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Is a strong military necessary for success?

January 25, 2011

From chapter 14 in “The Prince” Machiavelli states that “ A ruler, then, should have no other concern, no other thought, should pay attention to nothing aside from war, military institutions, and the training of his soldiers (32).” He later goes on to say that “ The prime reason for losing power is neglect of military matters; while being an expert soldier opens the way to the acquisition of power (32).” This statement may hold true for times long ago but in the current day with such little military demand does it still matter to have the largest and most powerful armed forces? Should countries be focusing more on industry and investments? Do leaders of countries need to stress the importance of the military in order to be elected?

From the CIA’s website, it was shown that Switzerland has a gross domestic product per capita ranked 16th in the world, while their military spending is ranked 130th in the world. I feel that this is one way to show that success can be obtained without a powerful military.

(All references in the text are to Machiavelli, “The Prince,” in Modern Political Thought:Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche, 2nd Ed., edited by David Wootton, p.32)

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sz.htm

15 Comments
  1. Boris Pevzner permalink
    January 26, 2011 5:40 PM

    Great points made about how the times have changed from Machiavelli’s days to today. After reading the first sentence I immediately thought about the example of Switzerland and how in today’s world, it’s very possible for a non-militaristic to succeed.

    I think the biggest difference between the time periods is how countries actually try to work together and form one giant alliance (the United Nations). In such a group, if one nation unjustly starts a war with another, it’s very likely that the entire UN would support the victim of the war. So, since a peaceful country isn’t as vulnerable as it used to be, it might be more interested in spending its resources on research and its people.

    At the same time, the world is never as predictable as we believe it to be. At any moment a world war could break out, leaving the countries with a weak military with little backup if all other countries are also being attacked.

    All in all, the examples of Switzerland and a country like the United States, who is widely seen as having the world’s strongest military, show that there is more than one way to lead a successful state-much to Machiavelli’s chagrin.

  2. Kendall Rhode permalink
    January 26, 2011 5:53 PM

    I don’t think a strong military is necessary for success. For example, Costa Rica is a stable country although it does not have a military. The country is located in a zone classified as having dictators and economic problems (who focus all their money into the military.) In comparison, Costa Rica abolished the army in 1949. This act catalyzed a huge change for the country. Costa Rica took all the military money and invested it into higher education for the population. The Costa Rican people are living in peace and are well educated thus demonstrating success in those terms.

  3. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam permalink
    January 26, 2011 9:39 PM

    I think it is fallacious to assume that to be Machiavellian is to equate it with the use of/maintenance of an army.

    I’m of the opinion that Machiavelli’s emphasizes that the ruler should not be merely self-interested, but also care for his territory and that one can exploit all possible means in order to realize the objectives.

    A more contemporary example of Machiavellian power politics, I believe, is the notion of realism that underpins international relations and national interests as well as security take precedence over moral concerns. Basically, a zero-sum game in which states act in their interests in an anarchic society a la Hobbes.

    It might be argued that the US has assisted in overthrowing dictatorial regimes etc but the counterargument is that the US has often aided dictators to further its economic interests (for instance, it staged a coup against a democratically elected PM – Mossedegh – in Iran in favor of the dictatorial Pahlavi Dynasty.

    If you’re been keeping abreast with the Wikileaks furor and have had a chance to read the transcripts, I believe that’s the contemporary ‘Machiavellian’ nature of power politics at play – realpolitik if you like. And they don’t necessarily involve the military.

  4. Kimberly Pageau permalink
    January 26, 2011 10:11 PM

    I don’t think that military strength determine it’s success. However, I believe that having a strong military is often a reflection of a successful nation. U.S., China, Russia, and the U.K. are all influential economically as well as having some of the strongest militaries in the world. I think it’s hard to consider a nation being powerful in the world without both economic and military sway. With countries like Switzerland, they are successful in a lot of aspects, especially financially, but you should consider that the opinion of the four countries I just mentioned is a lot more important, especially within the UN.

