Military governments have been around since the days of feudalism. It is the oldest and most
common political state. According to Shively, a military government is one in which a group of officers
use their troops to take over the governmental apparatus and run it themselves. Military governments
are usually weak in appeasing the masses for they are known to be brutal and power hungry and are
also rather fragile, both internally and externally.
In its primitive state, existing as feudalism, the high ranking officials/nobility and the military
itself was composed solely of the elite ruling class. But as society became more complex, the role of the
elite was slightly altered as technology progressed and the nobility and kings no longer controlled
weapons nor could prevent the disintegration of the feudal society.
Modern military governments usually occur after the military stages a coup. A coup is the
forceful deposition of a government by all or a portion of the armed forces and installation of a new
military government. Coups ordinarily take place when the present government poses a threat to the
state or the status quo. Because the military controls more armed power than anyone in a state, they
have the ability to take over the government at any given time. In Power and Choice, Shively questions
the notion of the infrequency of military governments. Yes, they are common, but why aren't they more
common? The reason being that as societies advance and become more complex, it is necessary for the
ruling elite to be more knowledgeable of the processes by which a government is operated. This explains
the recurrence of civilian-run governments. The military may have a few leaders who are skilled
politically, but the armed forces are not customarily trained to run governments. Recall that the role of
the military is to protect and serve the state, therefore there is usually a cycle, known as the Barracks
cycle, in which the military brings about a coup, but later reestablishes civilian control, and is the new
state threatens governmental stability, the military stages yet another coup, etc. The longer the military
stays in power, the more the political state exists unstably.
In Nigeria, for instance, numerous military coups were staged between 1966 to 1978. In 1978,
democracy was peacefully reestablished by public consensus, but five years later democracy fell once
more to a military coup. Military rulers since then have negotiated the possibility of the restoration of
democracy in Nigeria, but efforts have been static and democracy still has not been established. Greece
was operated by the military from 1967 through 1973. The military government was maintained for the
six years by austere autocratic measures. In 1974, the military government was dismissed and
democracy was reinstated. The use of coercion as means of gaining power by the right-wing officers
was a way for them to attempt the establishment of autonomy.
The concept of legitimacy in military governments is also questionable. Other types of
governments such as democratic, monarchical, and communist governments are all legitimized either by
the electoral process as the democratic government is, by the rule of succession as the monarchical
government is, or by Lenin's theory that the Communist party must lead the revolution. In all other
senses, the military government has no process of choice and therefore is not a true political state.
Shively states that politics, consists of the making of common decisions for a group through the use of
power and of public choice. Since legitimacy can be defined as the belief on the part of large numbers of
people in a state that the existing governmental structure and/or the particular persons in office should
appropriately wield authority, the question can be asked--are military governments legitimate? In a
timocracy, according to Plato, the state is based on ambition and love honor and war. When considering
the idea of honor, the military is then concerned with the rationalization of its occupancy of the state
and are hence subject to institute a civilian-run government.
It is also necessary to understand the weakness of internal coalitions in military governments.
Analyzing the structure of the military, one finds that it consists of different branches (navy, army,
marines, and air force) and different officers. Each branch, though a part of one military force, is
constantly in competition with each other. This creates difficulty in accomplishing tasks assigned to the
force as a whole. The lack of communication and the presence of the ego creates a failure to succeed
and an unfinished task. Also the presence of officers of dissimilar philosophies and ideologies induces
chaos when instructed to complete certain tasks with each other. In 1983, a terrorist attack occurred in
Grenada and the United States planned to send military aid. Each branch was aware of incentives
which created competition between the navy, marines, and army. The officers of each branch could not
agree on a strategy to work with and finally a group of marines was sent in to control the guerrilla
soldiers. They eventually were fired upon by the terrorists and a large number of marines were killed.
The fact that the navy, marines, and army all had different devices of communication contributed to the
failure of the three groups to successfully defeat the terrorists and spare the lives of the soldiers killed.
How could the military possibly run a government when they can't function mutually? Due to their weak
external consensus, they can't. Either one of those branches will be strong enough and take over as the
dominant group and set up an autocracy or the coalition will break down and return to the previous
form of government or evolve to a new sophisticated government.
In any case, military governments are weak internally and externally. They pose as forms of
transitional governments, not necessarily in times of revolution, but in times when the state itself
becomes weak or poses a threat to the status quo. Though some military governments do perservere for
years and years without being overthrown, their inability to run the state efficiently forces the military
to restore democracy or to stage another overthrow of the government. Also, because the military
government itself takes power through no regular process as other, more stable forms of government,
but simply seizes it, they encounter the problem of legitimacy. Lastly, coalitions internally are in itself a
whole other government. The weakness and competition present between these coalitions usually
causes the downfall of the military government and installment of a new civilian-run government
decided so by the general consensus. Generally, all military governments will fail in time and return to
it previous government or evolve to a whole new governmental system with a revolution.
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