Less than three seconds, actually

To realise that some people don’t get it.

Dilip D’Souza disagrees with the view that “”projection of power is necessary to create the conditions for human development through trade and culture”. He cites a small sample of countries that, according to him, have succeeded in spite of not projecting power.

According to Dilip, these countries are: “Iceland, Singapore, Korea, Norway, Taiwan, Japan and Germany after being devastated in WW2, arguably even Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Botswana until it was hit by AIDS a decade ago.”

Let’s see if they really meet his own definitions:

1. Iceland, successful, but member of NATO. NATO, it turns out, is an organisation invented to project power against a neighbouring superpower. Realpolitik suggests that tiny Iceland could hardly ensure the well-being of its people if it did not “hold its own” against the Soviet Union, and since it was too small to do it alone, it joined NATO, for collective security.

2. Singapore, successful, but not projecting power? It consistently spends over 5% of its GDP on defence, among the highest in the region, has compulsory military service for all adult males, and provides naval bases for the region’s big powers. For good reason: “by holding its own”, its armed forces and strategic partnerships deter adversaries who might interrupt with “ensuring the well-being of its people”. According to one of its founding fathers: “The war-making potential of a small, vigorous, well-educated and highly motivated population should never be underestimated.”

3. Korea (err, which one?). The successful one that could focus on the development of its own people by “outsourcing” its strategic security to the United States? Or the failed one that concentrated solely on holding its own, but neglected the development of its people? [Note the difference: no one argues that merely holding one’s own is sufficient, rather that it is a necessary condition] Coming under a superpower’s security umbrella, like joining an alliance like NATO, is not a rejection of power projection. Rather it is an acceptance that such arrangements are necessary, at a particular period in time, to “hold one’s own”.

4. Norway, successful, and like Iceland, a member of NATO.

5. Taiwan, successful, and like Korea, under the US security umbrella. And if it is not holding its own, why is the People’s Liberation Army not liberating it?

6. Japan & Germany. After the World War II, both Japan and Germany came under US protection. But the story of Japan and Germany’s rise to the top league of human development hardly started in 1945. It started at least a century earlier.

7. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. These, according to Dilip, are examples of success of delivering development and well-being to their people. Really? It is easier to argue—as is commonly done in Colombo and Dhaka—that they owe their failures, at least in part, due to being at the receiving end of Indian hegemony. The Sri Lankan government can’t buy weapons to fight the LTTE without running the risk of rubbing India on the wrong side.

8. Botswana. That’s one example that proves exactly the opposite of what Dilip would like. It started out with no army at all. It was only after it realised that this provided an invitation to South Africans and Rhodesians to attack that it set up its own armed forces. And how much does Botswana spend on defence? A whopping 8% of its GDP. That’s excluding a security relationship with the United States.

Realpolitik merely suggests that a stable balance of power creates the conditions (of stability and security) that best allow states to pursue their domestic goals. But Dilip confuses the “projection of power” with the aggressive use of military force. Perhaps because he spends only three or four seconds thinking about it.

34 thoughts on “Less than three seconds, actually”

  1. Nitin,

    >> He cites a small sample of countries that, according to him, have succeeded in spite of not projecting power.

    D’Souza maybe right and I think you have strengthened his argument here. By outsourcing their security to entities that do the projection (US, Nato etc), these countries probably were able to concentrate on development, no?

  2. @Balaji,

    Why stop at outsourcing security? Why not outsource economic policy too? I’m sure then we can all focus on being developed instead of worrying about development?

  3. Balaji,

    Hardly. Outsourcing and alliances are ways to hold your own depending on the country context. It would hardly have been rational for tiny Iceland to decide to pit all 300,000 of its citizens against the Soviet Army. So the exact strategy to project power is based on rational calculations.

    Also, outsourcing/joining alliances itself by no means guarantees developmental success (eg Philippines). And if you can successfully project power on your own, you too can concentrate on development.

  4. Nitin,

    You shouldn’t try to explain why those examples are wrong. The very fact that Dilip tries to reach a general conclusion based on flimsy empirical evidence should tell you that you shouldn’t waste time debunking his arguments. There are way too many variables that need to be regressed, and to try to say that countries A, B, C and D were successful because they didn’t project power, and therefore that’s a universally good idea is absurd.

