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Pratap asked: What is the difference between ‘economic means of war’ and ‘economic weapons’?

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  • Vivek Chadha replies: Most phrases used for military communication related to warfare, military procedures and drills are defined as terms in what is called a glossary. This could be service specific, as in army, navy or air force. It could also have a broader focus thereby forming a wider canvas of defence. Such documents create a common set of terms that can be used for the common understanding of a certain action or set of actions within an organisation. This facilitates easier comprehension thereby limiting the possibility of misunderstanding.

    The two terms “economic means of war” and “economic weapons” are not differentiated in a formal document. Conversely, they tend to be used interchangeably to indicate similar constituents that are considered as means for waging economic warfare. Or a strategy of economic warfare. An assessment of the terms will bring up means or weapons like trade embargoes, freezing of assets, sanctions, etc.

    The employment of such actions could be undertaken against organisations as well as countries. In certain cases, individual leaders can also be targeted. However, it is evident from the employment of economic weapons or the economic means of war that its success hinges upon the ability of a country or a group of countries to create the required constraints on the basis of their economic influence. The actions of the United States against countries like Iran and North Korea in conjunction with its partners is a case in point.

    It is also important to reinforce that when used in the context of economic warfare, both these terms point towards the achievement of a political end and not a commercial end. Therefore, commercial enterprises are not said to be indulging in economic warfare. The spectrum of its intent can vary from the achievement of a political aim through coercion alone, or in support of other actions like a military force. In the case of the latter, it becomes a part of a wider canvas of hybrid warfare.

    Posted on June 17, 2021

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.