Quote of the Week: Societies and Military Power

In Societies and Military Power: India and its Armies (1996), Stephen Peter Rosen analyzes how the structure of a society – as opposed to “culture” – impacts its military power. Using the history of the Indian armed forces as a case study, he argues that societal structure, mirrored in the armed forces, can contribute to or inhibit a country’s ability to build and project military power.

Rosen describes social structure as “a broad term that includes such entities as social classes, occupational specialization, caste organizations, tribes, and perhaps even gender. Such structures are the sub-units of society with which people identify and to which they give their loyalties.” He contends that while in some cases it may, social structure does not necessarily proceed from culture – for example, in Marxism, the dominant structure (class) is functional, and proceeds from the relationship to the means of production. But, “whether they are the product of subjective beliefs of the members of the community or the product of objective economic forces… one can observe to what groups people belong, with whom they interact socially, and for what goals they are willing to make sacrifices.”

He argues that:

“Social structures that lead to divisiveness in the society as a whole, in particular, can reduce the military power that can be generated from a given quantity of material resources. The division of society into social structures that do not share common loyalties will be more relevant to the ability to generate military power to the extent that those social structures engage in militarily relevant activities… The social structures in the political unit also affect the amount of military power that can be generated by creating divisions internal to the military itself if divisive social structures are replicated within the military. The possibility of isolating military organizations from society creates an additional element… The less a military organization reflects the structures of the society… the more the military will be perceived as an alien element in society… this can lead to distrust of the military by the society of its leaders, which can reduce the military power available to the state.”

What’s your take?


Image: Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Flickr 

Posted in , Culture, India, Military, Quotes, Theory

Julia Thompson

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One thought on “Quote of the Week: Societies and Military Power

  1. I subscribe to this view big time. Take rogue elements in the Pakistan military for example, which subscribe to puritanism, and have had a bearing on the manner in which this institution has performed over the past few years. Given that Pakistani society has evolved considerably, and many have shunned away the ideologues of Zia, the military as an institution in Pakistan’s first ever democratic transition has focused more on mopping its image and refraining from any intervention in Pakistani politics or on matters related to National Security, after the societal structure was reformed during the 2008 NRO elections. Now, if one considers this caveat, over the years, the inability of civilian governments to cater to the same society which pressed for democratic reform, witnesses an inclination towards right wing politics, of which the centrist PTI and the PML N are the greatest beneficiaries. The numbers may be debatable but Imran Khan is a potent enough force to deal with and given that Musharraf’s stooges continue to bandwagon with him, the military continues to function indirectly by orchestrating protests which are anything but a throwback to Bhutto’s days. Why is the society tolerating these protests??? Why do so many members of our think tanks which subscribe to military ideologues and in many ways are funded by them, press for going down with the elected government in the country’s first ever democratic transition? The answer is that the societal make up offers an opportunity for the military to function as an institution which is immune to prosecution or probation. The manner in which the military functions and its harmonizing potential to address domestic turmoil, is exemplified in how members of the military establishment have promoted policies which have suited the societal disposition to consolidate their power at any given time. Take Mush’s ‘ Enlightened Moderation’ for example, or Zia’s ‘ Islamization’ where the latter was done to allay concerns of the two nation theory being questioned, due to the military’s reckless adventurism in East Pakistan which led to a brutal defeat in 1971. However, Pakistani society continues to evolve in strange ways, and the make up of its largely diverse population will have an impact on how the military functions, whether it is to sit and watch on the sidelines during Zardari’s tenure as President or to inevitably prop itself up by promoting pseudo revolutionaries, which lack the clout, let alone the numbers.

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