The Case Studies

Within this volume we have selected nine countries for detailed study. All but one – Thailand – were former European colonies, and in all but the Thai case the liberal democratic model of military professionalism (the model elaborated by Huntington 1957) has at some stage been dominant. Not represented are those communist states of Asia in which the party and the military have dominated politics in such a way as to negate the essential conditions for democracy listed above. In all but two of the case studies (the Philippines and Papua New Guinea) there have been successful military coups, over a period stretching from 1932 (Thailand) to 1987 (Fiji) and 1991 (Thailand). In the two exceptional cases, there have been several unsuccessful coup attempts in the Philippines and occasional rumours of prospective coups in Papua New Guinea.

Of those which have experienced military intervention, all but Indonesia have made the transition back to at least nominal civilian rule and, with the arguable exception of Fiji, back again to military domination; Thailand has experienced several such cycles. While the Philippines has not experienced military rule since independence, it has experienced martial law and repressive authoritarian rule, under Ferdinand Marcos, and the military played a critical role both in maintaining Marcos in power and later in the transition which removed Marcos and restored democracy. The Philippines has not been alone in the experience of an authoritarian civilian regime; such regimes have also been experienced in (South) Korea, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Papua New Guinea alone has been able to maintain a robust democracy (notwithstanding several localised states of emergency and recent military action to suppress a rebellion on Bougainville), and it has been able to do so even though it has displayed most of the social and political features which coup theorists have suggested as preconditions and motivating circumstances for military intervention. In four cases (Thailand, Korea, Pakistan and the Philippines) the military, or sections of it, have been actively involved in pro-democratic transitions, and in another (Bangladesh) the military’s non-intervention facilitated a pro-democratic regime change. In all cases the military itself has been subject to some degree of factionalism, and in most, ethnic divisions in society have had an influence on the role the military has played.

The case studies presented here thus provide a rich variety of military-civil interactions, ranging from the classic military coup to displace a civilian government, through military coups against military regimes and military intervention to change civilian regimes, to successful popular uprisings against military regimes.

In Indonesia the armed forces (ABRI) trace their origins to the revolution against Dutch colonialism. Following the surrender of the occupying Japanese forces in 1945, Indonesian nationalist leaders declared their independence and began a protracted battle against Dutch and Allied forces which ended with the formal recognition of the Republic of Indonesia in 1949. The Indonesian armed forces, created in 1945 to support the revolutionary struggle, were recruited largely from the military force, Pembela Tanah Air (Defenders of the Fatherland, PETA), recruited from amongst nationalist elements by the Japanese in 1943, but included also elements of the pre-war Dutch colonial army, Koninklijke Nederlansche Indische Leger (KNIL), and spontaneously-formed, politically-aligned militia units (laskar). Although lacking an effective centralised com- mand, the military played a major role in the revolutionary war; it also inherited a distrust of civilian politicians, who, it believed, had been too ready to negotiate the nation’s political status with the Dutch. Not surprisingly, given its origins, the military in the 1950s was a highly politicised and fractious organisation.

The early post-independence years saw growing tension between those (primarily ex-KNIL officers) who sought to build an apolitical, professional military along Western lines, and those (mostly ex-PETA and laskar) who favoured a continuing active role for the military in politics. This resulted, in the early 1950s, in a series of ‘coups’ within the armed forces, which shifted power towards the more politicised groups. At the same time, a series of local rebellions, and divisions within the government in Jakarta, produced political instability and led to the imposition of martial law in 1957, and the abnegation of the constitution and inauguration of a regime of ‘Guided Democracy’ two years later. Despite a greater centralisation of authority, however, political fractiousness and economic deterioration continued into the 1960s, and following the assassination in 1965 of several generals by middle-ranking officers associated with the Left, the military leadership moved against President Soekarno and his left-wing supporters; about half a million Communist Party supporters were killed, the president was removed from office, and a ‘New Order’ government, headed by General Suharto, was established. Suharto was installed as president in 1968.

