“To pursue peace through strength, it shall be the policy of the United States to rebuild the U.S. Armed Forces.” — President Donald J. Trump
Given his view of pursuing peace through strength, the US President, Donald Trump, is not alone, not even first, in viewing the world as a dangerous political jungle filled with untamable predators. Pursuing peace through strength was the policy prescription of the Ronald Reagan’s administration — in fact, President Reagan would fondly say that. President George W. Bush outlined similar defence and foreign policies during his January 2001 inauguration address. He said, “We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge.” In this sense, this thinking is hardly a product of modern era, and dates back to ancient times. “The possession of power,” reasoned Kautilya, minister to India’s first Maurya emperor, “in a greater degree makes a king superior to another; in a lesser degree, inferior; and in an equal degree, equal. Hence a king shall always endeavour to augment his own power.”
The prescription draws its force from the realist school of thought and advocates an unparalleled and unlimited accumulation of power. For realists, states are loyal only to their national interests and there is no overarching world power to check their excesses and regulate their behaviour. In this anarchic world, power, therefore, becomes the most important tool to influence others and to deter and, if need be, to devastate potential enemies. Thomas Hobbes contended about world politics as ‘a war of all against all’; hence, for states to keep pace in arms buildup is the only means to keep peace in the international system.
States not only want to amass power, they are quite fond of employing it too. Chances of employment are even greater where states perceive potential for successful use of force. This is the reason why power almost always triumphs principles, and also explains why states tend to lock themselves into Darwinian country-eat-country struggle, marked by intense hostilities. Some 22 centuries ago, Rome and Carthage, the two superpowers of that time, fought 118-year-long Punic Wars that culminated into the fall, and then, complete destruction of Carthage. According to a historian:
“… [T]he Romans stormed the town and the army went from house to house, slaughtering the inhabitants … the Carthaginians who weren’t killed were sold into slavery. The harbour and the city were demolished, and all the surrounding countryside was sown with salt in order to render it uninhabitable.”
Today, when so many countries are so heavily armed, the world is dangerous more than it has been ever before.
Realpolitik, in fact, uncompromisingly defends traditional state system and unduly stresses on balance of power as its regulator. According to realpolitik, creating balance of power – the presence of counter-vailing strength against another power – leaves no single state strong enough to dominate all others. On this premise, Europe’s political orientation in the eighteenth century marks the ‘Golden Age’ of balance of power. Earlier European scholars favoured the idea as they believed that the balance of power preserved Europe from stagnation and degeneracy, and gave birth to a healthy competition. Edward Gibbon, a famous historian and philosopher, in his ‘History of Decline and Fall of Roman Empire’ hailed the European balance of power system in these words:
“The abuses of tyranny are restrained by the mutual influence of fear and shame; republics have acquired order and stability; monarchies have imbibed the principles of freedom, or, at least, of moderation; and some sense of honor and justice is introduced into the most defective constitutions by the general manners of the times. In peace, the progress of knowledge and industry is accelerated by the emulation of so many rivals: in war, the European forces are exercised by temperate and undecisive contests.”
But, would Gibbon and his contemporaries be of the same opinion had they witnessed the emergence of fervent nationalism, the horrors of the two World Wars, and the prospects of nuclear annihilation? Their age might have been of competitions with reasonable limits and wars with ‘temperate and undecisive contests’; however, the power politics, in the twentieth century alone, brought a carnage of more than 111 million people during two World Wars and innumerable other conflicts. In an unending cycle of wars that power politics espouses, peace remains elusive and security, at best, temporary. But the worst may lie ahead – a nuclear war that, as President Kennedy said, will put “an end to the mankind”.
One formidable obstacle for power politics to become a relic of the mankind’s barbaric past is that power helps a state to prevail in situation of conflict and enables her to coerce another state into doing or not doing something. And, this power forms the very base that makes states keep treading on the path of power politics.
The problem with arms is that weapons, instead of kindling a hope for peace, ignite in others the feelings of fear and insecurity, create tensions and invite mean imitations, and ventures to buildup and proliferate arms; thus, ending up into a dilemma of heightened insecurity for all. Therefore, it would be too dangerous to ignore the political and security implications of the sublime connection that exists between arms buildup, their proliferation and the resultant spiral of insecurity – in short, the age-old ‘security dilemma’.
But the heightened insecurity is one bane, the worst comes next. It creates an environment for the rise of the leaders of the most diminutive stature for they are disposed fervently to cap on the talents that are depressed, and sentiments that are debased. Deteriorating conditions home and abroad make electorate choose extremist leaders who, through their divisive and far-right tendencies, continue to cultivate and channelize people’s anxieties into their strength. In the contemporary world, the scope has become far greater and easier for such leaders to preach and construct extreme version of realpolitik. It is important not to cast aside what the senior Nazi Hermann Goering said during the Nuremberg Trials after WW II:
“Of course the people don’t want war … it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. … [a]ll you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.”
Possessing military and economic strength does not equate with having peace and security and, in the same token, absence of war does not necessarily mean a conflict-free world. Conflicts are rampant and are, in fact, more enduring feature of international life. In such a scenario, with proportion to increases in military might increases the temptation to employ it, sometimes even in areas of peripheral importance and on goals of questionable utility. What else could be a better spectacle of the dreadful carnage other than Iraq War, to be explained neither by the theory of a just war nor on the premises of pre-emptory norms, but only by the barbaric temptation that rides freely on an ever-amassing levels of arms and artilleries. “We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom”, laments Stephen Vincent Benet, as if he wanted to point out toward the irony that the possession of power increases a state’s reliance over arms and weapons and inadvertently narrows down its options in conduct of its diplomatic relations with other states.
Ensuring lasting peace is the major challenge of international system. Greater economic interdependence, increasing role of global institutions and norms over military power, prevalence of principles over power, and guaranteeing human rights can contribute to peace and progress. Increasing interactions and interdependence among states have already pushed states to redefine their national interests and for military power, it is hardly useful. Instead of relying on simple power politics and putting economic and human rights discourses subservient to state’s power, states must invest their resources on education, health and wealth and welfare of their people. Let us not forget what ‘The Spectator’ observed at the zenith of British Empire that not arms, but arts and industry is the true source of power. As it is not in the heights of flying jets or in godlike power of nuclear rock, when the human mind is depressed by rising income inequalities and modern forms of slavery, that we should seek for the pride, honour and freedoms of our nations.