The Military and Politics
The military of any country plays different roles depending on the duties assigned to it by the constitution. In most democracies, the army serves to strengthen the civilian rule and pledge loyalty to the civilian elected leader. This is in sharp contrast with military regimes where the military offers leadership over the civilians. This essay seeks to establish the reason why militaries dominate politics in particular countries while acceding to civilian control in others. In addition, this paper aims to find why the military participate in different political duties at different times in the same country.
South East countries comprise of countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Burma, Philippines, and Vietnam. In the recent years, these countries have witnessed a change from military rule to civilian rule and vice versa with the military playing different roles at different times in the countries' political history. Vietnam exists as a communist state with strong politico-military leadership whereby the military controls politics of the country and provide leadership. Indonesia, on the other hand, has enjoyed a strong military rule under President Suharto over the years where the military has dominated power and consolidated it to make the military leader very powerful. According to the above illustrations, it is evident that the type of governance that a country exercises determines the roles that the military play.
In the military-ruled states, the military dominates politics in its entirety, including the provision of a military leader to lead the country. In most cases, the army general takes the mantle of leadership and his subordinates occupy key administrative areas of the government. In most cases, the military also suspend the constitution and lead the country through military rule, which results in a military dictatorship. The reason as to why the military would dominate politics in a given country is dependent upon the power vested in the same military.
In the civilian-led states, the military's role is limited to protecting the sovereignty of the country and the civilian constitution. The military also safeguards the country's sovereignty by protecting it from external aggression. In most Southeast States that exercise democracy, the military's role remains in protecting the civilian. Democratic regimes limit the military’s participation in civilian politics and even demand that they stay neutral in political matters.
Weak leadership in a given country might also determine the level of military participation in politics. Thailand was under military dictatorship from 1945 to around 1973. The military regime resumed from 1978 to 1990. The military had strong political influence and ran the government in an autocratic manner. This affirms the idea that when the military assumes power then its participation in political matters becomes very strong, especially in the Communist-led countries. The military forms part of the Nonelected Trinity. The military of Thailand also participates extensively in building of the nation. Initially, the military used to thwart all democratic protests. However, with time, the military has retreated to the barracks as democratic civilian leaders take charge of the country.
In other civilian governments, the military only comes in when the country faces external aggression. At times, it reinforces internal security when domestic services stand overwhelmed. The military also plays other roles such as conducting rescue operations during natural disasters like floods and earthquake among others. The military plays different roles in Pakistan, India, and Burma. Pakistan got its independence in the year 1947, and it has witnessed several coup attempts since 1949. The country has lived under military rule for several decades that have seen an increase in the influence of the military in political matters. The military has dominated the country's politics in all dimensions.
In Pakistan, the military serves the interest of those politicians who run to the Army Generals to seek assistance in destabilizing the ruling regimes. This habit has established the Pakistan army as a political arbiter and the custodian of Pakistan's integrity, ideology, and national interest. Pakistan experienced a military revival in 1988. The demise of General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, the long-term Pakistan military ruler, created a power vacuum that was quickly filled by the Democratic leadership.
However, the Democratic leadership was short-lived as Pervez Musharraf overthrew it. The Pakistan military stands in charge of the foreign and defense policy, and it has extensively participated in establishing the India-Kashmir and Afghanistan relations. All military programs and weapons also fall under the military control. In addition, the Pakistan military intervenes in internal security matters. The military further generates and distributes wealth as well as economic resources.
In India, however, the military plays a different role altogether; and because of the strong democratic principles embraced by the country, the military plays a very small role in political matters. The Indian military focuses mainly on external threats the country faces with zero participation in the political matters. Nevertheless, several factors contribute to the military participation in politics, and they include, external threats facing a country, weak civilian leadership, and lastly economic instability of a country.
Indonesia supports the hypothesis that external threats that the country faces increase military participation in the political activities. The military in Indonesia moved in to strengthen nationalism and communism that it felt was under threat. The Sukarno government had made many mistakes in diplomatic relations. The military believed that the then civilian leaders were weak and highly incompetent to run the government effectively.
Pakistan also supports the hypothesis that external threats that the country faces increases military participation in the political matters. The 1948-1949 Indo-Pakistan war over Kashmir increased military significance in the country. The war resulted in the mass loss of competent civilian leaders, and thus, the military established itself the guarantor of the nation's security. It was from that war that the country had adopted the perception that safety could only be guaranteed if the country were under the military.
However, some countries have proved the hypothesis that the economic status of a country may either bar the military from participating in the political activities or increase its participation. Singapore stands as a country that has witnessed significant economic growth since gaining its independence. The successive civilian governments in Singapore have provided a continuous economic growth. The civilian governments have demonstrated their capabilities to steer the country forward in by developing it economically. It should be noted that the country has never witnessed any form of military intervention.
The military has remained confined to their barracks, and it is left with the ability to handle external threats only. The Indonesian military intervened when the country was facing serious economic crisis during the regime of President Suharto but it also withdrew and remained quiet when the economy regained its stability during Suharto’s reign. However, the hypothesis that external and internal threats increase military participation in the political matters stands opposed by India. India has experienced long wars with both Pakistan and China as well as various internal uprisings but still there was no military rule. The country handled the threats but never at one point did the military ever take full control of political matters. The military remained loyal to the elected leaders even though it had demonstrated its might in the wars.
On the other hand, Thailand supports the hypothesis that threats to a country expose the military to excessive participation in the political matters. The hypothesis on internal threats supporting military activities in political matters stands in support by Thailand as, after years of fighting insurgents from the south, it led to the coup of 2006. During the fighting with the Southern insurgents, the military became very strong and feared even by the civilian government. When the time was right, the same military that had been fighting the insurgents turned against the civilian government, overthrowing it without much resistance.
Internal or external threats expose the weaknesses of the ruling class and create a platform upon which the military exercises its might. It then follows that the military turns its might against its government when it has an opportune time. The military always takes advantage of the weak leadership present in a given country before toppling it. Economic instability can also increase military participation in the political matters. However, Pakistan supports this hypothesis since after all those years of being at war with India over Kashmir that left the country in an economic crisis. The military took advantage and overthrew the government.
It thus suffices to conclude that democracy has enhanced human rights and individual freedoms and eliminated military dictatorship. Democracy supports the civilian rule and limits the role of the military to that of maintaining a country's sovereignty by way of preventing or limiting external attacks. The military can also help to restore the internal order and uphold the rule of the constitution when internal law enforcers have been overwhelmed.
On the other hand, an economic crisis can expose the military to the increased participation in the political matters. Weak leadership also contributes to the military participation in the political matters as the military takes advantage of their weaknesses to orchestrate coups. The threat that a particular country might face also increases the military's involvement in the political matters as it creates a platform upon which the military intermediates the government. It also creates a platform upon which the military convinces the civilians that their security could only be guaranteed by the military and the change in perception comes with diverse repercussions.