Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s suggestion that our region needs a joint Arab military force to deal with escalating threats from armed factions in lands like Libya is one of the most ridiculous and non-credible ideas to emerge in the Arab world for many years. The idea of joint Arab action for common security needs is a good one in principle, but given the legacy of Arab military actions at home and abroad, it makes no sense whatsoever, on many counts.
The most important is that the resort to military force across the Arab countries in recent decades has been a recurring catastrophe. Some Arab countries are falling apart one by one under the destructive impact of runaway militarism, in the absence of legitimate democratic governance systems. We need less militarism, and more civilian control of armed forces and police, in the Arab region, not an idiotic new collective military adventure that only takes the incompetence and national corrosion of rule-by-officers from the national to the regional level.
We need less, not more, military involvement in Arab affairs because of the national destruction, distortion and decay our region has suffered in the past half century or so as a result of five main sources of debilitating military action. These are:
- Chronic military attacks or involvements in our region by foreign powers from East and West; this tradition dates back at least two centuries in the modern era, and over two millennia in longer historical terms.
- The capture and frequent ruin of national government systems by armed forces, police and intelligence agencies; Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, and Egypt, above all, because Egypt started this corrosive trend in 1952, are damning case studies in why soldiers should not run countries.
- The wasteful and destructive impact of Arab-Israeli warfare; the Arab-Israeli conflict is one major reason and excuse that military officers used to take control of Arab governments and transform them into dictatorships in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, while decades of disproportionate defense spending (that in any case failed to check the Zionist threat) was a key reason for Arab domestic developmental weaknesses and state collapse in some cases.
- The military involvement by some Arab countries in the affairs of other Arab countries; Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Libya are current best examples, but this has been a problem since the 1950s and reached crisis conditions in countries like Yemen, Kuwait and Lebanon.
- The growth of non-state militias and veritable sectarian or tribal armies within countries where national integrity has collapsed (often due to the consequences of the first four points above); as some Arab countries fragment and central governments withdraw from large regions of their own sovereignties, the vacuum is always filled by armed groups who often repeat the state’s example of applying militarism at home and abroad.
Military and security agencies have often played constructive and legitimate roles in many Arab countries, by protecting their territory and maintaining domestic order, but such legitimate application of militarism is overwhelmed by the evidence for the problems we suffer from the widespread militarization of our societies.
So for general-turned-president-by-another-Egyptian-coup Sisi now to suggest that we need more joint military action confirms why we should not allow soldiers to run our countries. President Sisi has not been able to bring order to his own country, especially in violent Sinai, so how can he possibly expect anyone to take him seriously when he suggests that we can improve our troubled Arab condition by taking the proven incompetence of ruling militaries at the national level to a wider arena of regional military action?
Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq should be lessons enough in how Arab and foreign armies that move into Arab countries only create conditions of chaos and ungovernability—and these open the way to many local armed sectarian and tribal groups, and nowadays create a fertile environment in which killers like Al-Qaeda and ISIS can take root.
General-turned-president-by-coup Sisi said in his comments that, “The need for a unified Arab force is growing and becoming more pressing every day.’’
That is mind-boggling nonsense. A joint Arab military force to intervene in places like Libya is impossible, first of all, because Arabs fighting each other is a main reason why Libya is such a mess, and, second of all, because politicized Arab militaries used at home and abroad tend to promote chaos and destroy Arab countries, rather than maintain order and national integrity.
What is becoming more pressing by the day is the need to promote legitimate democratic, pluralistic governance in Arab countries where national military and police forces play their important national defense role under civilian oversight.
Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly in the Daily Star. He was founding director and now senior policy fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. On Twitter at: @ramikhouri.
Copyright ©2015 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global