Which country has the most advanced military


Aurel croissant

To person

is Professor of Comparative Political Science at the Institute for Political Science at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg and Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences. [email protected]

David Kuehn

To person

is a PhD in Political Science and Senior Research Fellow at the Giga Institute for Asian Studies, Hamburg. [email protected]

The relationship between the military and politics has long been the subject of social science research. Nevertheless, the level of knowledge varies greatly depending on the type of regime. It is significantly better for the established OECD democracies than for states in the transition from autocracy to a democratic constitutional state. We know least about the political role of the armed forces in autocracies. [1] The role of the military in non-democracies is often central. They lack many of the feedback mechanisms that enable peaceful conflict management in democracies, which is why they usually have a much more developed repression and military apparatus. On the other hand, a powerful military is a threat to autocrats: since the end of World War II, more authoritarian leaders have been overthrown by their own military than by opposition movements or foreign intervention. [2] The ability of authoritarian rulers to gain the loyalty of the military itself bind is also of central importance for the outcome of mass protests, as recently in Algeria and Sudan. [3] The position of the armed forces in the autocracy also shapes the challenges of a democracy-compatible reorganization of relations between the military and politics after the end of the old regime and thus influences the stability and quality of new democracies. Against this background, our contribution discusses general problems of order and challenges of politico-military relations and key questions of this relationship in autocratic and democratic regime contexts.

Order problems and challenges

The forms of organization, political functions and social status of the military are subject to continuous change. Nevertheless, the military is a central symbol and material element of modern statehood even in the 21st century. The institutionalization of aspects in need of regulation in the interaction of armed forces and the political system is therefore a problem of order for almost all modern states, regardless of their system of rule. This creates a twofold challenge for structuring the relationships between the institutions and organizations of the political system and the military. On the one hand, the military must be put in an organizational and material position to be able to carry out its politically defined tasks. On the other hand, mechanisms of political control of the military must be created. Whether and how political systems succeed in both is the central topic of political science dealing with politico-military relations in autocracies and democracies. [4]

Nowadays, a country's armed forces established by the state are the characteristic form of organization of the military. These include the armed forces and other armed formations integrated into the armed forces, such as militias, volunteer organizations and the gendarmerie. A distinction must be made between military organizations that exist in parallel or in competition with the armed forces, for example guerrilla associations, special units of interior ministries and border guards, or military formations of private security and military companies. [5]

The structure-defining task of the armed forces is national defense. They are also often used to achieve other political goals. In many liberal democracies, the military helps with natural disasters and supports the police or other security agencies in the fight against organized crime and terrorism when there is a particular need. An important international field of activity is humanitarian and peacekeeping military operations. Outside of the developed OECD democracies, the military often fulfills tasks in the areas of economic development and the containment of civil unrest and insurrections. [6] In autocracies, high-ranking military members belong to the dominant ruling coalition and have at least a reserve function for maintaining the regime. [7] Furthermore, a well-developed military apparatus may, under certain circumstances, demand political and economic concessions from the government. [8] Even in firmly anchored Western democracies, the armed forces have political influence. Because of their budget, their mandate and their position, they have bureaucratic power with which they can claim prerogatives over competing bureaucracies. [9] Civil-military coordination and the consideration of military expertise are essential for security policy decision-making and thus ultimately for the protective value of security policy. Like other bureaucrats, the military are inventive when it comes to finding ways and means to defend themselves against undesirable political guidelines. [10] The military can avoid or delay the fulfillment of the mission. [11] When advising civilian decision-makers, you can shape the political agenda according to your own preferences. Because of their size, their influence on the economy, and their interdependence with civil society, military organizations enjoy structural power. [12] Their representatives can establish connections to parliamentarians in order to protect their bureaucratic interests (lobbying), or they can involve the media and associations to make their concerns heard. Taking into account these more routine dimensions of influence is important for understanding the military as a political actor in authoritarian contexts and in democracies.

Transformation of the political role of the military in modern autocracies

Current systematic comparative studies on the politico-military relations in autocracies are rather rare and are mostly limited to individual regions. There is an extensive literature on the forms and consequences of military rule and military coups. [13] However, the number of autocracies in which a group of officers who represent the military as an institution dominate the political decision-making process ("military regime") has declined sharply since the end of the East-West conflict: in 1978 there was one in five dictatorships worldwide ( 21 of 97) ruled directly by the military, in 2010 there were still two: Algeria and Myanmar (illustration 1).

