An Analysis Of The State Use Of Force Politics Essay

The changes characteristic of world political structure (since World War I [1] to the post Cold War era) gives a huge impact on the use of force. It is, undeniably – still, a critical instrument of statecraft and is central to realist thinking. The use of force is parallel to the idea of protecting the nation from any internal and external aggression that may result to the disintegration of state political interest – state’s territorial integration and sovereignty. Therefore, it is considered as a crucial instrument to achieve state’s political goals especially after all measures have been taken, yet fail to achieve the desired needs [2] (Art and Jervis 2007: 139; Sheehan 2008: 215). Since international system is characterised as anarchy that is no “supernational” authority above the state to guard the relationship between them, military power has been used (to the extent that realist coined) as an instrument for state’s survival under the idea of ‘self-help’ [3] . In fact, it is enlisted in almost every nation’s foreign and defence policy and further classified as part of their national interest.

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For generations, military power has been used to solve certain issues mostly on state’s political interests such as for defending state’s integrity and sovereignty. Not only that military power is used widely as an instrument of ‘defence’, it has also been considered as an important tool of deterrence and compellance [4] . China, for instance, has used its forces against Vietnam in 1974 to protect its interest in the case of territorial dispute on Paracels Island. In present day, the kind of threat that driven the accumulation of military power have not (relatively or to a certain extent) taken the form of traditional state-to-state military rivalry rather the accumulation of military power has been used to respond less predictable threat such as terrorism and insurgencies (Sheehan 2008: 212).

The six studies herein reviewed would seem to support this conclusion; that state – either classified as superpower/strong power or a small/weak state, uses its military power to accomplish its strategic interest, either politically or economically. In this calculation, the use of force will still remain central to the course of international relations. The differences in the approaches given by each scholars and statesmen in understanding the use of force, however, provide a comprehensive impetus on its basic elements within which it is being, has been, and will be used. For further elaboration, this paper seeks to assess this assertion by performing three principal tasks. First, it attempts to identify the key finding attributes and the functions of military power. Second, it trying to explain the cost and benefit calculus of applying the functions of this attributes. Third and finally, it will seek to explain the limitation on the use of force.


There are several simple questions that can be imposed in understanding the use of force. Among them are what is the use of force? Why states use forces to attain several national goals? When can states use its forces? And to what extent states can use its forces? These questions will be answered daringly in three (3) classified sections that have been divided above.

National interest, the fundamental wants of states is defined verily and differently to a different state. It includes security, political independence as well as economic well being. Some might suggest that culture is also included in state’s national interest. Thirty Years of War that occurred in Europe, for instance, could be used to justify why state’s use its forces for cultural motives. In fact, some scholars like Anthony Best (2004: 106) suggested that Arab-Israel Wars occurred because of the culture (religion) attribute. The same thing goes to intrastate war that occurs after post-Cold War period, was also due to the cultural aspect under the term coined by Huntington as the ‘clash of civilisation’ (Huntington 2007: 391; Nye 2009: 261). This could be seen from the cases that occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Darfur, Sudan. All these elements brought upon states, either directly or indirectly, to use its forces to attain its national interest whether within the scope of state-to-state relations or state-to-nonstate actors and fundamentally classified under states national strategy.

Under the system of anarchy, most realist thinkers suggest that state, as a unitary actor uphold its basic elements for survival. This can be seen when Kissinger stated that “states concern for peace and survival” (Donnelly 2000: 53). Mearshimer (1994: 5) on the other hand, stated that “a state can have no higher goal than survival”. Under such circumstances, according to realist, state will use its forces to retain this national interest. In order to achieve that, two conditions should be applied. First, the survival of state must be (or at least perceived to be) at stake and prominent. Second, those that survival of state is at stake, state will not going to risk it. Therefore, at such situation other values or interests [5] such as economy and culture come second (Donnelly 2000: 54-55). In order to attain this goal, Robert Art (1980) suggested that there are four (4) functions of force. Among them, state uses its forces for defence, deterrence, compellence and swaggering. However, it is believed that these strategies can be done, either at once or state can apply one or two this functions when state survival is guaranteed – when elements of defence have taken place in a first place, only then other objectives can be fulfilled.

