Academic journal article Military Review

Political Capital and Personal Interest: Understanding the Economy of Power in Defeated Countries

Academic journal article Military Review

Political Capital and Personal Interest: Understanding the Economy of Power in Defeated Countries

Article excerpt


ACCORDING TO FIELD Manual (FM) 3-07, Stability Operations, the "malleable situation following in the wake of conflict, disaster, or internal strife provides the force with the greatest opportunity to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative." (1) Although this is entirely correct, that opportunity is by no means reserved to stabilization forces. Others can seize it, too. The removal of restraints in the aftermath of regime failure quickly leads to all kinds of opportunistic criminal activities such as looting, score-settling, robbery, kidnapping, and sexual abuse. Although they considerably worsen living conditions of the population, criminals play but a secondary role in stability operations. They mainly create a broad desire for protection. Put simply, people look around for structures that can provide security, solutions to immediate problems, and hope for a better future. Armies, humanitarian organizations, militias, civil society groups, and resistance movements create such structures by seizing the opportunities provided by the malleable situation. As such, they are the main actors in stability operations.

However, the outcome of stability operations is not determined by decisive battle. The main actors compete with each other in an economy of power where popular support plays the role of currency. Therefore, the main question is how Western stability operations will fit with other actors' plans and actions. One should not assume potential adversaries are disorganized or somehow incapable of carrying out complex operations. Subdued populations, diaspora groups, political extremists, or religious fundamentalists may consider the rupture of the existing social contract as a long-awaited opportunity to realize their vision or further their interests. Two basic strategies are open to indigenous actors confronted with the presence of stabilization forces after regime failure--collaboration or insurgency. The former strategy is no less dangerous than the latter, and a combination of the two in one conflict area is a potential nightmare.

An Enigma

Stability operations have always presented an enigma. Western military involvement can range from a hundred to several hundred thousand soldiers. Methods vary from bombing cities to distributing baby food. Some operations drag on for decades, claiming thousands of casualties, while others end abruptly after the media gives attention to the loss of a small number of soldiers. Few human endeavors differ so much in scope, size, and duration. Even more surprisingly, their outcome seems to be totally independent of these three variables. An American force numbering not more than 100 Soldiers was sufficient to end a deeply entrenched Marxist-Leninist insurgency in El Salvador. Conversely, 500,000 Soldiers and Marines were unsuccessful against a similar enemy in Vietnam. Understanding stability operations requires a thorough analysis of the objectives of troop-contributing nations on the one hand, and those of the indigenous actors-the collaborator and the insurgent--on the other.

Stabilization requires military involvement in an area plagued by conflict, disaster, or internal strife--this is all but self-evident. In virtually all cases, this involvement is preceded by intense political debates. Perceptions and expectations dominate these debates. Sometimes, they correspond with reality, but often they do not. Jon Western holds that "because rhetorical campaigns are such an integral part of mobilizing public and political support, there is a tendency to oversell the message. The constant temptation to manipulate and distort information frequently leads the public to develop unrealistic expectations about the nature or likely cost or efficacy of military intervention." (2) In practice, the debate results in a tacit contract between the armed forces, the government, the opposition, the media, pressure groups, and the electorate. …

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