Reining in the Military: Re-Democratization in Suriname

By Singh, Chaitram | Journal of Third World Studies, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Reining in the Military: Re-Democratization in Suriname


Singh, Chaitram, Journal of Third World Studies


INTRODUCTION

There are three recurring emphases in the literature on military coups and military disengagement--the first is on the commissioned officers, the second on military professionalism, and the third on the corporate concerns of the military. Coup explanations tend to involve an interplay of these three concepts, and all three feature significantly in the disengagement literature. A noteworthy omission is any reference to the size of the military as a variable, and one is left with the assumption that the propositions generated apply equally to large and small armies.

The coup literature has focused almost exclusively on commissioned officers, as opposed to other military ranks, to ascertain motivation and to chart the planning and execution of the interventions. Two reasons explain this focus: first, the overwhelming majority of successful coups have been carried out by commissioned officers, and second, there is the universal expectation arising from the hierarchical nature of the military organization and often stated as an article of faith, that "A disciplined army follows its officers." (1)

The focus on commissioned officers began with the earliest literature on civil-military relations, when the case was also made that officership constituted a profession. In The Soldier and the State, Samuel P. Huntington makes a causal linkage between professionalism of the officers and their involvement in politics. He argues that a high degree of professionalism among the commissioned officers inhibits military intervention into the political sphere, making clear that he considers officership, with its corporateness, its expertise in the management of violence, and its social responsibility for the protection of the state, as properly constituting a profession. (2) In contesting Huntington's position on the linkage between professionalism and intervention, Samuel E. Finer accepts the central focus on commissioned officers, but argues instead that officers' professionalism can lead to military intervention into the political sphere because the military jealously guards its corporate status, and that this "corporate self-interest" provides the organization with "one of the most widespread and powerful motives for intervention." (3) Neither Huntington nor Finer makes a distinction between large and small armies, leaving one to assume that the propositions apply equally to all armies.

The concept of corporate interest receives further elaboration from Eric Nordlinger and is also central to his explanation of why the military in Third World countries might interpose itself in the political sphere. Defining the military's corporate interests to encompass its share of the national budget, its autonomy, and its exclusive right to bear arms, Nordlinger argues that regardless of public justifications the military might offer after a successful coup, "The defense or enhancement of the military's corporate interests is easily the most important interventionist motive." (4) And like Finer, Nordlinger places the determination of the military's corporate interest in the hands of the commissioned officers. In fact, Nordlinger defines praetorianism as "a situation in which military officers are major or predominant political actors by virtue of their actual or threatened use of force." (5) Unlike earlier contributors to this literature, Nordlinger makes clear that these propositions are meant to apply to large armies. (6)

A similar pattern exists in the literature on military disengagement from the exercise of governmental power. The most important factors explaining the decision of military officers to discontinue direct control over the government include their performance as governors, corporate concerns of the military, and the availability of an acceptable civilian alternative to military rule. (7) Poor performance by the military will inevitably lead to legitimacy deflation and will mobilize civilian sectors against continued military rule.

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