Military Power is the most important concept to keep peace. This realist position sounds rather paradoxical, however the idea is based on solid arguments.
Military power is the capacity to use force or to threaten its use in order to influence the behaviour of other states.
According to Peter Paret, Military Power “expresses and implements the power of the state in a variety of ways within and beyond the state borders, and is also one of the instruments with which political power is originally created and made permanent." (quoted in Measuring National Power in the Postindustrial Age)
Because a nation's military capability, or power, predicates that a country's military organizations receive national resources only to transform them into specific war-fighting capabilities (effective to the degree of enabling a country's leaders to impose their will on enemies [both existing and potential]), it can be argued that there is a direct link between military power and national power – i.e. the capability of a country to challenge other powers if so it wishes.
But how can military power produce peace?
Holding military capabilities implies being either defensive (to ensure security and self-defence capabilities) or offensive (with aggressive intentions); however while the latter may be an assurance of war, adopting a defensive posture doesn't pose a threat since it doesn't seek to maximise power (e.g. invasion to increase territory).
Defensive realism argues that nations acquire military power because they are eager to defend themselves and guarantee their survival - without maximising power - thus assuaging any fear that their neighbours, or adversaries, may have regarding an imminent attack. This argument is supported by world numbers 3 & 4, in The Four Worlds explained by Robert Jervis (in Cooperation under the Security Dilemma):
- World #3 - describes a situation where a defensive posture is distinguishable from the offensive one and, even when an offensive offers advantages (determined by technology or geography) there is no security dilemma involved even though aggression may be possible. However, in this case the status quo states can follow different policies than those of the aggressors'; and warnings will be issued.
- World #4 – describes a situation where a defensive posture is distinguishable from the offensive stance and because there are advantages in defence, both parties are doubly stable.
In International Relations, the definition of deterrence is: a policy through which political leaders threaten military retaliation in an attempt to prevent the other side from resorting to the threat or use of military force, when pursuing its foreign policy objectives.
“A threat serves as a deterrent to the extent that it convinces its target not to carry out the intended action because of the costs and losses the target would incur.”(Paul Huth in Deterrence and International Conflict - Empirical Findings and Theoretical Debates)
For a threat to work there must be a clear signal of retaliation, such as a clear military build-up, the development of nuclear programmes (for even if the programme is intended to produce cheaper electricity, the opportunity to develop it further into weaponry capacity will always exist, especially if the country goes rogue) and, therefore, the information about the retaliatory capabilities of the other party. If after a careful analysis of the facts, a state is not willing to bear the costs of retaliation, then deterrence will have worked and peace will be kept (being the meaning of peace, in this case, the absence of an all-out war).
Military power is more efficient in keeping peace than democracy and free trade for the following reasons:
- although democracies don't usually wage wars against democracies, they may wage preventive wars to either gain certain advantages or prevent other nations from increasing their military/retaliatory power. As Robert Pape so well argued “The US conquest of Iraq (...) challenges one of the most important norms in international politics - that democracies do not fight preventive wars - and so undermines the assurance that comes from the expectation that democratic institutions can keep a sole superpower from altering the status quo to its advantage." (in Soft Balancing against the United States)
- although free market may eventually lead to peace, it does not do so automatically. The expansion of international trade is a contributor to peace in the long run, however free market alone is not a deterrent to war. Nevertheless, the expansion of economic interdependence has - so far - been the only factor of deterrence in the East Asia tensions (i.e. Territorial conflicts involving China, Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Vietnam).
Limits of Military Power
Although this concept can be very effective in maintaining peace, it also has its limitations – capable of producing the opposite effect. For instance:
- The security dilemma can pose a threat to peace if neither parties involved hold enough information about each other (i.e. unaware of the adversary's intentions), working thus under the assumption that the other side is offensive. As a consequence, tensions escalate, we witness an increasing arms race and a war may break out.
- Deterrence may fail in the case of aggressive powers (that are more than willing to bear the costs of retaliation) and of pre-emptive attacks (i.e. due to a perceived imminent attack). In such cases there are only two options: either to make war or surrender (and given human nature, it's easy to assume that making war would be the preferred option).
(Image: Ha'adir/F35 - IDF Blog)