    Happy Weekends

  5. I can’t believe that Dilip is serious. Leaving aside the fact that there is little or no basis to compare any two entities to draw conclusions – as Balagangadhara often points out – Dilip is ignoring Korea (which one? Dilip you figure out) that stations 1000s of US troops and its own, Japan that has a very well trained military and does project power in the Pacific with its still good navy, or Norway that continues to stay out of the EU but is a part of Nato. Balaji, are you sure you know what you are talking about?

  6. Is there a difference b/w ensuring national defense and “projection of power”? I mean I am OK with having strong borders and ready to repulse enemy aggression.

    But should India enter into pacts like NATO? Put military forces outside of its territories like the USA? Unless I am reading about specifics, “projecting power” seems like what a school bully would do (I know you didn’t mean to talk specifics in this post). And since it’s usually one government “projecting power” to another government it probably gets as silly as that in practice.

  7. D’Souza should be responded to, but to respond in all seriousness and earnestness is to dignify flame-baiting and clever-by-half polemics. Lowers the quality of debate.

  8. Pramod,

    It is not uncommon for people to conflate using/threatening military force with projecting power. Sure, using/threatening military force usually is one way to project power, just like (to give you an analogy) a cash is a form of wealth. There are other forms of power (as there are of wealth).

    Even so, I do not think the use/threat of military force should be abandoned as an option. But no reasonable Realist, or reasonable person, will argue military force is the only option.

    So yes, the school bully projects power. So does the son of a rich man. So does a very pretty girl. So does the headmaster. So does the school prefect. So does the guy who wins medals. So does the quiet guy nobody messes with in high school because he is known to have beaten up somebody really bad when he was in 7th standard.

  9. Singapore uses more than military to project her power.
    The tiny state, via its GIC and temasek vehicles, uses economic power too.
    It is estimated that over a quarter (or nearly a third) of the market cap of the indonesian stock exchange is owned by singapore’s SWFs (sovereign wealth funds).

    Makes it very hard for the loony islamists of indonesia to attack the singaporeans. They can simply yank the economic rug.

  10. Yes, wealth without sufficient might is useless.

    How many times was our country raped and pillaged because we could not defend ourselves? Economic might fuels military might. And our vast territory forces us to do our security in-house, and cannot be outsourced.

    Laughable notion: Icelandic people holding off the Royal Navy. It was just a standoff, and Iceland is perfectly within its rights to have a 12-30 mile no-fishing zone around its borders. I am not sure why they went to 200 miles but if its economy is totally dependent on fishing, you have to have allowances.

    And another fact checking is required here. The Royal Navy has been defeated many times in naval conflict: I can cite the 100 yr wars between England and France, Sir Francis Drake was defeated once or twice against the Spaniards, the Anglo-Dutch wars etc..

  11. > That, sire, is a smackdown.

    Please kindly explain, Are you interested in some thoughtfull discussion or in cheering from the cheap seats about smackdowns?

    > a general conclusion based on flimsy empirical evidence.
    > too many variables that need to be regressed

    Notabbly, you did not fire this remarks when Mr Pai made his general conclusions with no empirical evidence, namely “projection of power is necessary to create the conditions for human development” (Acorn), and also about a country “can’t improve the lot of its citizens unless it holds its own against the world’s powers” (Acorn).


    > clever-by-half polemics.

    Rough Translation – “I am stumped.”

    This can be an interesting exchange on how differint countries developed. why so many commenters insist on derailing it with “smackdown” … “flimsy evidence” … moron and etc? Mr Pai, why do you tolerate this??

    Speaking personally I can see both Mr Pai’s and Mr Dsouza’s arguments. It is most interesting of all that all countries do not have to fit one view or the other one. They choose their own path.

  12. Shuvro,

    Sitting on the fence, or saying that “the truth is in the middle” doesn’t wash in this case. A country that has survived (leave alone succeeded) by ignoring balance-of-power doesn’t exist, because some other country annexed it. That’s about as empirical as the evidence gets.

    I can see why rejecting realpolitik appeals to many people. If only everyone spent their lives looking after their own well-being, and that of their families, why would we need locks, locksmiths, security guards and the police force? Surely, if we didn’t have armed security guards and policemen, we won’t have “encounter killings”, lock-up deaths and human rights violations by the police. Who would disagree with this?

    The reason Realism is called what it is is because it sees the world for what it is, not for what it ought to be.

  13. >>Laughable notion: Icelandic people holding off the Royal Navy. It was just a standoff, and Iceland is perfectly within its rights to have a 12-30 mile no-fishing zone around its borders.

