At first sight, relations between politics and the military in Macedonia, one of the ex-Yugoslav republics that gained independence in 1991, seem to resemble the typical evolution of civil–military relations in other countries in transition. Yet, history in Macedonia is far from straightforward and simple. First, the country’s appearance on the world scene was unique: it was practically a demilitarized state with no army! Apart from that, amid the Yugoslav imbroglio it was known as an “oasis of peace.” Only 10 years later, in 2001, Macedonia found itself on the verge of an ethnic conflict, with a powerless (Macedonian-dominated) military that confronted apparently well-organized Albanian paramilitary forces. In March 2020, Macedonia became NATO’s 30th member state. Yet, the dilemma that affects civil–military relations at both the political-military and societal-military levels has not gone away. Theoretically and practically, any meaningful analysis requires detection of the troublesome aspects of each side of the triangle: state/politics/military/society/ethnicity. Though the society–state dimension is far from inconsiderable, on methodological grounds the analysis that follows is restricted to the other two dimensions. NATO membership for a transitional country usually presupposes a successful democratic transition, internal stability, and societal consensus over key national values and interests. Macedonia’s case belies that assumption. The Macedonian military has been practically invisible in internal politics, while it has been widely cited as a key asset for bringing the country closer to NATO by direct involvement in military interventions launched by the United States or NATO, starting with Afghanistan and Iraq and extending to the plans for involvement in Mali’s affairs. Behind the façade, there is silent internal strife within the ranks along political and ethnic lines (i.e., the same lines that sharply divide the state and society, challenging the country’s internal cohesion and democratic prospects). In addition, the military has to make do with scant essential resources, while the military officers’ self-respect is severely diminished by the low societal rewards for their profession. Macedonia’s democratic transition is far from complete, since the country is going through a deep internal crisis related to its societal/security dilemma, and the military is just one of the institutions that suffer because of ethnic competition and unprincipled power-sharing bargaining.
The classical theoretical civil–military relations (CMR) perspective is traditionally concerned with how to obtain civil control of the armed forces. This theme is preeminent in the writings of Samuel Huntington and Morris Janowitz, the two most dominant voices in the debate of this subject field since the 1960s. By 2019, the character of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) was heavily influenced, if not determined, by CMR, as CMR seems to be the only constant factor when trying to understand KDF. During British colonial rule in the East African protectorate, the use of force was primarily dedicated to securing the extraction of natural resources from Kenya and maintaining internal security. It was in this colonial context of exploitation and extraction that the KDF was born in 1902, in the form of the King’s African Rifles (KAR). Therefore, to understand the “genetics” of the present-day KDF, one has to understand the political context in which the KDF was born and raised. The surprising point here is that although Kenya has since undergone far-reaching political changes, the KDF still seems to be caught in King Edward VII’s long shadow of colonial repression. The effective, ethnically driven political system and Britain’s military guaranties have dominated CMR and kept an iron grip on the military for more than 100 years.
Since its maiden coup in 1978, which initiated both an era of recurrent coup activity and a regime type dubbed “Mauritania of the Colonels,” the Mauritanian military, once an unassuming, apolitical institution, has been in power either directly or through a “civilianized” military regime. Since its creation in the early 1990s, the Battalion for Presidential Security (BASEP) has played a prominent role in the workings of Mauritania of the Colonels. Only during a 17-month interlude under a civilian democratically elected president, following a bungled transition marked by the underhanded interference of some military officers, did the military formally leave power—and then only formally. Whether they tried to meet them in earnest or not, the challenges of withdrawing the military from the political arena and democratizing the country have dogged all military heads of state. The challenges were complicated by Mauritania’s intractable ethnocultural rivalries subsumed under the “national question” and the related “human rights deficit.” After Colonel Ould Taya, whose lengthy and repressive regime had the deepest impact on the country and the national question in particular, the challenges were even harder for his successors to face. The latest transfer of power between one retired general and another, both of whom had conspired to overthrow Mauritania’s only democratically elected civilian president, is evidence that, as major players, Mauritania’s military leaders are well on their way to institutionalizing the Mauritania of the Colonels they assiduously fashioned for more than 40 years.