Internal Use of Defence Forces

A government can make internal use of defence forces to keep itself in power, if it lacks popular legitimacy or if it faces an insurgency. 

It can use the army to maintain law and order, even though military skills are inappropriate for use against fellow citizens (  An Economist article in 2014 on Sudan for example, Downhill, reported that:

“The army, which Mr Bashir once headed, still underpins the regime. Over 60% of government expenditure goes on defence and security—without including the cost of new hardware, which is off the books.”

In some cultures, parading a defence capability is a demonstration of power – to impress its own population and signal its strength to other countries.  It can also be an opportunity for other countries to send diplomatic signals: attendance is a sign of support but a boycott is a sign of displeasure.  For example a BBC report, Russia stages massive WW2 parade despite Western boycott, observed the impressive new weaponry and the attendance of allies – including China and Venezuela.  Western countries boycotted the event in protest against Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

If the army is independently powerful it can choose whether or not to keep a government in power – as in Egypt, for example.  A BBC article, Egypt’s army in control of vast business empire, reported that:

“Estimates vary as to the size of their industries – they account for around 8%-40% of Egypt’s gross national product.”

It is no coincidence that the army was sufficiently powerful to topple the president in 2013, as described by the BBC: Egypt crisis: Army ousts President Mohammed Morsi.  Military coups result in dictatorships, commonly called juntas, as in Greece, Turkey, Myanmar, Argentina, Chad and Uganda among many other examples.

Juntas sometimes enjoy temporary legitimacy, for example on the basis of restoring order as described earlier (, but they are often repressive.  They try to solve every problem with force: if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail – both internally and externally.  Popular discontent then makes them increasingly unstable.  Transitions to democracy, to reduce tensions, are not always successful and can be reversed at any time.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/7462a.htm.