Fueled by wealth, funneled by politics: the dominance of domestic drivers of arms procurement in Southeast Asia
Tan, Wah Kheng Dean
Malley, Michael S.
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What drives economically buoyant Southeast Asian nations, enjoying post–Cold War peace, to procure arms in a manner that has observers concerned about a regional arms race? Are these acquisitions driven by threats from within the region or from potential hegemons like China? Alternatively, are the purchases actually driven by domestic factors? This thesis investigates the following four factors to determine which are most powerful in driving arms procurements in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore: availability of resources, domestic politics, external threats, and force modernization. By comparing these three countries, selected for their track record of being the largest defense spenders in Southeast Asia, this research finds that domestic factors (the availability of resources and domestic politics) were the strongest drivers. Consequently, the paucity of externally triggered instances of arms procurements undermines existing assertions of a regional arms race. As such, using Buzan and Herring’s arms dynamics model, the situation among the three countries is best characterized as being arms maintenance, with occasional excursions to arms competitions for prestige reasons. Looking toward the future, the worrying trajectories of domestic politics in these countries could supply the conditions that could incite more frequent excursions toward competitive arms dynamics.
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