[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index
"The Role of the Military in Civil
- Subject: "The Role of the Military in Civil
- From: burma@xxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 20 Oct 1997 08:51:00
Address by Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, Leader of the House in Senate, Pakistan
on "The Role ot the MilitaLy in Civil Society at the Forum of Democratic
Leaders in the Asia - Pacific Conference on Transitions from Military
Dictatorship to Democracy: Lessons for Burma and Asia.
[Manila, Philippines] November 2-4, 1996
"The Role of the Military in Civil Society"
There is no denying the fact that most of the institutions,
political, civil and bureaucratic, of the existing community of States are
legacies of a period of global colonization. The Military establishment and
its structures are no exception. To comprehend its role in contemporary
civil society we must, therefore, first examine the colonial state itself
and the objectives that it served.
Although the global colonial state apparatus had the backing of
different Imperial states at the turn of the century the pattern of
Governance,by and large, and the character of the institutions, as well as
the objectives of the Imperial States were common. Whether it was the
Subcontinent of South Asia which was made to celebrate, in 1897, the Golden
Jubilee of the reign of Empress Victoria, or whether it was the Philippines
passing from one Imperial sovereign to another in 1898, there ran a uniform
thread of similar institutions serving imperial interests. The objectives of
the Raj or of the Colonial State were also the same all over the world,
irrespective of the imperial state: Britain, France, Germany, Holland,
Spain, Italy or the latter-day, USA.
The first objective of the colonial system was to expropriate
and export the raw produce of the colony to use of the manufactures in the
imperial State. It thus ensured the industrialization of the imperial
country and the provision of jobs and infrastructures to its own citizens
and cities. The colony was depleted of its own wealth.
The second objective of the colonial State was to hold the
colony as a captive market for its manufacturers. In one viscous circle of
economic activity of international trade the colony was both a supplier of
raw produce and a purchaser of Imperial manufacturers. It thus lost on birth
bargains as raw produce was undervalued and the import of manufactures were
over-taxed, and they were sold at monopolistic rates.
To service these two objectives the Imperial State did, no
doubt, provide for a certain infrastructure in the colony. But this, too,
was designed mainly to enable expropriation of the raw produce and the free
movement of imperial manufacturers. A mere infrastructure of roads and
railways could not, alone, win to the imperial state the abundance of the
colony. A civil and military apparatus to subdue and tax was required.
A greater premium was therefore put on the empowerment of those
institutions that served the objectives of the Imperial state. Along with a
highly developed state structure of revenue collection, the Imperial state
established a sophisticated bureaucratic apparatus for the maintenance of
law and order. The maintenance of law and order, in fact, became the third
objective of the colonial system.
The establishment of peace, and its maintenance, so as to obtain
the other objectives, also impelled the imperial administration to ensure
that planters and feudal landlords became strong, while its competitor,
the native bourgeoisie,remain weak, dependent and impoverished. This was the
goal pursued by the imperial civil bureaucratic structure. The military
complemented this task by ensuring prolonged periods of "pax imperia"
When the colonies gained independence the primary role of
military was accepted as defense against foreign aggression and internal
subversion. But the military in several former colonial states has failed to
discard its colonial role of maintaining undemocratic and unpopular regimes
in power. And other elements in the policy have accepted, even profited and
advanced by this military predilection. Armies, have, thus, even where they
have been unwilling, assumed political authority beyond measure of the
constitutional precepts current in those countries.
Yet it must not be forgotten that state power does not derive
from coercion alone. Ruling elites are therefore often found seeking
justifications and legitimization of repression. They fall back upon
ideologies and moral rights to support their governance. The most repressive
state itself requires a so-called 'Ideological' foundation even though it
may be based on demagogic or fundamentalist, even obscurantist slogans.
The actual use if force can thus be defered by recourse to
these often vague and unspecific concepts. Political power thus becomes the
ability to compel by force if necessary. Coercion is not necessarily the
permanent, not the main and direct from maintaining and exercising
political power. The ruling elite may often resort to the use of force only
when this has become absolutely necessary. When faced with this necessity,
and if it is to retain its political power, the ruling elite has to be in a
position to place its main reliance on coercion and to have the means to
apply it effectively. This is where the military may come out to play its
role. But what if does not?
Recent, and several, precedents in Asia alone make it safe to
" no government is likely to be overthrown until it loses the ability to
make adequate use of its military and police powers". In most states change
will not take place without the aid of an important faction of the army.
It would seem to be "almost a truism that the determining the
outcome of popular rebellion and disturbance is the loyalty or disaffection
of the armed forces at the government's disposal". Political power is thus "
the ability or otherwise of a ruling class to use the army to defend its
system at a moment of crisis."
