The balance of power is one of the oldest and fundamental concepts governing international relations understanding of the way countries go to war or avoid war. There are many scholars that have sought to explain the balance of power. Authors that have shaped the classical realists’ views are Sun Tzu, Thucydides, Machiavelli and Hobbes. They published books that explained their conceptualizations of the balance of power. Other notable authors are Rousseau, Clausewitz and Eh Carr as well as Hans Morgenthau.
In the recent concept of neorealism, the balance of power persists as a concept and has largely been explored based on the work of Mearsheimer, who provided an offensive angle for looking at the balance of power. Waltz, on the other hand, offered a defensive take on the balance of power. This was a departure from an overall offensive take used by classical realists. Overall, realists seek to explain things are they are and the nature of the country and people’s relationships internationally. When there is no balance of power, anarchy exists, and it leads to conflict. It is promoted by the fact that states are self-interested (Paul, Wirtz & Fortmann (eds.) 2004).
The balance of power theory
The balance of power is the core of the realism theory. States engage in a balance of power behaviour by making alliances and coalitions. The theory would not survive without these strategies of maintaining the balance of power. Nevertheless, there are many ambiguities that cover balance pf power, but looking at it as a policy aimed at a certain state of affairs such that there is no hegemony ensures that most of the ambiguities are eliminated. The alternative to balancing is a bandwagon, which implies that a country is aligning to a stronger coalition as a way to appease and attain a measure of security (Yetiv 2008).
When there is anarchy, security becomes the ultimate end, and balances of power become useful. The eventual balance of power will have varied implications according to the nature of the regional and global international system. Balancing is an abstract from the complex world of alliance politics. It reduces alliance behaviour to a dichotomous action. This simplification presents realism as a systemic theory where political outcomes and determined with system-wide effects being the consequence.
Case study (between Iraq and Kuwait, what’s the power in realism)
In the conflict between Iraq and Kuwait, the president of Iraq blamed the Gulf States for the steady fall of oil prices. The fall perpetuated an economic crisis in Iraq. Iraq felt powerless and suffered which to the president; this was treason by the Gulf States. In the ensuing negotiations after the Iraq complaints, the argument by Iraq was that the other countries, namely Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, chance a $30 billion debt that Iraq held. Besides, Iraq wanted more money to help it survive the problems of its economy arising from poor oil prices. However, this case is just an example of tensions between Iraq and Kuwait.
Overall, Iraq failed to recognize the independence and sovereignty of Kuwait. The motive for Iraq’s leadership before the war between Iraq and Kuwait was to capture the country and restore Iraq’s prosperity. Most importantly, Iraq coveted the rich oil fields of Kuwait and argued that it would be able to gain significant influence over OPEC and the pricing of worldwide oil if it had control of the oil fields. Looking at the argument from a realist perspective, one realizes that the cause of the conflict fits into a preponderance power framework of realism.
Power is the central concept of international relations and is often hard to measure. It relates to the ability to get another actor to do what the actor would not have done. In other words, the actor can be seen as very powerful such that they affect others more than they are affected by them. As a result, power is an influence. However, it does not become an influence in itself. It merely represents the potential of influence. By summing up various potentials, it is possible to show how one state is powerful than another, and, therefore, bring out the element of power. Such is the case with this paper’s comparison of Iraq and Kuwait in showing the power of realism. In addition to material capabilities, power also relies on nonmaterial things that create the potential for influence, and they include a national will, diplomatic skill, popular support for the government, which explains its legitimacy and other related factors.
Countries use both dominance and soft power to make others behave in a certain way. The issue of Iraq and Kuwait shows both uses of soft power and dominance. Before the invasion, Iraq was using soft power. It discussed its interest with the rest of the Arab nation’s league to show them that it was morally correct in calling for forgiveness of its debt. It was also using the avenue to call for additional financing for the recovery of its economy. The hard power show comes through the actual invasion of Kuwait.
The power of Realist is military power
Comparison between Iraq and Iraq was an extremely militarized country that was keen to maintain external and internal security. The country had a military and paramilitary installation set up throughout the country manned with soldiers ready to protect the country’s interest. In the 1980s, the number of soldiers in Iraq was 242,000 the size grew to about 1 million soldiers by 1988. In the figure given, there are about half a million reservists who include young people that are ready to fight in a war but are untrained. There are also older men who are not on active duty unless there are shortages of the workers needed for the official military force. Besides, the armed forces of Iraq fall into two categories. There are the regular units that have fighting experience and serve as the first choice of the military onslaught of Iraq and any other country.
The other half of the Iraq army serves the president and is regarded as the presidential guard. It includes 140,000 men who are decisive in war. Facts collected after the war with Kuwait show that Iraq had army divisions that included strong 10,000 men and that the divisions were 23. Half of the divisions were also having staffing levels of about 8000 men to 10,000 men. The brigades of the army averaged around 2500 men. This compares the Iraq military capacity to a large superpower like the United States, which as a typical battalion size of 2500 men (Cordesman 1999).
