Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Making the Afghan Civil-Military Imbalance Conducive to Democratization

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Making the Afghan Civil-Military Imbalance Conducive to Democratization

Article excerpt

In-conflict state-building in fragile states (such as Iraq and Afghanistan), defined as building effective and legitimate civilian and military state institutions to advance the stabilization and democratization of the state,1 creates unbalanced civil-military relations in the host state by producing weak and dysfunctional civilian institutions vis-à-vis relatively stronger and more functional military institutions. This imbalance positions the military to become a dominant political actor in state formation upon the withdrawal of the international military presence. This can have significant implications for the political trajectory of the state.

The civil-military gap is a reflection of the asymmetric nature of state-building progress in the context of state failure: building civilian institutions cannot match the trajectory of progress in building military institutions. This is in large part due to four crosscutting drivers, introduced below, that condition the timelines of progress in the civilian and military state-building tracks differently. Once the host state is in charge of its own affairs, the political risks of the civil-military imbalance will assert themselves: the military, still in an early stage of professionalization and confronted by weak civilian institutions, will become a politicized and dominant actor in the continuing state formation process. The political prospects of the state will become highly dependent upon the political role of the military and its relationship with the civilian elite.

The civil-military imbalance is also crucial to the long-term state-building outcome in Afghanistan and Iraq. In both countries, the state will likely face internal threats of a deeply contested political nature for many years. Stakeholders in the illicit economy, irreconcilable insurgents, and antigovernment warlords, to name a few, will continue to cause political ruptures and spikes of instability. The Iraqi state is wrestling with such challenges today and the Afghan state will likely follow suit. Internal threats cannot be tackled in a political vacuum; they are entangled in a highly sensitive and politicized context such as disputes over the distribution of oil revenue in Iraq, land rights in Afghanistan, and the legitimacy of armed nonstate groups in both countries. The military will become politicized or at least be perceived as such.

Civil-military relations theory tells us that the politicization of the military is detrimental to democratization. It undermines the professionalism of the military, which in turn weakens military effectiveness and cohesion. Furthermore, the politicization of the military is typically marked by a struggle among groups vying for control over the military. Subjective elite interests could capture the armed forces, leaving disenfranchised groups with no alternatives but to accept their political marginalization, continue to seek influence within military ranks, or arm themselves to deter predatory state behavior and hedge against a civil war. Moreover, politicizing pressures from outside and within the military could undermine its cohesion, leading to its fragmentation. Upon the withdrawal of the international military presence, therefore, the political future of the state becomes a story of the role of the military. Will it remain loyal to the state's national interests, will autocratic powers in uniforms or suits use the military as an instrument to monopolize political power, or will the military fall apart, thereby dissolving the most robust and foundational pillar of the state?

In Afghanistan and Iraq, state-builders have failed to address the civil-military imbalance and the military's politicization. In Afghanistan, a growing civil-military imbalance is making the country's political progress increasingly vulnerable to would-be autocrats in suits or uniforms. In Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has seized the civil-military imbalance to gradually monopolize control of the military. …

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