Other significant question is that when can state uses its forces? When is the right time? To answer these questions, there are many factors that may change state approach on how to deal a situation or how to achieve its political goals. In other words, state uses variety techniques to translate power potential into effective. In a particular situation, a state may begin one approach and then try a number of others to influence the intended target. In other cases, several different techniques may be utilised simultaneously. For example, military force has been used by US in Afghanistan as a justification to defend itself from an unexpected and unaccepted non-state actor attack in 2001 (The White House 2009c: 4) as a primary tool of solution. Unlike Afghanistan, Gulf War I, military power was brought upon to war after economic sanction been implemented, yet claimed to be unsuccessfully achieves a necessary changes to Iraq’s behaviour (Nye and Welch 2009: 219). Since some state choose on a first place (or some may not) to use it military power to achieve its military goal, what sort of functions that military power can perform?

Functions of Military Power. The use of force is an action taken by a ‘party’ (in this context state actor) in pursuing or to serve their political goals (Art 1980: 4; Freedman & Raghavan 2008: 217-218; Mahnken 61). It is a mechanism of action used to get a state to do something, or to undo something it has done – compellence, and to keep an adversary from doing something- deterrence (Mingst 2004: 114). Robert Art (1980: 5-8) explained that there are four (4) functions that force can serve. Among them are defence, deterrence, compellence, and ‘swaggering’. These four functions, according to him, can be attained at the same time in a given military posture. United States [6] forces, is thus a good example where it can use its military power by mobilising its nuclear weapon [7] and conventional capabilities to apply all functions at once as suggested by Art. He also stressed that; the four uses of force can, at the same time, be applied at once among small powers, but not for a small state to a big power.

Freedman and Raghavan (2008: 216) nonetheless, has coined the term coercion as a distinctive type of strategy in which military force is used to impose threat as to pressure other actor not to do something that it intended to (deterrence) and to stop doing something that it has conducted or against its wishes (compellence). For them a coercive strategy involves a deliberate and purposive use of overt threats of force to influence another strategic choice. Deterrence as according to Art (1980: 6) is “the deployment of military power so as to be able to prevent an adversary from doing something that one does not want him to do […] tempted to do something by threatening him with unacceptable punishment if he does it”. In addition to the definition of compellence that had been given by Freedman and Raghavan, Robert Art stressed that a state that trying to compel other state may “…actually harming another with physical destruction until the latter abides by the former’s wishes”. It could also take action that does not involve physical harms but that require the adversary to pay a significant price until it change it behaviour (Art 1980: 8).

The debate on the use of force as deterrence and compellence is ambiguous. Both articles presented trying to make a clear judgement between the two. While Art presented each strategy with different characteristics, purpose, mode and the target of using it, Freedman and Raghavan, on the other hand explained the strategy within the framework of initiative taken, time scale and the nature of demands for the projection of military power. However, what distinguished the use of force on these two strategies is that one would use in a passive and active manner (Art 1980: 8). Nuclear weapon can be used as an active deterrence for the North Korea to avoid any aggression from the South Korea. But it could also becoming a passive deterrence functions when two states, such as India and Pakistan, that have nuclear weapons when both countries, for instance, determine to use it to keep and adversary from doing something it intended to do.

Unlike deterrence and compellence, given to its uses (military power) to defend state’s territory, defensive military posture is the goal that all states aim for. According to Art, defensive measure can be used for two things – “to ward off an attack and to minimise the damage if being attacked” (Art 1980: 5). The use of force for defensive purposes can thus involve both peaceful and physical employment, both to repel strikes and offensive strikes which come with pre-emptive and preventive blows [8] . Swaggering, on the other hand involves only the peaceful use of force. It is a method of “showing off”. It would usually being used in either one or two ways; i) during exhibition in any military national defence expo or demonstration, and ii) by doing military exercise. One good example for ‘swaggering’ can be seen from a military exhibition by Malaysia, known as Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA). The deployment of force in this exhibition is indirectly aim to dissuade another state from attacking [9] , to repel attacks, or to compelling it to do it something specific. But, swaggering is pursued because it offers or bring prestige “on the cheap” (Art 1980: 17). These two analyses suggest us that force can at the same time being used as non-coercive. In this case, Freedman and Raghavan have classified it as a consensual strategy that involves the adjustment of strategic choices with others without the threat or a direct use of force. However, I argued that the use of force under ‘swaggering’ can also be classified as a non-consensual strategy.

