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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.

Article

Two opposing arguments are heard in the political and academic discourse in Israel regarding the status of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). One claims that the IDF possesses too much power and that military thought governs political thought, thus it is “a military that has a state.” The other contends that the military is oversupervised by civilian groups. However, both arguments are correct if we relate each to a specific domain of civil–military relations. Since its establishment in 1948, the IDF has become increasingly subordinated to civilian control. During the 1950s, it was a military that dictated policies and often acted in direct defiance of the elected government; but since then, it has gradually lost much of its autonomy and become highly monitored by civilians. Areas that were conventionally considered to be within the military’s sphere of professional competence have become subject to civilian control. There has been increasing civilian intrusion into the military domain, starting with the monitoring of military operations during the 1950s, and culminating in the 2000s with increased monitoring of the IDF’s human and material resources and its activities in policing the Palestinian population. This process also signifies a transition from control performed exclusively by formal state institutions to increasing engagement by extrainstitutional actors (such as social movements and civil rights organizations) backed by the media and focused on issues ranging from recruitment policies and the investigation of operational accidents to actual military operations. At the same time, those ascribing too much power to the military are also right. Israeli political culture has been militarized from the early years of the state, except for a short period of demilitarization during the 1980s–1990s. Militarization developed from initially just prioritizing the military approach over political-diplomatic methods during the state’s first years, and continued with the predominance of military over political discourse after the 1967 War, and the religionization of politics since the 2000s. Throughout this process, the ongoing friction with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel’s wars in Gaza were presented as a religious war and the Palestinians were dehumanized. Thus, it is military thought that is powerful rather than the military organization itself, which has lost much of its former autonomy; military thought still governs civilian politics. Moreover, to a large extent, during the 2000s, not only did rightist and religious groups become the main promoters of militarization rather than the IDF and its officers’ social networks, but the new trends of militarization even clashed with the military command and its secular rationale, thus further challenging its professional autonomy.

Article

Since Lebanon’s independence in the mid-1940s, its military—the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF)—has played a pivotal role in the country’s politics. The political role of the LAF in Lebanon might seem surprising since the Lebanese state did not militarize, and its political leaders have continuously managed to keep their military relatively weak and small. Indeed, in this respect Lebanon has been markedly different from its close neighbors (Syria and Israel), but also from several other Middle Eastern states (especially Egypt and Iraq), where the military, which was large and powerful, was continuously involved in politics. Additionally, both Lebanon and the LAF have persistently striven to distance themselves from regional conflicts since 1949, particularly in relation to the Palestinian issue, albeit not always successfully. Still, and despite these ostensibly unfavorable factors for the military’s involvement in politics in Lebanon, the LAF has played an important political role in the state since its independence. This role, which has been marked by elements of continuity and change over the years, included mediation and arbitration between rival political factions (in 1945–1958, 2008, 2011, and 2019); attempts to dominate the political system (in 1958–1970 and 1988–1990); intervention in the Lebanese civil war (in 1975–1976 and 1982–1984); attempts to regain its balancing role in politics (in 1979–1982 and 1984–1988); and facilitating the state’s postwar reconstruction (since 1991). The political role of the military in Lebanon can be explained by several factors. First, the weakness of Lebanon’s political system and its inability to resolve crises between its members. Second, Lebanon’s divided society and its members’ general distrust towards its civilian politicians. Third, the basic characteristics of Lebanon’s military, which, in most periods, enjoyed broad public support that cuts across the lines of community, region, and family, and found appeal among domestic and external audiences, which, in their turn, acquiesced to its political role in the state.

Article

French civil–military relations are usually described as an example of subordination of the military command to political authorities. This subordination is the legacy of the mutual distrust inherited from the “events” in Algeria and, more specifically, the coups in Algiers in 1958 and 1961 that gave birth to the current Fifth Republic. With the end of the Cold War, civil–military relations have rebalanced to the benefit of general officers because of the increasingly technical nature of external interventions and the consolidation of interprofessional relations with diplomats and industrial networks, facilitating the return of some officers into decision-making circuits. After this functional reintegration, the antiterrorist framing, both outside of the country (Opération Serval in January 2013 in Mali) and within France’s borders (Opération Sentinelle , which followed the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris), seems to recast the military as the forge of the national community. The evolution of the political uses of the military forces in France shows how ambivalent the antiterrorist resources are in the contemporary civil–military game.

Article

The relationship between the Colombian armed forces and civilian leaders within the state has been marked historically with the continuity of civilian control and the general avoidance of military coups or regimes. After a series of major civil wars during the 19th century, civil–military relations were guided by the need to preserve the power of economic and political elites, with the military consistently acting as a central pillar in the survival of this elite. Interestingly, in the context of civil–military relations in Latin America, Colombia has been a model of how a regime can pair formal “civilian control” with intensive levels of state repression and violence against opposing forces within civil society. This model has been maintained during periods of relative political stability as well as during periods of widespread internal conflict. Thus, illustrating the limits that formal institutional arrangements within the Colombian state have led to shifts in the behavior of its military.