Tag Archives: Military Force

What is the doctrine of peace through strength?

Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan

Image stolen from Douglas Groothuis.

“Si vis pacem, para bellum”
– Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus

It means, “Let him who desires peace prepare for war.”

The idea of peace through strength was paraphrased in George Washington’s first state of the union address, as well as by Presidents Lincoln and Reagan. Margaret Thatcher (United Kingdom) and Stephen Harper (Canada) also believe in peace through strength.

Most wars start when a dictator or monarch (e.g. – Hitler) believes he can win a conflict against a weak neighbor quickly and easily. Perhaps to test out his plan, he takes some small aggressive steps to make sure that no one is going to stop his aggression (e.g. – rebuilding the Luftwaffe, occupying the Rhineland, annexing the Sudetenland, annexing Austria, invading Poland). Once he is able to confirm over and over that no democracies are going to stop his conquests by force, he attacks.

The way to stop most wars is to make dictators believe that you have the means and the will to stop their aggression. Clinton allowed about a half dozen attacks in the 90s without any reprisal, (e.g. – World Trade Center, USS Cole, etc.) We did not respond to these terrorist attacks on our national interests. As a result, Bin Laden would joke about how the USA was a “paper tiger” that did not have the stomach for war. He thought that a few American losses would make us pack up and go home.

Contrast Clinton’s view with Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s biography at the White House web site says this:

“In foreign policy, Reagan sought to achieve “peace through strength“. During his two terms he increased defense spending 35 percent, but sought to improve relations with the Soviet Union. In dramatic meetings with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, he negotiated a treaty that would eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Reagan declared war against international terrorism, sending American bombers against Libya after evidence came out that Libya was involved in an attack on American soldiers in a West Berlin nightclub.”

When the USA was attacked by terrorists, Bush, following Reagan’s example, made sure that the aggressors would understand that the first steps of aggression would draw a violent, decisive response. As a result of the Bush doctrine, Libya has discontinued its WMD program and invited inspectors to come in and cart away all of its research equipment. Libya did this only because it believed that the USA was willing to back up diplomacy with force. We can have peace if we cause aggressors to believe that war will cost too much.

Now, violence is not the only way to make war cost too much. We could probably avoid war with Iran or Venezuela or Russia by drilling for our own oil and building our own nuclear plants. No one prefers a war. It’s better to de-fund potential aggressors by supplying our economy with oil that we produce ourselves. This is one good reason to increase domestic energy production. (Another good reason is to lower the price of oil, etc – because of supply and demand: increased supply leads to lower prices)

Reagan won the cold war without firing a shot. But sometimes, especially after 8 years of Clinton’s weak foreign policy, some violence is needed to communicate to our enemies that we mean business. Our  willingness to engage in a military response to the 9/11 attacks was enough to provide us with 7 years free of attacks on American soil. The terrorists knew that next time they attacked us, then maybe Syria would become a democracy. So there were no more attacks on American soil while Bush governed.

Deterrence works. The goal is to AVOID war by making tyrants understand that the cost of their aggression will be too much for them to bear. This is the doctrine of peace through strength.

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile – hoping it will eat him last.”
— Winston Churchill