BRIC Military Modernization and the New Global Defense Balance (Part 1 of 2)

By Daniel Darling

The message promoted by foreign policy gurus in recent years is that the American moment is over and a new global balance is emerging; one where power is no longer concentrated in Washington but spread among several different countries. The U.S. will continue to retain a prominent position at the top of the global food chain we are told, but no longer will there be the sense of American worldwide hegemony. Instead the emerging nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China (the so-called “BRICs”) will assume their rightful place as great powers and in the process create a new multi-polar world.

This is not, perhaps, what European proponents of a multi-polar world may have had in mind when they advocated for global power to be diffused shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. But despite its modern weaponry, two million combined soldiers and its overall economic wealth, Europe suffers from several mitigating factors, not least of which is the lack of a unified army that appears no closer today than it did in 1998 when Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair reached an agreement at St. Malo creating a path towards pan-European defense.

The BRICs have three things in common. Each is large both in terms of size and population; each has an expanding economy; and each is undergoing a military modernization effort aimed at preserving their strategic interests. While Europe’s strongest nations are cutting defense spending and the U.S. defense budget is set to flat-line in the coming years, these four countries are seeking to assert themselves on the global stage and are willing and able to invest in improving the capabilities of their armed forces.

Brazil’s economy has continued to grow and despite a small hiccup during the global economic slowdown of 2009 is expected to expand by 7.5 percent this year. As its economy has grown so too has the recognition by government officials that a major military modernization is in order if Brazil is to underwrite its claim to hydrocarbon deposits outside its traditional offshore border and gain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Flexing its muscles as the preeminent power in South America - both diplomatically and in a benign show of military strength - may go a long way towards achieving the latter for Brasilia.

Since 2005 the Brazilian defense budget has grown by 5 percent per year and the government approved a new national defense policy in 2008 that set aside $70 billion for reequipping the army. New items are to include 50 Eurocopter Cougar (EC-725) medium-lift helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, anti-tank weaponry and a new family of armored vehicles from IVECO (referred to asUrutu III).

There is also a long-term naval expansion that has attracted much interest from the French and British defense industries. The French are selling Brazil four Scorpene-type conventional submarines, while the British are eager to gain access to one of the world’s fastest growing military markets by inking deals with Brasilia for its purchase of BAE Systems’ design-phase Type-26 frigate. An impending decision on the winner in the multibillion F-X2 new-generation jet fighter competition will pave the way for the Brazilian Air Force to acquire 36-plus modern combat aircraft, most likely the French-made Dassault Rafale.

All of these improvements are of course expensive and Brazil has planned accordingly, figuring that its annual share of defense expenditure will rise from the current 1.5 percent of GDP to 2.2 percent by 2030.

Russia presents a different case than Brazil in that unlike the economically ascendant South American nation it is used to being considered a global power and expects to be defined as such. While Brazil’s military modernization effort comes as the country seeks acceptance among the global elite, Russia aims to retain and improve those defense capabilities that once enabled it to be seen as a first-tier military power alongside the U.S.

The breakup of Russia’s former Soviet empire afforded the country the opportunity to shift to a market-based economy, but also left enduring scars stemming from a lost sense of prestige as one of the world’s two former superpowers. The Russian leadership of Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev has sought to rectify this by reasserting the country’s presence throughout its former Soviet domain and utilizing its energy resources to wield influence further afield.

While Russian military aircraft have repeatedly penetrated the air space of NATO member countries during exercises in recent years, it was Moscow’s military incursion into Georgia in August 2008 that signaled that Russia would willingly lean on its hard power to preserve its position in its post-Soviet near abroad.
Though the brief war may have seen the Russian Goliath overwhelm the Georgian David, it also exposed a slew of Russian Army shortcomings in terms of training, equipment, reconnaissance, logistics support and real-time battlefield coordination.

Anatoly Serdyukov The performance of Russian forces in Georgia ultimately proved to be a catalyst in the Kremlin’s decision to launch a comprehensive, 12-year military reform effort in October 2008. This reform and modernization plan laid out by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov seeks to transform the heavy, mass-mobilization Russian military into a smaller high-readiness force better able to support the Kremlin’s strategic objectives and tackle events along the country’s periphery on short notice.

As part of the new plan a special emphasis has been placed on weeding out the aging Soviet-legacy hardware and acquiring more modern equipment. What is eye-opening in this regard is the willingness of the Russian leadership to embark on purchases of foreign-produced armaments - in particular the possibility that one of those suppliers may include the U.S. Moscow is already locked in negotiations with France over the purchase of Mistral-class helicopter-carrying amphibious assault ships and is still hoping to clinch a deal with Israel for the launch of a $300 million joint venture involving the manufacture of unmanned aerial systems in Russia.

It is estimated that only 10 percent of Russian military hardware meets modern standards. The new defense plan aims to amend that situation by tripling the ratio of new-generation equipment to 30 percent by 2015, then 70 percent by 2020. All this - plus the need to recruit high-caliber officers and soldiers for the new army - comes with a high price tag. The Kremlin plans on boosting its 2011-2020 arms budget accordingly by 46 percent, from 13 trillion rubles to 19 trillion ($620 billion).

Whether the government’s efforts at transforming the military and resuscitating Russia’s once-dynamic defense industry through greater investment, foreign technology transfer and the creation of a Russian version of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Products Agency (DARPA) pan out, there can be little doubt as to Moscow’s commitment and level of ambition. Its latest plan indicates that the Kremlin has little interest in managing Russia’s decline and instead figures to continue competing for influence in the emerging multi-polar world order.
The Faster Times