Guns Trained Inward

Third-world armies, often just thugs for dictators, need new roles

HAITI's first democratic elections since its independence in 1804 were scuttled when disgruntled elements in the military forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile Sept. 30.The coup, which resulted in hundreds of deaths, seems to have been inspired by fears that President Aristide would radically reform the political structure and adversely affect the military. For decades the military has been a law unto itself, using its privileged position for self-aggrandizement and political influence in a country that is the poorest in the Western Hemisphere and bereft of civil institutions. This scenario unfortunately is not uncommon in the third world. It was especially rampant during the cold war, when the prevailing concern was superpower rivalry. Consequently, the end of the cold war and the reemergence of fervent democratic sentiments in the third world precipitated hopes that military challenges and coups were a thing of the past. Indeed, the galvanizing of "people power" to foil an earlier coup attempt in Haiti last January emphasized this hope. The recent wave of democratization has led to a reduction in overt military influences in the third world. The military governments in Ghana, Chad, Mali, and Nigeria, for example, are implementing plans - some reluctantly, and arguably, superficially - to restore civilian control of government. A few others, like the government of Burma, are determined to hold on - even denying Daw Aung San Suu Kyi a chance to collect her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for resisting oppression and human-rights abuses. This general movement away from military governments belies the determination of the military to continue holding on to its favored position in third-world countries. Typically, the military in the third world is anti-democratic and uses its real and latent force to carve an economically beneficial niche in society. In fact, the easiest way to become wealthy in the third world is to join the military. True democracy, therefore, becomes a profound threat to the military. THUS, on Oct. 1 the military in Togo attempted to restore its privileged position following a national conference that ousted the autocratic government of General Eyadema and placed the military under civilian control for the first time in 24 years. But the Togolese people - emboldened by their newfound strength in establishing democracy - foiled the coup. Coming at a time when the world is scrambling to define a "new world order," the events in Haiti and Togo cry out for a redefinition of the role of the military in the third world, where civil institutions are still young, if existent at all, and where the militaries use deadly force against their own citizens. Most of the military structures in the third world are holdovers from the colonial epoch, tailored to meet the objectives of particular individuals in power after independence. The purpose of the colonial military was to curb internal agitation for independence. For post-colonial militaries, the purpose has been to protect the tenure of dictators from demands for change and democracy. In June 1990 Zaire's American-supplied Army massacred more than 100 university students who supported the opposition. This September troops went on rampage in Kinshasa causing numerous deaths, untold damage to property in the city, and leading to the evacuation of foreigners from the country. Kenya's touted military indiscriminately machine-gunned 2,000 villagers in northern Kenya in 1984 after the death of one soldier in the region. On Oct. 5, it flew American-made F-5E fighter jets over the capital, and placed British-supplied tanks and armored cars at strategic points, preventing a peaceful rally in support of democracy. In 1987, the countries in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia spent more than $39 billion on the militaries. (Health expenditures for the same year amounted to about $19 billion.) Yet, their armies have fought few external battles. When they have, there has usually been an influx of foreign troops or materiel to assist the troops faced with an armed enemy. How then can the military be removed as an impediment to political and economic development in the third world? One option would be simply to disband the military (as Costa Rica did) under the auspices of international or United Nations forces. This would remove dangerous weapons from ill-trained soldiers whose only qualification is blind loyalty to political strongmen. Resources expended on maintaining the military in its privileged position could then be channeled to productive uses. The international community could take on the role of protecting states against external aggression in the same way it defended Kuwait against Iraq. Alternatively, there is the "Switzerland" option - a fundamental restructuring of third-world standing armies into citizen-militias. The military could be removed from their isolated compounds and become a part of general society. Rather than idling until the next chance to massacre civilians, the military could be put to work on development projects with ordinary citizens. This would make it more difficult for them to shoot at civilians in the future. Until civil institutions and democracy take root in the third world, Western arms and bullets shouldn't be sent to massacre civilians. As the "new world order" takes shape, let the West's and America's contribution to world peace and security be that no arms and bullets be sold or given to countries that are not democratic and don't guarantee full enjoyment of the fundamental human rights of free expression and political participation.

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