Pakistan: The Military As An Element Of National Power – Analysis


The elements of national power are of crucial significance in terms of enabling a state to attain its national policy objectives in the international system. The national power of a state is composed of a number of tangible and non-tangible elements such as its geography, population, natural resources, national character, morale and ideology, leadership, diplomacy, military preparedness and economic strength.

Many of the aforementioned factors are not quantifiable; however, they play a significant role in determining a state’s position in the hierarchical international system. Thus, they influence broader objectives and foreign policy of a state to a varying extent; for, all of these elements do not come into play in every situation.

Essentially situations define which element needs to be relied upon. That is, for example, direct use of military power is not always a good option, or conversely too much reliance on diplomacy and negotiations may also weaken a state’s power vis-a-vis other states. It is for this reason that a comprehensive understanding of a state’s power potential is necessary to understand that state’s national interest, foreign policy and the possible option(s) that the state would resort to achieve its objectives.

In the case of Pakistan, one of the core objectives of its foreign policy is to safeguard its national security and integrity1, especially in the wake of long lasting hostile relations with its neighboring state(s) — hence, the imperative of maintaining a credible balance of power (BOP) in the region. Needless to say, the Pakistan Military has been playing a pivotal role in maintaining that BOP since 1947. Therefore, the focus of this paper is to understand and highlight particularly those international and domestic challenges which led Pakistan to focus more upon the security domain. In doing that we would also delineate the role Pakistan’s Military might have played in determining and maintaining the national power potential.

As one observer has said, “Power is a necessary ingredient of every political order”,2 therefore, in the international system, states always try to maximize their national interest which they define in terms of power, primarily, via military power. During the inter-war period and World War-II onwards, military affairs have been completely revolutionized. As a result of this revolution, not only the doctrinal knowledge of warfare, but also operational and maneuvering tactics/techniques developed side-by-side at a high pace. In the twentieth century, major innovations took place which not only revolutionized the mode of warfare, but also provided an advantage to its initial users. These innovations can be categorized as follows:

Induction of submarines (initially introduced by the German Navy in the WW-I)
Induction of tanks.
Significance of air power (Strategic and tactical role of air force which gave a spur to the efficacy of land and naval forces)
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) (e.g. Atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs)
A combination of nuclear and conventional weapons.
Lethality, range and efficacy of modern weaponry, for instance, tanks and submarines equipped with sophisticated technology, radar technology and air operations specially the air cover for land and marine forces’ operation, introduced new meanings to the concept of total war. Technologically advanced weaponry and new techniques/tactics of warfare gave a military a potential advantage over its adversaries.

As Morgenthau3 stated:

“The fate of nations and of civilizations has often been determined by a differential in the technology of warfare for which the inferior side was unable to compensate in other ways.”4

The numeral facts of WW-II manifested that those who lag behind others in terms of technologically advanced weapons or could not adapt the modern shift in the technology of warfare faced major defeats in all three domains i.e. land, sea and air.5

Before the First World War (WW-I) and somewhat till the Second World War (WW-II), military power was a means of expansion of states’ territorial borders. However, in the aftermath of WW-II, nationalism emerged as a powerful phenomenon which gave momentum to the process of decolonization. This resulted in the creation of various independent units (states) which were previously part of a larger bloc. The foremost objectives of these newly emergent states was ensuring their survival and defending territorial integrity. This reduced or one may say modified the role of military power from a mere instrument of expansion to one of the major state institutions.

Although the military played both roles in the pre-world wars era, the role of defending borders instead of expanding became the primary objective. Now, not the aggrandizement, but the state’s defense from internal challenges and external threats was the principal objective of military power. Its role became more and more significant when the nascent states faced internal security challenges coupled with the threats of a hostile neighborhood, as in the case of Pakistan.

Since its birth, the Pakistan Military Force has been playing the role of the nation’s defender. With limited available resources it built its capacity to maintain the state’s integrity and soon established itself as an organized and professional state institution. From the very beginning, the challenges which Pakistan faced from its eastern border motivated the then leadership to develop its military fully equipped with modern and technologically advanced weapons and trained on modern patterns of warfare. It is for this reason that Pakistan signed certain defense pacts in the early fifties to have arms and later on also established industrial units to fulfill its basic defense needs such as Heavy Industries Taxila, Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works Limited. etc.