The number of military-led attempts to force a change of government through the threat or use of military force is also falling. It fell from an average of eleven a year in the 1960s to less than two in the second decade of the 21st century (Figure 2). The decline affects the world regions to different degrees: it is weakest in (West) Africa, strongest in Latin America and the Arab region.

Behind these figures are complex developments, which, however, often do not lead to the "depoliticization" of the armed forces in the sense of the strict separation of military and political roles. Instead, a transformation of military roles can often be observed in modern autocracies, even though the military is ostensibly subject to solid political control. The co-optation of the military in authoritarian power alliances of civil regimes serves to consolidate power, but promotes the expansion of military roles in further areas of the state, economy and society. Historically, this phenomenon is not new. Even if the end of the Cold War marks an important date, developments in the Arab world began much earlier. [14] However, the global wave of democratization at the end of the 20th century and the emergence of new, modernized forms of autocracy have contributed to the fact that the military now operate much more often in the shadow of power.
(& copy Barbara Geddes / Joseph G. Wright / Erica Frantz, How Dictatorships Work, Cambridge 2018. Own illustration.)

There are various proposals to conceptually and empirically grasp the transformation of the political role of the military in authoritarian regimes at the beginning of the 21st century. In addition to the aforementioned typologies of military rule, it is above all approaches that emphasize the changing role of the military from that of the ruler or "challenger" of the dictatorship to the support of autocratic rule. The PRM data set ("Political Roles of the Military") uses six indicators to differentiate four possible types of political influence of the military in 120 countries. [15] The data for the years 2016/17 show that in nine out of 50 autocracies the armed forces or individual military leaders exercise rulership in the state directly or indirectly (by controlling access to government-sensitive offices). In 22 autocracies, the military moves outside of direct government responsibility, but is one of the main pillars of the authoritarian regime, bringing the political leadership into office and ensuring that it maintains power. It is impossible to rule against them, and without them dictators cannot remain in power. In return, the armed forces enjoy economic pensions, impunity for human rights violations or corruption as well as political participation and privileges in sensitive political areas (Figure 3).

(& copy Tanja Eschenauer-Engler / Bastian Herre. Coups and Their Leaders. A New Comprehensive Dataset. Working Paper, Heidelberg 2020. Own illustration.)

Of course, there are differences between the regions. In absolute and relative terms, the military in sub-Saharan Africa (eight out of 12 autocracies) is the bearer or pillar of authoritarian rule, followed by the Near and Middle East (seven out of 16) and Pacific Asia (six out of 12). In the post-Soviet area, too, the military is one of the instruments of power of the new autocracies. Since the relationship between authoritarian rulers and the security sector was largely taken over from communist times, the military plays a smaller role in daily political life and is far less relevant as a pillar of power than the forces of internal security, especially the interior ministries. [16]

The extent to which the armed forces participate in the exercise of power depends on many factors. It varies with the type of authoritarian order and the contribution of the military to the establishment of a state or regime. The military threat from other states or internal conflicts can also have an impact on the political role of the military. It is also important whether dictators succeed in integrating civil elites, political organizations and social groups into their regime as a counterweight to the armed forces, and whether they have a sufficient degree of legitimacy among the population. Added to this are the intensity and forms of repression with which authoritarian regimes respond to gaps in legitimacy or specific challenges and whether they are forced to rely on military coercion to do so.

Of particular importance are the methods used by autocrats to try to reduce the risk of their military being disempowered. The robust measures that penetrate deeply into the organizational sphere of the armed forces include: the establishment of military units that stand outside the armed forces and whose main purpose is to protect the regime against its own military; to build a comprehensive spy and control system whose services the military and themselves mutually control; as well as specifically recruiting members of certain ethnic, religious or tribal groups to which the top of the regime also belongs. This also includes promoting competition between parts of the armed forces for political or economic "pensions", as well as granting more soothing measures such as material incentives, such as a large military budget, lucrative stakes in commercial enterprises and socio-political benefits for the military and their families. [17 ]
(& copy Aurel Croissant / Tanja Eschenauer / Jil Kamerling, Militaries ’Roles in Political Regimes: Introducing the PRM Dataset, in: European Political Science 3/2017, pp. 400–414. Own illustration)

