Monday, January 7, 2008

Military Control of Politics: Twin Dynamics

Military analyst Ayesha Siddiqa’s pathbreaking 2007 study of the Pakistani military, Military Inc. was, needless to say, brilliantly timed. Among many other interesting points, she describes (pp. 43-44), though without using system dynamics language, a very interesting double dynamic that helps to explain the political prominence of the military in countries with poorly developed democratic institutions.

First is the dynamic that builds up the military’s power. The military takes over, setting up a dictatorship. If this provokes resistance by the people, the military may either fight back or return to the barracks. The harder the military fights against the people to retain political power, the more likely it will be to commit civil rights abuses in the process of repressing dissent and strengthening its power. This happens because in a country where the populace is willing to stand up to the military, the military will be unlikely to be able to retain power without coercion: preventing free speech, breaking up demonstrations, attacking the media, etc.

Second is the dynamic that undermines the military’s power. In addition to provoking a response from the military, popular resistance may create an elite consensus that military rule is illegitimate, which in turn generates external support for the resistance.

As the first dynamic loops around, the military’s political power is enhanced; as the second dynamic loops around, the military’s political power is undermined. But both dynamics are caused by the same process and take place simultaneously (though of course not necessarily at the same rate). The existence of one begets the other: a neat example of why politics is unstable. Victory sows the seeds of defeat. It is incorrect, then, to ask which is occurring. Rather, one should assume that both are occurring; the question simply concerns the relative importance of the two dynamics which are constantly competing for dominance.

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