    How about a 200 nautical mile zone? And it may have “just been a standoff”, but the Icelanders won.

    Also, re fact-checking, winning a naval “battle” is sleisha different from winning a naval “war”.

  14. Dilip can be faulted on the exact interpretation of his argument. But I believe, as many have pointed here, his main thrust is to point out a realistic possibility of ‘progress, peace and prosperity’ for population at large without getting overtly involved in power projection and too much militarism. That militarism should not be exclusively looked in terms of how much GDP % is spend. Singapore is a small country, rather a city, so they may need to spend more on defense. Even with smaller % spending on defense, India or Pakistan for that matter; spends a lot on defense.

    What is curious is how this blog always gets attracted towards topics and subjects which are related to military, power projection and in general ‘hard nationalism’. Who to argue that such a hard nationalism is not needed to live an honest and happy life? By the same token, it is pretty difficult to argue with such rigid world view holders that – may be India can afford to live without current ongoing military spending and jingoism. Am I advocating that? No, since I do not have sufficient convictions there. But I believe there is one such valid point of view and Dilip’s argument would fall into some such area, implicitly.

    Look at this way – Israel is spending quite a lot on defense and mighty USA is in its pocket. Has that brought peace to that country and society? No. Moreover, demographics in all probability could wither away that very country in couple of decades. So where is that ‘power projection’ helping?

    In the end, as they say, any warrior is good as long as his wars bring the peace in the end. In the case of Israel unfortunately its war and power projection do not necessarily bring the peace. What we have is tactical, fragile temporary balance.

  15. Umesh,

    Firstly, who’s advocating militarism? Militarism is a very different kettle of fish. Forget militarism, I point out in my post, and again in the comments that you should not confuse power projection with the threat/use of military force.

    Secondly, you write that “may be India can afford to live without current ongoing military spending and jingoism”. You don’t advocate it but “believe there is one such valid point of view”. I contend that this view is absurd, invalid and ignores Indian history. Alexander, Mohammad bin Qasim, Mahmud of Ghazni, Mohammad of Ghauri, Timur the Lame, Babar, Albuquerque, Robert Clive…I suppose these gentlemen were provoked into attacking by Indian militarism or the threat of Indian military force?

    If two millennia of Indian history indicate otherwise, how can some fanciful thinking, removed from reality, be somehow be considered “valid”?

  16. Umesh

    With respect to Israel, you write: “In the case of Israel unfortunately its war and power projection do not necessarily bring the peace. What we have is tactical, fragile temporary balance.”

    As compared to what? Annihilation? I think tactical, fragile, temporary balance seems like a good deal in comparison.

  17. Umesh,

    You need to explain how will pacifism, turning the other cheek, rolling over and playing dead etc etc help India progress. How will leftwing extrremism that supports militarism by, say, China, N Korea , Pakistan etc benefit India? Likewise, how will Chinese jingoism of the sort advocated by CPIM, N Ram, Jyoti Basu etc help India? What will India gain by supporting the killing of innocents by Palestinian terrorists? I am puzzled as to why you believe that embracing Chinese imperialism is the path to India’s progress.

  18. Nitin,

    Good discussion ongoing here. Thanks for the serious response to Dilip, from somebody who is generally more comfortable with Dilip’s worldview on this. As usual there are hard binaries being imposed:

    – Dilip directly jumped to Hitler (this is becoming a depressing habit) and Communist Russia for his “projection of power”.

    – you arent quite clear IMHO about what “projection of power” IS when you say it IS NOT threat or use of military force. Do you mean economic sanctions? Also your talk of Moriori and all the invaders frames it as *defensive* that is NOT what “projection of power” implies to me at least.

    To some extent you are in the “no middle ground” position yourself. So it’d help this thread to have a clear definition of what to you is “Projection of Power”. Links to previous posts will do.

    Overall I agree with Pramod Biligiri from the previous thread.

    PS: I am puzzled as to how Oldtimer reached that conclusion about Umesh believing in Chinese imperialism as the path to India’s progress but then he transcended my understanding by about the middle of the first sentence itself. He argues persuasively and painstakingly when he wants to ( eg. apartment gym rules, parking rules etc. to Balaji). Looks like one of his OFF days.

  19. Hi Jai,

    How do you do.

