Pacific from 1937 onwards. The only exception where a war did not follow was during the Cold War from 1950 to 1990 where the dynamic tension between the competitors and the fear of a nuclear war held both sides in check.
Essentially, races require at least two competitors and as such, arms races are no different. During the past decade China and Russia have both been racing to build up their armed forces to compete with America for global power and America has been a no-show with its constricted military budget. Until last Wednesday, when Trump’s address to congress officially started the new 5th Industrialised arms race.
The opening gambit by America was Trump’s announcement to increase the US defence budget by approximately 10% per year, i.e. a $603 billion base budget which is $54 billion above the current budget caps. Under his plans, the navy would grow from 274 ships to 350, the army would get another 60,000 soldiers, the marines would have 36 battalions and the air force would get at least 100 more combat aircraft.
But will this be enough to maintain Pax America and the required level of conventional global deterrence? The Republican hawks, led by the Chairmen of the Armed Services Committee are pushing a $640 billion base budget (a 16% increase) that they believe is necessary to address an urgent readiness crisis. The reality is that this too might not be enough In light of the duration of continuous war fighting commitments that America has undertaken and the narrowing of the capability gap both in quantity and quality between America and its rivals China and Russia.
Inevitably, now that a new arms race has started, we should expect to see a sustained and continuous escalation of defence spending in America that will hit the 5% target of US GDP by 2020. In addition, to rebuild the American prestige, Trump’s new US building program will satisfy the direct investment model in the US economy, which will provide jobs and hopefully generate a grassroots economic uplift which is aligned with the Trump administration objectives.
The next inevitable question is: “Will the UK and Europe wake up and follow suit as the global arms race gathers pace and this inevitable trend in rising defence budgets spreads across the globe?”.