Paul Collier is pimping his War, Guns and Votes idea of creating rules under which the international community will tacitly support the use of military coup as a method of achieving political change again, this time in the context of the Ivory Coast. He says:
In much of Africa, the national army is the force most feared by presidents. Leaders go to considerable lengths to keep the army happy, but coups are still common. Because neither African governments nor the international community want to encourage coups, they have taken the line that the military should simply stay out of politics at all costs. This is understandable, but misguided: it’s better to set guidelines as to the very limited circumstances under which the ousting of an incumbent ruler would be legitimate.
His argument is essentially that this could work directly (by the army forcing Gbagbo out) or indirectly (the threat of being forced out, coupled with international pariah status and frozen bank accounts induce Gbagbo to leave power voluntarily).
His ideas are interesting, of course, but it seems to me that they depend on an assumption that either outsiders can control the coup leaders, or that they will operate in a benign manner – deposing Gbagbo and returning the country to democracy either out of the goodness of their hearts or out of fear of further coups. I’m dubious. History is littered with examples of where external powers have encouraged or supported an alternative to a bad leader, only to watch in horror as their role as Dr. Frankenstein creates a monster far beyond control.
Armies tend to be run and staffed by people who believe in strict hierarchy, discipline and autocratic models of leadership. I would imagine that they would therefore be just as prone to undemocratic behaviour as the leaders they depose. And once in power, won’t they be tempted by the endless possibilities to line their own pockets or to provide patronage to whatever groups support them? Are they less likely to be corrupted by power, even absolute power? I doubt this.
Direct military intervention has problems as well, of course, as does leaving things for an internal solution. I’m not sure which approach is best. All seem distinctly unsatisfactory.