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Competition and Power for an Intelligence Function

Introduction

An intelligence function may be defined as a military or government component designed to analyse information concerning the activities, strengths and capabilities of international actors that may be a country’s opponents. Alternatively, it can be understood as the process of secretly engaging in the economic or political affairs of another country; this is commonly referred to as covert action. Power in diplomacy is the ability to influence the behaviour of other nations or entities so as to get what one desires.

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This may be exercised in two major ways i.e. through coercion (Hard power) and through attraction (Soft power). Competition is the existence of rivalry between nation states on economical, political or social fronts. The paper shall argue that in any intelligence function, power and competition supplement one another in that competition creates power instability and in order to restore that stability then competition must be minimised.

Power and competition as goals in intelligence

Power and competition maybe viewed in terms of goal pursuance. In other words, nations, regions or associations may work towards attainment of power/ minimisation of competition through military development, economic growth, cultural influence and other techniques. The Iran Contra affair demonstrates a situation in which these goals were not effectively reached. At that time i.e. between the years 1985 and 1986, American hostages had been held by Shiite terrorist groups in Lebanon. The US utilised its intelligence function through covert actions to secure the release of these hostages. (Kiesling, 2006) It acquired guns worth thirty million dollars that it provided to Iran in exchange for assistance.

In the long run, these intelligence services were able to achieve the purpose for which they had been set i.e. Iran caused the terrorists from Lebanon to release American hostages. However, in the long run, it became clear that this was a wrong decision because other American hostages were kidnapped by the same group and the US lost favour amongst many allies especially those in Latin America. Although the United States wanted to secure the release of its citizens from a terrorist kidnap, it can also be argued that was another underlying issue that determined the course of the Iran contra affair. At that time, the US was placed in a position where the security of its citizens had been compromised.

In other words, it had to demonstrate to the world that it was capable of assuring the well being of its citizens. It also needed to show that other external parties could not compromise its security. It wanted to demonstrate that it could manage any international matters that sought to minimize its defence and hence its power. It was therefore illustrating that it did possess the might and ability to curb threats albeit in the wrong manner.

Another incident in which the issue of power and competition as goals in intelligence can be analysed is through the Cuban nuclear missile crisis. The latter crisis occurred during the month of October in 1962 in the cold war. Cuba and The Soviet Union liaised to place nuclear missiles in Cuba. US military intelligence came to find out that this was the case through the use of spy planes. The US immediately asserted that the missiles had to be removed and that failure to do so would cause the US to invade the Soviet.

A lot of tensions mounted between these two parties and it became evident that some mediation had to be conducted by the United nations Secretary General in order to resolve those tensions. (Stern, 2005) It was then agreed that the Soviet would stop the missile program and that the US would not consider invasion.

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This crisis lasted for a short time but it was quite significant owing to the fact that it may have led to a nuclear war. There are several issues in this war that support the importance of power and competition in intelligence. The US and the Soviet were operating at a time when international politics was largely considered bipolar in nature. There was immense competition between these two nations and each of them wanted to establish themselves as the sole superpower in the world order. Employment of intelligence was therefore critical in affirming these countries struggle for power. In other words, they were pursuing power by whichever means they had at their disposal.

The US intelligence function was therefore essential in contributing towards its emergence as a winner after the cold war as was seen in the Cuban nuclear crisis and this implies that the latter country was able to meet its goal of attaining power. Although a number of critics have asserted that the intelligence function has no place in democratic nations, one cannot undermine the fact that the US had to safeguard its personal interests in the harsh environment of the cold war and that there was minimal choice in deciding how to protect those interests other than through the use of intelligence. (Richelson, 1995)

Power and competition as displays of nation’s capabilities in intelligence

Alternatively as these two concepts (Power and competition) can also be viewed in form of a nation’s capabilities. When certain countries possess an ability to change their resources into capabilities or direct these resources with precision then it can be said that those countries have a high degree of power and can minimise competition. Intelligence functions are usually created when it has been perceived that a particular nation may possess resources that depict power and hence exert competition among other nations.

For instance the concept of nuclear proliferation in a number of countries has been a point of concern for the US which for a considerable time after the cold war considered itself as a superpower. It has therefore intensified its intelligence function in instances where it felt threatened by countries that demonstrate strong nuclear capabilities. It can be argued that this may be the reason why North Korea has drawn a lot of attention from the latter country and also why intelligence presence in this nation state has been intensified.

Even the US-Iraq war that is still ongoing may be considered as another demonstration of power and competition as capabilities. The US presupposed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that this was validation enough for entry into the latter country. Intelligence services or covert options were heightened prior to this invasion. If the allegation was true, then Iraq had considerable power in its hands and this was demonstrating direct competition to the United States. The latter country had to do something about it and it started by engaging its intelligence function. (Berridge, 2003)

Indeed intelligence services can provide a unique platform for carrying out assessment of the capabilities of other nations thus prompting the assessing nation to engage in some activity that is geared towards maintenance of power. A case in point was the Arab Israeli six day war that took place in 1967- there are several issues that cropped up in this war that can be suitable points for analysis of the relevance of power and competition in intelligence functions.

Prior to the war Israel had been convinced by other nations such as the US to pursue peaceful solutions towards its conflicts with Arab forces. In response to this information, Israel decided to wait for two weeks. Its major interests were the Straits of Tiran. After mediation efforts by the United Nations in Egypt, the latter nation did not agree to the opening of the Straits of Tiran and this caused opposition from Israel’s camp. At this moment, it can be seen that there are some competitive elements that are cropping up between these two nations. Egypt felt that it needed to appear as though it was welcoming the concept of diplomacy so that it could win credibility in the international political scene. Additionally, Egypt wanted to have enough time to garner support from its allies in the rest of the Arabic front.

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To this end, one can assert that Egypt was trying to strengthen its capabilities which would have contributed to greater power, additionally, by appearing to support diplomacy and getting support from the international players, Egypt was going to appear superior over Israel and this would therefore validate or strengthen its power. In order to know its place, Egypt needed to carry out an intelligence assessment of its adversary. It can therefore be said that power and competition contributed towards their intelligence function at that time. (Nye, 2009)

Adverse competition existed between these two nations as each felt that they were entitled to the resources that they were struggling for. However, in order to make any move, the latter parties had to employ their intelligence functions so as to know what their enemies were up to and to determine the best time for launching attacks. After utilising its intelligence, Egyptian field Marshal advised the president to launch an attack against Israel.

The latter felt that the military strength of Arab forces was superior over Israeli forces and these intelligence assertions were further supported by Israel’s choice to stay silent on the matter of closure of the Tiran straits. However, this was a serious underestimation of Israel. (Oren, 2006) As it has been stated earlier, power can be seen as the resource capabilities of other nations. To this end, Egypt kept on delaying with their offensive because they did not think that their ‘weaker’ rival could launch an offensive which it did. Upon deciding to carry on with the war, Israel was prompted by the 1956 and 1948 victories that it had enjoyed against Egypt.

In fact, they used these wars to assess capabilities of their rivals and felt that they could deliver on a quick and immediate victory. It should be noted that Israel marched into the war on its own because it could not garner support from its biggest ally – the United States. The intelligence efforts of the latter country could not affirm claims made by Israel that Egypt had attacked. This demonstrates an important principle in intelligence.

Countries will not proceed to compete with others or demonstrate their superiority and power if they feel that this has little to do with them. the United States knew that it had the power to affect the outcome of the Arab Israeli conflict since it had such a strong resource base, however there was minimal intelligence to support Israel’s claim and they felt that the matter did not directly concern them. (Herman, 1998)

Balance of power and reduction of competition in intelligence

Nations much like human beings all have the tendency to engage in self preservation. The realist school of thought holds that nations are highly interested in securing their safety and this is a major objective for their actions. However, as these nations attempt to maintain their safety, they may have to keep each other in check because the international arena is such that it does not have a central authority. (Pena , 2006)

To this end, realists believe that maintenance of a balance of power becomes the major interest amongst international players. In this regard, nations minimise competition by creating power equilibrium or avoiding dominating nations/ forces. In terms of intelligence, a good illustration of those points was the 1954 US intelligence efforts in communist nations. At that time, the US was afraid that communist supporters and nations would dominate world politics.

These countries were therefore seen a major threat to the maintenance of equilibrium of power. Consequently, the US used intelligence activities in the form of covert actions to broadcast to the people of Jacobo Arbenz’s nation that troops were going to the capital and that there was a revolution. This was a lie created by the US intelligence services but it caused the communist leader to resign. In so doing, the United States was able to utilise intelligence as a tool for taming communist domination of the international arena. This implies that power and the balance of it does necessitate intelligence functions. (Forsythe, 1992)

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The Arab Israeli six day war had a lot of repercussions in the international arena and this demonstrated the interplay of competition and power. First of all, the image of Jews and Israelites to the rest of the world changed tremendously. Prior to this war, Israel was considered as a place for refugees but after their victory they were seen as a legitimate force to be reckoned with. Conversely, the Pan Arabic movement was immediately pushed to the periphery. It also became clear to the Arabs that Israel was not going anywhere and that it was a force to reckon with. Immense competition and power between Egypt and Arabs necessitated intelligence functions but were temporarily upset owing to the fact that Israel appeared to be the strong party.

However, many power relations are also characterised by the need to arise above one’s circumstances. Most Arabs felt that they needed to reassert themselves as leaders over Israel and that in order to do so; they would have to revenge against Israel. Therefore, the war did not in any way mean that Israel could negotiate its position in the Middle East, but it did score some points in terms of its power relations.

The concept of balance of power in diplomacy or international relations is often supported by the need to analyse threats from other nations and hence prevent the upset of power. For a demonstration of such a concept, one can look at the treatment of the Soviet by the United States over the last half of the twentieth century. In both the pre and post cold war eras, it can be said that the US treatment of the Soviet threat has largely been influenced by its own perception of the vulnerabilities that it possesses.

Consequently, the intelligence function in the US has been driven by a desire to curb the possible rise of a strong power from the Eastern European region. It should be noted that towards the end of the twentieth century, this region was going through several problems such as disunity and the poor performance of its economy. However, US intelligence services have not been quick to ease their concentration on this country and part of the explanation could be those vulnerabilities. (Taspinar, 2005)

Conclusion

Generally speaking, it can be said that power and competition have been essential drivers of the intelligence functions around the world. In the Iran and Israeli war, they determined the perception of Israel as an influential adversary. In the Cuban missile crisis, competition between the US and Soviet necessitated stabilization through the use of intelligence service. In the Iran contra affair, power and competition pushed US intelligence agents to engage in issues that undermined their credibility in Latin America and the world over.

Lastly between in North Korea and US relations; power and competition have caused the United States to engage its intelligence function in order to curb possible domination. There is a general trend of nations trying to demonstrate their strength and will in diplomacy and these are the components that imply a need to assert one’s position as a central force in international politics.

References

Berridge, G. (2003). Diplomacy in theory & practice. NY: McMillan.

Kiesling, J. (2006). Lessons in diplomacy. VA: Potomac books.

Pena , C. (2006). Winning in the un war. VA: Potomac.

Taspinar, A. (2005). Fighting radicalism through human development. Washington: Brookings.

Herman, M. (1998). Diplomacy and intelligence. Diplomacy and statecraft 9(2), 1-22.

Nye, J. (2009). Combining hard and soft power. Foreign affairs journal, 3, 45.

Forsythe. D. (1992). Democracy, covert action and war. Peace research, 29(4), 385.

Richelson, J. (1995). US intelligence. Boulder: Westview.

Oren, M. (2006). Israeli military history. NY: Greenwood.

Stern, S. (2005). Inside the Cuban missile crisis. Stanford: Stanford press.

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