This graphic highlights Russia’s role as one of the top arms suppliers to Algeria and Egypt. For an analysis of what this demonstrates about Russia’s reemergence as a power broker in the Middle East, read Lisa Watanabe’s article for Strategic Trends 2019 here. For more CSS charts and graphics, click here.
This graphic charts the volume of Russian arms exports to China from 1992-2016. For more on the strengthening China-Russia relationship, see Brian Carlson’s chapter for Strategic Trends 2018 here. For more CSS charts, maps and graphics on proliferation, click here.
China-Russia enhanced security cooperation is a form of geopolitical signalling. Despite closer relations, the coming years will tell whether such cooperation is sustainable as the relationship is expected to turn increasingly asymmetrical due to China’s continuing rise. It is unlikely that China’s relationship with Russia would turn into an actual military alliance in the future, however. China’s strategic partnership with Russia is the most comprehensive among its strategic partnerships. The two countries have also enhanced coordination in internationally topical issues. In June 2017, China and Russia signed a general plan for bilateral military cooperation for the years 2017–2020.
China’s global geopolitical aspirations, backed by growing economic clout, shape the direction and character of its military-technological choices and China’s strategic interest to strengthen its position in global arms markets.
Over the past decade, China has been able to accelerate its transition from a large arms importer to a major exporter, with a potential to become one of the world’s leading arms exporters, by providing low cost and affordable service and upgrade packages without geopolitical strings.
According to recent data by SIPRI, the Stockholm-based think-tank, Chinese exports of major arms have increased by 74 percent between 2012 and 2016, and its share of global arms exports rose from 3.8 to 6.2 percent, making it the world’s third-largest supplier in the world, after the United States and Russia. The geographic spread and number of recipients of Chinese weapons exports have also increased. In 2012-16, China delivered major arms to 44 countries – more than 60 percent of China’s exports went to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar and another 22 percent went to Africa. China also delivered major arms to ex-Soviet states for the first time, including the 2016 delivery of surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems HQ9 (FD-2000) to Turkmenistan.
Following the end of the cold war and the break-up of the Soviet Union, there were rapid decreases in Russian military budgets. Soviet military expenditure had stood at almost USD $350 billion in 1988. However, by 1992 it had fallen to USD $60 billion and in 1998 was only USD $19 billion. The more flexible parts of the budget suffered the most, such as those for procurement and operations. At the same time, the Russian arms industry saw several major clients for its weapons disappear, chief among them the former Warsaw Pact members and Iraq. By 1992, the arms industry Russia had inherited from the Soviet Union was in serious trouble. Most of its internal market and part of its export market was gone.
In parallel with this development, China was embarking on a serious military modernization. Boosted by its rapidly growing economy, it began to implement a long-planned reorganization of its armed forces and the acquisition of advanced weaponry. (This modernization had been planned since the 1970s and was given extra impetus by the poor performance of China’s armed forces against Viet Nam in 1979.) Chinese military spending has increased almost every year since 1989, the first year of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) data for China, from USD $21 billion in 1988 to USD $215 billion in 2015. With this surge, China overtook Russia’s spending in 1998 and within five years had become the second largest spender globally behind the United States.