The U. Embassy in Nepal had to recall a participant from a training course after belatedly discovering evidence that his unit was involved in civilian disappearances. But the U. Incidentally, the younger Hun continued to attend West Point after a bloody coup by his father forced out democratically-elected coalition partners. That may already be happening. In September, Kurt M. Campbell, the top Asia official at the State Department spoke of an imminent intensification of U. In the late s, the desire to maintain American support also figured in the decisions of dictatorial regimes allied with Washington to step aside.
No wonder Aung San Suu Kyi, standing on the steps of the house in which she spent 15 years under house arrest, warned the U. Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola. Sign up for free access to 1 article per month and weekly email updates from expert policy analysts.
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Create a Foreign Policy account to access 1 article per month and free newsletters developed by policy experts. In the Philippines in , Indonesia in , Serbia in , and the Ukraine in , the armed forces refused to suppress protesters, in some cases cooperating with them, and allowed the dictators to be overthrown. In the Tunisian and Egyptian army leaderships decided not to support the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes against popular protests, and those dictators fell. The armed forces play an absolutely key role in fostering, allowing, or suppressing democratic movements in authoritarian states.
Thus it is very much in the interests of the established democracies to help military leaders in authoritarian or transition countries make the right choices. Dramatic events, like the decisions of military leaders during the Arab Awakening to support their leaders or to turn on them, are the culmination of long-term, complex sets of developments. Military leaders, even in isolated dictatorships, understand that over the long run, a government must have the support of its people. The only pure military dictatorship today is Fiji, scarcely a trendsetter.
Most military officers—though there are plenty of exceptions—believe that the armed forces should act as the defenders of their people, not as the instrument of their repression. The ethos of armed forces and the creed of most of those who serve is patriotic defense of the nation and its people. They are at their best in honing their skills to defend their country against its enemies. Turning weapons against their own people contradicts the fundamental professional convictions of military people.
Participation in the brutal political struggle for self-preservation that is the preoccupation of dictatorships is neither the preference nor the skill set of military officers.
Many military officers, even in autocratic regimes, often have a general sentiment that some kind of a representative government is ultimately best for their nations. However, many other circumstances and beliefs cause military leaders and their troops to support autocratic governments as necessary for their countries for the time being—and "the time being" can stretch for decades. Some military leaders are simply thugs who joined for power. For others, self-interest, corruption, and fear play roles. Dictators take care of senior military leaders, especially in poorer countries.
At lower ranks, soldiers are rewarded with scarce food in North Korea, and receive regular pay or opportunities for extortion in other impoverished dictatorships. Despots also check their generals' loyalty through independent intelligence services and other informer networks, and they remove and punish harshly those considered unreliable.
Beyond these human motivations, however, are other beliefs and convictions. When a country is threatened by social turmoil, especially when supported, or suspected to be supported, from outside the country, a military leader may believe that his first duty is to maintain law and order, fight against foreigners or their surrogates, and support the current government in order to maintain social stability. This was certainly the case for many Latin American military officers who fought against Cuban- and Soviet-supported insurgencies in the s and s.
While many of their actions were reprehensible, their basic motivation was understandable.
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It is easy to believe that reform must be postponed until a more stable time. Military leaders also are influenced or can be manipulated by ethnic and tribal divisions in those countries where identity politics play a major role. It is a rare military officer who will support democratic reform if he believes his ethnic group or tribe will be oppressed or disadvantaged under an unproven democratic system.
These considerations play a role in many African countries today. There are sometimes other core beliefs that are dominant in the values of military leaders. Turkish military officers believe their duty is to safeguard the secular nature of their government. Thai officers believe the king must be respected.
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Finally, many military officers honestly believe that their countries are not yet ready for democracy. They feel that the necessary institutions for democracy do not yet exist in their countries: an informed citizenry that will elect competent political leaders, an honest and functional legal system that will protect minority rights and tame corruption, a capable civil service, and a responsible legislature. Some argue that drones are highly effective tools in conflict situations.
Drones can conduct long-term surveillance, and when combined with other forms of intelligence, supporters argue, can identify individual targets with a high degree of precision, thereby minimizing harm to civilians. And, because they are unmanned, they can be controlled from great distances, posing little physical risk to their American operators. Others argue that drone attacks are akin to targeted assassinations and therefore raise legal and moral questions, like how targets are vetted and what legal safeguards exist to protect against the improper targeting of particular individuals?
Critics also argue that innocent civilians are often killed or injured in drone strikes.
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That undermines U. A group of experts recently faced off over the use of armed drones in a debate for the Intelligence Squared U. The motion of the Oxford-style debate was, "The U. Drone Program Is Fatally Flawed. Before the debate, the audience voted 23 percent in favor of the motion and 34 percent against, with 43 percent undecided. After the debate, 23 percent still agreed that "the U.
Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore.
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He is also the author of four books, including the recently updated second edition of the bestselling Taliban. Prior to his wartime service — seven consecutive years in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside U.