Already in the 1950s army chief-of-staff, Colonel Nasution had put forward the idea of a ‘Middle Way’ for the armed forces, which combined their conventional role in the defence of the country with participation in government. After the overthrow of Sukarno this idea was formally embodied in the principle of dwifungsi (dual function); in the ‘New Order’ regime of President Suharto, ABRI is formally represented at all levels of government, military officers head many state enterprises and have business enterprises, and political support for the president is organised through Golkar, an effective ‘state party’ which was organised in the first place within the armed forces. With the assistance of foreign aid and investment, and a firm attitude towards political dissenters, the Suharto regime has achieved a fairly high level of political stability and economic performance, and as such has won some measure of legitimacy. But despite suggestions that the regime is becoming more open, it remains authoritarian, showing little tolerance of opposition, and there is a general consensus that when Suharto eventually goes his successor will have to be a person approved by ABRI.

The Burmese experience parallels that of Indonesia in a number of respects. As in Indonesia, nationalism flowered in Burma during World War II and Burma’s post-independence leadership had been closely associated with the anti-colonial Burma Independence Army recruited and trained by the Japanese. Under somewhat different circumstances, but with common elements of ethnic fragmentation and class division, Burma also went through a period of considerable turbulence following independence in 1948 and in 1958 Prime Minister Nu stepped down, inviting the armed forces to set up a caretaker government. Elections were held again in 1960 but the political party which the military supported was defeated and two years later a military coup brought an end to parliamentary democracy and reinstated army commander General Ne Win as head of government. With some parallels to Indonesia’s Golkar, the military’s Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP) became an effective state party (other parties were banned in 1964) and Ne Win and his military associates maintained tight control over what became – notwithstanding the semblance of a parliamentary system after 1974 – one of the most repressive and personalised regimes in Asia.

As in Indonesia, the Burmese army was initially composed of diverse elements. During the British colonial period the Burmese army was recruited predominantly from among the ethnic minorities, especially the Karen. During World War II, when Burmese nationalists joined the Japanese-trained Burma Independence Army and initially fought alongside the Japanese, many of the ethnic minorities fought with the Allies. There was also (comparable to the Indonesian laskar) a spontaneously-formed, largely-politically-affiliated Peoples’ Volunteer Organisation (PVO) in the countryside. By the end of 1948, however, the PVO had split and declined. With the outbreak of communal violence between Burmans and Karens, the Karen head of the army was removed; Ne Win was given command, and the multi-ethnic composition of the army gave way to Burman domination. Indeed the suppression of ethnic minority revolts became the army’s principal task.

Unlike the Suharto regime in Indonesia, however, that of Ne Win achieved neither political stability nor economic progress. Civil rebellion has threatened the Burmese state virtually since independence and its economy has deteriorated to the point that Burma has become one of the world’s poorest countries. In 1988 a popular uprising occurred which seemed likely to topple the Ne Win regime; Ne Win in fact resigned the presidency (though initially remaining as BSPP leader) and some liberalisation seemed imminent. But in contrast to the Philippines, where two years earlier the ‘People Power’ revolution, supported by elements of the armed forces, had removed President Marcos, in Burma the army held firm; although Ne Win stepped down and the country briefly had a civilian head of state, when the government promised multiparty elections and other reforms the military staged another coup. Since then, Burma has been ruled directly by the military through a State Law and Order Restoration Council. Elections, which in 1990 gave an overwhelming majority to the pro-democracy National League for Democracy (NLD), have simply been ignored; the NLD’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was placed under house arrest and political repression has intensified.

The other country included in this volume with a long history of military in-volvement in government is Thailand. But unlike Indonesia and Burma, Thailand was never a colony and its first military coup took place in 1932 when the army intervened to replace Thailand’s absolute monarchy with a constitutional system. Since then Thailand has gone through cycles of military and civilian rule, in which military intervention has been sometimes ‘anti-democratic’ (as in 1947, arguably 1958, 1976 and 1991) and sometimes ‘pro-democratic’ (as in 1932 and 1977), but consistent in seeing the military as having a ‘guardian’ role in the political system. That the military was able to mount a successful coup in 1991 after about fourteen years of parliamentary government and political liberalisation suggests, as Suchit Bunbongkarn observes below, that popular commitment to democratic norms and procedures is not strongly developed; however, the reversal of the military takeover (albeit with the intervention of the king) suggests the growing strength of civil society in Thailand, a development which is often identified with processes of democratisation.