The problem with the use of force for swaggering is that it is difficult to contemplate state’s motive. For instance, military exhibition could be for a business purposes. Indirectly it sends a message to other state especially neighbouring country the type of military capabilities that it has. The same thing happens when state demonstrates its military capabilities during Independence Day parade. Swaggering I argue, is a one way action. What other state perceive is does not matter. Implicitly, it is a message to show the power that state has towards its neighbours or adversary. Nevertheless, this type of action may result to a security dilemma. Yet, swaggering is a strategy used by state to signify a covert message that it will, at any case, use its capability to justify its military goal when necessary. This type of strategy, however, is different from deterrence. Deterrence is used as a direct message to an adversary that state will use its forces if an adversary does something intolerable. Military exercise is another example of swaggering. But it could also be said as a method of deterrence.

Rational: cost and benefits calculus. The use force reflects a conscious decision, taken or made for a rational political purpose. However, no matter how rational the decision is it could at the same time as an instrument for destruction of life, property and society. As in the case of war, state have to react accordingly in the event of a short and limited time that it has for the benefit that it perceive to be successful in the future. According to Mingst (2004: 122) at a time that is less intense, state would normally have a choice to accordingly even it can avoid a direct involvement to a certain conflict. However, when the level of security is at stake, state would only trying it best to defend itself for the sake of survival. As in the case of serenity, a state may have a choice to choose to use either one of four of the functions. In fact, according to Art (1980: 7), to use either one of four uses of force depending on the right calculation based on i) quantitative balance of force, and ii) qualitative balance of force. Quantitative is prescribed as tangible sources of military power possessed by state and qualitative on the other hand is prescribed as whether the military power that state have is favouring the defence or offensive strategy. For instance, Art (1980: 7-8) said:

“…the defensive use of force can involve both peaceful and physical employment. A state can deploy its forces in place prior to an attack, the use of them after an attack upon has occurred to repel it, or strike first if it believes that an attack upon it is imminent or inevitable…and the success of it is depending on active or passive use of force”.

Thus pre-emptive and preventives action are undertaken when a state calculates, first, that others plan to attack it and second, that to delay in striking offensively is against its interest. However, it is too subjective to make this kind of judgement especially when state is at crucial stake. Thus the cost and benefit calculus refers to the ability to produce intended effects and the creative elements in any exercise of power. Furthermore, the use of it depends on the ability to understand situations and appreciate the dangers and opportunities they contain.

Second, war is a bargaining process or some might say that it is a zero-sum game – one will lose and the other one will get what it needed. However, most of the time state actors view armed conflict or war as the last result. Threat on the other hand is a second choice of diplomatic manoeuvres. Action will be taken placed only if the threat fail (Freedman and Raghavan 2008: 220; Art 2007: 172-174). Therefore as mentioned by Thomas Schelling “force can be used to take – or bargain” (quoted in Art 2007: 163). Its utility as well as the likelihood of using it depend not only on the cost and perceive benefits of fighting.

In the three speeches of President Barack Obama, he stressed that action taken by US administration to fight against terrorism in Afghanistan is something that has been carefully made in protecting the nation security as well as for the security of all (common international security) (The White House 2009a: 4; The White House 2009b: 3; The White House 2009c: 2). Pape (2007: 221) also supports the argument by validating the action taken by US on its ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ saying that “…the policy taken as a strategic effort directed towards achieving particular political goals”. According to President Obama, the US have gone through any necessary level to make the war in Afghanistan legitimate, that the use of force is authorised by the Congress to protect the nation and its citizens from any disruptive harmful by terrorist; an action to defend the country (under just war theory). At the same its purposes is to put an international security at a highest order (The White House 2009b: 2 & 5), and preserving the peace (The White House 2009c: 3). The action taken, nevertheless, is not simply the product of irrational individuals or an expression of fanatical hatred.

