Arms Race: Who Will Win?

Escalating military build-ups are frightening enough. But what about weapons of mass destruction, cyberweapons and the weapons black market? When will it end?

After World War II, the phrase arms race became shorthand for the expensive Cold War build-up of nuclear and conventional weapons. The two main belligerents were the United States and the Soviet Union, until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 made the United States the world’s lone superpower.

U.S.: The biggest spender

As the superpower and the global policeman, America has not fully enjoyed the expected peace dividend of the end of the cold war. That is because wars and threats of wars have not ended. Expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the demands of preparing to defend American interests in every corner of the globe have required a huge continuing investment.

“Defense appropriations are $525 billion for 2013—57 percent of the total discretionary budget and more than those of all other departments and agencies combined. The U.S. military has twice the budget as the seven next nations combined,” the Baltimore Sun reported.

The United States puts a high priority on protecting its troops as well as civilians in war-torn areas—places where insurgents and civilians can be hard to distinguish. These laudable goals play a large role in the development of the high-tech weaponry America deploys. Precision targeting and remote-controlled warfare do not come cheap. And inventive foes are continually finding ways to erode American money and might—suicide attacks, guerrilla tactics and even cyberwarfare.

Can the American advantage in sophisticated weapons and money last? The military is bracing for huge cuts as the U.S. Congress again discusses where to prune its unsustainably high deficit spending.

In his last major speech as secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta warned Feb. 6 that the U.S. military is facing its “‘most serious readiness crisis’ in more than a decade amid the advent of automatic budget cuts and lawmakers’ failure to pass a 2013 defense spending bill” (Washington Times).

The United States has won previous battles in the arms race, but can it afford to continue to do so? Does it have the desire and the will to continue to police the world of the future? If not, who will fill the vacuum?


Business Insider reports that China’s military spending is on a trend to surpass the United States by 2030.

“China’s military spending has seen percentage growth each year in the double digits recently, capping off a spending spree that started with initial procurements of arms from Russia in the 90s. New Chinese drones, jet fighters, long-range ‘giant war planes’ recently made headlines as well” (“There’s an Arms Race Going on in Asia Unlike Anything Since the Cold War”).

China has also invested heavily in cyberwarfare techniques that could cripple a foe without firing a shot.

In response to the threat from its giant neighbor, Japan has reversed its trend to lower military spending. “Japanese officials followed their first defense spending increase in a decade by promising they would lay out another 2.1 billion dollar one-time bonus for defense procurement. The bonus puts Japan’s defense spending increase at just over 6 percent year-over-year, undoing a decade of decreases,” Business Insider reported.

Japan’s military budget would likely be much higher if it were not relying on the United States’ promises of protection. This is true for many other players in Asia as well, including South Korea and Taiwan.

China’s relations with neighbors like India, Russia and Vietnam also have the potential for future conflict. In addition to its own contentious neighborhood, Chinese interests have expanded around the globe as China tries to lock in vital resources for the future. Even if a giant like China can sustain its growth, can it really win the arms race in this increasingly multipolar world?

Arms merchants in Europe

Some might say the real “winners” in the arms race are the arms exporters. In addition to the United States and Russia, which are still the largest arms exporters, several nations in Europe sell their weapons around the world.

And there is no lack of buyers. People who have the desire and the money to buy arms are rarely unable to obtain them. Even those blacklisted by the international community seem to find ways to buy sophisticated weapons on the black market.

What’s an arms exporter to do in this increasing volatile world? Consider the choices one country, Germany, is facing. Spiegel Online reports: “The official (and most recent) Military Equipment Export Report for 2011 shows that business is booming, with arms export permits issued by the German government topping €10 billion for the first time. Some 42 percent of the weapons are destined for so-called third-party states, outside NATO, NATO-equivalent and European Union countries, another number that could very well be record-setting. In 2010, it was just 29 percent.