This truism does, however, beg the further and more important
question of why the army refuses to obey or why, and under what
circumstances, the government loses control of its means of defense.
Essentially, as one analyst has pointed out "this is a social and political
rather than military question. For if a magistrate condones riots, or
soldiers fraternize with or refuse to fire on rebels, it is because the ties
of class or political affiliation are at that moment stronger than
allegiance to the established order of government".
He goes on to observe that whether or not the regime is able to
rely unconditionally on them depends in the last resort not on the equipment
or firing power of the armed forces, important as this may be, but on
whether the armed forces are prepared to use their weapons against the
regime's opponents. In the words, the commitment of the armed forces
depends on social and political factors. This is why it is misleading to
try and reduce everything to the slogan "political power grows out of the
barrel of a gun'. Political powers grows out of the total political
alignment of forces including the strength and organization of the people.
It is this which, in the last resort, determines if, when and in what
direction the guns are going to be used.
In the more recent times what may be described (somewhat
inappropriately) as the 'Armed Forces Movement', has suffered some setbacks.
The resurgence of democracy in many countries of Asia. With the armed forces
'retreating' before popular upsurge and sentiment, (of which the Philippines
provides the most prominent example), contains some crucial lessons.
Governments have, despite having the armed forces, the law, prisons, police,
and mass media at their disposal, been compelled to retreat, even to flee.
What factors have impelled that critical change in the minds of the generals
that distinguishes a Burma from a Philippines, Bangladesh or Pakistan?
The political factors which determine the behavior of the armed
include the forces operating outside the army, and depend primarily on the
moral and political authority of major elements of the civil and democratic
society. These largely determine the possibility and the degree of
necessity for a regime to use the armed forces for open political aims. It
helps to determine, too,whether there is an alternative open to the ruling
class of seeking a solution not involving the use of the armed forces, such
as by making concessions to its opponents.
Let us not forget, as Jack Woddis points out, that the
individuals who comprise the armed forces are in no sense completely
isolated from big great movements and shifts of public opinion. Influenced
as they may be by the nature of their training, by the views projected by
the most reactionary members of the top brass, by their class and social
ties, by the purposes they are expected to fulfill and by the fact of being
part of a specialized, hierarchical institution, barracked and housed apart
from the general population, they are nevertheless subject to other
counter-influences. Their relatives and friends, in the midst of swirling
changes taking place in civilian life, may themselves be progressively
influenced to an extent by these developments. Some of this may rub off on
officers and other ranks by letters and by personal contact and so on. Men
in the armed forces read papers, journals and books, they listen to radio,
watch television, and talk with one another.
Thus, as political situations mature, processes get under way
inside the armed forces, and these processes sometimes reach a stage which
makes it impossible for the regime to use the army against the people. In
such cases events may develop to a situation, as in the Philippines in the
last decade, and in the Sudan in 1964, when the army officers show
reluctance to act against the people or intervene against the popular
upsurge causing the downfalls of Marcos and General Abboud.
There is no doubt that the continent of Asia is not unfamiliar
with the abject brutality of military rulers, but the role of the armed
forces in civil society must not, thereby, be always regarded as negative,
It may seem paradoxical but neutralizing, or winning part or
even a majority of the hearts and minds of the army helps the democratic
forces also to win allies in civilian life. The middle classes are very much
influenced by the attitude of the armed forces. The officers play a
particular role here because of their class and social links with such
strata. But in addition, the army, as an institution, has considerable
prestige among wide sections. The working class, too, is not unmindful of
army behaviour. All this affects the total politics of the country.
The issue, therefore, does not always have to be the people versus
the army, but whether the army will stand with the majority of people
against a repressive minority. Also,and conversely, whether it will continue
to lead its moral and military strength to a popular democratic government,
as it often does.
Experience of this century, therefore, underlines the necessity for
the democratic forces to influence the army and to be prepared also to seek
for its members their normal civic rights of better conditions of service
and pay, and the adherence to the principles of professionalism and of merit
for career advancement. This is more likely to establish a situation in
which troops and officers yield to 'moral influences' and begin to act as a
defenders of the nation, and of the rights and aspirations of the people.
They then cease being used internally as a tool of big business and reaction
to suppress the people. In other words, the strategy to be followed is not
that of trying to 'smash' the army, but of transforming it, by precept and
high example, in order to deprive the repressive elite (often supported by
monopolists) of its possibilities of using the army to 'compel by force'.
This can be done if the forces and elements of civil society and the
political leadership have high standards of moral and political behaviour
that the members of the Armed Forces cannot but respect and defer to.
There is great hope that the Burmese military establishment will
also, one day, yield to the high standard of political morality and stoic
fortitude displayed consistently by the Burmese leadership epitomized by
Aung Sang Suu Kyi.