Why Subs? To Send Neighbors a Powerful Message – “Stay Outta My Yard”

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Defense spending across Asia has increased substantially during the past 10 years, and looks to continue growing apace into the 2020s. Nowhere is this more apparent than in plans to spend nearly $40 billion on submarines during the next decade, as estimated by Avascent Analytics’ Global Platforms and Systems database. Although China’s naval forces strengthen year by year, the conventional view that this aspiring regional hegemon is the main driver of the region’s undersea arms race is simplistic. Rather, much of the region’s spike in interest in subsurface assets stems from individual nations’ pursuit of undersea area-denial capabilities aimed predominantly at their immediate neighbors.

Understanding the territorial and historical rationales of each country’s pursuit of submarines offers a counterpoint to the consensus that the region is currently engaged in a destabilizing military buildup caused by an increasingly assertive and prosperous China. It demonstrates that the Asia-Pacific remains a region where distrust and historical animosities still linger, despite a broad alignment of economic interests – a region unable to realize the benefits of a cohesive, NATO-like alliance system for a myriad of reasons.

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