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Paradox Of Power

Radhakrishnan 2 Sachin Radhakrishnan International Relations 22 November 2011 Why Strong States Lose Wars Against Weak States: Brash Strategies Weaken Potential Power History has demonstrated anomalous feats of opposition from weaker states engaged in wars with a far superior adversary. Instances of the militarily weak fending off a militarily great power include the American underdogs battling the hegemonic British in the Revolutionary War and the brave Vietnamese soldiers fending off consecutive French and American threats in Indochina. The once widely accepted notion that greater military capability directly war outcomes fails to explain such substantial inconsistencies in asymmetrical warfare. This has called upon scholars in the field of International Relations to undertake serious scrutiny into explaining the occurrences of paradoxical power displays and using such explanations to prevent future anomalies. To understand the proposed theories explaining why weak states prevailed against superior powers, one must examine the contextual similarities of relevant case studies. In the instances of asymmetrical warfare, scholars have widely considered that the stronger power initiates conflict due to its ability to invade. The weak power does not have the military might to incapacitate its opponent unlike the strong power. However, it can sustain combat long enough to force its adversarys withdrawal (Sullivan, 502). The strong power also uses force to coerce the weaker power into changing its current behavior, but even a successful military defeat without a change in behavior amounts to a loss for the great power. Essentially, this creates a situation in which the weak nation

Radhakrishnan 3 can win purely by avoiding loss (Record, 2005, 19-20). Lastly, a crucial part of asymmetric warfare is that the weaker power always has more at stake, which correlates to a greater willingness to incur costs necessary to avoid defeat (Sullivan, 2007, 500). Although several case studies fit the contextual framework of this description, this paper will focus on the American Revolution and Vietnam War. Currently there exist two main theories that explain a weak states ability to trump its much stronger opponent. The first theory rejects the notion that a countrys control over resources (technology, population, troops, production capability, etc.) leads to its control over outcomes, instead looking at other factors that affect outcomes. On the contrary, the second theory views a nations advantage in resource control as the primary reason for loss of control over outcomes, citing inferior powers will combat the imbalance by forming alliances (Maoz Z., 2011, UC Davis).The two theories provide the basis for my hypothesis, but the reasoning of my interpretation differs slightly from the reasoning behind the original thoughts which will be further fleshed out in the remainder of the paper. Although potential military capability does not directly affect controlling outcomes, strong states lose wars against weak states because of strategies and war aims that are calculated based on the lopsidedness of resource control. The greater control over resources does not correlate to a loss of control of outcomes as illustrated by Zeev Maoz but in a different manner. Rather than the inferior power being forced to form allies, the asymmetry of physical power favors the weak states ability to sustain a war through higher levels of cost tolerance and political power as compared to its more powerful foe. The stronger power initiates a war strategy that grants itself low levels of resolve and political power because is too optimistic about its own capabilities.

Radhakrishnan 4 Ultimately, the weaker opponent makes up for its lack of physical power through other means that, more or less, level the playing field and undermine the significant advantage the greater power claims. To provide clarity and direction for this paper, a brief roadmap serves to guide readers through existing theory, my arguments, and examination of the two cases at hand. First I will introduce the existing literature of theories explaining the paradox of power. Then, a rationale of my own theory which draws from aspects of both theories, ties into the hypothesis for why strong states lose wars against weak ones. With a crystallized hypothesis, I test it against the Revolutionary and Vietnam Wars. Before examining the cases in-depth and their positive or negative correlation to the hypothesis and theory, I explain briefly the expected causal sequence of events in the historical cases. Through a side-by-side comparison and analysis of historical and theoretical evidence, the paper follows the outlined sequence to mesh everything together. A conclusion of the findings in relation to the hypothesis rounds out this paper. Two distinct theories attempt to explain the paradox that exists when a militarily feeble power triumphs over its much more powerful adversary. The first theory separates military capability, which is the potential pool of resources a government may access, from controlling outcomes. Although previously thought that a nations advantage in military and technological capabilities correlates to victory, it is highly unreasonable to use this as the only predictor of war. According to Professor Zeev Maozs lecture on October 6, 2011, other factors such as political and psychological power affect a nations ability to extract resources from a potential pool, as demonstrated in The War Ledger by Organski and Kugler (Maoz Z., 2011, UC Davis).