In comparison, Kuwait has a tiny number of soldiers both before and after the war. Kuwait derives its military numbers from its population, which is significantly lower than that of Iraq. In Kuwait, a conscription system works where young men have to serve for two years before they go on to their careers. Those who are in university serve only for a year as mandatory. At the time of war, there was about 20 to 30 per cent of the military ranks filled by Kuwaiti nationals. Foreigners like Palestinians, Indians and Egyptians filled the technical positions in the military. After the war, Kuwait was struggling to meet its armed strength goal of 30,000 soldiers (GlobalSecurity.org 2015).
The military power of Iraq was enough to defeat the military power of Kuwait. However, the war did not arise for many decades because Kuwait enjoyed protection by Britain and other allied forces. The military might of Iraq was not a reason enough for Kuwait to change its strategy and seek protection from Iraq. While the threat of invasion existed, Kuwait would only become a target for invasion when it failed to side with Iraq’s position considering its interests and hegemony status. In the war with Iran, Iraq relied on Kuwait for some military assistance, where its troops and their equipment got access to the country to reach Iran conveniently. The power gap between Iraq and Kuwait that resulted in the war was created by a group-think effect where none of the countries supporting Kuwait later in the war was convinced that Iraq was going to attack (Gentry 2012).
When Iraq invaded Kuwait, Kuwait’s army was not mobilized. It was not even on alert, and this is an indication of its reduced capacity for defence compared to that of Iraq. Iraq also managed to take 6000 Kuwait soldiers as prisoners of war (GlobalSecurity.org 2015). This shows that the Kuwait army was very vulnerable to the invasion. It is the main reason coalition forces opted to join the war as they had enough reason to believe that Iraq would end up taking the country if nothing was done. If that has persisted, then Iraq would have formed a new capability, with a combination of its military power and the rich oil resources of Kuwait.
Comparison between Iraq and Kuwait concerning the Size of the Army
At the end of the war, facts show that Iraq lost 4000 tanks, 2,140 artilleries and 1,857 armoured personnel carriers. It also lost seven helicopters and 240 aircraft. At hand, it had 4,230 tanks, 3,110 artilleries, 2,870 armoured personnel carriers, 160 helicopters and 800 aircraft (Cryan.com 2015). The number of soldiers from Iraq that had been in Kuwait at the height of the invasion was 300,000 (GlobalSecurity.org 2015).
Towards the end of the war, Iraq was launching its missiles into Kuwait’s territory. It was targeting Kuwait tankers. The military might of Iraq was enough to cause Kuwait to feel like it was in a blockade (Cordesman 2003). This was when the Soviet Union and the United States opted to intervene in the war. The Soviets pushed their tankers into Kuwait while the US offered naval escorts for the Kuwait tankers. The tankers were effective only because of the support that they got; otherwise, Iraq was capable of destroying all of them. Kuwait has substantial oil resources that have helped it invest in its military. It was a British protectorate up to 1961, and this helped set up its military agenda. However, in the years leading to the war, the country did not make sufficient efforts at growing the size of its military because it was yet to face a real threat to its security.
Effect of Iran and Iraq war on the strengthening of Iraq’s power
The Iraq army has been acquiring additional degrees of specialization and professionalism. They are using modern weapons that they did not have in the early 1980s. The war with Kuwait necessitated the build-up of military power. Iraq also had domestic arms and military industries that started in 1984. They were set up according to advice from Switzerland, France and England. The country brought in international companies that were specializing in technology that would have potential military application. The country relied on the Soviet Union as its largest military supplier. Nevertheless, countries like France and Germany helped it with the acquisition of ballistic missile and chemical weapon production capacity (Ulrichsen 2011).
When Iraq was fighting with Iran, it had possessed artillery rockets. They had been sourced from the Soviet Union. It also had others from Brazil and Yugoslavia. It modified the weapons using foreign intelligence assistance. As a result, it was able to develop the Ababil missile with a range of 50 and 100 kilometres and the Laith with a range of 90 kilometres. By the time of the Gulf war, the ground forces of Iraq had matched the Iran forces with Soviet Scud B missiles that could reach a distance of 280 kilometres. Iraq was vulnerable to Iran because its capital Bagdad was so close to the Iranian border. In comparison, Tehran, the capital of Iran, was very far from its border with Iran. This challenge forced Iraq to seek to defeat Iran in the arms race (Ulrichsen 2011).
