The military element of national power has arguably been the dominant factor by which a nation assesses its relative strength among the community of nations. Throughout history, the power of a nation has been cast in terms of the size and competence of its armed forces. Although a powerful military could not be sustained over the long haul without a prosperous economic base, it has been unusual, until recently in the case of China, to describe a country’s power in terms of its economic output or its dominance of key industrial or trade sectors.

Military forces remain the most visible instrument of national power, and the effectiveness of many other instruments depends implicitly on their being backed by a strong military force. Military strength as such then generally determines the symmetric ability of one nation to impose its will upon another nation. Thus, a great deal of truth remains in Frederick the Great’s observation, “Diplomacy without military force is like music without instruments.