Threats, Arms and Conflicts: Taking Stock of Interstate Military Competition in Today’s World

December 6th 2018 - 15:00

This paper by Tim Sweijs and Floris Holstege, part of the Strategic Monitor 2018-2019, conducts an empirical analysis of trends in interstate military competition. It gauges the perceptions and intentions, capabilities, and conflict activities of leading military powers in the international system for the period 2008-2018. The principal conclusion is that interstate military competition is intensifying, and can be expected to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.  

In official defense and security documents, the security environment is increasingly characterized in competitive terms while non-allied states are cast in a more antagonistic light. The use of military threats has increased, especially by the major powers. While military expenditure has not seen dramatic increases at the global level, leading states have started allocating more funding to their armed forces, following significant increases in the defense budgets of Russia and China. At the same time, the modernization of armed forces enjoys greater priority across the board. China and Russia have set course on a dedicated path to military modernization for over a decade now. The US similarly continues to be strongly committed to military modernization. In addition to the incremental renewal of their armed forces, all three powers pursue disruptive innovation too, in recognition of the potentially game-changing impact of AI on the future military balance of power. Leading European states, with the exception of the UK, are reversing direction and are gradually raising their procurement and military R&D budgets. Finally, internationalized intrastate conflict has increased dramatically, quintupling over the past decade. This carries considerable risk of escalation from indirect to direct state-on-state conflict. The key implications for the Netherlands of increasing military competition reside in the risks to the territorial and economic security of the Netherlands and its allies, and the erosion of international law.

Read the paper here.

Authors: Tim Sweijs, Director of Research and Floris Holstege, assistant analyst. 

Dr. Tim Sweijs is the Director of Research at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. He is the initiator, creator and author of numerous studies, methodologies, and tools for horizon scanning, early warning, conflict analysis, national security risk assessment, and strategy and capability development. Tim has lectured at universities and military academies around the world. His main research interest concerns the changing character of contemporary conflict. Tim is a Senior Research Fellow at the Netherlands Defence Academy and an Affiliate at the Center for International Strategy, Technology and Policy in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology.