Evolving Internal Roles of the Armed Forces: Lessons for Building Partner Capacity

By Schnabel, Albrecht; Krupanski, Marc | Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Evolving Internal Roles of the Armed Forces: Lessons for Building Partner Capacity


Schnabel, Albrecht, Krupanski, Marc, Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations


The end of the Cold War more than two decades ago created new international realities, along with hopes and expectations for greater peace and stability worldwide. Part of that peace dividend was expected to be the result of a decrease in defense spending, with direct consequences for the size and functions of nations' armed forces. As a result, in parts of the world that benefited from increased security, the changing security challenges and interpretations of what should be considered suitable tasks and roles of armed forces have led to "profound ... shifts in their core roles ... (which are) ... increasingly challenging long-held assumptions about what armed forces are for and how they should be structured and organized".2

Governments and societies have been contemplating the appropriateness of newly defined or previously secondary purposes for their armed forces, which extend beyond their core role of national defense. These include the assignment of a variety of external and internal military and civilian roles and tasks. Some of these are performed as a subsidiary activity in support of operations under civilian command. An examination of the internal roles of the armed forces in 15 Western democracies shows that armed forces assist in internal security provision mainly as a resource of last resort when efforts are required to respond to exceptional situations. This is the case primarily during and after natural and humanitarian catastrophes as well as other emergencies that exceed the response capacities of civilian and hybrid security institutions. Under the command and control of civilian agencies, the usually subsidiary operations of the armed forces are designed to enhance the capacity of civilian security providers in such situations.3 What does this mean for armed forces in the developing countries in their indigenous state-building processes? What are the implications for donor nations from the North in their efforts towards "building partner capacity?"4

This article is divided into six sections. Following this introduction, the second section focuses on conceptual considerations as well as distinctions between internal and external security roles provided by armed forces. The third section focuses on the empirical evidence obtained from the case studies examined for this article. The most common internal roles are introduced and key driving forces behind the armed forces' engagement in internal tasks are highlighted. The fourth section summarizes widely shared reasons behind the internal engagements of the armed forces. The fifth section examines potential hazards and opportunities for utilizing armed forces for internal roles and tasks. The concluding section discusses the mapping exercise's findings for donor countries' support of defense reform and security sector reform activities in the global South, particularly as they concern internal roles and tasks envisioned for the armed forces of partner countries.

New Challenges, New Roles for the Armed Forces?

It has become a common assumption that the role of the armed forces, especially among consolidated Western democracies, is to provide security against external threats, while police forces are tasked with providing internal security, surveillance and order inside a country's borders. The distinction between external and internal security, as well as between the respective responsibilities of individual public security institutions, has been well documented,5 even to the point of what Keith Krause calls a "seemingly natural division."6 Of course, this division was not the product of a coherent process, nor did it innately appear. As Charles Tilly suggests, armies frequently served the purpose of consolidating wealth and power of princes, often at the expense of and in direct confrontation with the domestic population.7 In fact, it is commonly understood that the demarcation of public security institutions' external and internal roles (in particular armed forces and police, respectively) was not generally accepted and normalized until "the spread of modern nationalism in the 19th century . …

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