Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971

2017-01-04

Strategic Issues: Sources of National Strength

By: Dr. John R.Ballard
Dean of National Defence College
 
Strategic leaders work to advance the security and prosperity of their states by wielding power and influence on the global stage. National strength thus includes both power and influence. Joseph Nye and Richard Armitage have said that “Power is the ability to affect the behavior of others to get a desired outcome.” 
 
National strength stems from various elements. Colin Gray has used the terms “hard” and “soft” when referring to national strength; using hard power enables countries to wield carrots and sticks to get what they want, through force or the threat of force. Soft power (or influence) is the ability to get states to act in a certain way voluntarily, without using force. Hard power in Gray’s view involves calculable costs and benefits, while influence works more subtly through persuasion and attractive ideas. 
 
Historically, state strength has been measured by such criteria as population size and territory, natural resources, economic viability, military force, and social stability. Some aspects of national power are immutable; most significant among these are geography and natural resources. Just as the UAE has been blessed by abundant resources and a geostrategic global position of great import, it is also enduringly challenged by a lack of arable land and the close proximity of an aggressive northern neighbor. Although these facts can be made more or less impactful, they cannot be changed.
 
Other resources, such as population size are very important, but can be modified. Both the Singaporeans and the Chinese have enacted policies to adapt the size of their populations to economic goals. In general a larger population increases latent national power, but a population size that exceeds the food, water and energy resources of the state weakens state power. In the UAE we have the added complexity of a large non-citizen population, which also can either add to or challenge the strength of the state depending on the policies adapted.
 
Other more malleable sources of national strength include: economic, political, military and social or cultural capabilities. Economic power refers most commonly to a nation’s ability to wield influence because of its wealth, either directly, through tools such a foreign direct investment, or indirectly through processes such as influencing the price of oil or the exchange rate for commodities.  Political power most commonly refers to the stability of a nation’s system of governance and its ability to execute its foreign policies effectively. Nations that have long standing, consistent governments are viewed as more stable. Military power is normally assessed through the size, training and technological capabilities of a state’s military units, although this can be deceiving as it is really the will of units to fight and persevere that is most telling on the battlefield. Social or cultural power is harder to define, but is most commonly a reflection of the example set by a state. In the case of the UAE, cultural strength of character also plays an important role in exerting power and influence, perhaps to a larger degree than other states of similar size. 
 
Most recently leaders have realized that informational power and influence are also key determinates of state strength. For many years, information has been used to create strategic advantages and influence events for national security reasons. Today, cyber capabilities also present huge opportunities and important risks as the backbone of information power.

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