Both China and Russia's recent military activities have received considerable media attention: the former, in regard to territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines; and the latter, with respect to the annexation of Crimea following a referendum on March 16. This post presents an extremely rough analysis of the relative military might of China and its neighbours, and of Russia and its neighbours. The data are on total military spending in 2012, taken from the SIPRI.
In the case of China, I count as neighbours all those countries with which China could plausibly have a territorial dispute in either the East China Sea or the South China Sea. By my reckoning, that means: South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Vietnam. I refer to these countries as China's 'Eastern and South Eastern neighbours'. In the case of Russia, I count as neighbours all those countries included in The Economist's satirical map of Russia's "greater linguistic empire". That is: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. I refer to these countries as Russia's 'Western and South Western neighbours'.
The first chart plots military spending for China versus its Eastern and South Eastern neighbours. In total, China's spending is about 28% higher than that of its neighbours. Thus, in the extremely unlikely event of a war in which all of China's Eastern and South Eastern neighbours united against it, the odds would be tipped slightly in China's favour.
The second chart plots military spending for Russia versus its Western and South Western neighbours. Overall, Russia's spending is approximately 550% greater than that of its neighbours. Therefore, in the extremely unlikely event of a war in which all of Russia's Western and South Western neighbours united against it, the odds would be stacked dramatically in Russia's favour.
There are a number of reasons why the comparisons here are somewhat absurd. First, military spending in 2012 may not be an especially good measure of a country's military force. For instance, it does not take into account large military investments (e.g., missile silos) made in previous years. Second, many of the neighbouring countries (e.g., Latvia, Lithuania, Japan) have signed "mutual" defence treaties with much more powerful nations, notably the United States. Third, several of the countries included among Russia's neighbours (e.g., Belarus, Kazakhstan) are in fact relatively close military allies of Russia.