    Umesh jumped to the conclusion that power projection is synonymous with militarism, jingoism and everything-thats-bad’ism. Ergo, I was worried that the opposite of power projection in his book is antisemitism, pro-Palestinian-terrorism, North Korean adventurism and Chinese imperialism.

    I’ll wait for him to explain his ideas, but in the meanwhile if you know Umesh well, feel free to explain him to me. Should India disband its army? When Pakistanis cut into Kargil shall we offer them the Poonch sector as well? When the Chinese move into Arunachal shall we cut off contact with Assam lest they should take unmbrage that we’re claiming Assam as our territory? In short, should India adopt pacifism as Umesh is advocating, and as might find favor with leftwing extremists?

  20. Yes, power projection, militarism and in general ‘hard nationalism’; I do club those together. Without substance in military, power projection would have not have any meaning.

    However, I do not equate militarism with everything bad. Sweden did not project power in WWII nor fought against Nazi and effectively collaborated with Hitler for the early part of the war. They got their peace. But was that good peace? Or do we dare to question what was the ‘morality’ of that peace? Norway on the other hand lost peace and freedom in two months. Was that totally bad in the long run of history? So I would not equate war and military to what is referred here as ‘badism’.

    What I look at is – power projection, military and war; all these are means to get peace and prosperity. Anytime we drop our eyes from that end goal, we end up in talking and acting for ‘war and killing’ in itself.

    This also means it is hard and objectively not possible to generalize ‘power projection / militarism’ and end result of that in peace. To keep on going back again and again in history to interpret and re-interpret those historical incidents to fabricate one’s pet theory or ideology – how much of that is going to help us? Worry is it blinds us to the creative possibilities of future where things can be done ‘differently’. This means neither going overboard on power projection nor leaving Indian defenses to dogs; India (and for that matter so many countries of this world) can find mechanisms to attain the end goal – peace without compromising basic civility and morality.

    With Israel, their peace is still in distant future and indeed military actions of that country do not help on many occasions to attain their end goal. Tactical peace is not good for Israel because all that Hamas and Arabs need to do is bid for time – Arab population within Israel and around it would totally skew the demographics in such a way that trying to fight for Israel as a Jewish nation will be a lost cause. Either Israel would have to turn to fully Secular state where Jews may be minority but enjoying full religious freedom and honor; or use diplomatic means to resolve issues with Arab (and of course with a separate Palestine nation / state) in order to continue the current Jewish nation state ethos.

  21. Umesh, You claim, “Israel is spending quite a lot on defense and mighty USA is in its pocket.”

    If the USA is in Israel’s pocket then why is the American army sitting in Baghdad and not in Tehran and/or Damascus?

  22. Anuj-

    To undermine influence of Joe Lieberman type politicians, Jewish vote bank in Florida and Jewish money constituency on Wall Street; is to ignore the reality of American politics. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily a bright side of American politics – it is the usual case of certain political / vested interests having disproportionate influence at the cost of overall interests. Not for nothing, there are cries from Left wing and even some Conservatives that Israel’s security should not be exclusively coming at the cost of American tax payers money and American lives.

    Bush and NeoCons are on record saying that democracy in Iraq (their version of democracy) would untangle the Arab-Israel knot. So there are enough signs to say that the road to Tehran and Damascus goes via Baghdad.

    I believe common Americans want to support Israel and indeed it is America’s historical duty to continue to protect Jewish people as much as possible. It is just that it need not be excessive at the cost of everything else. Sadly the way contemporary American politics is done, protecting Israel on many occasions comes at the cost of a balanced world view and overall interests of America and world peace.

  23. Mr.Patil, you say:
    “What is curious is how this blog always gets attracted towards topics and subjects which are related to military, power projection, and ‘hard-nationalism’.

    Well, Imagine Defence ministry sending a cultural troupe (Yes, Shah-Rukh, Aamir, and not the original Kathakali, Odissi, etc junta) to Pakistan and China to make them our friends and neutralise their threat! Not happening! It is the ministry’s job to treat every country as a potential threat and be prepared for an invasion from any country any time. The cultural and foreign ministries can always handle the “friendly-gestures” and “creative solutions for mutual proesperity” parts.

    Similarly, as someone proficient in International and Strategic Affairs (hope I am correct!), Nitin is doing his job perfectly fine. Thats his faculty, bent, and job. You can always visit some other website dedicated to creative solutions to international disputes that offer lasting peace and mutual prosperity.

    All the best.

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