Besides the need to maintain a well equipped military and having an indigenous industrial capacity, another crucial factor is the role of the military and political leadership of a state. A vigilant leadership aware of the rapidly changing global strategic environment and anticipating the emerging threats and challenges to state’s stability and integrity are also integral elements of military preparedness.

Initially, the political and military leadership of Pakistan opted for an alliance to maintain the Balance of Power (BOP) between India and Pakistan (although, financial constraints were also a major factor behind the decision of alliance formation). However, it was in the 1970s, when the politico-military leadership decided to boost its military potential by expanding indigenous capacity. The option of a nuclear Pakistan was costly as Pakistan had to face embargoes, with especially its military supplies were banned by the international community. It was during that period when the leadership had to make a difficult choice to go nuclear; for, self-help is the only viable option in an anarchic world. The then leadership had to make a rational decision. One option was to put its entire territory and population at stake as there was a threat of aggression from nuclear India. Or, the second option was to bear international pressure and develop nuclear power.

Here, it is worth mentioning that only nuclear weapons cannot assure peace and stability in the region. WMDs, which can cause mutually assured destruction (MAD), are not a viable option in every situation although their deterrence value is high. But quite often they do not fulfill the primary objectives even of the aggressor state.6

Another problem with having nuclear weapons is that a quantitative increase does not necessarily mean an increase in the national power potential of a state. This is because if a nuclear arsenal of a state has reached a status of minimum credible deterrence (where it can manage any possible worst case scenario, such as a first strike by the adversary) then in that case, pursuing additional nuclear weapons would be a wasting of the state’s resources. Also, if a state would rely predominantly upon the nuclear arsenal, it could avail limited political power of its military muscle, for, it would have a single option, i.e. to threaten enemy with massive destruction.

Military power dependent solely upon nukes thus cannot be used as a tool to put pressure upon an adversary for excessive bargaining in crisis situations. Therefore, a combination of conventional and nuclear weapons was sought by the Pakistan leadership as the best option. The leadership not only rationally inducted nuclear weapons, but also established institutions such as SPD to ensure the security and safety of nuclear weapons itself. Thus, the military leadership showed a responsible and professional approach by adopting and operationalizing modern technology. It was rational decision making on the part of civil-military leadership, which helped Pakistan to maintain a Balance of Terror (BOT) vis-a-vis India. Additionally, in response to the Indian Cold Start Doctrine, the leadership decided to attain non-strategic nuclear weapons7 (e.g. Nasr), so that any possibility of Indian nuclear aggression could be reduced.

Introduction of new tactics, techniques and regular revision and modification of strategic thinking and planning is one of the major aspects of Pakistan’s military preparedness. Thus, the vigilance with which military leadership is training and developing its human resource and improving its capabilities to tackle internal and external threats is an example of Pakistan military’s professionalism. This endeavor also involves the revision of both the doctrinal knowledge by the field experts and operationalizing techniques, which are to be implemented by the battle field combatants. The outcome of this endeavor has been manifested by the global ranking of Pakistan Military. In 2014, it secured the 15th position among 106 states’ militaries.8

The third factor which is the most significant feature of the military as a national power potential is the quality and quantity of its armed forces. Quantitatively, too small or too large military force can have devastating implications for state; the former could be disastrous in wartime and the latter in the peace time. As expressed by Morgenthau:

“The power of a nation in military terms is also dependent upon the quantity of men and arms and their distribution among the different branches of the military establishment. A nation may have a good grasp of technological innovations in warfare. Its military leaders may excel in the strategy and tactics appropriate to the new techniques of war. Yet such a nation may be militarily and in consequence, also politically weak if it does not possess a military establishment that in its over-all strength and in the strength of its component parts is neither too large nor too small in view of the tasks it may be called upon to perform.”9

Therefore, Pakistan’s military kept its focus upon maintaining a strong, professionally trained, and quick-to-mobilize force.

Pakistan’s military is composed of three branches: army, navy, and air force. To add to its power potential, the Pakistan military also designed a well-developed and diversified training system. Each branch has its own training institutions, programs and military academies that produce junior officers, and war and staff colleges that train senior officers. Pakistan never wanted to have an over-expanded conventional force, the military policy-makers believe that a diversified and professional force is an important aspect of Pakistan’s national power, and to serve as a deterrent to any Indian advancement.

Besides serving at borders, the Pakistan Military has proved its potential in countering insurgency and extremism inside borders as well. Since 2001, Pakistan’s military has faced a growing internal threat from extremist militant groups in Pakistan. To counter the growing internal threat of extremist groups in the western areas, Pakistan military undertook operations in FATA and Swat, where it re-established the writ of the state by dismantling militant groups and their training centers. This illustrates well the role of the military as a potential and reliable element of Pakistan’s national power potential.

The relationship among states is always dominated and determined by the relative power of states. Might is right seems to be the only principle which dominates the behavior of powerful vis-à-vis weak states. It is not a new concept in world politics since we find its examples in Greek history also. 10 Therefore, the military element of national power potential is one of the most important. Now, it is not a tool of defense merely, it also plays its role in strengthening bilateral and multilateral diplomatic relations between and among states. Neighboring states who share borders also share many common threats and challenges, especially in the wake of emerging non-state actors (NSAs), combine military exercises, sharing of doctrinal knowledge and military to military interaction among various states can develop not only an understanding of each other’s perceptions and interests, but it may also harmonize the states’ behaviour vis-à-vis each other.

Joint military efforts (for, instance surveillance activities) to counter mutual threats and challenges would not only reduce the states’ expenditure, but it would also help them enjoy larger benefits.

Therefore, in case of states co-operating with each other, (especially cooperating neighboring states) with common interests, the military can be utilized to further enhance cooperative relationship among states. Pakistan has developed its military potential and policy along these lines. It is for this reason that its military is contributing enthusiastically in international efforts to maintain world peace. Directly or indirectly, all wings of Pakistan military are part of global anti-terrorism campaign. But such cooperative status of the military or military-to-military relationships among states, especially neighboring states, can never be accomplished one-sidedly.

For instance, against the backdrop of south Asian geopolitical environment, Pakistan has always remained rightly wary of its hostile eastern neighbor. Therefore, in supreme national interests of the state, the Pakistan Military cannot conveniently and always opt a cooperative policy one-sidedly. In this geographical zone, where certain states want to over throw the status-quo and aspire to dominate the region and also have hostile intentions vis-à-vis its neighboring states, such an ideal relationship is not only difficult to imagine, but would also not be a rational decision. It is so because, while defining the role of military, states’ sovereignty, integrity and security always come first, whereas all other things are of secondary importance.

2. E.H.Carr, The Twenty Years’ Crisis (London: 1939) 297.
3. Hans Joachim Morgenthau (February 17, 1904 – July 19, 1980) was a 20th century real politick and academician.
4. Hans. J. Morgenthau, Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1948), 89.
5. Ibid., 90.
6. If used (specially incase of India and Pakistan because of absence of natural border between the two), nuclear weapons will have severe consequence for neighboring states also. Because of their radioactive characteristics, their harmful implications for human life are inevitable.
7. Also known as tactical nuclear weapon (TNW). Lesser in range and lethality,designed to use as a battlefield weapon against combatant force not masses.
8. “Pakistan retains a commitment to its military which benefits from its technological relationship with Europe and Asia”, (accessed April 30, 2014)
9. Hans. J. Morgenthau, Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, New York, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1948, 90.
10. The historical dialogue between two Greek city states Athens and Malians gives us the idea of power politics. The famous words of the Athenians to their counterparts, “powerful do what they have the power to do and weaker accept what they have to accept.”


Miss Umm-e-​Habiba is P​h.D. Fellow at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad and Lecturer at National University of Science and Technology. She is a research-analyst of Pakistan and global affairs.

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