  5. collijam permalink
    January 27, 2011 12:55 AM

    Yeah, I think it all depends on how you define “success.” The example of Costa Rica works if you define success as your country’s people being educated and in peace. But Costa Rica has hardly any influence internationally. If you define success as your nation holding power within the stature of the world, I would argue Costa Rica does not have that, and only nations which are powerful militarily and economically do because those nations are feared.

    • Collin Rosenbaum permalink
      January 27, 2011 12:59 AM

      Oops, realized I was using the wrong username. Here’s my post again:

      Yeah, I think it all depends on how you define “success.” The example of Costa Rica works if you define success as your country’s people being educated and in peace. But Costa Rica has hardly any influence internationally. If you define success as your nation holding power within the stature of the world, I would argue Costa Rica does not have that, and only nations which are powerful militarily and economically do because those nations are feared.

  6. John D'Adamo permalink
    January 27, 2011 1:33 AM

    The times are different from in the Renaissance era where wars and invasions were fought against the top states and the matter of prime importance was to keep a fantastic army at all times. In today’s world, I believe Machiavelli would advocate a mix of military, diplomatic, and trade strength because his key goal above all else was for a ruler to keep power with strength and fortune, and in the 21st century one needs more than a strong army to achieve those two things. Making sure a strong force remains to protect one’s borders from invasion and intimidation is key to the preservation of any independent nation. But that is only one piece of the puzzle. The strength of a nation’s diplomatic team is just as important as military strength in today’s post-Cold War world, especially when referring to the top countries such as the US, China, Russia, and UK, and so is its ability to trade in the global market that exists under the confines of the WTO.

  7. Amanda Gayer permalink
    January 28, 2011 2:53 PM

    I don’t think that having a military is a requirement in order to be a successful and prosperous nation. However, in order to be a powerful and internationally influential nation, I do believe military strength is necessary. The example of Switzerland’s GDP and military spending shows that while it is a prosperous nation, it is not powerful. It would have little leverage in international affairs and would be helpless without the protection of other nations. However, in order to be a nation that is highly involved in international affairs and conflicts (like the US, for example) an army is simply a necessity.
    A strong military enables a nation to influence other states. With a strong army, a nation can make credible threats, causing other states to think twice before going against the strong nation’s wishes.
    I think the reason our generation has not seen many great wars is in fact because so many nations have powerful armies. The threat of being attacked by a powerful nation’s army acts as a deterrent to any nation with a desire to disturb the international peace. For example, now that so many countries have nuclear weapons, a fear of reciprocal behavior deters any one nation from initiating a conflict that could escalate into a Cold War-like situation.

  8. January 28, 2011 8:40 PM

    The answer to needed a strong military to be success depends on certain circumstances. We are still in an age with pover struggles and frequent fighting. I believe the United States, South Korea, North Korea, Israel, India, and Pakistan need strong militaries. Comparable militaries, such as India Pakistan, serve as a detterent of war. Moreover, Israel depends on its military capabilities to keep others from destroying it. It is a matter of circumstance. Costa Rica does not need a military because of its geographic location, political stability, and a lack of aggressive states in Central America.

    • stephansakhai permalink
      January 30, 2011 5:05 PM

      In regards to both Austin’s original post and in agreement with this one, needing a strong military in this day and age is solely dependent on the country’s situation. I personally do not like the example Austin gave, Switzerland, because it has been a neutral country for almost 200 years after the congress of Vienna was established. Therefore, I would consider Switzerland a rarity when it comes to countries that can achieve success without military dominance. However, that does not mean to say I endorse the statement that military power is needed to achieve success. Military power is necessary only in certain situations in our current time, and as shown on the same website that Austin posted, those countries would be those located in the Middle East, including Iraq, Jordan, Israel and others near by. These countries that are faced with military situations daily need the strength and support of their military in order to achieve and maintain success.

