04 September 1987 - 06 September 1987

Military and economic power in international politics: is there a shift in their significance?

Chair: Mr Christopher Tugendhat

For the first conference of the 1987-88 season the chair was taken by Christopher Tugendhat, formerly one of the British Commissioners in the European Community and now President of the Royal Institute for International Affairs and Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority. The participants had some difficulty, it seemed, in deciding precisely what the conference was to be about, a difficulty deriving, I suspect, from the interpretation attached by some to the word 'shift'. There was a propensity to see this in terms of the East-West relationship, and not, as was intended, in the more philosophical sense of a shift in the utility of military as compared with economic power in a world in which, on the one hand, the existence of nuclear weapons has imposed caution on the super-powers and their allies and public opinion has become more aware of the pain and cost of war, and on the other, increasing economic inter-dependence may have placed fetters on the independent use of economic muscle.

At the opening sessions it was established that it was not possible to consider military and economic power in isolation: they had to be considered in a political context and to be exercised, if at all, with political skill, if they were to serve foreign policy ends. It was contended that within Europe at least the military and political situation was "incredibly stable", primarily because of mutual nuclear deterrence, with a resulting greater emphasis on conventional armaments. It was argued somewhat parenthetically, that this would lead to the US re-defining its relationship to Europe in the military field, in response to budgetary pressures and the feeling that the West Europeans were not pulling their weight. It was further argued, in parallel, that, with increasing difficulty in controlling their client-allies, the super-powers might tend to consult less and be more ready to act militarily on their own in areas where the risks appeared small. A point was made about the ability evinced by communist regimes to hang on to power once it had been achieved. It was suggested that while it was not difficult to convert economic strength into military strength, the reverse was not true; but that, in the US and even more in the Soviet Union, the effort to achieve that conversion could of itself be so wasteful of productive capacity that it undermined economic strength, perhaps fatally. Participants emphasised the importance of public opinion to any exercise of military power and not only in the West - vide public criticism of Soviet involvement in Afghanistan.

Economic power, it was argued, had never been all that effective in achieving political ends in foreign policy and increased inter-dependence and the devolution of economic activity to the private, especially the trans-national, sector, had further reduced its effectiveness. Scepticism was expressed about the utility of sanctions, useful as they might be as a gesture beyond persuasion but short of war. It was also argued that increased interdependence lent significance to the international fora, such as the GATT, for the exercise of economic muscle - as somebody put it, if we are all in the same boat, each of us can rock it.

Most of these points survived discussion in the Groups, though greatly refined, and were further developed in the final meetings. Military force is still used as it always has been, in pursuit of the same sort of objectives as in the past; but there are inhibitions on its use in the Western industrialised world due to the risk of nuclear war, on the one hand, and the much lower threshold of pain, resulting from the swift dissemination of news and greater sensitivity to the horrors of war, on the other. For these countries, therefore, the risks had to be low and the prospect of success high; and action had to be swift, so that it could be over before the pain threshold was crossed. This applied to some extent also in the Soviet bloc. (Some questioned whether in a democracy decisions could ever be taken in secret so as to preserve surprise and the chances of speed and success).

Beyond the Western industrialised states and the Soviet bloc, it was suggested that the inhibitions on the use of military force were much less strong and in some areas, notably in the Islamic states, war was still largely seen as heroic. This, besides leading to regional conflicts, (which tended too often to be seen in terms of relations between the super-powers although their origins were regional) presented problems for others with a more inhibited approach to violence, particularly when confronted with terrorist violence for political ends.

Economic power, the conference felt, was more diffuse than it had been 30 or 40 years ago. Although in some circumstances sanctions might be useful as a gesture, or, where economic dependence was great, might even be effective, they were in general of limited utility. On the other hand the inter-dependence of the market economies, regulated as it was by such machinery as the GATT, had the result that the manipulation of the rules to a state's benefit had become the principal outlet for the exercise of economic power. Moreover such manipulation was principally effective against partners, since economic relations between the OECD countries and COMECON still tended to be about goods and services. The granting or withholding of aid were little discussed but were not felt to be effective in achieving political objectives. Debt however gave a negative power to the debtor. Opinion was divided about cartels, but it was agreed that where they were successful, it was, as with other forms of economic power, primarily in the achievement of economic not political ends.

In the end the meeting concluded that there had been some shift in the forms of application of power, whether military or economic. In the past military power, for example, had been applied to achieve specific political objectives, but to-day it was more often used to intervene in civil wars, to settle the issue of who should hold power in a given state. It was doubtful if in the long-term such use was effective, since it was difficult to combine it with the necessary precondition of success, the winning of "the hearts and minds" of the people whose future was at issue.

