Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Military spending: Singapore, Cambodia etc

The world's biggest military spenders by population

Chart and story from The Economist:
GLOBAL military expenditure rose by 4% in 2008 to a record USD$1.46 trillion, according to a new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Israel spends most on defence relative to its population, shelling out over $2,300 a person, over $300 more than America. Small and rich countries, and notably Gulf states, feature prominently by this measure. Saudi Arabia ranks ninth in absolute spending, but sixth by population. China has increased spending by 10% to $85 billion to become the world's second largest spender. But it is still dwarfed by America, whose outlay of $607 billion is higher than that of the next 14 biggest spenders combined.
Singapore is the fourth largest military spender by population. China spends more in absolute terms (it is the number 2 biggest spender and accounts for 5.8% of the global expenditure on defense. The USA accounts for almost half, at 41.5% - larger than the next 14 countries combined. (These figures are also in the chart - click to enlarge)

Singapore has consistently spent over 4% of GDP on its defence budget and the global economic downturn has implications, but not what you think. Instead of spending less, the nation-state will spend 6% in 2009 on defense, or US$11.4bn.

Singapore was the first Asian economy to slip into recession in the current global downturn, and is expected to slip even more in 2009. But defense is not something the government will sacrifice. "Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean stressed the importance of maintaining military spending, noting that threats do not diminish but, rather, often emerge during testing economic times, owing to increased social and political frictions."

Military expenditure in absolute numbers
Cambodia is ranked 114 out of 171 countries on wikipedia, which lists its military expenditure as USD 112 million. Reuters puts Cambodia's 2008 defense spending at USD108, but this does not change Cambodia's rank on wiki's list. Singapore is #23 (spending USD786 million), Thailand #32 (spending USD500 million) and Vietnam is #44 (spending USD320 million). (Curiously Taiwan does not feature on this list. Could it have been subsumed under "China"? If so, that would be stupid, since Taiwan equips itself militarily primarily against a threat from China.)

Cambodia's military spending will increase in 2009. In Oct last year, the government said it would spend USD500 million (matching Thailand) because of the fight with Thailand over Preah Vihear:
"Cheam Yeap, head of the finance commission of the national Cambodian assembly, says that next week voting will be held on the new state budget, with military spending at 25% [!] of the total. "This incident has awoken us to the need for our soldiers to be better equipped. We cannot sit and watch Thai troops encroach on our border," Yeap says. "Our army needs to be more organised, better trained, with newer bases and well-fed troops."
However, the Cambodian government changed its mind and by December, proposed military spending of just $160 million for next year, way below the $500 million it had earmarked earlier.
"Before, we planned to divert resources to defence and security, but once we announced the plan, there was some criticism from donors," said Cheam Yeap, head of the National Assembly's finance commission. "We don't want donors to get nervous about spending in the field so we decided to reduce it," Yeap told Reuters.
Total number of troops
Cambodia has an estimated 191,000 troops (which means 14.12 Cambodians in 1000 are in the military). This is about a third of Thailand's 620,300 (or 9.84 Thais per 1000), but more than Malaysia, which has 171,000 soldiers (6.17 out of 1000).

The runway champ in Southeast Asia is Singapore, with 469,300 troops in total, which means 117.33 Singaporeans per 1000 can be called to duty. To put things in perspective, the US has 3,385,400 troops out of a population of more than 300 million. Which means 11.07 Americans out of 1000 is in the armed forces. So, just in terms of headcount, Singapore has more soldiers per capita - more than 10 times that of the US, in fact. [The figures are an estimate. If you take current population the figures change slightly].

If these figures, found on wikipedia are correct, then Singapore is only second in the world in total troops per capita, after, ta-da! North Korea. North Korea has almost 6 million troops in total, meaning 259.37 North Koreans per 1000 is in the military. [I did not count "Transnistria" which has 185.04 per 1000, since Transnistria is a region, not a state].

Compulsory military service
Like Israel and Taiwan, Singapore has compulsory military service, better known as National Service or NS. All able-bodied young Singaporean men have to serve 2 years in the army, full-time, once they reach 18 years of age. The men get a stipend of a few hundred dollars during these 2 years. Some Singaporean men I know enjoy the experience, which they say allows them to mix with other Singaporeans of different race, social class etc. More intellectual types find the time spent in the military soul-destroying.

Upon release from the army, some enter university. When they graduate, the men earn have higher starting pays in the workplace, the arguments being they are older, have more experience, or have served the country (not sure if those arguments make sense, but it didn't bother me.) The men can also defer NS until completing university, but cannot escape it.

Every year, there is a small number who refuse to enlist so get 3 years jail time. Most are Jehovah's Witnesses. (Since 1972, Jehovah's Witnesses as a religious group have been banned from Singapore but that has not stopped some Singaporeans from being JWs).

Even after the 2 years, Singaporean men have to go through military refresher courses until they are 40 or 50 years old. This annual training can be 7 days or longer. This is called "Reservist" training.

By 2015, Taiwanese men will no longer be drafted into the military for compulsory military service. They only have to go for four months of training and stand by as reservists for eventual recalls. "By the end of 2014, we will reach 100 percent voluntary military service," Defense Minister Chen Chao-min said. This information can be found on ns-singapore.blogspot a blog by an ex-National Service man "who thinks NS is a waste of time".

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