Middle East Militaries: In and Out of Politics and Economies due to External Threat Perceptions A Dynamic Regional Order Approach to Civil–military Relations: Comparative Cases of Turkey, Egypt, Israel
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There are many ways for the military to intervene in politics, whether through a direct governing role or monopolizing the national security apparatus. Another much-debated means for military intervention in politics is to play a role in a country’s economy. Turkey, Egypt, and Israel are three Middle East cases, whose militaries have exhibited various economic roles since the 1950s. Subsequent oscillations between economic civilianization and remilitarization have followed. The three cases, however, have shared comparative inception stories of military economic roles, albeit with contrasting configurations of how these military economic activities manifested over time. The militaries’ involvement in the economic realm includes (a) high military budget relative to the civilian state budget and the country’s GDP (Israel); (b) military-run defense industries or the militarization of various economic sectors, such as high-tech, through an advanced military-industrial-complex (Israel and Turkey); and (c) income-generating military-owned enterprises for the purpose of military self-sufficiency. These military-run companies make up for relatively smaller official defense budgets (Egypt). The military-owned holdings can serve as officer pension funds that invest in the civilian economy to directly redistribute the wealth to the retired soldiers (Turkey). Or they include swathes of land controlled by the armed forces that are later sold for income-generation after being vacated (Israel and Egypt). Why did these three seemingly different cases, in terms of their histories, political structures, and societies, converge—one way or another— on a similarly high military involvement in the economic realm of their respective countries? I argue that these military economic roles are co-constituted from within a high threat perception dynamic regional order. In other words, the three militaries play an economic role to maintain themselves as the three strongest militaries in the Middle East. The dynamic regional order approach to understanding economic civil–military relations in the Middle East allows two key observations. First, the countries actually influenced each other’s economic civil–military relations trajectories by virtue of being rival adjacent neighbors, in a high-threat perception environment. This circumstance of regional rivalry and competitive national projects pushed for an arms race in their early years of state formation, which in turn militarized their respective economies over the decades. Second, the countries have consequently been emulating one another from a pool of “best practices,” or at least normalized global civil–military relations practices of military economic roles. I argue that none of these countries’ military economic roles can be understood as an isolated case. The economic role of the military is, thus, a product of the needs of the three countries alike to allocate enough economic resources for their respective militaries in order to enforce sufficient deterrence in a high threat perceptions regional order.
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