The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Building Democratic Armies Across the World

Fri, October 5, 2012

Zoltan Barany’s landmark study investigating the role of civil-military relations in democratization has been published by Princeton University Press. “The Soldier and the Changing Sate: Building Democratic Armies in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas” is overwhelming in both breadth and depth, analyzing 27 cases of rebuilding militaries in three contexts (after war, during regime change, and following state formation) and across six settings (following total defeat in a major war, after civil war, after military rule, following communism, after colonialism, and post-(re)unification and apartheid).

A study of this magnitude is long overdue, because an army’s steadfast support of democratic rule is an indispensable prerequisite for consolidating a transition to democracy. Democracy cannot be consolidated without military elites committed to democratic rule and obedient to democratically elected political elites; put another way, the political preferences of military elites determine whether democratic consolidation is possible. Therefore, how is an army that supports democratic governance built?

Barany offers no silver bullet, but does draw the following conclusions about successfully building democratic armies:

  • Inspired and inspiring leadership is often crucial, especially in fragile states undergoing a regime transition;
  • Institutional frameworks, such as constitutional chain of command, must be unambiguous, and clear rules regulating the military’s participation in politics should be established and strictly enforced;
  • Government decisions affecting the military should be transparent, thus helping reduce insecurity and build trust;
  • Reforms affecting the military should be approached gradually and with an eye toward coalition-building, where strategic compromises are made along the way to entice the armed forces as willing partners in reform;
  • There needs to be strong legislative involvement in defense issues — robust legislative involvement in defense issues is an excellent predictor of democratic civil-military relations;
  • Civil society needs to participate in security affairs;
  • Citizens and the professional military require education about the proper role of the armed forces;
  • The sequencing of reforms matters — reforms need to be ordered carefully and deliberately;
  • New missions should be identified for the military, such as participation in international peacekeeping operations, and training for providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief abroad — the military should be designed and built to be outward-looking;
  • Government’s need to use the military’s expertise when crafting foreign policy and military strategy;
  • Public policy should limit the public engagement of retired generals.

Barany stresses that all his recommendations and conclusions ultimately depend on local conditions — a compromise acceptable in one context may not be acceptable, or appropriate, in another.

Barany also addresses one of the key questions that instigated his research project — the total disbandment of the Iraqi army in 2003 was, by popular agreement, a massive mistake, but what should have happened to the Iraqi army? According to Barany, three things. First, the army should have been carefully purged of personnel whose past abuses and legacy required their departure. Second, a new army should have been built, trained, and educated based on democratic principles. Finally, after this rebuilding had been accomplished, and if desired, the old personnel still remaining could have been removed. In all of the 27 cases analyzed, only two militaries were wholly dismissed following the fall of the old regime — the German and Japanese armed forces following World War II.

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