Authoritarian governments' scope for action is not unlimited. They are limited by structural constraints and situational factors. Robust measures, such as armed counterbalancing and overseeing the military, require strong government levers on the military. Where these are lacking, autocrats will tend to resort to soft measures. In addition, control and co-optation of the military always come with financial, political and institutional costs. Relevant research shows that they often impair the ability of the armed forces to achieve a sufficient level of military effectiveness with the available means. [18] Furthermore, the "Arab Spring" has shown that instruments of coup prevention have an unintended effect can if the threat does not come from the ruling coalition but from the population. Building parallel security structures and selectively granting material incentives provokes competition within the security apparatus, which motivates deprived groups in the military to turn over to the opposition. The preferential recruitment of communities that are considered to be particularly trustworthy seems more suitable for maintaining military loyalty even in times of crisis, [19] but increases the risk of civil war. [20]

Withdrawal and return of the military in new democracies

The role of the armed forces in the autocracy shapes the challenges for the reorganization of civil-military relations after a democratic system change and thus has an influence on the effectiveness and quality of new democracies. Democratic system change can analytically be divided into two phases: The first phase of Transition includes the transition from the old autocratic regime to the new democratic government. As soon as this is done, the second phase can begin. It leads to the effective functioning of a democratic regime or, in other words, to the Consolidation of democracy.

During the transition, the "military challenge" for civilian actors is to achieve the formation of a democratic government without provoking military resistance. The challenge in the second phase is to create functioning institutions of democratic control over the military. Both are more difficult when the military was a mainstay of the authoritarian regime or the political institutions were exposed to the constant threat of the military or groups within the armed forces, which is also called "Praetorianism" in political science jargon. Statistical studies show that democracies are more susceptible to regime collapse when they succeed military-dominated regimes. [21] Cases of permanent retreat into the barracks were therefore the exception for a long time in the 20th century.

That changed with the "third wave" of democratization. Despite some exceptions such as Thailand, Mali and Turkey, new democracies particularly benefit from the military's lower propensity to coup in the 21st century. This signals a new stability in civil-military relations, especially in Latin America, where many countries have long been caught in the "coup trap". [22]

In order to be effective in the long term, however, political control over the armed forces in democracies requires the creation of clear and reliable rules that distribute decision-making and control powers in such a way that they secure the primacy of politics. In addition, democratic institutions must be able to discipline the military without using military force themselves. A civilian-run Ministry of Defense and a Parliamentary Defense Committee are key institutions. Civilian control is concentrated in the government or exercised jointly by the executive and legislative branches, in cooperation with the judiciary and civil society (parties, associations, media). In addition, the structure of democratic control is specific to each state. It is shaped by factors such as culture, historical tradition and experience, internal and external threat environment, social norms and political institutions. [23]

(& copy David Kuehn et al., Conditions of Civilian Control in New Democracies: An Empirical Analysis of 28 “Third Wave” Democracies, in: European Political Science Review 3/2017, pp. 425–448.)

Measured against the model of democratically designed control of the military, the post-authoritarian democracies present a mixed picture.The Composite Civilian Control Score we developed measures the distribution of political decision-making rights between civilian and military actors in 66 democracies in five political arenas for the years 1974 to 2010: first political recruitment, Secondly "public policies", third internal security, fourth Defense policy and fifth Military organization. [24] In many places civil-military relations have developed much more positively than was to be expected in the first years of the democratic system change. In the majority of cases, civilian oversight of the military has been strengthened and the military’s political influence has been reduced. But there are considerable differences between countries and regions (Figure 4).

Democratic control is most developed in the southern European democracies of Greece, Spain and Portugal as well as in the post-communist transition states, especially in the Central and Eastern European EU member states. The starting and framework conditions were relatively favorable here. On the one hand, NATO membership and EU accession had a positive effect on the civil-military reforms. On the other hand, in Central Eastern Europe, as in the entire post-communist area, the old model of politico-military relations was based on the primacy of politics, more precisely: the communist parties. In Pacific Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, too, there are significant changes in civil-military relations in many places. However, the contrasts within the regions are particularly strong, for example between successful reform states such as Taiwan and Ghana on the one hand and Thailand and Niger on the other.

