Peopleâ€™s Republic of China
Annual military budget: $103.9 billion (2005 estimate)
What theyâ€™re spending on: Weapons and military technology. Between 2002 and 2006, China purchased over $14.6 billion in arms. Between 2001 and 2005, China increased its annual military budget by nearly 126 percent. In addition to buying a few destroyers and submarines from Russia, China has also been developing its own nuclear-powered submarines that can fire off nuclear ballistic missiles. At its current rate of military expansion, China could have the worldâ€™s largest navy by 2020. Earlier this year, the Chinese also performed an unannounced test of a new antisatellite missile that drew fierce criticism from the United States and the international community.
What to watch: Boots on the ground. The Peopleâ€™s Liberation Army (PLA), with 2.25 million active-duty members, is the largest army in the world. But as large as its active-duty forces are, the Chinese military has decreased in size in the past two decades by more than 1.6 million soldiers. The reduction has allowed the Chinese military to use its increased budget to focus on training, leaving the force smaller and more professional.
Why it matters: The Taiwan Strait. China is determined to use its new wealth to modernize its armed forces, and a possible battle with the United States over Taiwan is the main motivating factor.
United States of America
Annual military budget: $481.4 billion (FY 2008 estimate)
What theyâ€™re spending on: Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have cost U.S. taxpayers about $610 billion since Sept. 11, 2001. Then there are global antiterrorism measures, missile shields, personnel expenditures, and advanced defense technologies such as the next-generation aircraft carrier and unmanned aerial vehicles. The result: U.S. defense spending increased 54 percent this year over 2001â€”excluding the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What to watch: Emergency spending and plans to grow the Army. Since the war on terror began, emergency supplemental packages have been tacked on to normal defense spending, putting vast expenses beyond normal congressional review. Just this year, President George W. Bush requested nearly $200 billion extra for Iraq and Afghanistan through next yearâ€”on top of the normal defense budget of $481.4 billion. There are also plans in the works for increasing the size of the U.S. Army by 74,000 soldiers by 2010, a project estimated to require an additional $2.6 billion per year.
Why it matters: Overextension. Iraq and Afghanistan are straining the U.S. militaryâ€™s global operations. Increased funding and more troops is the only way the United States can maintain its forces in the â€œglobal war on terrorismâ€ while still preparing conventional defenses against potential future adversaries.
Republic of South Africa
Annual military budget: $3.69 billion (2005 estimate)
What theyâ€™re spending on: Weapons and military readiness. The military budget increased 102 percent between 2001 and 2005, mainly for arms and other military equipment. The country spent virtually nothing on imported arms in 2003 and 2004, but it acquired $315 million worth of weapons and equipment in 2005 and a further $862 million in 2006. South Africa has also gotten help from the United States in the form of technical training assistance, funds for aircraft parts, and military medical training.
What to watch: Peacekeeping. The African Union has plans for five regional rapid deployment forces ready for use by 2010, and South Africa is spearheading the effort with a unit that could involve as many as 10,000 soldiers. South African peacekeepers are currently deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and Darfur.
Why it matters: Regional stability. As befits sub-Saharan Africaâ€™s largest economy, South Africa wants to be the military powerhouse of the region. However, a 2002 report revealed that only 3,000 of the countryâ€™s 76,000 active-duty soldiers could be deployed for combat operations due to inadequate equipment and the fact that as many as 60 percent of the countryâ€™s soldiers could be infected with HIV.
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Annual military budget: $1.67 billion (2005 estimate)
What theyâ€™re spending on: AKs. Venezuelaâ€™s international arms purchases jumped from an estimated $71 million between 2002 and 2004 to more than $4 billion between 2005 and 2007, expenditures not counted in the official budget numbers. Venezuela purchased 100,000 Kalashnikovs from Russia last year, along with 24 fighter jets and 35 helicopters. And a new Kalashnikov factory in Aragua state, capable of producing as many as 30,000 automatic rifles a year, is scheduled to be completed by 2010.
What to watch: The militias. Although President Hugo ChÃ¡vez has not increased the countryâ€™s overall active troop strength, he has founded two public militia groups in addition to the countryâ€™s regular National Reserve: the Francisco de Miranda Front (FFM) in 2003 and the Territorial Guard in 2005. As of mid-2006, the FFM had around 10,000 members and the National Reserve and Territorial Guard together were around 2 million strong. Combined, this â€œpeopleâ€™s armyâ€ is officially meant to defend against such unlikely events as an attempted invasion by the United States, which ChÃ¡vez claims is imminent. Critics say the groups are being used to suppress internal dissent, however.
Why it matters: It could destabilize neighboring countries. ChÃ¡vez isnâ€™t just arming people in his own country; heâ€™s also giving aid and arms to â€œrevolutionaryâ€ groups in Colombia. Analysts worry that weapons from Venezuela will make their way over the border to leftist FARC rebels in that country. ChÃ¡vez also has close ties to Evo Morales. In May 2006, the Bolivian president agreed to construct as many as 24 new military bases in Bolivia with Venezuelan assistanceâ€”despite objections from Chile, Paraguay, and Peru.
Republic of India
Annual military budget: $21.7 billion (2005)
What theyâ€™re spending on: Everything. India is the worldâ€™s No. 2 arms importer after China, shelling out more than $10 billion on arms imports between 2002 and 2006. Its defense spending has jumped 53 percent since 2001.
What to watch: Its reserve forces. In addition to the countryâ€™s 1.3 million active troops, India has more than doubled its reserves since 2001 to 1.1 million additional soldiers.
Why it matters: Itâ€™s a sign of intentions. With growing threats of instability in neighboring Pakistan, a continuing conflict in Kashmir, and military modernization in China, not to mention a simmering Maoist insurgency, India may just be responding to what it sees as gathering dangers. Expect greater defense spending and international arms purchases in the future.