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Can the military be a-political? Should it be?

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  1. Introduction.
  2. A model to explain why militaries intervene in politics.
  3. Five aspects of military affairs on which democratic governments must be active.
  4. Motive inhibiting involvement.
  5. The disposition to intervene.
  6. Conclusion.

The world has been stunned since 1989 by the speed with which the countries of Eastern Europe abandoned four decades of Marxist-Leninist rule and moved into Western-style democracy and capitalism. Although the process of transition was, of course, delicate, it seems that very often economic and ethnic issues have overshadowed one of the most important political challenges faced by the new democratic regimes, that is to say, considering Eastern European history, the issue of military intervention in government. Generally speaking, it seems difficult to affirm that the military can be completely a-political since it is one of the main arms of the nation state. One of the roles of the military is to protect the survival of the state against external threats. For that, it needs to understand and be aware of complex political factors.

[...] On the other hand, one reason that encourages military intervention is a romantic belief among defence forces that they are the true manifestation of the nation and that it is the soldier's destiny to be the savoir of his country. In Spain, under the rule of Franco, the military was expected to serve the entire society but the problem is that this sense of social responsibility was not interpreted into loyalty to the political headship of the state. Instead, the military was supposed to have a unique, heroic role in the society. [...]

[...] Most democratic leaders seem to have understood that the uniformed armed forces, as an institution, should take no positions on non-military problems and those military personnel should refrain from public political declarations. To conclude, it seems obvious that any national armed forces cannot be entirely a-politic since they receive orders from the government and must be able to understand them. Moreover, the degree of politicisation of the army really depends on the political culture of the state. However, the military must concentrate on its professionalism and not [...]

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