Radhakrishnan 5 Furthering the debate against physical power is Andrew Macks pioneering work Why Big Nations Lose Small Wars which contends that If the external power's will to continue the struggle is destroyed, then its military capability no matter how powerful is totally irrelevant (Mack, 1975, 179). Mack brings the idea of resolve into the equation, which is vital to consider in asymmetric warfare as the aforementioned framework asserts that weaker nations have more at stake and are willing to incur more losses than the enemy in achieving its goals. In addition to political power and resolve, a third aspect overrides military capability for controlling outcomes. Ivan Arreguin-Toft through Patricia Sullivan contends that strong states lose asymmetric conflicts when they employ the wrong military strategy in relation to their weak opponents strategy (Sullivan, 499). A highly capable military cannot possibly win when the employed strategy fails to measure up to that if its opponent. This theory employs the factors of political power, resolve, and military strategy to undermine the physical power as the main factor of deciding war because all of these factors come into play when a country extracts from its collection of resources to engage in war. The second theoretical explanation stresses that an actors advantage over controlling resources causes its inability to control outcomes. Zeev Maoz interprets that the Paradox of conflict outcomes is more severe and certainly much more mindboggling than the observation that states with greater capabilities lose wars against militarily inferior adversaries: it is that such states may lose wars because they possess superior capabilities (Maoz, 1989, 239) Maoz goes on to assert that when an inferior power notices a country of superior capabilities encroaching upon its interests, it sets in motion a process of strategic behavior by inferior actors that is designed to offset the

Radhakrishnan 6 superiority of the focal player . . . to a process wherein inferior actors tacitly gang up against the superior one. The net result is that the superior actor achieves significantly worse outcomes with more resources than he would have gotten with less. (243). The theory contends that although an actor may be far more superior to any one nation, it loses that advantage once these inferior nations band together to combat the enemy. This shows that a country attempting to protect their interests by seeking more power inevitably makes the scene more volatile, adversely affecting the interests it was trying to protect in the first place. Although both theories have their place in determining the ability of weak nations to overcome their superior enemy, a combination of the two is much more appropriate for predicting these outcomes than any one theory on its own. This is because the second theory greatly affects the first theory. However it does not affect it through Maozs explanation that inferior powers will form alliances to gang up on the superior power, but rather through a cross application of the third element of the first theory that contends military strategy as essential in determining outcomes. To clarify, a nation with superior capabilities loses control of outcomes because its advantages comprise the basis of its military strategy. The military strategy is grounded in the idea of its own military capability, but since it neglects the other factors of determining outcomes (political power and resolve) it leads to an inability to control the result of war. With this theory, I contend the hypothesis that in the cases of the Revolutionary War and the Vietnam War, the superior nation lost the conflict because the basis of its military strategy ignored the factors of political power and resolve, and only included its superior

Radhakrishnan 7 military capability. Because the other factors inherently affect a nation of fully utilizing its capabilities, the great powers are doomed from the outset. The Revolutionary War in the late 18th century and the conflict in Vietnam during the Cold War both exemplify a strong actor forced into withdrawal by its much weaker adversary. In comparing the two wars, one realizes the pattern that adheres to the hybrid version of both explanations to the paradox of power. Both cases follow a pattern that plays out like this: Based on measures of relative military capability, a strong nation chooses strategy opposite of the weaker nation. Both set a concrete threshold of cost tolerance that must be adhered to thereafter. Strategy and/or goal changes that would effectively increase the cost tolerance threshold are inevitable for the stronger power. After the two nations set their respective war aims, strategies, and a threshold for resolve, the asymmetric warfare begins. The events play out in such a manner that threaten the greater power with the risk of crossing said threshold, even if it is far from total military defeat. As the looming threshold nears the nation, domestic resolve and support for war decreases. The diminishing will of the strong nation to absorb costs causes decreased political power. An inability to change strategies coupled with decreasing political power leads to government incapable of extracting the resources necessary to win. Ultimately, the nation is forced to withdraw as its original interests are no longer viable in the resulting stalemate of combat. With the basics of the pattern in place, a more in-depth look at the case studies will reveal ultimately analogous levels of power between the two states rather than the bloated gap previously considered. Countries, before engaging in war, adopt a strategy that factors in the respective physical power and war aims of both nations. Strong actors tend to grossly

