July 25, 2007Foreign AffairsPublic PolicySecurity

The asymmetry of morale

What should we be fighting for?

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Robert Kaplan’s argument for strengthening the old-fashioned value of patriotism is at once passionate and well-reasoned, and worth reading in full.

It is obvious that a military can only fight well on behalf of a society in which it believes, and that a society which believes little is worth fighting for cannot, in the end, field an effective military. Obvious as this is, we seem to have forgotten it.

Remembering will help us in several ways. First, it will show us that the greatest asymmetry in our struggle with radical Islam is not one of arms or organization or even of ideology in any simple sense, but one of morale in the deepest sense. [The American Interest]It’s in the context of America and the war in Iraq in specific, but the message has broader relevance. At the bleeding edge of the ongoing war against al Qaeda, its offshoots and its copycats, is a combat between an daredevil individual inspired by religion and an armed, salaried employee of a state. Some states might well be able to afford the best equipment, wages and facilities for their soldiers. But even this is insufficient to fully correct the asymmetry of morale that exists between the combatants. Something more is needed.

Kaplan’s essay supports this blog’s contention that the wars of the future, not to mention the current ones, will be clashes of convictions. Nationalism was given a nasty connotation decades ago, and going by its general portrayal in the international media, even patriotism is somehow suspect (except, that is, if you are in America). Yet without a sense of patriotism, a sense of shared values worth defending, it is hard to see how plural democratic societies can prevail over totalitarian ideologies.

Public support for the cause and morale during the war itself were always important. What is new is that the outcome of the war itself is increasingly decided by public opinion—with all its uncertainties, vagaries, whims and susceptibility to manipulation. Of course, this has been true in authoritarian states and closed societies for a long time, where the outcome is unquestionably what the regime says it is. In democratic societies with a free (and freewheeling media) the outcome of wars is becoming what public opinion says it is.

What this means, in effect, is that citizens have become combatants in the war of convictions. The side that believes that it has won wins. The side that believes it has lost loses.

The war of the future may go back a full circle—pitting entire populations, combatants and non-combatants alike in a complex clash of convictions. [The Clash of Convictions]So in India’s case, beyond merely defending people and territory, what else is there to defend and to fight for? Or as Ajay Shah asks:

First, how can India continue to chip away at making progress towards becoming a modern, liberal society characterised by ever-expanding freedoms for individuals in terms of both society and economy? Second, what would the consequences of this founding `idea of India’ be, for the conduct of foreign policy?

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