The Power of Conventional Military Capability

The capacity of a nation’s military resources needs to be consistent with its geopolitical ambitions

This post deals with the role that a nation’s military plays in determining its geopolitical status. Like my previous post on ‘Foreign Aid’, the military capability of a nation falls under the third element of national power theorized by Kautilya –‘Prabhavashakti’ which is described as the combined power of the army and the treasury.

What does conventional military capability mean?

This post specifically mentions ‘conventional’ military to differentiate it from other unconventional means of warfare like nuclear, chemical and biological weaponry. This differentiation stems from the fact that the application of these two means of warfare are not the same. The mere possession and threat of using  unconventional means of warfare like nuclear bombs are often seen as the ultimate bargaining tool in diplomacy[1]. Moreover, only a few nations in the world have these weapons and they try to prevent other nations from possessing it. On the other hand, conventional military in terms of an armed force is a salient feature of all nation states. Secondly, the nuclear weapon is the foremost factor contributing to the ‘balance of power’ between geopolitical entities. Because of its immense power to hurt, it is the foundation of deterrence theory, and it is most successful when it is held in reserve[2]. On the other hand, conventional military power is often deployed in various conflict situations across the world to reassert a nation’s hegemony.

The “capability” of military power refers to the ability to transform resources like soldiers, artillery into wartime effectiveness. Thus apart from the money allotted to the military or the number of foot soldiers; it also depends on a doctrine, the quality of leadership, effective organisation and the quality of training.

Why is military power important for a nation-state?

A powerful military is an important player in settling geopolitical issues and is employed in various scenarios today. It is used to fight internal insurgency or terrorism which weaken the bargaining power of a state globally. Against non-nuclear states, it is often used both as a deterrent and a real force. For example, USA’s threat of military action in Syria triggered a series of diplomatic actions that eventually led to the Syrian government agreeing to an assessment of its chemical weapons. In another case, Russia brutally crushed the Georgian forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia on account of superior military power in the 2008 war. The role of conventional military is different when two nuclear powers are colliding as a full throttle use can lead to escalation and eventual use of the dreaded ‘bomb’. Thus the various geopolitical agents try to prevent an all-out war between nuclear states. Nevertheless, conventional weapons have been deployed in localized skirmishes between nuclear powers like the Indo-Pak Kargil conflict in 1999 and the Sino-russian border conflict in 1969.

Thus, a powerful armed force is desired by all aspiring geopolitical entities.

Contours of military power

The need for a strong army, navy and airforce is all too evident to be discussed in greater detail. However, a few elements of military power that can be game changers are worth mentioning here. Due to their ability to deliver air power in distant parts of the world, aircraft carriers have been the holy grail for nation-states. The usage of unmanned warfare like combat drones is beginning to have profound political effects. Since it makes war easier and safer for the belligerent nation, it increases the threat of warmongering. the Prompt Global Strike (PGS) military effort of USA which would make delivery of conventional weapons anywhere in the world possible within an hour while it takes a few days currently can be another game changing weapon.

Thus, due to its sheer influence in altering geopolitical equations, military capability in one form or the other, is used in all indices measuring the power of a state. Though nations realize the importance of ‘soft power’ and ‘economic might’ to become influential, it is far too perilous to do so without heeding to a proportional rise in military power.


[1] : policy issue brief

[2] Arms and Influence by Thomas Schelling (1966)

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  1. Nuclear Capability: How it alters the “Balance of Power” | Logos - February 9, 2014

    […] the previous post, I mentioned that the dynamics of nuclear weapons and conventional weapons differ significantly. […]

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