Radhakrishnan 8 underestimate their opponents capabilities in relation to their own, which causes the nation to employ a strategy that believes in its own ability to achieve an overwhelming and rapid victory(Arreguin-Toft, 2001, 105). Weaker nations on the other hand, realize the military might of its opponent and rear a strategy reflective of expected costs such as casualties, expenditures, and time). The different strategies play out to constrain the stronger nation while significantly aiding the weaker (Record, 19-20). Beginning with the Revolutionary War, the British hegemony assessed the situation with the rebellious colonies as one that could be solved quite easily, with little at stake. At the time, the British Empire was the superior naval power in the world and able to field more troops than its inferior counterpart even while dedicating a majority of its troops to fight the Spanish and French (Record, 17). The hubristic King George III envisioned the Thirteen Colonies as hopelessly weak, which sparked a strategy promising defeat with minimal costs. The colonists, having previously required the British Armys help in the Seven Years War, had full knowledge of their military might, and realized defeat meant the hangmans noose (17). Taking into account such a difference in physical power, the colonists strategy was geared with the mindset of acceptance for casualties, high expenditures, and an extensive time window. In the Vietnam War, the Americans made the same (mis)calculations for their military strategy. The United States, blessed with an enormous fleet of bomber planes and arsenal of technologically advanced weapons, bloated their own chances of winning against a fragile Vietnam fresh from a French occupation. In addition, Americans had less at than their adversary (Arreguin-Toft, 98). Analogous to the colonies, Vietnam braced itself to face the ultimate costs of war. In both wars, the weaker power had the

Radhakrishnan 9 most to lose and the most to gain. Because more was at stake, the threshold for incurring costs was higher than that of the superior power (Sullivan, . It is important to note that in both wars, each nations threshold remains steady, but as the war prolongs and each side incurs their share of costs, this threshold is tested and so is the strategy. Since the weaker powers threshold is high, it can incur more costs before moving beyond the threshold, a luxury the strong nation does not have. It is crucial to understand that as a state reaches its threshold, a strategy change, although important to change the direction of war, is impossible because diminishing resolve leads to a loss of political power. Although crucial to my paper that, in the framework provided, strategy change cannot happen, there exists a counterargument by Biddle (2004) through Patricia Sullivans work War Aims and War Outcomes: Why Powerful States Lose Limited Wars that states employing the wrong strategy cannot be the cause for defeat. She contends that Although the weak may not have the war-fighting capacity to choose an optimal strategic response to their adversarys military strategy, strong states do have that capacity. And theoretically, a losing strategy could be exchanged for a winning one if it becomes clear that the initial strategy is ineffective (497). While Sullivan makes this contention, she ignores the other factors of political power and resolve that affect strategy changes from taking place. Strong states cannot change their military strategy because a breach of the resolve threshold leads to a decline of domestic support for the war. This rejection of government competency is vital in understanding a governments ability to extract physical power from its resources. The governments loss of political

Radhakrishnan 10 power stems from the decreased resolve of the voting population. The historical cases can further explain this loss of power. During the Revolutionary War, the British Empire employed a strategy that set a relatively low cost tolerance threshold as did the Americans in the Vietnam War. In both cases the initial threshold faced the risk of proving to low for the actual costs of war, but though there existed the military capability to change strategy, the diminishing resolve affected such change. While neither of the strong nations were defeated militarily. In every case, success for the insurgents arose not from a military victory on the groundthough military successes may have been a contributory cause-but rather from the progressive attrition of their opponents' political capability to wage war. In such asymmetric conflicts, insurgents may gain political victory from a situation of military stalemate or even defeat.(Mack, 1975, 177). In addition, The greater the gap in relative power, the less resolute and more politically vulnerable strong actors are, and the more resolute and less politically vulnerable weak actors are. Big nations therefore lose small wars because frustrated publics (in democratic regimes) or countervailing elites (in authoritarian regimes) force a withdrawal short of military victory (Arreguin-Toft, 95). The reduction in resolve and political power makes its way into affecting the access of a nations physical power which theoretically has the possibility of winning the war. The British were unable to escalate the war further because the incurred costs had threatened to move beyond the threshold. Although opposition to the war within the state existed before things worsened, this opposition grew as King George IIIs plans were failing in America, which threatened other British colonies elsewhere (Record, 22). Note that this opposition has voting or decision-making influence within the state. This

