Singapore: Little Tiger With A Big Military Roar

While Asian giants China and India rapidly build up their already huge military arsenals, the tiny, prosperous Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore has been quietly ramping up defense expenditures at a rate disproportionate to its size and population.

With only about 5.1 million people (about one-fourth that of the city of Beijing) and an annual GDP of US$260 billion (about the same as Finland or Chile), astonishingly, Singapore was the fifth-largest arms importer in the world from 2007 to 2011, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Only India, China, Pakistan and South Korea spent more on weapons than tiny Singapore over that period.

On a per-capita basis, Singapore's arms-buying spree is topped only by the U.S., Israel and Kuwait.

Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen told parliament recently that the government may spend up to 6 percent of GDP on defense -- overall, military expenditures have climbed 4 percent annually from S$10.7 billion (US$8.6 billion) in 2008 to reach the S$12.3 billion ($US9.7 billion) level in 2012.

“Our overall approach is to maintain a stable defense budget that grows gradually in absolute terms, and to manage that prudently,” Ng told lawmakers.

“Such steady spending is a critical enabler, because it allows [The Ministry of Defense] to take a long-term view and obtain the best value for our defense investments.”

Put another way, almost one-fourth of Singapore's national budget will be spent on defense this year, making the Defense Ministry the No. 1 recipient of the budget allocation.

(By contrast, Israel, which is surrounded by enemies and lives under the constant threat of military attack, spends about 15 percent of its GDP on defense, andit pays much more in social and health care costs than does Singapore.)

Ng defended Singapore’s military spending, insisting the Ministry of Defense only buys what is required to satisfy its security needs.

[We are] mindful of our responsibility to spend carefully and wisely, he said.

We buy only what we need, scrutinize available options for the most cost-effective solution.

In fact, Southeast Asia, as a whole, has embarked on a bewildering armament spree in recent years. Singapore's nearest neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia, have also been buying guns, tanks and missiles and other expensive toys at a hectic pace.

In 2011, the region's defense expenditures jumped by 13.5 percent to $24.5 billion, according to IHS Jane. By 2016, that number is expected to reach $40 billion.

Strangely, there have been almost no conflicts between Southeast Asian nations in several decades. Thus, the mania for acquiring weapons appears to be based on some existential worries and has, of course, been financed by rapid economic expansion.

However, Singapore appears to be unique in its paranoia. Not only does Singapore buy arms, but the Borgia-like city-state also sells an array of weapons to other nations (both developed and emerging).

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