Cynthia Watson and Constantine Danopoulos
Standing armies are one of the most visible and powerful forms of social organization associated in the West with the evolution and consolidation of the modern nation-state. In eastern-bloc countries, the armed forces helped to keep Communist parties in power and played a role in the downfall of Marxist- Leninist regimes and the democratization of these societies. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the armed forces intervened, directly or indirectly, in the political affairs of many developing or changing communities of the Third World; this was followed by a wave of withdrawal and disengagement from the levers of political power.
The end of the Cold War has often been described in terms of its effects on nation-states or on governments within nation-states. Far too little emphasis has been placed on the impact that this sea change in world affairs has had on militaries around the world. Although many armed forces see their roles as precisely the same today as in 1975 or 1980, for a significant number of militaries the change has been as fundamental as for the world at large. Indeed, military changes have led to dramatic modifications in society at large. Similarly, societal transformations have resulted in a reconsideration of the armed services as members of societies across the world.
Yet this commonsense perception of the changing world since 1989 ignores the important role of the military in society regardless of the Cold War. For many societies, the Cold War enhanced the role of the military, but did not create a radically different one. In a number of countries, the military has historically been a path for advancement into different social strata. In others, the military has channelled men who were not going to become landholders into a more productive enterprise. In still others, the military has been a key political and social player as a corporation, acting as a single body with a collective interest. In sum, armed forces across the world have played various roles in societies, fulfilling multifaceted interpretations of "defense" requirements.