The changes with regard to the institutionalization of democratic politico-military relations in Latin America are particularly contradictory. Here, too, the democratic system change has triggered a reform of civil-military relations everywhere. In countries such as Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, it is well advanced despite the difficult initial conditions. In states like Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala or Honduras, reforms were far less far-reaching, and in some cases the military is now increasingly striving for political influence again - a development that is sometimes promoted by right-wing and right-wing authoritarian parties and politicians. [25]

What explains these developments? From a theoretically informed and empirically comparative consideration, five explanatory factors and combinations of factors can be named. These are: first the type of authoritarian regime and the influence of civil or military elites on the agenda and course of transition; Secondly the unity and unity of the civil and military elites; third support for democracy in the population; fourth international influencing factors; fifth the change in national and international threats. [26]

A comparison of the different regions shows that the institutionalization of democratic control over the military is particularly difficult where the transition from a militarized authoritarian regime takes place and where the military plan, direct or shape the transition in struggle with civilian elites. Also significant are international and intra-social conflict situations and threat scenarios, the integration performance of political institutions and organizations, the support of citizens for democracy and whether social elites woo the military in conflicts with other sub-elites and thereby enhance it as a mediating power factor. The latter is particularly a hindrance to the institutionalization of democratic political control, "because an army that is courted is an army that is difficult to reform". [27] After all, the democracy-friendly general weather situation after 1990, the outlawing of military interventions by regional organizations in Africa and Latin America and the conditioning policy of NATO and the EU all had a positive effect.

Overall, there is much to suggest that the old question of how the armed forces "can be protected from their own organizational impetus to take over government affairs" [28] via democratically established institutions has lost its relevance. The situation is different with the expansion of the scope of democratic politics into areas that have historically been understood by the military as its domain, such as the development of its own organization and defense policy, as well as the sometimes very substantial economic activities of the military. It is stalling in many places, not least because democratic politicians often do not have the competence and capacity to effectively and consciously monitor the fulfillment of military missions. In many countries, even decades after the system change, the relationship between the military and political decision-makers is characterized by drastic information asymmetries in favor of the military. In addition to the historically-related weakness of civil structures in the field of military and security policy, this is due to the enormous lack of interest in politics.

In addition, new democracies are increasingly using their armed forces for non-defense-related missions, from counter-terrorism to infrastructure measures and so-called civic actions Programs. [29] In Central and South America, at the insistence of the governments and with the broad consent of the population, the armed forces are increasingly taking on police-like tasks of fighting crime and internal security. The military is also used more and more frequently against unarmed demonstrators. [30] Both of these have drastic consequences for the human and civil rights situation, because despite new, civilian tasks, the military rules of engagement and behavior as well as procedures are retained. In addition, the military's assumption of new tasks is often associated with a lack of democratic accountability, public transparency and social participation.

Crisis of Democracy and the Role of the Military

It is not only in South America that governments are increasingly relying on the help of the military. It's a dangerous strategy. Even if a return to the past of Praetorianism seems unlikely for the majority of the young democracies, it is to be feared that the participation of the military in power undermines the quality and stability of democratic institutions. In addition, the democratic reorganization of politico-military relations in transformation systems is also about ensuring that governments do not use their control over the armed forces for their own purposes, for example to intimidate the opposition, to control the population or to maintain patronage networks that maintain power.

The latter addresses a new subject of research in the comparative analysis of politico-military relations in autocracies and democracies, which brings the two fields of research closer together again: the analysis of the role of the military in crises of democracy and in processes of the decline of democracy. The prevailing threat to democracy at the beginning of the 21st century is less the threat of the military taking power than the military helping democratically elected governments to restrict civil liberties and undermine political rights.

The experts argue about the extent of the crisis in democracy and its significance worldwide. [31] However, it cannot be denied that the current democracy barometers consistently show an increase in erosion tendencies in a growing number of established and new democracies. [32] Since these processes usually do not take place abruptly, but rather gradually and in a series of successive steps, undermining democracy rather than leading to its collapse, and the attack on democracy is often led by elected civil actors, the role of the military has so far been neglected theoretically reflected still empirically and systematically analyzed. [33]

In the previous section, some developments in Latin America were outlined. In addition, there are the impeachments of mostly left-wing presidents in Brazil (Dilma Rousseff), Paraguay (Fernando Lugo), Honduras (Manuel Zelaya) and Bolivia (Evo Morales), in which the national military were not uninvolved. [34] In other regions, too, it is easy to find examples in which the military is involved in one form or another in processes of the backsliding are involved. But the assumption that the military as a driving force in alliances with civilian elites or as vicarious agents of civilian politicians would contribute to the destruction of democracy or, at best, would stand idly by as elected leaders undermine democratic institutions and processes, falls short of the mark. It is also possible to identify episodes in which the resistance of the military contributed to overcoming the crisis of democracy. [35] It is the task of political science to develop in-depth empirical analyzes, valid classifications and explanatory theories based on these individual observations.