The armed forces in the context of "color revolutions"
Examinations of the arranging and counteracting of color revolutions (changing the elite and political model in a country with the participation of external forces) usually touch upon issues of legitimacy, a critical mass of rebels and their competence (including degree of risk), social and political context, decision-making systems in critical situations, as well as its weak points; existence and interests of external actors, as well as their support of rebels.
In most cases, the main subjects, having influence on the process of negotiations and the results of the color revolutions, are the president and (or) the Prime Minister, Ministry of the Interior and the security services. The mass media could affect them indirectly too. At the supreme moment, the security agencies take practically overall responsibility. Learning from past experience, the armed forces can play a crucial role during "color revolutions", becoming the executive branch of the sovereign state (according to Carl Schmitt, a German jurist, sovereign is someone who makes decisions in critical situations).
Experts are certain that the most significant and effective use of armed force to prevent a coup d’état was the events in June 1989 in Tiananmen Square (Beijing). Even if the term "colored revolution" appeared in the 2000s, the context of the events is practically the same: the majority of rebels were young people, claiming high liberalization and fighting against corruption.
Despite casualties on both sides, with some countries attempting to bring pressure on the Chinese government, the political consequences were insignificant: only Japan froze credits, but, a year later, began to allow them again.
The Western media failed to show the events as the repression of a communist regime.
From the late '90s until today, political riots and attempts to arrange coups d’état had two definitive distinctions. In some cases, the attitude of the military forces was neutral or approved the rebels (for example, the events in Ukraine in 2004-2005). In other cases, the military played a crucial role to protect the existing political system and sovereignty.
The following examples give a brief description of the events in several countries when political transformation or an attempt (often with violence) took place.
In 2005 Lebanon faced the so-called Cedar revolution that divided the Lebanese society into two groups: supporters and opponents of the current government. Forces backed by the USA and Saudi Arabia also claimed the withdrawal of the Syrian army that was providing security in the country. The opposition succeeded in the withdrawal of Syrian troops, though the political system wasn’t changed. The president remained in office too. Due to the fact that Hezbollah, the pro-Syrian party, has a paramilitary wing, the confrontation between the two political camps could have turned into a civil war.
According to Lebanese sources, the two sides tried to avoid a massacre, and the Syrian government was under so much pressure from the US and some EU countries that it had to withdraw its troops.
Further political processes showed deep crisis in the country, and to this day the parliament has not elected the president.
In 2009, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won in the presidential election, the opposition, supported by Western countries (using social media to meet their targets) arranged protests and riots in Tehran and some other Iranian towns. The police, using tear gas to restore order, were backed up by troops of the Army of the Guards of the Islamic Revolution. According to various sources, about a dozen protesters were killed. Despite active intervention two months later, the situation in the country became completely normal.
The supreme power in the country is not represented by a president or prime minister, but by the Ayatollah. He is in head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Also, he can veto government decisions concerning foreign policy.
The particular functions of the government are crucial when analyzing each particular case.
Almost immediately after the beginning of mass riots, the president Ben Ali left the country, after which a provisional government was created. The armed forces were not involved; the changes went according to the western countries through political debates and elections.
Political opposition in Bahrain wanted to conduct democratic reforms that were not supported by the government. Not only were local security forces used to put down the revolt, but also Saudi Arabia helped too. [i]
Liberal experts (from the EU, the US and Canada) described the events in Bahrain as being of a "limited and sectarian nature."ii This is not actually true, as the opposition was a coalition of liberal-democratic and conservatives actors. At the same time, the majority of Bahrain’s population is Shiites, whilst the ruling dynasty is Sunnis.
The Western media, usually, does not cover regular riots in the country, and liberal democracies do not pay attention to the events in Bahrain, even if they lead to civilian casualties.
This situation shows the double standards of Western countries regarding the internal affairs of other countries dealing with political reform.
The Libyan example of 2011 is not typical for a few reasons. Firstly, there is a geopolitical division of the country. The main towns are situated in the coastal zone, which is divided into Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. Also, Bedouin tribes inhabit a huge part of the desert. The crucial events were a product of the confrontation between Benghazi and Tripoli. A single highway along the sea, through which the government and militants could move their troops, connects the centers.
The actions of the army in containing the terrorists were effective only at the very beginning, but the Western media described any government actions as atrocities that caused international political repercussions.
The decision to create no-fly zones, the product of a vote at the UN Security Council, which had been supported by Russia, and the NATO coalition air attacks of Gaddafi troops were practically in favor of the rebels.
It is still a mystery why the air defense systems that were later found in army warehouses were not used. The most likely explanation is that the political decision of the Libyan leader was not adopted.
Anyway, the Libyan case shows intervention in sovereign affairs of another country.
The case of Egypt is rather interesting, as statistics show a moderate growth in socio-economic indicators in the country, both before and at the beginning of the disturbance to overthrow President Mubarak and his family clan. There is no objective reason to explain the "Arab Spring" in Egypt using the economy and domestic policy of the country. The poverty level and the deterioration of the situation, as the Western media covered it, didn’t depend on the arranging of protests and riots.
From the onset of the protests, military force was a guarantee for the security of the Egyptian people. At the same time, they urged Mubarak, as well as Morsi, to enter them into the Supreme Council for the intermediate period. After the events at Sinai, when the Muslim Brotherhood killed frontier guards and policemen, the military used the situation to retain power and start a large-scale counter-terrorist operation to arrest or destroy Muslim Brotherhood members in Egypt, including President Morsi (sentenced to life imprisonment).
It is necessary to note the experience of the previous year of the Egyptian military as a restraining force, as well as their role in the Egyptian economy. The state of emergency in the country was abolished only in June 2012. It had been established 30 years ago, after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. This experience allowed a positive image of the military to form in the public opinion, thus Abdel Al-Sisi, the representative of the military, was able to win with a wide margin in the elections.
