Saturday, October 1, 2016

War and Peace Lecture: Power Through Strength

In strategic circles, there is often a dilemma as to how a country can becomes powerful. On one side, there are those who believe that to be powerful, it is necessary to openly demonstrate strength, almost always at those who are weaker, or at least perceived to be so. This doctrine may be called the 'strength through power' doctrine, that a country is powerful if can demonstrate its strength, often dramatically. On the other side is the 'power through strength' doctrine, one that believes that in order to be powerful, it is necessary to develop internal strength that does not have to be demonstrated outwardly. Where does the truth lie, if it exists?

Consider what power and strength are. Power is the ability to change something to one's liking, whole strength is an inward trait - the power to change one self, or a country. Can the two exist separate from each other? Can a person, or a country, that is not strong internally, influence others, or even conquer them as a demonstration of power? Or conversely, if a country is strong internally, can it necessarily project power externally?

But does it need to?

The Need
That a country needs to be strong internally is hard to question - without internal cohesion, a country is hardly anything more than a piece of geography. Iraq today, for example, is so divided along several lines - Shia, Sunni, Kurds, ISIS, the 'legitimate' government - that is barely exists as a country in its entire territory. But does a country that is strong need to project power? America, the world's superpower, projects its power (with varying degrees of success) to every corner of the globe, and internally, despite a lot of problems, it is very strong. But Switzerland, another country that is very strong, has been known historically to avoid any and all involvement in power projection on what has historically been a warring continent.

And yet, there is a different between the two, a difference that matters: utility to the world. For, it is a fact that the world is not a 'nice' or peaceful place, it is a place where hard power works. And that is not because people are necessarily 'bad' - rather, it is because they are realistic in life, because they have to lead a real life far detached from the one presented to them by romanticists. And in real life, resources are finite, and any group that can capture more resources will rise. That is the essence of 'realpolitik'. Therefore, in the world, a country's need to project power or not essentially comes from its utility.

Consider Switzerland itself, a land-locked country that is a geographical fortress, one that would be exceedingly hard (but not impossible) to dominate, and yet would provide very little resources to the conqueror. Such a country does not need to project power, because as long as it is strong, it need not fear conquest. But consider America: arguably the best piece of real estate in the world (at least its Eastern half), with a natural barrier of two vast oceans. If any power would take America, they would have a natural spring board to project power on to the rest of the world, not to mention the vast resources that would capture. For such a country, power projection is essential, something its leaders realized early on through the Monroe Doctrine.

The purpose of power
This brings us to another question - what is the purpose of power projection? Is it for realpolitik, to amass more resources for the people of the country, as was the logic behind colonialism? If that were the case, it would have little justification, because it would ultimately be self-defeating: today's conqueror would become tomorrow's conquered, sparking off a cycle of retribution. For, if there is any truth in the world, it is that change is constant, and no power is eternal.

But what if power is channeled to precisely that cause - self-preservation, or more specifically, preservation of strength? Certainly, that would be moral, for self-preservation is the most natural instinct of all sentient beings, and what has arguably been the main cause of progress. But consider the important corollary - power projection for self-preservation (or the preservation of strength) assumes that a country is strong in the first place. If not, eventually, the focus on external power projection would be defeated by internal fissures.

Thus, for a strong nation to become a great power to protect its strength is morally justified and necessary to ensure progress. On this anniversary of both Mahatma Gandhi and Lab Bahadur Shastri, let us not forget this important lesson. 

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