On Third World militaries (II)

Back in 2011 I wrote how a Third World country could set up armed forces / national policing forces without wasteful spending, with a low probability of a coup and with systemic bias against corruption of the lower ranks.

This time I will present a possible configuration for a Republican Third World country that has more (but not much more) need for actual military forces capable of conventional warfare and wants to emphasize coup-proofing. Dictatorships and republics alike often produce very poor military forces in the Third World and even in Europe if they insist on proofing against a coup d'état. This is usually done by choosing senior officers based on loyalty first, with competence a distant second at best. This produces very sluggish and generally poorly trained military forces incapable of much mobile warfare and very brittle even in static deliberate defence (as seen once again when the Iraqi army was attacked by daesh, for example).

My central idea is to insist on competence (or potential for future competence of the officer) first, but to proof the government against a coup d'état with three critical measures:

(1) keep the army small
(2) keep the army garrisons far from the capital
(3) protect the capital with a coup-proofed militia

(1) limits how badly the country may be threatened; hence the "(but not much more) need for actual military forces" mentioned above.
(2) is both a function of actual distance and of deployability. You wouldn't want to set up a very road-mobile brigade with all-wheeled AFVs, but rather choose a mechanised brigade with tracked AFVs, with very few tank hauling trucks at the brigade's garrison
(3) is why this is for a republic only, and the coup-proofing of the militia could be achieved by keeping it demobilised most of the time and avoiding high level commands; a bunch of battalions under direct control of the politicians would be suitable.

An example would be Libya during the 1970's. The historical path included a small loyal yet hardly competent army, and an oversized air force (largely directed against Israel). There were no real threats of invasion by Tunisia, Algeria or Egypt though, so in addition to about 10,000 paramilitary forces for border/airport/harbour/maritime security and customs there could have been a mechanised brigade or division (with little infantry strength) garrisoned at Derna in the Northwest and a 30,000+ militia at the capital of Tripolis in the Northwest of the country. This would have been largely coup-proofed.
There would have been the seeds for a real navy (paramilitary coast guard), air force (border guard's border patrol aircraft) and large army (the mechanised brigade or division) for a 5-10 years expansion into a military powerhouse, but the annual expenses and the risk of a military coup d'état would have been small. Well, assuming there was a republic, which wasn't. So this is more of a geographic example. By the time the mechanised infantry-weak mechanised coup forces had arrived at Tripolis, the militia would have been mobilised and made combat-ready. This would have been a huge deterrent against a coup attempt.
This example also shows that this concept really only protects the top of the government at the capital - it would not protect against a secessionist movement supported by the army. That case could be warded against by introducing a small loyalty (minority or regional background) criterion for senior officer selection and promotion, though. You'd only need to mix the (whole) officer corps properly to prevent a desertion of the army to a secessionist cause.



  1. Lots of battalion strength militias under the control of individual politicians might prevent a successful coup but the attempted coups still raging in Syria are hardly a target to aim for.

    A capital militia soon leads to a second city militia and onwards until every village elder has a paramilitary force.

    1. I don't see that causality.
      Besides, the appearance of independent armed mobs is something that governments ought to deal with by enforcing their monopoly on violence and regulation of private ownership of weapons (and munitions) of war.

      Failed states can't enforce their monopoly on violence, but that wouldn't be a consequence of the national security organisation described in this blog post.

  2. Earlier, you suggested a small professional paramilitary force with military and law enforcement duties. Would it make sense to have the militia as an engineering centric force? They could do occassional infrastructure projects, disaster relief and serve as rear echelon troops of the professional spearhead force in case of conflict with another state. The military drill could be used to protect the elections and thus give a purpose to their armed role with frequent training. They are thus not just around the capital, but have a network throughout the country, which often has more than one center capable of becoming a state capital.

    1. Identify yourself in every comment, please. Anonymous comments are not welcome.

      Your proposal is a recipe for civil war, since most third Word countries lack the nationalism required that would need to be the foundation for a nationwide militia.
      My proposal introduced a militia for the one indispensable function a the one critical place, and more would imo only add downsides for little gain.

  3. Main source of coups in Arab Third World countries like Libya come from tribal divisions.

    Cousin marriage is widespread in Arab countries, and unlike in industrial countries tribes have never been stamped out.

    Europe stamped out tribes centuries ago due to the Catholic Church's prohibitions on consanguineous marriage as well as the Frankish manorial economic system. Newly industrialized countries like Japan did not do so until recently. In Imperial Japan there was frequently tension between clans, especially the Satsuma and Choshu clans. It wasn't until the 1980s that clans were literally bred out of existence through intermarriage. Even in parts of Europe such as Greece there remained tribal affiliations into the 1970s, and the Maniots still retain some distinction.

    In the long-term states which are still tribal should heavily encourage intermarriage. The dominant clan which controls the state machinery must avoid appropriating a disproportionate share of economic and political power to avoid giving a basis for grievances to other clans in the state. Of course this requires the dominant clan to sacrifice some of its own privileges and power, which is very difficult.

    In the short to medium term, the dominant clan needs to keep the power ministries under its control. In the armed services the decisive combat elements such as armor, artillery, and airpower must be under its control.

    Of course, centralizing hard power assets into one tribe creates the risk the tribe will exploit its power to dominate society excessively. We can see this in Syria with the Alawites.

    Gaddafi did the second--the air force was fully under the control of his Gaddafa tribe. This is why he was winning the civil war until NATO intervened.

    Whether the country in question is a republic, monarchy, or dictatorship is moot in this. Republics can aid in inter-tribal power sharing, but they can also cause messes as we've seen in recent Kenyan elections.