The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics

By S. E. Finer | Go to book overview

Gürsel's dictatorship; the mutiny of the Congolese Force Publique in July and the subsequent rapine and carnage throughout the newborn Republic; the Laotian coup of Captain Kong Lee in August -- the move that sparked off the civil war; the bloodless coup by which Colonel Osorio ousted President Lemus of El Salvador in October; and finally, the revolt of the Palace Guard against the Emperor of Ethiopia in December.

In every case the armed forces had defied or indeed used violence against the government of the state. In May 1960 on the occasion of General Gürsel's revolt, The Times commented: 'It has been a good year for Generals'; but this was not only belated but quite misleading. For 1959 had witnessed an unsuccessful rising in Iraq, an unsuccessful military plot in Cambodia and a successful coup in the Sudan, while 1958 was -- for the military -- an annus mirabilis. That was the year when Marshal Sarit abrogated the constitution of Thailand and made himself dictator; in which Generals Ayub Khan, Kassim and Abboud seized power in Pakistan, Iraq and the Sudan respectively; in which, also, General Ne Win was raised to power in Burma and General de Gaulle in France.

Yet perhaps this period 1958-61 is exceptional? Hardly so. Consider the sovereign states that are at least seven years old, i.e. those created in or before 1955. Leaving aside small states of nominal sovereign status such as Liechtenstein, San Marino or the Trucial States, 79 1 sovereign states existed in or before 1955: 15 came into being between 1945 and 1955, and of these 9 have suffered from military coups (including the Lebanon). Another 13 states came into being between 1918 and 1944 (including the 3 Baltic States, now absorbed into the Soviet Union). Of these 6 experienced military coups, and one of them ( Jordan) may fairly be said to be a royal military dictatorship. The three states created between 1900 and 1917, i.e. Albania, Cuba and Panama, have all witnessed military revolt and dictatorship since 1918; and so likewise have the two -- Bulgaria and Serbia -- which became fully independent between 1861 and 1899. 46 states have been independent for more than a century. Since 1918 no less than 26 of these have suffered from some form or other of military intervention in their politics, usually of a violent kind.2

____________________
1
Properly, 76. The figure of 79 includes Esthonia, Lithuania and Latvia, now absorbed into the U.S.S.R., but independent from 1918 to 1940.
2
China falls outside this classification. It was a prey to incessant civil war and military turbulence until 1949.

-2-

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