Defense Transparency is on the Decline Among Global Superpowers
Results from the latest edition of the Defense Transparency Index (DTI) show that defense transparency is on the decline among global superpowers. Among the six countries ranked—China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia and the U.S.—scores decreased on average by 8 percent compared to 2015-16, marking a significant decrease in transparency, a worrying trend in an era of intensifying regional security tensions, where the potential for miscalculation is growing. The annual index is produced by the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC).
“At a time when Northeast Asia desperately needs more defense openness and transparency to mitigate intensifying security tensions and arms build-ups, we are moving in the wrong direction,” says Tai Ming Cheung, IGCC director and professor at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy.
Scores for the United States and China have fallen over the past decade, at the same time as tensions between the two countries are increasing. The U.S. score fell precipitously—by 17.6 percent compared to 2015-16—a decline driven by Trump administration policies of no longer making the full National Defense Strategy public and heightened restrictions on media access. These changes come at the same time as marked shifts are felt in the U.S. posture towards the rest of the globe, with speeches emphasizing the primacy of the nation-state in international affairs and an emphasis on great power competition not seen since the end of the Cold War.
“Scores on the 2018-19 Defense Transparency Index decreased on average by 8 percent compared to 2015-16, marking a significant decrease in transparency, a worrying trend in an era of intensifying regional security tensions, where the potential for miscalculation is growing.”
Meanwhile, China, which continues to assert itself internationally in a context of rising trade tensions with the U.S., has also seen a decrease in its score. China has not issued a defense white paper since 2015, leaving neighboring defense establishments in the dark. Chinese reporting to U.N. has also gone down. However, China has been fairly transparent on cybersecurity and scores well on defense media even though China imposes significant restraints on the media in other areas.
Japan regained its 1st place ranking in 2018-19, though its overall score decreased by 7.6 percent, driven by limited information on the English version of its Ministry of Defense website. Japan’s consistently high score on the index highlights Japan’s leadership in defense transparency, including its commitment to frequent publication of its defense posture.
The Republic of Korea (ROK) largely maintained is a relatively good performance on defense transparency. It did well in media oversight and in the clear, public announcement and acknowledgment of its international military activity. But ROK scored poorly in reporting to the UN (it didn’t) and cybersecurity (it lacks a focused cybersecurity strategy document), putting it in third place overall.
Russia is the only country in the 2018-19 Index that saw a marginal increase in its overall score (mainly driven by recent publications of several policy documents related to its cybersecurity strategy), but it has been and remains a poor performer overall. Although Russia publishes a defense white paper, the information provided is limited and vague, and the state asserts significant control over the press. A more bellicose Russia, expelled from the G8 following its invasion and annexation of Crimea, has drawn far closer to China, publicly flaunted its obligations under the INF Treaty and heavily invested in modernizing its military capabilities in order to strengthen its position in confronting the West.
A decade of DTI reports shows the leaders being Japan, the U.S. and the Republic of Korea; followed by much less transparent Russia and China. North Korea remains at the bottom of the DTI.
The 2019 results, which were presented at the 29th Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue in Hong Kong, are a worrying trend in an era of intensifying regional security tensions and increased geostrategic competition among great powers.
The DTI was established in 2011, and has helped to inform dialogue in Northeast Asia among defense professionals looking to improve regional cooperation and confidence-building. Representatives of defense ministries that have attended NEACD have said that the lessons and findings from the DTI reports have been useful in helping the writing of defense white papers and other transparency mechanisms back home.
To learn more about how the DTI is calculated and how countries are measured, read the 2019 DTI Policy Brief and the Index Data.