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February 2, 2011: Richard A. Bitzinger and Bronson Percival

(Click to enlarge) From left to right, Mr. Richard A. Bitzinger discusses current Southeast Asian military modernization efforts with Mr. Bronson Percival.

Southeast Asian Military Modernization: A New Arms Race?


Presentation Materials

(Washington, DC) There is growing concern that Southeast Asia is in the midst of a regional arms race. Certainly many countries in the region have increased defense spending and been on a veritable shopping spree for advanced conventional weaponry. These acquisitions do not fit prevailing theories about the pattern of an “arms race,” however, the regional re-arming process is significant in that the types of arms being acquired go beyond the mere modernization of regional armed forces, and could greatly change the nature and character of potential regional conflicts.


Mr. Richard A. Bitzinger noted that countries had many reasons for modernizing their militaries, which included: pride and prestige, keeping up with neighboring countries’ capabilities, corrupt deals between suppliers and officials, and even inter-service rivalry amongst the military branches. Despite some hints of an "action-reaction dynamic," he believes that countries in Southeast Asia, on the whole, want to preserve the status-quo balance of power within the region and simultaneously ensure their own domestic stability- not regional hegemony. Mr. Bronson Percival discussed the role that national policies played in the arms acquisitions process. He also highlighted the differences amongst Southeast Asian countries’ threat perceptions.


Richard A. Bitzinger is a senior fellow with the Military Transformations Program at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. His work focuses on security and defense issues relating to the Asia-Pacific region, including military modernization and force transformation, regional defense industries, and weapons proliferation. Mr. Bitzinger has written several monographs, book chapters, and articles, and is the editor of The Modern Defence Industry: Political, Economic and Technological Issues(Praeger, 2009). Previously an associate professor with the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS), he holds a Masters degree from the Monterey Institute of International Affairs and has pursued additional postgraduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.


Bronson Percival is currently a visiting fellow with the East-West Center in Washington. He is also a retired Foreign Service Officer and a senior advisor for the Center for Strategic Studies at CNA. Mr. Percival writes and lectures on Southeast Asian and maritime security issues, and his most recent book, The Dragon Looks South: China and Southeast Asia in the New Century(2007), analyzes Sino-Southeast Asian relations and their implications for the United States. A former professor at the U.S. Naval War College, he was educated at the University of California, Berkeley, the National War College, and the University of Chicago.