Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Schelling’
Though I’m a student of International Relations and US foreign policy, I have not read much political/military strategy pieces in my life. I gathered up the incredible courage to finally pick up, and amazingly actually open and finish, Thomas Schelling’s 1966 masterpiece Arms and Influence. I’m a modern day Indiana Jones! The book comes highly recommended and I got a lot out of it. Though much of the book is centered on US vs. Soviet capabilities and relations, there are numerous golden ‘analytical’ nuggets to make you think, sometimes twice. Here are some of the more provocative aspects of Arms and Influence.
The importance of expectations and perceptions of state’s on other state actors was continually emphasized throughout the book:
“What one does today in a crisis affects what one can be expected to do tomorrow. A government never knows just how committed it is to action until the occasion when its commitment is challenged. Nations, like people, are continually engaged in demonstrations of resolve, tests of nerve, and explorations for understandings and misunderstandings….This is why there is a genuine risk of major war not from ‘accidents’ in the military machine but through a diplomatic process of commitment that is itself unpredictable.” (Pg. 93)
And more specifically, Schelling argues that ‘saving face’ is something worthwhile in international relations:
“It is often argued that ‘face’ is a frivolous asset to preserve, and that it is a sign of immaturity that a government can’t swallow its pride and lose face. But there is also the more serious kind of ‘face’, the kind that modern jargon is known as a country’s ‘image’, consisting of other countries’ beliefs (their leaders’ beliefs, that is) about how the country can be expected to behave. It relates not to a country’s ‘worth’ or ‘status’ or even ‘honor’, but to its reputation for action. If the question is raised whether this kind of ‘face’ is worth fighting over, the answer is that this kind of face is one of few things worth fighting over.” (Pg. 124)
In this regard, Schelling calls Soviet expectations of United States’ behavior ‘one of the most valuable assets we possess in world affairs.’ We must remember that this book was written as the Vietnam War was escalating day by day. These paragraphs would be critical of those who just want to ‘cut and run’ or ‘get us the hell outta here’ to certain military engagements, with Iraq and Afghanistan being two obvious examples. This does not mean that one should always attempt to prolong conflicts, but that state’s should be mindful of the consequences of their actions as they affect how other state actors view them and how this may in turn affect their view of one’s future policies and actions.
Schelling also challenges the effectiveness of first-strike/second-strike deterrence, arguing that it may not always work as war may result from a ‘process’, a ‘dynamic process in which both sides get more and more deeply involved, more and more expectant, more and more concerned not to be a slow second in case war starts, it is not a ‘credible first strike’ that one threatens, but just plain war.” (Pg. 98)
The next IR assumption Schelling takes on is the belief that two nuclear weapon capable states would not fight a war against each other without using nukes. He persuasively argues that the Korean war, a prolonged, bounded, energetic, and purely military campaign, that never resulted in the use of nuclear weapons. Each side decided that it was not in their best interests to do so and acted accordingly. (Pg. 131)
Schelling’s clear analysis of the Security Dilemma without ever saying the magic words themselves shows the dangers of perceptions/misperceptions and the thin line between deterrence and offensive actions in international security:
“..readying the maximum number of bombers on airfields, is a way of assuring greater reprisal against the enemy in case he attacks us; it can also be a step toward readiness to attack the enemy.” (Pg. 226)
For those who advocate Disarmament as itself a major harbinger to peace on earth, Schelling warns…:
“Disarmament does not eliminate military potential; it changes it.” (Pg. 257)
In other words, the lowering of military arms on one side or by partners is really just a change in strategic calculations in much the same way Iran acquiring nuclear weapons would change the strategic environment in the Middle East.
Arms and Influence is full of provocative and well-thought out international security issues, policies, and incidents, and though a little dense and repetitive at times, will definitely make you think more ‘strategically’ about today’s foreign policy conumdrums.