This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.
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:
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.
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.”
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”.
Norway, successful, and like Iceland, a member of NATO.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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