A just-released study by Congress finds Asia has eclipsed the Middle East as the world's largest buyer of weapons, with Russia and China the region's largest providers.
While the United States remains the world's biggest arms provider, this new report from the research service of the Library of Congress finds that Asia is now the world's biggest buyer.
"That is primarily due to the fact that the Chinese have undergone a rather significant build-up and modernization of their military and Russia has been their principle supplier," said Richard Grimmett, a specialist on national defense and the author of the report. "There has been a substantial number of major combat fighter aircraft, some naval vessels, submarines, and things of that nature that are rather expensive and the level of that trade and activity has been rather high so that has by definition lifted up the totals for Asia."
A recent report by the Pentagon concluded Beijing has embarked on an ambitious, long-term effort to modernize its military through purchases of advanced technology, intended to bring its military more in line with those in the developed world.
Wade Boese, research director at the Arms Control Association, sees that as partly intended to send a signal to Taiwan as well as any nation that would want to come to the island's defense if mainland China attacked.
"What you have seen is an aggressive effort by China to try and catch up, to close the gap," he said. "If they were to become involved in a military conflict with Taiwan, there is a good chance that the United States may come to Taiwan's aid and in such a situation they clearly want to have more up to date weaponry to try and balance what the United States might bring to the table. China is looking at what Taiwan may possibly purchase from the United States and it wants to kind of counter that."
Russia ranks as the world's second-largest arms provider, but its sales to Asia are more than double those from America.
At the same time, this new report finds that weapons sales to the Middle East have declined.
"Especially because Saudi Arabia has not been purchasing at the levels it did in the early 1990s," added Mr. Grimmett. "At the same time, the sales to China, sales to Malaysia, and these other Southeast Asian countries by Russia in particular have gone up, you find a slight tip toward Asia as being the larger arms market."
It is too early to say whether this tip toward Asia amounts to a trend. Experts say if nations in the Middle East judge Iran's nuclear program and the ongoing instability in Iraq to be new threats to the region, Asia's lead in weapons purchases could prove to be temporary.