7.4.7 The Security Impact of Military Force

The security impact of military force used without UN approval is usually that matters are worse after a campaign than before it began.

The political impact of a coercive foreign policy was examined in the previous chapter (6.7.7).  It is a political decision to use military force, but its security impact is examined here.  The reasons why the use of unauthorised military force worsens a country’s security situation are not always immediately apparent, but several have been alluded to in previous sub-sections.  They are brought together below:

●  The use of coercion results in adverse propaganda (7.4.3), which increases the military threat. Bullies are never popular, and unpopularity is costly.  A habit of coercive behaviour encourages other countries to raise their own defences and, following the line that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, it motivates them to help others to resist coercion.  Hugo Chávez, the President of Venezuela, saw it as being in his interests to help any country which opposed America – including Cuba and Iran, for example – as described in a Reuters article, Factbox: Venezuela’s ties with Iran:

“Both fierce anti-U.S.  ideologues, Ahmadinejad [in Iran] and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez have become close political and commercial allies in recent years, to the annoyance of Washington.”

●  The security impact of military force used without UN approval by one country against another is never like a cowboy film. In the films, the good guy shoots the bad guy and those on the good side live happily ever after.  Imposed solutions in the real world are unstable though (7.4.5), so problems will resurface.

●  It is risky to use force to try to bring about political change in another country. The creation of a power vacuum in Iraq, for example, led to a collapse in law and order and a civil war (7.2.6).  And Muslim resentment at the West’s actions fuelled international terrorism (7.3.3).

●  Local people may not understand the political thinking of intervention by a foreign country, even if it is nominally for their benefit. Their reaction towards any interference is likely to be hostile, resulting in armed resistance (  Steve Chapman’s article, Burned in Afghanistan, made several powerful points:

“Many if not most Afghans have never heard of the 9/11 attacks.  Even the deputy chairman of the government’s High Peace Council told The Wall Street Journal he doesn’t believe al-Qaida destroyed the World Trade Center.

So what can we expect ordinary people to think when they see the country overrun with armed foreigners who sometimes kill and injure innocent civilians? Or when they hear that those infidels are burning Qurans?”

●  Any use of military force can result in retaliation that is hard to predict. President Putin made a disastrous miscalculation when invading Ukraine.  As reported by The Economist, “When Vladimir Putin ordered tanks across the frontier, before dawn on February 24th, his officers carried dress uniforms for the victory parade they expected to hold within days”.  Russia has lost thousands of men and a lot of equipment, though, and its action has driven Finland and Sweden to join NATO.

There are many who believe in the use of hard power, though.  Eliot A Cohen, for example, advocated it in his book: The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force.  This was reviewed in John Hillen’s article in December 2016, The Return of Hard Power; it quoted Cohen as saying that “America needs a substantially larger military than the one it now has.”  This book, Patterns of Power, disagrees with Cohen’s recommendation.  It accepts that hard power remains necessary in practice (7.2.7), but argues that it has been used recklessly and too often.  It should only be used with careful planning and within the framework of a rules-based international order – which needs strengthening, as suggested in the last chapter (9.5).


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/747.htm.