The lack of a developed liberal democratic tradition has been even more obvious in the case of Korea, and Yung Myung Kim argues below that postwar attempts to impose Western-style democracy upon an unprepared nation simply did not work. Instead, the imported institutions of liberal democracy gave way to the authoritarianism of the Rhee Syngman regime. In 1960 Rhee was overthrown in a popular uprising, but in the ensuing political turbulence the army stepped in to reestablish control. What emerged, however, was not direct military rule but what Kim describes as a system of ‘quasi-civilianised party politics’ headed by Park Chung Hee. Between 1961 and his assassination in 1979 Park’s regime became increasingly authoritarian and personalised. Referring to communist threats from the north and from within, Park denounced Western democracy as inappropriate to Korea’s ‘emergency’ security situation. But the removal of Park Chung Hee did not bring fundamental changes in the political system. From the struggle between conservative military elements and popular pro-democracy forces, the New Military Group of Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo emerged victorious. This group was committed to the continuation of a dominant role for the military in politics and saw democracy as a potential threat to political stability and rapid industrialisation. Confrontation between the repressive regime of Chun Doo Hwan and a growing democracy movement eventually produced a shift towards constitutional democracy in 1987-88, though conflicts within the opposition allowed Roh Tae Woo and a faction of the ruling party to achieve electoral victory, and divisions within the military enabled Roh to extend his authority there. The outcome, Kim suggests, has been a ‘limited democratisation’, producing a system ‘somewhere between military-authoritarian and civilian-democratic’. But with the reversal of the relationship between the military and civil sectors – from one in the 1950s and 1960s where an ‘overdeveloped’ state, in which the military occupied a critical position, dominated civil society, to one in which the military is ‘underdeveloped in comparison to the civil sectors’ – Korea appears to have moved, tentatively, towards democracy.

In the two South Asian nations, also, the interaction between military and civil politics has been complex. Pakistan inherited the British traditions of military professionalism and non-involvement in politics, but the military became increasingly involved in decision making and eleven years after independence intervened, ostensibly to end the squabbling of civilian politicians and oversee the rehabilitation of parliamentary democracy. For the next decade Mohammed Ayub Khan, the first commander-in-chief of Pakistan’s armed forces, ruled initially as chief martial law administrator and later as the country’s first elected president, before resigning and handing over power to the then army commander, Yahya Khan. Two years later, following the defeat of the Pakistan army and the secession of East Pakistan (Bangladesh), Yahya Khan stepped down in favour of a civilian martial law administrator, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. But in 1977 a further coup removed Bhutto and again placed the country under a martial law regime, headed by Zia ul Haq. Having ‘legitimised’ his position in a referendum in 1984, President Zia lifted martial law and introduced a system of ‘controlled democracy’, in which political power was, at least nominally, shared between the military and civilian politicians. Four years later, following the death of Zia, elections were held under the supervision of a military-dominated Emergency Council. The victory of Benazir Bhutto ended the military’s direct role in politics, though it continued to play an active indirect part both during Bhutto’s period in office and in her removal in 1990. After 1990 Pakistan was governed by a pro-military civilian government until 1993 when Benazir Bhutto was re-elected as prime minister. However, the military clearly still sees itself as having a ‘guardian’ role.

Indirectly, Bangladesh also substantially inherited the British Indian tradition of military professionalism, though as in Indonesia and Burma, the circumstances of the birth of the independent state left a division in the armed forces, between the professionalism of the former members of the Pakistan military and the politicisation of the former Mukti Bahini militia, reorganised after independence as a national security force attached to the ruling Awami League. But following a brief period of increasingly authoritarian civilian rule, and growing antipathy between the military and paramilitary forces, the army entered politics in 1975, ostensibly as guardians of parliamentary democracy. Having achieved power and initiated a partnership between the military and civilian politicians, General Ziaur Rahman moved to establish a multi-party system and to civilianise and democratise Bangladesh politics. However, splits with the ruling party following the assas-sination of Zia by a group of military officers, and opposition from within the military to the democratisation process initiated by Zia, led to another military intervention in 1981-82 and demands for a constitutional role similar to that enjoyed by the military in Indonesia. Martial law was lifted in 1986 but Chief Martial Law Administrator General Ershad continued to preside over an authoritarian regime until 1990 when a popular uprising forced his resignation and re-established parliamentary democracy.

