The priority that states place on military power stems from the anarchic structure of the international system, which constantly shapes the security perceptions of the individual entities operating within. The anarchic system of international politics obstructs the existence of an international sovereign above the level of states to create and enforce international law or resolve disputes that surface among them. Since there is no single international agency that wields a legitimate monopoly on the use of force, foreign policy interests that a state pursues are vitally affected with military power. In an anarchic environment, force and politics are interrelated, even when states are at peace.
The anarchic system of the international politics breeds skepticism regarding the motives and intent of other state units and necessitates a constant assessment of the dynamism of shifts in power relationships that, in the aggregate, heighten the central premise of the security dilemma—the means by which a state attempts to increase its security decreases the security of others. Because even high levels of military spending scarcely create feelings of complete security, weighing the likely consequences of action in specific situations—and prospects of success or failure in invoking force—sharpen the contours of national security dilemma. The classical maxim—si vis pacem, para bellum—appears to show no fading signs.
The structure of the international system is also marred by the presence of weak and falling states whose outlook on international politics and the emanating challenges vis-a-vis the preservation of their statehood constitute the very medium through which their national security perceptions are informed and shaped, as well as serve as benchmark against which the future course of their actions is charted. Weak states continue to generate specific threats, often beyond the accomplishments of international military intervention, and serve as a blueprint for perpetual instability.
While there is a general tendency to perceive national security through the prism of external threats and challenges, for weak states, however, national security also embraces broader internal dimensions and domestic implications. Among other reasons, this is largely due to a lack of sociopolitical cohesiveness and consent in regard to the nature of the state, as well as the ensuing patterns of political rivalry and fragmentation that cripple the internal dynamics of weak states. Because their internal cohesion rests more on power than on any broad-based political consensus, the primarily external orientation of the concept of national security increasingly tilts toward embracing the domestic agenda of threats.
The security dilemma that the states confront is further exacerbated in terms of the impact of great power politics on local regional relations. Once the domestic political life of states becomes intertwined in the rivalries of great powers, the pattern of perpetual instability becomes even more acute. The effect is one of replicating a complicated overplay of global patterns of competition and rivalry on the local setting. As a consequence, weak states are vulnerable to external powers willing to marshal the right combination of recourses to affect their foreign policy alternatives and choices.
Both Middle East and South Asia illustrate this process through the competitive and intricate metrics of great power arms sales that make the security environment more prone to the use of force. American prolonged military aid to Israel and Pakistan, for example, serves as the principle means of entry into the regional politics with the potential to sway instability and mutate into wider conflicts. So, too, does the Russian strategic engagement in the already volatile South Caucasus region through the sales of military hardware and power projections that have the potential to dramatically affect the delicate regional balance of power.
Not only is the South Caucasus region inherently conflict-prone, but it is also extremely vulnerable to changes in the local security environment resulting from arms trade. As opposed to a race between arms producers and the ensuing predictability associated with it, there are fewer limitations placed on the race between non-producers except the scope of budgetary constraints and the rate of absorption. As a consequence, races between non-producers are much less stable and predictable, and can cause large and abrupt changes in the local balance of power.
However, even a relatively small state operating within strict budgetary confines can effectively hedge against the action-reaction driven arms race instigated by the opposing party through a set of well-elaborated and properly orchestrated peace enforcement measures—both political and military—that are well adjusted to meet the prevailing security challenges and are, in the aggregate, geared toward raising the costs of fighting to an unacceptable level. These measures should not be confused with conventional peace enforcement actions taken the world over. Rather, they should be tailored to enforcing peace and compelling the opponent to rule out war as a viable option both on the ground and as a coercive strategy at the table of negotiations.
The advantageous position of the Mountainous Karabakh defense posturing and the strong fortifications along the line of contact do not solely mean that a relatively small state can effectively hold off larger ones. It also means that a status-quo state can often maintain a high degree of security with a level of arms—as far as the quantitative balance of power is concerned—lower than that of its expected adversary. This is not to say, however, that the Mountainous Karabakh defense forces need not develop robust retaliatory capabilities to resist aggression, and inflict an intolerable damage on the enemy. Rather, it is to do away with the simple and mechanistic thought patterns building on the calculation of Azerbaijani procurement of armaments per se and its predictive force. Not only will this help avoid being entrapped in escalatory dynamics and mutually reinforcing action-reaction driven arms race, but also, this will help avoid the tendency to treat military power—let alone the sheer procurement of armaments—as the ultimate measuring rod. This it is not.
Wars are not instigated by the mere buildup of weapons, however worrisome that development may be. They are caused when the political tenets of the war are likely to be satisfied and an aggressor believes it can achieve objectives at an acceptable cost. In simple terms, states conduct cost-benefit calculations when deliberating about whether or not to attempt expansion, and calculations based on the procurement of armaments per se offer only part of a larger picture—and an insignificant part that may be.
War is an extremely unpredictable endeavor, fraught with unintended consequences and costs—both in blood and treasure. It also is an extremely adversarial activity in which the enemy has a vote. Although a state might be willing to engage in a lightening war (blitzkrieg) and plan accordingly, it is hardly likely that the other side would have sufficient faith to respond in kind. Many of the simplistic scenarios advanced by military analysts capitalizing on the preponderance of a lightening war across the Mountainous Karabakh and Azerbaijani border suffer grave shortcomings. The competing party to warfare is not an inert and reactive organization and may not work from the same playbook. Besides, scarcely has there ever been a war that fulfilled the initial plans and expectations of the party that initiated it. Ultimately, what the careful analysis of enumerable prewar strategies suggests is that all war-fighting plans are useless; it is the process of continuous planning that is essential.
While the purpose of military organizations is to win wars, it is also to avert wars by being able to change the adversaries’ behavior and the underlying mentalities prevalent in policy-making, thwart its military strategy by undercutting its effectiveness and making aggression difficult, costly, and unattractive. The key is to align contextual intelligence with tactics and objectives, as well as gain technological edge over the enemy that would allow conducting precision strikes against long-range targets. In a region of complex threats, deterrence and defense, along with the ability to attack targets from great distances, should be aligned to serve as a potent hedge against risk and uncertainty.
To ultimately prevail in this contest of wills and strength, there is a clear need to shift the focus on qualitative attributes of the balance of power and power projection capabilities through the acquisition of cutting edge technologies and long range penetrating capabilities, deterrence and denial strategies that seek to exploit the adversary’s center of gravity (in case of authoritarian/dictatorial regimes this entails holding at risk those value assets of the opponent that bring devastation at home and possible removal from power). Even dictators tend to put certain vital interests on top of all else – primarily their survival in power. Aggression or resort to arms becomes unattractive if the price is too dear and too high.