      Closing, although military strength is not a necessary component of a country’s success, it is definitely a relevant factor for countries in peculiar situations as those mentioned above.

  9. Josh Platko permalink
    January 29, 2011 1:31 PM

    I think it depends on how you measure one’s success. Lets say your measuring based on their gross domestic per capita, then yeah Coasta Rica is a great example of a weak military with a successful country. But like Colin said, if your measuring based on the influence that country has made internationally then Coasta Rica isn’t too successful. There are times when small armies can help a nation become successful. Like when America got their freedom fromthe big bad British army. In general I feel as if the strength of army is a fair correlation with success.

  10. thetruthbehindthetruth permalink
    January 29, 2011 4:04 PM

    A strong military is definitely necessary for success. Our world today is solely based on social darwinism. It’s the survival of the fittest! Machiaveli believes the purpose of government is not the good of the people, but the stability of the state and ruler’s control. Today the U.S. is arguably the most powerful, feared and respected country in the world. How did we get here?? A strong military of course.

    • lernerm permalink
      January 30, 2011 10:34 AM

      I agree that a strong military is helpful, but it is a coercive power, and does not determine the US’ place in the world order. Many superlatives can apply to the US, several of which you mentioned. However, you didn’t mention a very important one: the US is one of the most feared countries.

      Countries can be coerced into submission, but it is much more difficult to gain respect through coercion. Military might has the ability to make singular objectives easier to attain, but it does not have the power to elicit cooperation from others.

      What makes the US so influential is its enormous economic production. Besides the EU (not really a single economic power yet), the US’ GDP is more than double the second closest competitor. The US gains allies by holding out the chance to share in the US’ economic wealth, not by threatening them with tanks.

      The military does serve a helpful role, however. It is one of several deterrents to those who would use dishonest means rather than cooperation to get a slice of the 14 trillion dollar pie made in the US each year.

      Many are wary of what they see as an ever-expanding military. The justification for the military’s existence is dependent upon the threats facing it, and anything beyond that goal is wasteful. The US spends 6x more on the military than any other country. Do we really need to grow even larger than that? Such growth doesn’t seem wise.

      Let’s not confuse what is taking care of what we already gained and what is moving America forward. Both are important, but economic growth should have a higher priority than military prowess.

  11. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam permalink
    January 29, 2011 4:20 PM

    No offense to anyone but I think that the US is arguably, not the most powerful, feared and respected country in the world any longer. I think such statements would have run true in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War or the decade following it. Today, with its troops embroiled in the Afghanistan War and having waged an unjust war in Iraq without UN approval and then trying to seek assistance from UN after it realized its mistake and, at this present juncture, unable to restore peace in that region, the superiority of its hard power has been dealt a serious blow. Not to mention that it’s trillions of dollars in debt.

    With the rise of China and its influence, the US’ soft power has also been seriously challenged.

    Frankly, I wouldn’t couch US’s attainment of its position in the international arena as the sole product of its military capabilities, rather, I’m more inclined to believe that it’s soft power that has also contributed to its influence. In fact, arguably, it is by virtue of the US’s soft power that is sustaining the US today. People come to US to study not because they are coerced by a military. They do so because they have been seduced by the cultural allure of studying in the Ivy League. Actors want to break into Hollywood. They are mesmerized by New York City. And it is these images that live on and have given the US a prominent position in the lives of many million foreigners. Not, just because of its military.

  12. Adam Evanski permalink
    February 2, 2011 2:25 PM

    I’m going to go with the minority opinion here and say that a powerful military is a big requirement for a country to sustain itself. I guess it all depends on where you are located. Take South Korea for example, do you think they would be in the position they are if they had “little” or “no” military presence? Would Kim Jong just mantain the de-militarized zone and let them live in peace? I don’t think so. A military enables rulers and government authority figures security and a peace of mind. Why leave your country so vulnerable?

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