7.2.6  Government Self-Protection against Civil Disorder

(This is an archived page, from Edition 2 of the Patterns of Power book.  The current versions is at https://www.patternsofpower.org/patterns/ungoverned/types/collapse/).

The Legal Dimension of a State’s governance may encounter challenges to law and order on a scale that exceed the enforcement capacity of its police force; for example:

·     Protest demonstrations can escalate into full-scale riots and a government may need extra resources to enable it to restore law and order.  On 14 August 1969, for example, the British Government sent troops to Northern Ireland after “three days and two nights of violence in the mainly-Catholic Bogside area of Londonderry”.[1]

·     Conflicts between ethnic groups or criminal gangs can get out of control, if the participants are armed, as was the case in India during the period leading up to partition.[2]

·     A struggle for independence can escalate to civil war, as was the case when Eritrea separated from Ethiopia for example.[3]

·     Governments use armed force to try to quell rebellions, as Colonel Gadaffi did in Libya in 2011.[4]

The restoration of order in these cases turns into a trial of strength between the State and the perpetrators of the violence.  It is classified as Self-Protection in this book because it is a use of power which falls outside the parameters of a formal governance framework.  Some examples can be considered as an attempt by the State to protect both itself and most of the population from the dangers of anarchy – where a few people overturn the rights of the many. 

There are problems in using armed forces to restore order, as discussed later (7.4.1.3), partly because military personnel might not be trained or equipped to conduct operations in a civilian situation. 

If the use of force succeeds in restoring order for a while, as it often does in practice, it is without the agreement of those who had participated in the violence.  The problem will resurface at a later date unless the underlying causes can be resolved first.

The penal system can deal with conventional criminals, but internal political struggles can only be finally resolved by negotiation: bringing people back into the political process.  It is obviously preferable to prevent relationships from reaching the point where violence seems like an attractive option.

A similar analysis applies to restoration of regional stability.

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014                                             



[1] The BBC re-published its report from 14 August 1969, in which it had announced that “The British Government has sent troops into Northern Ireland in what it says is a "limited operation" to restore law and order.”  This report was available in May 2014 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/august/14/newsid_4075000/4075437.stm.

[2] Yasmin Khan, in chapter 4 of her book The Great Partition, described the ethnic violence between Muslims and Hindus and referred to the military force required to restore order:

"The fact that 1800 troops, 600 armed police, 130 unarmed police, and Royal Air Force Planes had to be mobilised indicates the magnitude of the crisis." [p. 69]

Her attribution for this reference was Suranjan Das, Communal Riots in Bengal, p. 193.  In May 2014 her book could be previewed at http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_great_Partition.html?id=i9WdQp2pwOYC&redir_esc=y.

[3] The BBC website summarised the history of Eritrea, including the civil war which started in 1962 and led to independence from Ethiopia in 1993; it was available in May 2014 at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13349395.

[4] The Libyan government's use of force against its own people led to the passing of UN Resolution 1973 on 17 March 2011, which authorised a military intervention to protect civilians.  The text of this resolution was available in May 2014 at http://www.nato.int/nato_static/assets/pdf/pdf_2011_03/20110927_110311-UNSCR-1973.pdf, and the BBC published an explanatory article at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12782972 which was also available then.