Limitation on the Use of Force. From five different reading materials, the central argument on the use of force (military power – hard power) is as an instrument in accomplishing political goals – as a means of protection and survival. However, the use of force alone can never solve the problem especially to achieve what state desire. State needs some elements to support its method in order to accomplish what it wish. As mentioned in the early part, state may use economic sanction [10] and diplomacy to support them at the same time. Either state would like to use economic sanctions or military power is depending on state’s capability or its power potential. States with a variety of power sources would definitely have more instruments at heir disposal. Apart from the military power, state also use its influence, either through the use of ideas, cultures as well ideology to shape preferences needed (Joseph Nye 2010: 89). Soft Power has been used as a ‘means’ to win the heart and the mind of adversary as well as its subject for any particular action taken. The best example for using this can be seen from a state like US. Nevertheless, weak state may also use less coercive measures in order to influence the domestic policy process of a stronger state and moved it in a desired direction. Weak states may attempt to sway top decision makers through intermediation, utilising personal contact and persuasion tactics. As in the case of five reading materials given, there is a profound idea that state, either directly or indirectly has utilised its hard and soft power to achieve what it needed.

Thomas G. Mahnken (2003: 60-73) for instance, has provided an essential outlook on how, despite the disadvantages that weak state normally possessed, can change and win the war. He therefore pointed out four elements or ideas that made weak state won against its strong opponent. First, a weak state must prevent its adversary from bring in full material strength. Second, weak state must preclude its opponent from escalating the conflict. Third, state must also use or utilise its material resources as effectively as possible and fourth, it should convince its adversary that it cannot win.

On his first argument, he discussed that weak state did not possess surplus elements like what major power has, quantitative power capability – territory & population, resources, military technology and capabilities. But weak states tend to possess elements that major power do not have such as a capability to manipulate third parties wearing down their will to wage the war. This includes the use of diplomacy to project negative image of its opponent. To this idea, weak state usually accumulates both, hard power – any capability that it has together with soft power – as a source of psychological impact to win the battle.

For example, one of the best instruments that can control the escalation of adversary, weak state will mobilises its diplomacy in an attempt to fracture their adversary’s coalition. One frequent approach is to seek to portray themselves as a victim of a powerful bully (Mahnken 2003: 67). To Mahnken, they may play up civilian casualties, over-reactions and errors. He uses Palestinian as an example during the 2002 Israelis incursion, where Palestinians garnered sympathy from Muslim international to support them (their resistance), their independence as well as to the devastation made by Israel itself. These same strategies are equally relevant for a more powerful states; only that the strong have more options then weak states. This can be seen from the United State ‘war against terrorism’. US has used the number of casualties to gain support from the public and sympathy from the international community as well as its allies to justify its action in Afghanistan despite the fact that US-led coalition did not get a legitimate mandate from the United Nations. From all three articles, President Obama mentioned about the number of casualties from the 9/11 attack. It has been used as a ‘mantra’ that implants motivations that lead to actions in soldiers mind. It also managed to get support from allies despite the fact that it has been years from the attack (2001) and there are number of debates on the successful of war in Afghanistan (The White House 2009a: 1; The White House 2009b: 6; The White House 2009c: 4).


The use of force, since the past until today remains central to the course of international relations. State will look at the accumulation of military power as crucial in order to help maintain its identity, integrity as well as state’s safety for survival. Through all reading materials given, all authors subscribe the idea of realism, in general on the requirement for the state to have its own instrument in order to achieve its political goal. Acquiring it is translated into the self-help mechanism. Robert Art at the end of his article also portrayed the effect of anarchy to the increase level of military procurement especially nuclear weapons. In that sense, state will find themselves with less control over their own fate and would indirectly in a dilemma. Those state that field powerful military forces will find themselves in greater control but also that their great military power can produce unintended effects and that such power is not a solution to all their problems.

The use of force or the role military power can do is still relevant to this date. As mentioned in introduction, despite the appeal of the need to diversify state’s interest such as focusing more on economic development, the use of force played major role in providing safety, at least to some extend, has the capability to protect its own country so that other elements can be developed without any disturbance. However, of all articles given, neither of the authors mentioned about the use of force as instruments in providing humanitarian aid. Most authors subscribed the use of force during the ‘state of war’ especially in providing some general outline in understanding them, how state behave and how state use it tools in realising their main agenda. Neither of them mentioned about the use of force during peace time, such as helping other state for delivering humanitarian aid or assistance in which I personally believe it should be expended.