LONDON • Western superiority in military technology is "eroding", notably at the hands of China and Russia, a leading think-tank said in its annual report on the state of militaries around the world.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London said in its Military Balance report on Tuesday that increasingly easy access to technology by non-state groups means the world faces "an increasingly complex balance of military power".
It also highlighted that Russia and China are pushing to modernise their militaries and are "increasingly active in the development and deployment of advanced military capabilities".
"We previously felt that Western states were the champions of new technology and had a large technological lead either over their state peer competitors or over non-state actors," Mr John Chipman, director-general and chief executive of the IISS, told Agence France-Presse. "Now that technological lead is narrowing."
Mr Chipman stressed that military power in the 21st century was not only about planes, tanks and ships but also about technologies such as cyber security, cyber weapons and drones.
The IISS also said European defence budgets, which have suffered major cuts since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, were still too low.
Last year, only four out of 26 European members of Nato met a target that 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) should be spent on defence - Britain, Greece, Poland and Estonia.
The top five spenders on defence last year were the United States with US$597.5 billion (S$832 billion), China with US$145.8 billion, Saudi Arabia with US$81.9 billion, Russia with US$65.6 billion and Britain with US$56.2 billion.
Russia, which deployed forces to Syria in September, has seen "double-digit" growth in its defence budget, the IISS said.
The US' overall defence expenditure as a percentage of GDP has fallen from 4.63 per cent in 2010 to 3.27 per cent last year. However, the amount being spent on the US military presence in Europe is being quadrupled to US$3.4 billion.
Mr Chipman attributed this to a "perceived growing threat from Russia, especially to the Baltic states and the eastern European states".
In the Middle East, the lifting of sanctions against Iran following a nuclear deal last year raises the possibility of Teheran modernising its military equipment, much of which dates back to the 1970s, according to the IISS.