Jackboots in the debating chamber can often be a good thing
People get a lot of funny ideas about military coups. The image is of a power mad psychopath brutally murdering the well meaning, universally popular, democratically elected leader. This is then followed by years of torture, repression, bankruptcy and kleptomania by a swivel-eyed despot in dress uniform. But the facts are very different, or at least, a lot more nuanced. As I wrote about recently, coups can be splendid catalysts for positive change. Indeed, there’s over a dozen leaders in office right now who came to power via a coup. None of these make the headlines here because they’re plodding along very nicely with, if not the support, at least the acceptance of the citizenry.
And there are three very well known countries which could seriously benefit from a catalyst for positive change.
Former coup leader General Pervez Musharraf dramatically fled court last week, having been refused bail. Musharraf ruled Pakistan between 1999 an 2007 following a bloodless coup.
Pakistan is no stranger to military rule, of course, but Musharraf was an especially good example of what can happen when coups go well.
He was by far more liberal than many professional politicians. He quickly recognised that Pakistan’s own Islamic extremists were far more of threat to the survival of the country that the perennial enemy, India. The general was respected enough by the security establishment to maintain order, and he also had the clout to keep the ISI, Pakistan’s ubiquitous intelligence agency, in check.
Today Pakistan is less stable than it has been in a generation. There has been an uptick in violence in the Swat Valley and tribal areas, and extremism in now bleeding into the cities, with liberals and moderated being harassed or outright attacked.
A coup in Pakistan would be easy to unleash, and tick many boxes: without the need to secure votes, the generals could get on with the job with government. There would be an opportunity to clean house, purging the radicalist supporting officers from the army. The ISI could be redeployed, focusing on actual enemies of the state rather than blackmailing politicians. The nuclear arsenal would become more secure overnight. A decade of military rule would provide the stability for investment and development, which Pakistan is primed for given its young population and enviable location bordering India, China, and acting the link between Central Asian natural gas and the seas.
The carnage in Syria shows no signs of abating. A bloody stalemate has been reached, with the rebels too disunited and weak to topple the regime, but with the government forces never quite strong enough to finish off the rebels. Even if the regime did suddenly collapse, the loose confederation of rebel militias would be unable to form a government, and would instead carve out niches for themselves. Proto-warlordism is a very real possibility, with the remnant governmental forces simply being the largest faction in a country full of factions.
Yet a peace deal is off the table too, for now. Too much blood has been spilt for any rebel group to countenance a deal with the regime. There can be no settlement that would leave a senior Ba’ath Party official as leader. However only a figure from inside the traditional establishment would have the authority, connections and resources to hold Syria together.
The solution? A military coup. A group of mid ranking or senior officers could between them summon up a few hundred men to arrest or kill the few dozen or so figures that make up the mafia running Syria. Assad himself is said to be residing on a warship, such is the fear of a coup. A coup would therefore work very well, as Assad could be either arrested by the sailors, or if they are loyal, the ship could sail to Russia for exile. A senior general would have enough authority to hold the rest of the government together, but will not necessarily be tainted by the politics of the regime. Outside powers could help greatly by offering to support this figure, and recognise him a legitimate representative of a government of transition.
It is difficult to tell how or why the current crisis in North Korea started, but most analysts agree that it is simply the manifestation of internal power plays between senior figures in the ruling communist party. This would be fine, were it not for the fact that millions could be incinerated in a fiery nightmare of a nuclear exchange in North East Asia.
The current leader of North Korea is, it seems, trying to establish himself as the undisputed ruler. However there are many factions at play, and its unclear how successful Kim The Third is being; so much of what we see is highly orchestrated mass devotions of loyalty. But recent insights have shown that the slavish devotion we see on screen hides a military establishment deeply unsure about the princling.
The army, lets not forget, are privy to far more information on the outside world than the average citizen comrade. They can see how are behind the North is. They can see how unsustainable the status quo is, and how their survival hinges on the good graces of China and the patience of the South. Add to that, the suffering and deprivation of an imprisoned population, and North Korea looks rather well placed for a coup.
One could imagine security being tight around the leadership of the most paranoid nation on earth, but then again one could also see such a leadership being very complacent. Sixty years of seemingly mindless loyalty will inevitably instil some false sense of security. Even if ‘Little Kim’ wasn’t arrested, he could be prevented of returning to Pyongyang after a visit to the provinces.
The new junta could open dialogue, probably via China or Russia, with the US, South Koreans and Japan. In return for a steady removal of military assets from the DMZ, food, medicine and fuel could pour into the North. With relations approaching something close to what they were five years ago, North and South could restart joint ventures, expand trade, and generally calm down.
North Korea wouldn’t suddenly become Denmark overnight of course. It will still be a harsh and improvised place. But at least the belligerent ideologues would have been permanently sidelined or purged.