National Security

Military & Popularity

By Rana Athar Javed

The perception of a military as exists today differs from its initial arrangement. Information evolve, complexity of wars and conflicts become intricate, and the decision-making strategies change. The governments in Western countries, especially the US often forge the popular image of their militaries through engaging people at local level, which obviously requires an arduous process of attention, control of information, funds, media planning, and marketing the indigenous slogan of “military glory” under centuries of history.

It seems appropriate to compare how the century-long “world building” project has managed to bring forth a different image of the most powerful militaries, that is, invader and violator of human rights. The creation or re-making of entire nations including Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria are consistently causing unpopularity even among the general masses of major Western countries. One principal dent in the popularity of the US military in addition to element of non-professionalism includes the wastage of those sacrifices, which might have been genuinely involved in defending the week sections of a country. As a result, the civil-military relations encountered setbacks and mistrust, and thereby loss of traditional glory and pride in the services of military in Western countries.

In the context of popularity, significant damage is being inflicted upon the popularity of the US military. The post-Abu Ghraib case in Iraq, the burning of bodies of Afghans, Guantanamo Bay, doctrine of preemption, application of illegal war technology (drones), probably are some of the most damming sources of unpopularity of the US/NATO militaries today.

Brief mention should be made of recent announcement by Ben Emmerson QC, a UN special rapporteur. According to press reports, in a speech to Harvard law school, he condemned secret rendition and waterboarding as crimes under international law. The United Nations is to set up a dedicated investigations unit in Geneva to examine the legality of drone attacks in cases where civilians are killed in so-called “targeted” counter-terrorism operations. The report further stated that “the global war paradigm has done immense damage to a previously shared international consensus on the legal framework underlying both international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” “It has also given a spurious justification to a range of serious human rights and humanitarian law violations.

Conversely, in the developing nations especially Afghanistan and Pakistan, the management of foreign military intervention by their militaries are considered as preamble of popularity. The counterterrorism efforts of Pak-military for example received enormous public support, especially during military operations in Swat and in other parts of FATA, although the presence of trained militia in the border areas demonstrated concerns about regular military’s capacity. This reason, however deals with the lack of modern weaponry and insufficient international collaboration, rather than the popular image of its professionalism.

Given the current state of affairs in war on terror, and expected war scenarios in the Middle East and Africa, peace without military’s popularity would become subjects of psychological pressures and demoralizing factor among troops. More, important, both culturally and institutionally, the perception of a military is an important base to be relied upon for achieving the short-and-long term military objectives, and thus creating opportunities for mainstream political leadership to show solidarity with standing troops.

The configuration of a professional military today necessarily requires a detailed response to both internal and external security threats, because in order to expand popular support, the authorized strength of a military ostensibly needs to prevent/crush any destabilizing effort by a foreign or domestic force. However, overbearing the unpopularity would impose one of the most wrenching social, professional and moral strains on a military.

While external threats involve alliances and sovereignty persists through a long-terms war strategy, unpopular campaigns against internal threats also place developing nations in jeopardy. Hence, the importance of popularity and countering negative perception of a military will remain dominant themes in the future conflicts and military operations.

The pattern of bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan, for instance reflect that exchange of popular views, and seeking to find common points of agreements are the basis of equality and thereby putting the differences on the table. The proposition that India and Pakistan and their militaries have evolved out of conflict and are ready to negotiate and resolute all disputes including the Jammu & Kashmir, surely would invoke a notion of popularity for both the militaries.

Adopting such a perspective is not only beneficial for the stability and development of both the nations, but, will also certainly address the issues of poverty, illiteracy, and health care for more than one third of the world population. For these objectives to be achieved, an early resolution of Kashmir dispute is inevitable. Also, “in view of the failed bilateral-ism” during the past six decades, a focused US effort is needed for the resolution of Kashmir issue.

As a closing consideration, the popularity is a driving force behind the success of a professional military. The underlying challenge however is the role of mass media in building the popular perception, and as a natural logic accept that during social chaos, psychological warfare and internal security threats, enhancing support system to the fighting militaries convey the enemy the “message” of solidarity and resilience of entire nation.

The developing world therefore should use popularity of a military to resolute outstanding conflicts because arousing strong resistance against peace would really shift the powerful tool of negotiation to the unpopular quarters.

The empirical evidence suggests that there can be a significant inconsistency in popular support to a military across political parties, although military’s popularity can be high among the general masses. Formation of closer public and military partnership therefore would create strong support in maintaining national interests – and being closer to masses will not diminish military’s popularity, on the contrary, people can emerge as effective partners both in war and peace times.