The balance of power in the world is changing, with many new power players emerging — in some cases re-emerging — with growing militaries that challenges U.S. interests in the world and highlight the increasing security challenges of the 21st century.
While the U.S. ponders cutting its military spending, her competitors and allies are ramping up their military strength to advance their interests in their part of the world and beyond. This trend may undermine U.S. interests in the long term, if the president and Congress cannot get our fiscal affairs in order.
In Asia, China, Japan, and India stand as the leaders in military spending with an emphasis in quantity for the purpose of improving their standing and to uphold their national pride.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Iraq represent the two fastest growing militaries in the Middle East, while the traditional powerhouses in the region — Egypt and Iran — are dealing with their current internal problems.
Algeria, while not a great power, has spent considerable resources to improve its military capabilities to shape its role in North Africa.
Finally, there is the continued growth of Russia's armed forces under Vladimir Putin, which has been growing in size and sophistication to levels not seen since the Cold War.
As the fastest growing power in Asia, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) expands its capabilities and strategic goals during the past decade. The PLA has improved its naval power with a new aircraft carrier, drones, submarines, and cutting-edge stealth technology. It has also develped a active cyberwarfare capability. All of this has been paid for by a growing military budget and enabled by a growing economy.
The National Intelligence Council predicted in 2008 that China's military expansion will enable it to become a leading power by 2025. This long term trajectory is part of China's grand strategy to protect its sovereign interests at its front door and correct the historic anomaly of a Western-dominated strategic landscape in East Asia.
In short, China stands to become a highly credible competitor with the U.S. for spheres of influence in Asia and beyond, though the improvements of the PLA will largely be for show rather than for use on the battlefield.
Though the Japanese constitution forbids a offensive military force, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) have been growing significantly as a small and efficient force> The SDF has grown as the issue of the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands has become a increasingly contentious issue in Sino-Japanese relations today.
The SDF has the best trained forces among the growing powers in Asia, based on the per-soldier spending. Japan continues to develop its unofficially "offensive" forces to have a more assertive role in its national defense.
Though the SDF is formidable, Japan relies on the U.S. for its security in Asia. The Defense Minister requested a large defense budget of $2.1 billion to buy new equipment from the U.S., including a delivery of F-16 fighters.
It's apparent that the Japan SDF treats the possibility of a armed confrontation with China very seriously, hence the growth in its defense budget.
Like China, India has also increased its military power by enlarging its armed forces, albeit focusing less on a per-soldier spending. India is also spending a considerable amount of funds in procuring a large number of conventional platforms for its main branches.
The Indian Navy will rival the PLA navy in terms of the number of surface fleet ships, ranging from two carriers to multiple high-tech crusiers and surveillance craft in an attempt to compete with China and assert its naval power in the India Ocean.
The Indian Air Force will also increase with new fighters acquired from Russia and other sources to boost their air power.
India sems to have an interest in protecting its spheres of influence in South Asia. Therefore, they see a need to expand their military spending and modernize its capabilities.
Today, Iraq relies on the U.S. to bring its military up to speed after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003. The Iraqi military is fast becoming a regional power again with purchases of U.S. and Russian arms and weapons systems.
The Iraqis are also buying things like "30 Mi-28NE combat helicopters and 42 Pantsir-S1 mobile rocket launchers" from Russia as part of a $4.2 billion arms trade deal between the two countries.
5. Saudi Arabia
As a U.S. ally, Saudia Arabia has been improving its military capabilities to combat a chaotic political situation featuring Iran taking provocative actions with its nuclear program.
The Saudis are buying 84 F-15s from the U.S. as part of a military buildup to counter the Iranian problem and bolster its ability to counter a growing security environment. The appeal of U.S. weapons is seen as a major part of the Saudi military program in the past few years.
It's obvious that the Arab Spring, Iran, and Iraq are becoming part of the problematic picture from Riyadh, and they are arming up to prepare for the storm that may come.
Algeria will play an important role in North Africa as a rising power that benefits from high energy prices. Though the Algerian military remains less powerful than its neighbors, it still has the biggest defense budget in North Africa.
With $200 billion in revenues from natural gas and oil exports, Algeria can afford to buy the new weapons like the "Russian Su-30MK fighter-jets, T-90S main battle tanks and Kilo-class submarines" and "helicopters ... from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems [and] 1,200 armoured personnel carriers" from Rheinmetall to increase its conventional military power.
This is not to say that all this military spending prevented the hostage crisis at the BP natural gas plant several weeks ago.
Under the guidance of Putin and his United Russia Party, the Russian military continues to grow in terms of size and the sophistication of its military hardware.
According to official Russian and Chinese media, the Russian defense budget was supposed to rise by 60% in 2013 with purchases of weapons of systems developed for Cold War conflicts, including new nuclear missile systems.
Sergei Karaganov speculates that the arms buildup in Russia is due to a perceived security threat from the missile shield provided by the U.S. in Europe and growing political instability near Russia's southern borders.
It's important to note that Russia is also a top tier player in the cyberwarfare field and is largely considered to be more effective than the Chinese.
The bottom line is that Russia is trying the reassert its previous military power before the end of the Cold War.