Iraq ended up having upgraded versions of its ballistic missile range, and the best one could reach a range of up to 850km. It had also become accurate to a range of 300 meters, and this was ten times better than what the competition was relying on. In the Gulf War, Iran and Iraq managed to use chemical weapons for defence. Among third world nations, Iraq had the most sophisticated weapons, and it was using them in its war against Iran. It could administer mustard gas by air. The country was producing nerve gases during the war, and it used them to help its forces in defeating the enemy. It also sourced additional chemical weapons from other countries such as Germany.
By the end of 1990, Iraq was self-sufficient concerning small arms, mortars, artillery, rockets and tank ammunition. It also had fuses, communication equipment and optical devices to aid its air and ground forces. However, the country was still vulnerable to its suppliers because it did not have the raw materials. It relied on imports of steel and other raw materials to support its military production facilities.
During the Iran-Iraq conflict, Kuwait had helped Iran to tranship its goods and later built its forces when Iran became increasingly aggressive. The Kuwait armed forces were tiny compared to that of Iraq. A few days of the invasion caused the army to be completely disintegrated. About 90 per cent of its military installation were vandalized and destroyed by Iraq (Mason 2010). However, the country was able to rebuild most of its ground forces, and it was able to use its naval base in 1992.
Its air force was using a civilian airport near the city of Kuwait. That was the only facility available as of 1992 when rebuilding continued. After the war with Iraq, Kuwait opted to get into ten-year defence cooperation with the United States. Iraq had become a major military power in the Middle East after its war with Iran. The eight years of dragged conflict with Iran had shifted its focus to self-reliance in its military capacity, allowing it to set up military functionalities and capabilities that made it a threat to other neighbouring nations (Karsh 2009).
How the theory of realism (the balance of power) is correct for testing the Iraq and Kuwait war
This section compared Iraq and Kuwait, showing the training and competency that the countries had acquired before the war and after. Kuwait was limited by its population numbers, but it got assistance for defensive capabilities development through its agreement with the United States. Meanwhile, Iraq was building its arsenal from lessons it had learned after fighting Iran. In both cases, the countries were advancing their military might. However, their resource circumstances changed their overall capacity for military invasion and defence.
Kuwait’s small army was well equipped with tankers and other weapons, but it was limited by the size of the country and the number of available soldiers to fight. The country had less than 50 per cent of its citizens in technical and leadership positions in the military compared to Iran, which had sufficient numbers of locals. For Kuwait, defending the government’s legitimacy was not as easy as in Iraq’s case. Kuwait’s military had mistrust issues due to its composition of people with different nationalities.
The Iraqi invasion was a consequence of the disequilibrium of the regional balance of power that was created by a change in international orientation (Musallam 1995). The invasion of Kuwait happened because the respective countries were not under the protection of their regional allies. Iraq was not invading Kuwait because it was expecting the help of its ally the Soviet Union. On the other hand, Kuwait was not going to get help from the United States as it had already removed itself from the conflict. With the absence of support from Kuwait remained vulnerable, with the balance of power tipping in favour of a highly militarized Iraq, which had just been through with the Iran war (Cordesman 1999).
When Iraq was considering invasion to Kuwait, it was aware of American-led forces that were assembling in the Saudi desert. They were ready to attack, and they were initially there for enforcing an economic embargo. The embargo was a soft power tool used to force Iraq into releasing Kuwait (Rosenau et al. 2000). On the other hand, Iraq was also willing to ignore these threats and go ahead with its plan of invading Kuwait, with the idea that it did not have a better choice. From this perspective, it is hard to use the balance of power concept of realism to explain the Iraq and Kuwait war.
The expectation would be that Iraq would not dare set foot in Kuwait, even after it felt that it was right. The American-led forces would have been enough to scare Iraq from taking any action. However, Iraq seemed to play by no rules. Despite being from a war with Iran that had weakened the country’s resolve to fight, Iraq still maintained its focus on beating Kuwait and American-led forces (Ashton 2013).
On the other hand, the circumstances of the war can be explained by the balance of power. The government of Iraq enjoyed legitimacy at home. It also enjoyed an advanced move that it had already made in Kuwait. It was acting defensively from that point and already had significant military resources invested on the ground (Kifner 1990). These were reasons to support an arrogant position by Iraq in the war with Kuwait. The lack of respect and acknowledgement of internal law also meant that Iraq would not be compelled to see the current formation of coalitions for Kuwait as threats against its expression of action against Kuwait. In addition to that, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was part of a strategy of seeking hegemony, and the only way of doing that would be by taking up the dominant force (Tehranian 2007).
The balance of power is sufficient for testing the Iraq and Kuwait war. It shows that the nations were self-interested. Iraq wanted to improve its economic situation. Kuwait wanted to sustain its economic prosperity. The case also confirms the balance of power claims that external balancing is only an option after a strong military has been built because states cannot be trusted. Kuwait should not have trusted Iraq before building its military might. Without the military capacity, it was only a matter of time before Iraq chose to invade.
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