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A new Chinese stealth fighter, the J-20, takes off to perform a test flight in mid-May. Photo: originally posted to Global Times forums.

2012 will be a historic moment in the shift of global power from the West to the East. According to expert estimates and figures on military spending, in 2012 Asia's spending on defense will eclipse Europe's for the first time in the modern era.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies, a UK-based think tank focusing on global military and political research and analysis, released its influential Military Balance 2012 report back in early March.

The report claims that since 2008, financial crises in the West have led to major reductions in defense spending in Europe. Drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq will likely contribute to decreasing numbers in the future. Meanwhile, Asia's continued economic growth, and efforts to modernize and build military forces there, have reinforced higher spending. In the IISS calculations, Europe does not include Russia, and Asia does not include the Middle East, but does include Australasia.

While per capita spending in Europe is still higher, press releases form the institute say that Asian defense spending is likely to exceed that of Europe, in nominal terms, during 2012. The U.S. accounted for nearly half of all worldwide military spending in 2011, a figure which may be in slight decline over the following years due to defense cutbacks.

IISS says that in real terms, declines in defense spending by 16 out of 28 member states of NATO exceeded 10 percent between 2008 and 2010. Asian spending increased almost 3.2 percent in real terms between 2010 to 2011.

Planned

Planned spending on defense, from different countries worldwide, 2011. Graphs from IISS.

Five countries -- China, Japan, India, South Korea, and Australia -- accounted for more than four-fifths of all regional defense spending. A major focus of spending in Asia is geared towards building newer, bigger fleets of warships and aircraft. Further geographic distances, greater territorial distributions of water, and the predominance of air and naval forces in modern warfare are the main factors driving Asian funding for air forces and navies.

Nations such as China and India are developing new and more powerful ballistic and cruise missiles as well as aircraft carriers. All of the five countries above, save Australia, have active space programs aimed at deploying greater systems of satellites for surveillance and communications, as well as plans for building next-generation stealthy super-jets, like the U.S. F-22 Raptor.