The International Institute for Strategic Studies, an independent London think-tank, published its annual report on the global "Military Balance" today. The report includes an assessment of the capabilities of some 170 countries worldwide, as well as a summary of military developments over the past year.
London, 21 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The "Military Balance" study says 1999 saw a mounting toll of war victims worldwide. Much of the bloodiest fighting took place in Africa, but there were also new, if not unexpected, conflicts arising in Europe and Asia.
For most of the year, the attention of Europe and North America was focused on Kosovo, where NATO forces engaged in full-scale armed conflict for the first time -- primarily using air power.
John Chipman, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told a news conference in London today that Kosovo illustrated the security challenge posed by southeastern Europe, and the weakness of the European allies' military forces:
"Every time the world thinks it has solved the Balkans question, the Balkans changes the question. For the Europeans, who are most immediately affected by Balkan troubles, the year's events served to waken the Continent's leadership to the fact that much of Europe's military capacity is vestigial; existent on paper, but lacking real utility."
It was also a year in which NATO enlarged to embrace three new members -- Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland -- while the conflict in Kosovo strained relations between the alliance and Russia, although they improved after deployment of a NATO-led multinational land force (KFOR).
The study finds that the NATO-led military campaign in Yugoslavia had a substantial impact on the development of military and security policy in Europe. During the Kosovo campaign, the study says, the disparity between the military capabilities of the United States and its European allies' military capability was thrown into stark relief, particularly by the U.S. dominance in the air campaign. EU countries subsequently decided to accelerate their plans for developing a more substantial European military capability.
IISS director Chipman says the NATO intervention highlighted the reliance of the European allies on American military strength, and helped start a new debate on how to increase the European defense effort:
"The NATO intervention in Serbia revealed the enormous gap between American and European military capacities. It served to intensify the debate begun by the British on how European countries could raise their own contribution to European defense. British diplomacy has moved the European debate away from the development of a European defense identity towards a discussion of how to increase defense capabilities."
Right now, the European NATO members collectively spend about half as much on defense as the United States. Defense expenditures by European NATO countries have fallen more than 20 percent since 1992, while in the U.S., even before Kosovo, President Bill Clinton called for a modest increase in defense spending, reversing years of decline.
The U.S. is still the world's largest arms merchant, and its share of the global arms market has increased slightly. It now sells almost half of the world's weapons and military equipment. Other leading arms suppliers were France, Britain, and Russia.
By far the biggest regional market for arms continued to be the Middle East and North Africa, where military spending increased by some seven percent. Saudi Arabia was by far the largest national market for arms in 1998, taking delivery of equipment worth more than $10 billion. The second largest global arms purchaser in 1998 was Taiwan ($6.3 billion).
Increased arms exports from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Bulgaria cut China's trade in weapons by half.
For Russia, the study says military developments over the past year were influenced most by the financial crisis of August 1998, the NATO military action in the Balkans, and the conflict in the north Caucasus.
Economic difficulties put a brake on military reform in Russia, and the overall state of operational readiness of all except Russian nuclear resources remained low. Russia lacked resources for training, maintenance and new equipment. There were also more demands on the military in the north Caucasus region, as conflict increased in Chechnya and Dagestan.
But a first phase of military reform, involving personnel cuts, and reorganization of military districts and the armed forces command structure, was reportedly completed a year ago.
In Central and South Asia, the study finds that countries in those regions continued to commit more government resources to defense than anywhere but the Middle East.
Russian border troops remained in Tajikistan, mainly conducting counter-drug operations along the Tajik-Afghan border. But large-scale drug smuggling continued to destabilize Tajikistan as competing factions struggle for control of the trade.
Uzbekistan experienced a series of bomb attacks in the capital, Tashkent, early in 1999. The study says Islamic fundamentalists were blamed for the bombings, and the government carried out a series of arrests, trials and executions.
In Afghanistan, the seemingly endless civil war persisted. Two UN-sponsored attempts to negotiate a cease-fire through direct talks between the main combatants failed in 1999.
The most significant military event in South Asia, the study finds, was the 10 weeks of fighting between India and Kashmir. Civil war persisted in Sri Lanka.
In East Asia, the dominant security issues were the North Korean weapons program, and tensions between China and Taiwan. The troubled domestic politics of Indonesia will also continue to have international repercussions after the independence referendum in East Timor.
On the other side of the world, in South America, the study said intraregional relations continued to improve, particularly between those countries with long-standing disputes over borders or territory.
And sub-Saharan Africa was the scene of more than half of all the armed conflicts in 1999, including some of the most costly in terms of loss of human life. Three-quarters of the countries in central and southern Africa are engaged in armed conflict, or confronted by a significant threat from armed groups.