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July 11, 2016

Military diplomacy


July 11, 2016

Military diplomacy may sound to be an anachronism in this age where Kantian peace is the norm instead of a Hobbesian struggle for supremacy. The concept nevertheless is as germane to contemporary political realities as it was to ancient power politics and diplomacy.

Thucydides writes of an interesting dialogue between Athenians and Melians in ‘History of Peloponnesian Wars’ wherein Athenians tell Melians during a peace dialogue that the “strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Diplomacy is, therefore, an exercise to maximise the interests of a weaker or stronger protagonist in a conflict equation both with a view to prevent conflict as well as gain competitive advantage before, and after the conflict.

There are examples where the military diplomacy has helped win the “peace field” after a protracted conflict. Douglas Mac Arthur’s virtuoso performance as supreme commander of the Allied Powers where he initiated and implemented the ‘US Post Surrender Japan Policy’ with remarkable political and diplomatic savvy keeping Soviet Union at bay is an apt example. General Eisenhower as supreme commander of the Allied Forces during the crucial concluding phase of WW II was also remarkably successful in forging a much needed consensus amidst a fractious polyglot coalition.

In more recent times when Rumsfeld was asked in 2004 about military diplomacy as a variant of soft power he feigned ignorance. Four years later, his successor Robert Gates however admitted that the trials of the US in Afghanistan and Iraq were proof that military strength was not sufficient to secure peace. He admitted that in the global war on terror soft power and military diplomacy were far stronger instruments than hard power.

Military or defence diplomacy is commonly understood as the use of military means of non violent interaction in spheres like training, exchange of information, port calls by navy and humanitarian support operations by armies to gain diplomatic advantages. A classic example is the US humanitarian support during the earthquake of 2005 in Pakistan where the US military earned a lot of goodwill. The military clout of the US through military diplomacy the world over is evident in the shape of the US’s ability to influence policies through military aid and defence cooperation.

The question that arises relates to the need of military diplomacy amongst democracies which are traditionally chary and suspicious of the military crossing the diplomatic Rubicon much to the chagrin of the insecure political elite of emerging democracies where democratic traditions have not gained stronger roots.

In such ‘anocracies’ as Pakistan where the political leadership instead of asserting civilian control in defence and security spheres leaves a yawning gap to be filled by military leaders, military diplomacy comes to the rescue of the state by default. The lack of an institutional structure for national security decision-making in Pakistan is a consequence and not a cause of skewed civil-military balance. Why a democratic government abdicates vital foreign policy and security fields to the bureaucracy is a riddle that needs unravelling in the interest of national security.

With an apathetic civilian national security oversight during crucial negotiations on the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group the responsibility fell on the military leadership to sensitise the global powers to the potential risks inherent in an iniquitous grant of member status to any country in violation of the global non-proliferation regime.

There is no doubt that the Indian failure to achieve its objective of gaining NSG membership and eventual ostracising of Pakistan was thwarted through the help of friends like China, and Brazil who were sensitised repeatedly through hectic military diplomacy. There never was a more pressing requirement of aggressive diplomacy at a time when Pakistan was confronted with a spectre of total diplomatic isolation due to a perceived failure to bring the Taliban on to the peace table and the Iranian estrangement due to Indian machinations as well as some of our own diplomatic gaffes.

All we have at present is aggressive military diplomacy and a somnolent civilian component that apparently is happy abdicating its responsibilities to an overburdened and overstretched military that so far has come up trumps on both military diplomacy and the battle front. The situation, however, cannot be allowed to remain as it is on account of the darkening penumbra of the varied threats at a crucial time when most of our time tested allies of yore look askance and the anti-CPEC coalition smells blood.

These are portentous yet challenging times when, in the words of Mao, there is great disorder under the heavens and the situation is excellent provided we achieve the much-needed symbiosis in our military and civilian diplomacy.

The writer is a PhD scholar at Nust.

Email: [email protected]



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