Insuring your policy

Defence expenditure is the premium paid to insure against the failure of foreign policy

A good defence strategy is one that manages the risks of foreign policy going wrong for one reason or the other. It might turn out that foreign policy was based on the wrong presumptions, or unexpected events might upset the geopolitical balance and so on. In these circumstances, a state should have the military capacity to ensure that its interests are protected. In other words, work for the best, but prepare for scenarios where the best doesn’t happen.

It follows that there is a good reason to keep the foreign & defence policy establishments at a sufficient distance in order to prevent confusion on their respective objectives. They must co-operate and co-ordinate at some levels, but it must be recognised that defence expenditure is essentially premium paid to insure against the failure of foreign policy.

There are two mistakes states can make: subordinating defence strategy to foreign policy and vice versa.

Nehru’s policy of non-alignment (as distinct from participation in the Non Aligned Movement) in the years following independence was infused with realism. But he failed to (and indeed refused to) invest in building the necessary military capacity to hedge against the chance that non-alignment might fail. In the event, he had to seek urgent military assistance from the United States in 1962 after the Chinese invasion.

Pakistan is an example of the other mistake. Its foreign policy is completely subordinate to its military strategy. It is eminently sensible for Pakistan to develop military capacity to defend itself against India. But it is high folly to then pursue a foreign policy of relentless hostility and antagonism towards its eastern neighbour.

The takeaway from this little post is that an essential question that foreign policy analysts must ask is—are the goods sufficiently insured?

4 thoughts on “Insuring your policy”

  1. There seems to be more than one category of defence spending..probably just stating the obvious here:
    — Spending towards the protection of strategic assets, for example, trade routes in the Indian Ocean
    — Spending towards offensive-defense type scenarios of high probability in the short- to medium-term, such as a two-front war, as the backup plan when diplomacy (Plan A) fails to achieve the required political goals of the State.

  2. “They must co-operate and co-ordinate at some levels, but it must be recognised that defence expenditure is essentially premium paid to insure against the failure of foreign policy.”

    Surely not all defence expenditure is just “insurance” – at least not for sovereign states. You need a minimum level of defence preparedness (which requires expenditure) for the term “foreign policy” to be meaningful (the state must exist, after all).

  3. Allow me to put it another way please. The primary aim of any government is to ensure the territorial integrity of the nation and provide security to its citizens. Without this security all other social functions will falter. Towards this aim, the defense, foreign and home ministries are the instruments to achieve the aim of territorial intehgrity and physical security. While defense is the hard power the foreign ministry is the soft power tool as regards external security.

    We have a fairly comprehensive and planned military threat perception and our plans should and probably do get amended and updated depending on emerging scenarios. We falter with regard to timely upgradation of our fighting machine.

    What we need is an equally robust forward looking, far sighted foreign policy. Unfortunately, what we have is an almost totally reactive and certainly not proactive system which labours on from crisis to crisis. This is where the State falters. In my opinion both the defense and foreign ministries have to function as two gears of a well oiled machine. One cannot be subordinated to another, both must complement each other.

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