Radhakrishnan 11 loss of support demonstrates a loss of political power of those making the military decisions. Risking other economic interests as well as growing casualties in a war that they had little at stake, the British had little leeway to stop the bleeding. The choice to pull out of the conflict and cut imperial ties with the colonies shows the inability to escalate conflict through strategy change. It also shows that other factors such as resolve and political power greatly affect a nations ability to extract resources for escalating military purposes. In the case of the Vietnam War, Lyndon B. Johnsons campaign in Indochina faced immense political opposition as casualties rose and fear that escalation may bring the Soviet Union to a greater involvement seemed legitimate. Because domestic tolerance for costs decreased as the President failed to achieve quick victory, the Presidents initial, highly optimistic strategy worked against him in the long-run in terms of physical power. As previously mentioned, confidence was lost in the governments ability to achieve their goals because the strategy failed to keep costs below the threshold (Mack, 179-180). This loss of political power demonstrates a correlation to being incapable of implementing strategy change. It simply was not worth it for the nation to neither escalate efforts nor maintain the status quo. Even though the United States had the military capability, the optimistic plan made the state of the campaign look far worse than it truly was which diminished the power of access to its own military capability. In both wars, the most important factor on the part of the weaker nations arsenal is not military capability but rather its domestic cost tolerance. The inherent flaw in the stronger powers strategy is that it fails to factor in the resolve of the opposing nations.

Radhakrishnan 12 This is Because the extent of an adversarys cost tolerance is less directly observable than an adversarys destructive capacity. We can expect prewar estimates of the cost of victory to become less accurate as the effect of resolve increases relative to the effect of military capacity (Sullivan, 497). This is where the preconceived notion of military capabilities as triumphant over other factors is inherently wrong. Just because other factors are hard to detect, it does not mean they cannot come into play during the course of war. The Thirteen Colonies and the Vietnamese Communists were able to win because of their higher resolve capabilities, but seeing as how their oppositions military capability was affected by their own diminishing resolve and political power, this too worked into the favor of the inferior actor. The weaker nations resolve does not affect the oppositions military capability directly; instead it puts pressure on its political power which in turn hampers physical power. Thus, the strategy that allows for a greater threshold of resolve links into accessing ones physical power which is necessary for sustaining war efforts successfully. In conclusion, using relative military strength solely as a guide for dictating outcomes is a false idea because there are other factors that come into the equation. Other factors such as resolve, political power, and the basis of military strategy heavily weigh on a nations ability to extract physical power from its potential pool of tangible resources. A superior military power engaging in combat with a weaker power on the premise of relative military capability, without considering the issues of resolve and political power creates a situation that leads to its own defeat. The superior powers strategy, if based on its own military strength and the promise of quick victory, will inherently lead to failure because the strategy creates a threshold that is unfit for the

Radhakrishnan 13 situation at hand. While the superior power is considered superior on the basis of physical attributes, as the conflict moves along the issues of resolve and political power come into play giving the advantage to the weak. This effectively levels the playing field, something the strong nation never could have realized, and leads not to the military defeat but the withdrawal of the powerful country. All things considered, for a strong power to go in and defeat a weaker nation, it must not underestimate the task at hand which will foster a solid strategy with no stones left unturned. However, in any war that has a significantly weaker power, like the victorious underdogs before them, they must never stop fighting. And if it so happens that they do stop fighting, it better come on the day when their last man standing ends up face-first in the dirt.

Radhakrishnan 14 Works Cited 1. Arreguin-Toft, Ivan. 2001. How the Weak Win Wars: A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict. International Security 26 (1): 95-105. 2. Biddle, Stephen 2004. Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 3. Mack, Andrew. 1975. Why Big Nations Lose Small Wars: The Politics of Asymmetric Conflict. World Politics 27 (2):175-180. 4. Maoz, Zeev. 1989. Power, Capabilities, and Paradoxical Conflict Outcomes. World Politics. 41 (2): 239-43. 5. Maoz, Zeev. Power in International Relations Class: Political Science 3. UC Davis, Davis, CA. 6 October 2011. 6. Organski, A. F. K., and Jacek Kugler. 1980. The War Ledger. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 7. Record, Jeffrey. 2005. Why the Strong Lose. US Army War College. 17-22. 8. Sullivan, Patricia L. 2007. War Aims and War Outcomes: Why Powerful States Lose Limited Wars. Journal of Conflict Resolution. 497-503.