Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Military Disloyalty and Regime Change

Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Military Disloyalty and Regime Change

Article excerpt

1. Introduction (1)

Mass protests on the streets demanding regime change are unquestionably extraordinary times in the history of a state. Nevertheless, they are quite frequent phenomena in world history; therefore, the narratives on why certain social movements or revolutionary attempts succeed or fail are countless. The role of the armed forces in determining the outcome of these attempts has received varying attention during the so-called "third wave of democratization". (2) During the transitions in Latin America the influence of the military was considered to be a significant factor, as the states of the region were widely impregnated with military power. However, the effect of the military on the outcome of regime change efforts has been somewhat reduced in the literature and the academic discourse following the transitions in East Central Europe, where the armed forces played a relatively minor role in the process. The uprisings in the Middle East beginning in 2010 have, however, raised awareness again about the importance of coercive institutions with regards to the final outcome of the social movements. The result of the protests and revolts of the Middle East demanding democratic reforms and regime change during the Arab Spring seemed to be very much influenced by the position the military took. One could even have made the superficial statement that the military's position was almost decisive. In Egypt and Tunisia the military sided with popular demands and forced autocrats to exit power, whereas in Syria and Bahrain civil society was nearly helpless against the regime, the power of which was supported by the majority of the armed forces. Yet the question as to whether the circumstances influencing the loyalty shifts within the military in each of these cases were systematic or sui generis, remained largely unanswered.

The observation that the military has the ability to preserve the regime should not come as a surprise. The armies of the Middle East had played a significant role ever since the formation of the states in the region (for example in Syria, Egypt and Iraq). (3) These armies were generally inward-looking, aimed at the repression of the opposition, whether it was under the rule of a colonial power, or a non-democratic government. (4) The same can be said of Latin America. Interestingly, despite the central role of the armed forces in the maintenance of internal order, in a significant number of cases the armed forces were in favor of transition and liberalization. (5) Another set of examples, the Color Revolutions, show that weak relations between the regime and the military were conducive to the success of social movements. In Beissinger's study on the Color Revolutions the analysis of structural factors suggests that in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Georgia and Serbia, the states with successful social movements, the relationship between the armed forces and the regime were troubled, whereas in case of the unsuccessful ones (Uzbekistan, Belarus, and Azerbaijan) these ties were rather strong. (6)

According to the empirical evidence, military loyalty or disloyalty to the regime is an important factor to consider for social movements and for authoritarian regimes who seek survival all over the globe. If we take a closer look at the literature of transition, democratization and revolution, the role of coercive mechanisms was seriously considered by prominent scholars, such as Barrington Moore, Charles Tilly, Diana E. H. Russell and Theda Skocpol. The question, however, remains: why remain loyal or why choose to be disloyal? This puzzle has not been sufficiently addressed in the literature. Most of the studies that consider military loyalty as an important factor for regime survival usually do not go beyond the scope of small-N comparative case studies, or they enumerate influential variables for only one historical era and geographic area. On the one hand, comparative case studies are useful to create fine-grained arguments, to understand small differences and the dynamics of certain events. …

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