“The numbers suggest that the Merkel doctrine is beginning to have its effect. In accordance with the chancellor’s wishes, Germany is now sending soldiers to conflict zones in emergency situations only. Instead, ‘partner countries’ in the affected regions are to be strengthened through arms exports to handle the job of maintaining peace and security on their own.

“It’s a risky strategy, and it also signifies a substantial departure from the nationwide consensus on German foreign policy. ‘Even with the benefit of hindsight, Germany’s restraint regarding its arms export policy has proven to be the right approach, and we should remain true to it,’ says former longstanding Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. …

“Big ticket arms items often remain in service for decades. The Leopard 2, for example, was developed in the 1970s and old versions are still in service in many countries. For this reason, the risk is high that armaments could eventually fall into the wrong hands. The Arab spring showed how unstable many of the supposedly stable regimes in the region really are. …

“Two options remain for the German arms industry, with its 80,000 jobs: Either it shrinks with declining demand, or it develops new markets. But those markets happen to be regions of the world where dictators are at war with one another, religious regimes are funding terrorists or autocrats use violence to suppress their own people. The biggest growth markets are in the Middle East and in the emerging economies of Southeast Asia and South America.”

But this is not to say Germany is the most aggressive arms merchant. Spiegel goes on to note:

“Compared to France and the United Kingdom, Germany is still restrained when it comes to promoting the domestic arms industry. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy remains the champion of promoters of his own war industry. He is thought to have promised rising nuclear power India a nuclear technology deal as a bonus if it chose to buy French fighter jets. It was an offer the Indians couldn’t pass up.”

Countries that export arms may be making a killing now, but will they regret supplying arms that may someday be used against them?

The bristling, volatile Middle East

One of the hottest hot spots in the world is the Middle East, where the race for both conventional arms and weapons of mass destruction continues headlong. Long-standing animosities have become even more explosive in recent years, fueled by oil wealth, foreign military aid (much of it from the United States) and religious fanaticism.

As mentioned in our post “Will Egypt Collapse?” Egypt has by far the largest army in Africa, largely funded by military aid from the United States, with more than $14 billion in military equipment since 2003. Will U.S.-supplied weapons in Egypt be turned against U.S.-supplied weapons in Israel?

And the Middle East is fraught with many other danger spots, including:

  • The civil war in Syria, which continues to boil over onto its neighbors (and makes its stockpile of chemical weapons vulnerable to falling into the hands of terrorists).
  • Iran, which threatens its neighbors with its nuclear program.
  • North Africa, where arms from the former Libyan regime have spread through surrounding nations (note the terrorist attack in Algeria and the fighting in Mali).
  • Iraq, which remains a powder keg of rival groups.

Who will win the arms race?

We have only scratched the surface of the complex dangers facing our world today. Are any of the nations or groups mentioned in a position to “win” the arms race in the long run? As weapons grow deadlier and conflicts grow hotter and various belligerents become less rational, our world is heading for self-destruction. It looks more like a no-win situation for all!

But there is a wild card that is generally overlooked. One source claims that there is a viable solution to the arms race.

That source is the Holy Bible, and the solution is the return of Jesus Christ. Christ promises to defeat all who choose to fight Him, and then to disarm the armies of the world.

The book of Psalms records this coming revolution in poetic language: “He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire” (Psalm 46:9).

Humanity has never known the way of peace, but Jesus Christ—the Prince of Peace—will make sure that everyone learns that way. By destroying the arms, Jesus will end the race—and everyone on earth will win! Read more about this wonderful promised time of peace in our section on “The Kingdom of God: The Best News You Could Hear!”

About the Author

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett is editorial content manager for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in the Dallas, Texas, area. He coordinates the Life, Hope & Truth website, Discern magazine, the Daily Bible Verse Blog and the Life, Hope & Truth Weekly Newsletter (including World Watch Weekly). He is also part of the Personal Correspondence team of ministers who have the privilege of answering questions sent to Life, Hope & Truth.

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