In Egypt, after a legal consolidation of military power, new laws restricting the possible actions of the opposition in the future were adopted iv. Some of them were regarded as a violation of the freedom of the press and others were concerned the administrative reformv. However, the amendments allowed authorities to legitimize their actions in term of internal political changes and to prevent new riots.
The conflict in Syria practically began following the Libyan succession of events, where the moderate opposition, liberal supporters, foreign media and NGOs, and simultaneously a group of armed gangs and terrorists, carried out an escalation of violence, often in the field of protests or on behalf of the opposition (using the same claims). Due to geographical factors, the government was not able to establish full control of the border, and terrorist group began to seek entry into the country, later forming their alliances, teams and networks.
At first, the Syrian authorities knew about the interaction between foreign agents and radical groups. The experience of neighbors and the role of Western countries displayed the possible consequences of concessions to parties pretending to be opposition.
Furthermore, cultural and religious diversity played a major role in Syria. In fact the supporters of the coup d’état depended on it, but in most cases, it worked the other way. The Kurds formed their own self-defense units and became one of the most effective forces against the Islamic Statevii, whilst the Christians and Druze, realizing the threat from radical Islamists, united around Assad’s Alawite group.
Other important factors were the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran (there is an agreement on mutual assistance in defense and security), as well as the Lebanese Hezbollah. They started to provide assistance to the Syrian government’s fight against the terrorists.
Besides, Syria had consolidated their common system of law enforcement agencies. This allowed the effective use of infrastructure, command and control, as well as staff turnover, despite the significant potential of the opposition.
An attempt at a "color revolution" can be seemed in the events in Istanbul's Taksim Square and in protests in other Turkish towns. On this occasion, the army was practically involved. Erdogan's government effectively suppressed the riots with the help of the police. The army had previously undergone purges through the Ergenekon trials, which dramatically reduced the pre-existing role of the army as the defender of the Constitution. Experts unanimously described the actions of Erdogan as a strategy to ensure his future interests.
Thailand is the fourth country where a coup d’état is possible.viii After a cycle of dictatorship-democracy an amnesty was held, and confiscated assets returned back. Besides, there is a high level of corruption, which concerns the opposition too. After the Red Shirt movement reached a new level, the country faced an essentially new crisis.
The army and security services decided to prevent possible riots by arresting activists. The current situation in the country is under military control, but the level of political tension in the community is still high.
Some experts tend to think that a coup d’état took place in Ukraine due to a lack of political will of the current President Yanukovich, because there was enough militia forces and security services to restore order in the country. In a crisis, the armed forces are declared not to interfere in the conflict. However, the events in Donbass revealed that troops could fight against civilians, thus, it depends mostly on decisions and orders of the authorities.
In Ukraine, the important role was given to the media (selective flow of information) and psychological treatment of the population under the strong pressure of the EU and the USA. The decision to use force meant Yanukovich was to be put on the list of outcasts and the foreign assets of the leadership were to be frozen, but this actually happened after the escape of Yanukovich and former heads of security agencies.
In Latin America, the armed forces are effectively used as a police force to maintain law and order and prevent possible riots.
For example, Venezuela uses the army to patrol the streets. In fact, the situation in the country is reminiscent of a "color revolution". The country is under US economic sanctions. Acts of sabotage are carried out on strategic facilities. The liberal opposition in Venezuela is under direct external control.
Until now, the political and military leadership of Venezuela can deal with the situation.
The possibility of using the US armed forces
The United States can use different kinds of troops for different purposes to enforce the observation of the law and to prevent anti-constitutional actions. The research on the development and use of non-lethal weapons (special maldorants, means of delivery with gas caps, radio frequency noise cannons, lasers, electric shock, etc.), as well as documents such as Field Manual FM 3-21.81 and The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad: Employment in a Zombie-Apocalypse Scenario confirm indirectly the possibility to suppress civil riots.ix
The maneuvers of different types of troops of Jade Helm, starting in July 2015 in some US states, have also been regarded by the Americans as the means to suppress civil riots.x
Security issues cannot be separated from political activity and attempts from external interference. The problems of "color revolutions", generally speaking, can use the model of securitization, created by Barry Buzan, Oli Waever etc. This theory says that there are four structural options that are associated with a change in the security complex: 1) keeping the status quo; 2) inner transformation; 3) external transformation; 4) imposition.xi At the same time, there are five sectors that are related to issues of collective security: military, political, economic, social, environmental.xii The main task of the actor’s securitization position (a country) is to define existential threats. At the same time, the reference to the military sector is not only the object of another country, like it was in the modern era, but also such "enemies" like the Fifth column, ethnic groups, separatists, rebels, mafia, and other subjects. Typical military activities for many advanced democracies, like peacekeeping and humanitarian interventions, cannot guarantee defense from existential threats.
Such an approach legitimizes the extensive use of armed forces for security and the avoidance of threats, including events of “color revolutions”. This part of the actors, using armed force to settle domestic issues, has not expressed these kinds of arguments that appeal to the representatives of Western science, so this analysis can be used as an additional tool in diplomatic and media work.
The country’s characteristics and population, cultural continuity, political specificity, following of a particular policy of international relations, as well as the presence of a strong army (in any country that possesses a nuclear weapons arsenal, the "color revolutions" were unsuccessful, although Pakistan is not a country that is perfectly safe) are the standards that must be considered when analyzing the possibilities of a coup d’état and the escalation of a conflict.
x[i]Buzan B., Waever O., Wilde de J. Security. A New Framework for Analysis. London: Boulder, 1998. P. 13-14.
xI[i] Sheehan M. International Security. An Analytical Survey.London, 2005.Р. 47.