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Southeast Asia, explained

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Thai soldiers undergoing chemical gas training at Cobra Gold 2012 war games in February. The exercise involves 13,000 military personnel from seven nations: South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, US, Singapore, Japan and Malaysia. (PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)

Seven decades after giving rise to the world's largest, deadliest theater of war, Europe will see its military spending eclipsed by Asia's.

The eclipsing will likely take place this year, according to a new International Institute for Strategic Studies report. This shift started accelerating in 2008, a year of fiscal meltdown in the West. It's furthered as financially ailing European powers look at pooling their military resources, a process the think tank describes as potentially "awkward."

Meanwhile, China has poured money into its ascendent military, which now boasts of an aircraft carrier, cruise missiles and anti-satellite ballistics. "Beijing’s official expenditure in 2011 was more than two-and-a half times the 2001 level," according to the report.

Cause for panic in the U.S.? Not really.

Consider that China's military spending last year was $89.8 billion, according to Defense News. That's the net worth of China's top 70 richest communist party lawmakers. It's 12 percent of what America spends.

China's military leadership is largely driven by pragmatism and protecting Chinese commerce. They're not religious fanatics and they aren't obsessed with world domination. Also, according to the institute's report, "China’s technological advances are more modest than some alarmist hypotheses of its military development have suggested."

Now, as a penny-pinching Europe considers relying on its neighbors to save money, Asia looks increasingly like a mishmash of largely self-reliant militaries and countries with forces interwound with America's military, such as Japan or South Korea. According to the think tank report, more than 80 percent of Asia's military spending comes from China, Japan, India, South Korea and Australia.

As for the other 20 percent, a group that includes Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam?

If anything, China's military spending boom -- set to increase by more than 11 percent this year -- could drive more Southeast Asian countries into America's orbit as a bulwark against an increasingly assertive Middle Kingdom.

http://www.globalpost.com/globalpost-blogs/southeast-asia/asia-military-spending

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