North Korea’ test of a long range missile may have failed, but that will not relieve regional jitters. Indeed, it will only confirm what is already underway – an arms race across the region.
Southeast Asia’s return to prosperity since the financial crisis of 1997 has brought a region-wide splurge on new weapons. Most Southeast Asian countries are busily modernizing their armed forces. So far, most have done so without compromising their autonomy in security matters. But, with China’s military build-up causing nervousness everywhere, and with North Korea a perpetual source of insecurity, many governments in the region are starting to work with outside powers.
Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has perhaps been the most assertive. In addition to becoming more active in world diplomacy, Yudhoyono will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this month to discuss buying Russia’s newest fighter jets. Indonesia is seeking to form an air-defense squadron of 12 jets, with eight Russian fighters to complement the two Russian Su-27SK’s and Su-30MKM’s that it has already bought.
Elsewhere in the region, Singapore has apparently opted to purchase 12 new F-15SG fighter aircraft from the United States. Thailand’s Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, met Putin late last year and tentatively agreed to purchase 12 Su-30MKM’s. Malaysia has agreed to buy 18 Su-30MKM’s over the next two years, while Vietnam has purchased 36 SU-27SK’s, 12 of which are already in service.