Probably more effective in the long-term for the West was the discreet encouragement, through political and financial support, of liberal and democratic forces wherever these could be found, not military intervention.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Conference Chair: Mr Christopher Tugendhat
Chairman, Civil Aviation Authority; Director, National Westminster Bank, The BOC Group; Chairman, Royal Institute of International Affairs; Member, Council, Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels; a Governor and Member of the Council of Management, the Ditchley Foundation.


Mr Nicholas Bayne

CMG, Ambassador and UK Permanent Representative to OECD, Paris.
Mr Vernon Bogdanor
Fellow, Brasenose College, Oxford and University Lecturer in Politics, University of Oxford; Senior Visiting Fellow, European Centre for Political Studies, Policy Studies Institute, London.
Mr Rodric Braithwaite CMG
Deputy Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
The Rt Hon the Lord Bruce-Gardyne
Life Peer (Conservative);  Editorial Writer, Daily Telegraph; Consultant, Northern Engineering Industries; Director, Trustee Savings Bank plc, London & Northern Group plc.
Sir James Cable KCVO CMG
Writer. Retired as Ambassador to Finland (1975-80)
Mr Nicholas Colchester
Senior Editor, The Economist.
Professor Sir Michael Howard CBE MC FBA FRHistS FRSL
Regius Professor of Modern History and Chairman of the Faculty Board, University of Oxford; Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford; President and co-Founder, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS); a Governor of the Ditchley Foundation.
Mr John Keegan
Defence Correspondent. The Daily Telegraph
Mr Christopher Lee
Defence and Foreign Affairs Correspondent, BBC; Quatercentennial Research Fellow, Emmanuel College, Cambridge.
Mr Evan Luard
Writer on international affairs; Fellow, St Antony's College, Oxford
Mr James Mayall
Reader, Department of International Relations, London School of Economics.
Mr Ian Smart


Dr Kenneth Calder
Director General Policy Coordination, Department of National Defence, Ottawa
Mr John Higginbotham
Director General; Policy Development Bureau, Department of External Affairs, Ottawa

Lt-Gen Georges Fricaud-Chagnaud

Le Charge de Mission aupres du Ministre, Ministere de la Defense, Paris; Council Member, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Institut Francais des Relations Internationales (IFRI), Fondation pour les Etudes de Defense Nationale.
Monsieur Philippe Hallemann
Writer on defence issues and Head of Editions Bosquet (publishing house).
Monsieur Pierre Jacquet
Specialist in international economics, Institut Francais des Relations Internationales (IFRI), Paris.
Admiral Pierre Lacoste
President, Fondation pour les Etudes de Defense Nationale, Paris.
Monsieur Christian Saint-Etienne,
Senior Economist, Credit Lyonnais; writer and commentator on French economy

Federal Republic of Germany
Dr Jan Reifenberg

Diplomatic Correspondent, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frankfurt, FRG, based in Brussels

Dr Werner Keller

Foreign Editor, Tages Anzeiger, Zurich.

Mr John G Day
Senior Vice President, Bank of Montreal, New York
Mr Michael Froman, Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. Formerly President, Oxford University Strategic Studies Group, St Antony’s College, Oxford; Conference Rapporteur.
Mr Daniel Henninger, Chief Editorial Writer, The Wall Street Journal, New York.
Dr Robert E Hunter, Director, European Studies, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, Washington, DC. Formerly Director of West European Affairs, National Security Council.
Dr William E Jackson, Jr., Senior Fellow, Fulbright Institute of International Relations, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas
The Hon Alton G Keel, Jr, United States Ambassador and Permanent Representative to NATO, Brussels
Professor Seymour Melman, Professor of Industrial Engineering, Columbia University, New York; writer on military and economic affairs.
Dr Constantine Menges, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute, Washington, DC
Dr Jiri Valenta, Professor of Political Science and Director, Institute for Soviet and East Europe Studies (1SEES), Graduate School of International Studies, University of Miami; Consultant to US Government; Member, Council on Foreign Relations.         
The Hon John W Warner, Member of the United States Senate (Republican), Virginia; Senior and Ranking Republican, US Senate Armed Services Committee. Former Chairman, Sub-committee on Strategic and Theater Nuclear Forces; a Director, the American Ditchley Foundation.
Dr Charles Wolf, Jr, Dean, and Director of International Economic Policy Program, the Rand Graduate School, Santa Monica, California; Director, Fundamental Investors Fund; co-Chairman and Member, Executive Committee, California Seminar on International Security and Foreign Policy.