Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What do the military and police organizations do for governments?

After writing the previous post (The gambling addict's dilemma in Iraq), I got to thinking about why the military is the wrong tool to be used to achieve our goals (or more accurately, desires) in Iraq. Here are my thoughts.

The purposes of government

A population accepts the restrictions and expense of a government first and foremost so that it can provide control and social stability. A good government prevents social disruptions such as criminal acts or floods. For the first function the government establishes a police force, maintains a monopoly on the right to use lethal force, and establishes a system of justice to apply social norms of behavior on deviant individuals and groups. Another part of maintaining social stability is to prevent individuals, groups and governments from outside territories from invading and disrupting society. This requires defining outsiders and providing the military organizations necessary to control them.

A more recently developed purpose of government has been to maintain property rights and to create and maintain the economic infrastructure necessary to improve the economy when the costs of that infrastructure cannot effectively be paid for directly from the benefits it supplies. Controlling the money supply and the banks that create it is an example of this function. Another is the provision of commercial law and a court system to enforce it. Without a money supply and enforceable contracts, modern economies are impossible.

The Purpose of a military organization

One purpose of the military organization is to take control of a geographic territory and turn it over to the government that owns the organization to govern. The other purpose of the military is to prevent an outside military force from changing the government that the military force is established to defend.

A government establishes a military force, taxes the populace to support it, and staffs it to primarily prevent outsiders from coming in and replacing that government. The arguments used by governments to get their populations to support the sacrifices necessary to support military organizations are always primarily defensive. Even attacks on other nations are based mostly on some semblance of the idea that the other nation is a danger to the population of the attacker.

The methods of operation of the military

A military force conducts maneuvers in order to apply force against opposing military organizations. The purpose of applying force is to destroy or disrupt the opposing military organizations. The military organization also maneuvers and applies force to avoid being disrupted or destroyed by the opposing military.

The territory over which the armies maneuver is the battlefield. Any local government on the battlefield is ignored, disrupted or destroyed. Since the use of a military force on the battlefield eliminates government and social stability where it is used, a military organization should operate outside the territory under the jurisdiction of the government that owns it. Fighting a war on your own territory means your side is losing, because the government on the battlefield has become ineffective.

Since local governments are not effective on the battlefield, any military organization is designed to operate in the absence of effective government. [This is why contracting out military functions is a bad idea, since private companies require the stability provided by a functioning government for them to operate, and the military by definition operates where there is no effective government. But that is another discussion.]

A military organization is designed to counter another military organization. Historically the military organization able to most rapidly apply the greatest killing power to the opposing force has won its battles. [Note: it is accepted that the U.S. military never lost a major battle in Viet Nam.] Winning means either killing the opposing soldiers or rendering their organization militarily ineffective so that it cannot oppose the transfer of control of the disputed territory to the winning organization. The result of this is that military forces have become more and more destructive. Their goal is to destroy or render ineffective their enemies, not to control them. An army has only a minimal need to understand the communities that the battlefield covers.

Battles eliminate government and leave a power vacuum. The post-battle problem is one of recreating government and returning stability and peace to the previous battlefield. This is not a good function for military organizations or battle-hardened personnel. This is primarily a police function.

Stability and control are functions of government and of police forces. Winning the war, as opposed to just winning the battles, means effectively transferring control of the disputed territory to the friendly or cooperative government.

Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld failed totally to anticipate this problem. The first major clue was the uncontrolled looting that broke out after the U. S. military eliminated the government, military and police forces in Iraq. As additional evidence the U.S. Army has been disbanding Artillery units in Iraq and recreating them as Military Police units. The control of the borders of Iraq after the invasion was a police function.

So was the police function that would have stopped insurgents from preventing the rebuilding of the Iraqi economy and would have limited the growth of effective insurgent organizations. It should be no surprise that the command and control of the Army broke down and permitted the Abu Ghraib atrocities. The military had no guidance or training in how to manage the occupation and prevent insurgency. Without that guidance and training they were stumbling around trying to determine what their jobs were and how they were supposed to perform them. This set of failures belongs to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon and the leadership (?) in the White House.

The purpose of police forces

Since the first purpose of any government is to maintain control and social stability over a specific geographic area, a major tool the government uses to maintain that control is the police. Lethal force and violence are inherently disruptive, so the police attempt to maintain a monopoly on the right to use either of them. They identify individuals and groups who use violence and force for their own benefit and prevent such actions or capture and present such people for judgment in the courts. This means that militias and private armies cannot be allowed if a government is to be effective.

The police also enforce fair economic behavior and property rights. One way they do this is to prevent fraud and enforce property law, the commercial codes and things such as pollution laws. They also perform some economic infrastructure jobs such as control of traffic flow.

Since police have a monopoly of the right to use force, they do not need to develop ever-greater methods of force application. They need only match weaponry used by criminals, and then use their greater organization and ability to obtain Intelligence to overpower the criminals they normally face. By the very nature of a local police force they normally have extensive Intelligence and a deep understanding of the community in which they work. This is sharply different from the circumstances of a military force which must be highly mobile and is by its nature focused on the opposing military force rather than disruptive elements embedded in the local community.

The growth of economic organizations from local producers to state-wide and even nation-wide organizations has required greater reliance on state-wide and nation-wide police organizations to understand and police them. The reason for the more extensive police organizations is that the police have to be able to go where the economic organizations they control go. Otherwise the economic organizations can move fraudulent and criminal elements to the places the police can’t go. Multinationals tend to cause this kind of problem.


Terrorists like the Provisional IRA, Italian Red Brigade, Baader-Meinhoff Gang and the various guerrillas, anarchists and terrorists that abound around the world attempt to destroy governments by attacking the people who operate the government. They do this by violating the government monopoly on the means of using force, and by conducting attacks that sharply increase the fear of the population. Then when the government shows itself to be ineffective at providing stability and control, the population will find another organization they have more faith in to become the government.

The solutions to these problems involve intensive police work and police Intelligence efforts. The strengths of military organizations are more likely to cause an increase of terrorism than to result in its defeat. The Germans, Spaniards, Italians and British have effectively ended the problems of the Baader-Meinhoff Gang, ETA, Red Brigades and Provisional IRA. In each case the solution involved a strong government and effective police work, occasionally supported by military personnel with specialized technology.

None of this has been possible in Iraq because of the DeBaathification program and the disbanding of the police and military forces under the Coalition Provisional Authority. In the absence of those organizations there is no way for the so-called Iraqi government to provide the necessary control and stability that any effective government must provide.

The result is a war that will last until after the U.S. military leaves Iraq. Then there will be an embattled Kurdish government, a Sunni insurgency that wants to be THE government, and a short period in which the several Shiite factions fight it out to see who will provide the Shiite government. Then there is going to be combat over what territory belongs exclusively to each. The presence of American troops will do nothing except delay the final resolutions.

Terrorists work to destabilize and delegitamize the government and its police forces. That would result in greater use of military forces, which automatically causes the destruction of effective government and creates a power vacuum. Terrorism attempts to take advantage of the difference between the military and the police forces and the misunderstanding by political leaders of the sharp distinction between them. With the American top leadership positions in the hands of ignorant men who value loyalty and ideology over competence and experience, the terrorists have had a much easier job in Iraq than they might have had.

Addendum April 19, 2007
See also the related story FBI negotiation teams go anywhere in the world to free kidnapped Americans.

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