In all of these Asian states military intervention came at a fairly early stage, generally in a context of political instability or popular discontent, and not entirely unexpectedly. In the Pacific island state of Fiji, on the other hand, the military coups of 1987 came unexpectedly after seventeen years of stable parliamentary government. As Lawson argues below, the coups had less to do with praetorian challenges to civilian politics than with the army’s reassertion of the dominant traditional-aristocratic pattern of Fjian politics following the electoral victory of an opposition coalition dominated by Fiji Indians and ethnic Fijians from outside the chiefly establishment. In the wake of the coups, Fiji’s constitution was rewritten to further entrench the paramountcy of indigenous Fijian interests and consolidate the position of the chiefs. That achieved, the country returned to civilian rule and in elections in 1992 coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka was popularly elected as prime minister.

The remaining two countries, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea, have not experienced military rule since independence. Both inherited from their colonial regimes (US and Australia, respectively) a tradition of military professionalism which has been reinforced by close ties with their former mentors with respect to training and financial assistance.

In the case of the Philippines, the armed forces were involved at an early stage of the post-independence period in domestic security operations, and in subsequent years seemed at times on the verge of involvement in civil politics. The military did not become a significant actor, however, until 1972, when, faced with communist and Muslim insurgencies, and the prospect of being constitutionally unable to stand for a third presidential term, Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. As Marcos sought to consolidate his authority he appointed loyal officers to senior positions and in doing so politicised the armed forces and created a division between the professional officers who had graduated from the Philippine Military Academy and the ‘integré’ officers whose careers rested largely on political patronage. When a popular uprising occurred in 1986, protesting the declaration of a fraudulent election, senior military personnel, including the then deputy commander of the armed forces, Fidel Ramos, broke with Marcos and joined the opposition; this split within the armed forces (in contrast with the pattern of events in Burma in 1988) was critical to the success of the so-called People Power Revolution which removed Marcos and returned the Philippines to parliamentary democracy. After her victory in 1986, however, the incoming president, Corazon Aquino, had to survive seven coup attempts from elements within the armed forces, notably among the younger professional officers who had supported the move against Marcos in 1986 and sought a role in post-Marcos government. Ramos, reinstated as commander of the armed forces, remained loyal to Aquino, however, and in 1992, as her chosen candidate, was elected to succeed her. Rebel former military leaders continue to pose a minor challenge to the Philippine government but the prospects of military intervention now seem remote.

By the time Papua New Guinea became independent in 1975 many of the newly-independent states of Africa and Asia had succumbed to military rule, and there were many who foresaw the likelihood of a similar development in Papua New Guinea. The classic preconditions for military intervention were there: a high degree of ‘modernism’ and coherence in the military relative to the institutions of civil society; threatened corporate interests as expenditure on the military lagged and the size of the force was reduced; personal ambition, and a highly fluid pattern of party politics. That a coup has not been attempted probably owes something to the successful working of Papua New Guinea’s essentially Westminster-style political institutions and the fact that dissatisfied or ambitious officers (including the defence force’s first three commanding officers) have chosen to resign from the military and contest elections (one becoming deputy prime minister); but it probably owes a lot, also, to the intensely fragmented topography and ethnic composition of Papua New Guinea. In recent years a growing perception that the military’s likely role in defence against external aggression is less significant than the role it has come to play in maintaining internal security has led to a shift in attitudes towards the military, which has also become more politicised. Tensions have occasionally arisen in relations between the military and the civilian government, particularly in relation to the handling of the ongoing rebellion on Bougainville, but while the possibilities of a more substantial civil-military confrontation cannot be entirely ruled out, the prospects of military intervention seem remote.