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Research Report

Civil-military relations in the MENA:: between fragility and resilience

Florence Gaub
Copyright Date: Oct. 1, 2016
Pages: 43
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 5-6)

    One of the key words (and concepts) of the freshly released EU Global Strategy (EUGS) is resilience. The term originates from medicine (patients who have suffered a severe trauma or illness need to become ‘resilient’ to its possible recurrence) as well as engineering (‘resilient’ materials are capable of absorbing stress and strain and even of bouncing back). It has also entered the vocabulary of development policy experts. Yet it is difficult to find adequate synonyms in most European languages – so much so that ‘resilience’ is now being increasingly transposed and used inter alia in French, German, Spanish and Italian....

  2. (pp. 7-8)

    Security sector reform (SSR) is not new on the European Union’s agenda, but it has recently experienced a revival. With the release of the Joint Communication of the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) in July 2016, a new framework to support partner countries has been created. Recognising the shortcomings of earlier approaches, and taking into account the new strategic environment, the EU is now set to assist third countries in a much more comprehensive way. Civil-military relations are part of this equation since ‘effective democratic control and oversight’² of the armed forces is key to an...

  3. (pp. 9-12)

    Civil-military relations take many forms, but fundamentally contain an inherent tension.

    Firstly, civilians control the military formally but, informally, the military has the potential to overthrow its civilian overseers at any given time. In theory, civilian leaders are the principal in the relationship, whereas the military is the agent: civilians create the military for their own needs, make funds and staff available to it and give it strategic direction. In practice however, the asymmetry of the relationship is undercut by the fact that the armed forces possess weapons and hold the monopoly of collective violence. Somewhat ironically, the institution created...

  4. (pp. 13-24)

    In a host of Middle Eastern countries, civil-military relations have been reduced to the power struggle that is often at the heart of the relationship: civilian leaders strive to prevent the armed forces from using the violent means which they control against the civilian government. In order to achieve this objective, leaders in the region have resorted to a panoply of mainly punitive measures collectively known as ‘coup-proofing’ – a strategy whose efficacy was summed up in Saddam Hussein’s boast that ‘with party methods, there is no chance for anyone who disagrees with us to jump on a couple of...

  5. (pp. 25-28)

    Since Middle Eastern civil-military relations are often more a power struggle than a cooperative affair, civilian leaders generally prefer to shun engagement with the armed forces. But constructive and professional civil-military relations do not depend necessarily on the degree to which the armed forces are separate from the civilian realm; indeed, too much separation of the two worlds can lead to a breakdown of the relationship altogether. Lack of civilian input leads to stagnant military doctrine as it is no longer in line with the country’s strategic mindset; lack of military input into civilian decision-making leads to strategic mistakes. But...

  6. (pp. 29-34)

    Civilian authorities in the Middle East by and large rely on the strategy of politicising the armed forces. This can occur in two ways: from the top down (i.e. the civilian leadership17) or the bottom up (i.e. civil society actors). In both cases, the attempt to draw the armed forces into politics is a sign of political weakness: civilians call on the military when the political institutions fail and there is no constitutional room for expressing discontent.

    In the case of civilian leadership, it might be the result of civilian dependence on the military (say, as a result of war...

  7. (pp. 35-38)

    Legitimacy – essentially based on the consent of the ruled to be ruled by the ruler – is what allows leaders to govern in the first place; it is also required to control the military, which is in itself a necessary ingredient of political authority. Civilian leaders rely on the security apparatus to maintain order, resolve disputes, and protect both the government and the polity. Civilian rulers therefore need to control the armed forces not only for their own security, but also to assert their authority over the polity.

    Effective political authority is therefore always predicated on the combination of...

  8. (pp. 39-40)

    Civil-military relations in the Middle East differ in various ways from country to country, but mostly have one salient common denominator: they are ultimately not about defence or security, but about power. It is this power struggle that not only distorts a relationship that ideally should be based on constructive exchanges, but negatively affects how security is provided in these states. Both sides bear their share of blame for this, but this analysis has focused on how Middle Eastern civilian leaders are struggling to live up to their role as moderators, overseers and directiongivers of the security sector. This is...