We regularly see militaries seize power from Democratic governments (Egypt). In some countries, military ruled for decades (Spain), in some countries military has considerable influnce on the decision making process (Pakistan). In some countries military becomes savior(zimbabwe). In other words, military's influence is either a probability, or a reality.

Why don't countries keep provision of the military to become 4th pillar of the state (other three being: executive, legislative, judiciary)?

In that way, a civilian government's power could be checked. For instance, Bangladesh is suffering from the side effect of democracy.

It can also be a fail safe measure in case of emergency and crisis. For instance, Bangladesh suffered several crises in the democracy regarding the caretaker government.

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    Something that immediately comes to mind is the military is unelected and tends to act in its own interest when involved in political matters. Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 11:49
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    How would that even look in practice? In most countries the army already is an unofficial check and balance institution because they usually have enough fire- and manpower to just overthrow the government and install a military dictatorship if they want to. this happens all the time all around the world. It's not in the interest of any democracy to acknowledge and encourage that possibility by writing it into the constitution.
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 12:14
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    I think @Philipp nailed it. Military can be a political force in a power vacuum for good or bad but it doesn't make much sense to install it as a 4th branch in an "organized" political process. Do we want the military weighing in on issues of the day like tax reform, healthcare or climate change? We have the legislative branch that represents local interests and writes the bills, the Executive who generally oversees, signs, and is the face of the nation and the Judicial that addresses legal questions. I don't see what role the military could play if added to the 3 branches.
    – userLTK
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 12:43
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    @anonymous There's still the "how would it work" problem. You're talking theoretical but if the Military has the power to enforce free elections, they'd have the power to corrupt the elections. How do you prevent corrupt alignment between military and national leaders? In Turkey, the Military had political clout until recently. Erdogan's largely stripped the military of those who might oppose him. Military can have political power, but it's more of a shoving match. I don't think you can make it somehow manageable and balance the power by incorporation. (if that makes sense?).
    – userLTK
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 13:24
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    The premise is ill founded. Some countries (Turkey, Egypt, Zimbabwe and others) have done just that.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 6:41

2 Answers 2


First consider the other three pillars and how they link with each other. Each of the three pillars has defined roles with limited or very specific powers (or lack of) over the other ones, they are also civilian based and therefore would lack the resources to overthrow the other pillars with force. Any constitutional power given to the military would be backed up with force potentially giving dominance over other pillars (leader X rules at the pleasure of the military).

In terms of the military defining a role is rather difficult any definition that is too vague allows them to jump into any breach with full force and anything too specific and then there won't be much point possible definitions:

  1. "To defend nation X it's principals and values" (ECT). This is rather vague perhaps defining some principals and values would help but anything like this is so open to interpretation that they could easily use it to start a civil war at their convenience
  2. "To ensure [some other pillars] are acting in the best interests of the people" again vague and empowering the military to act whenever it suits them and requiring that the government keeps the military happy
  3. "Defend nation X again external military threats " very specific provides no real powers above what the military has anyway

Giving the military a day to day role in the running of the nation is rather difficult i.e. there is no obvious role for them in making most legislation such as tax reform etc. Whereas the other pillars have well-defined roles in these situations.

Writing the military into the constitution legitimises any unofficial power they may have had and this may undermine attempts for a country to be democratic.


In most democratic countries, the military is legally controlled by the Executive branch. Usually, the Executive branch will be limited in their power to use the military without authorization from the Legislative branch. In some jurisdictions, they are also involved with the Judicial branch, such as the National Gendarmerie in France, who act as a federal police force but are officially part of the armed services. There are good reasons to keep them out of politics in general:

  1. Military commanders should be appointed based on their skill and experience as a commander, not their politics. Obviously this does not prevent appointments from being political anyway, but involving the commanders in politics would encourage it more.
  2. The military needs to have a top-down structure that issues clear orders. Having multiple politicians arguing over what commands to issue will cause miscommunication and possibly sow dissent ("well, I agreed with the command that got voted down").

There are probably more, but this should give an idea of why having a political military command is not advantageous. If the idea is only to keep the military as a "check" on the power of the government, than this introduces other issues.

  1. The military is unelected. The core principal of democracy is that the government is formed via the people's vote (whether by voting for representatives or laws). Why should a largely autonomous, unelected group have final say in whether the government is doing its job? This may also lead to the military having even more leverage over the legislature to get funding and benefits.
  2. In the US, members of the military are legally required not to obey unlawful orders, I would assume in other countries it is the same way. So, if they are issued an unlawful order by the Executive, they are already allowed to disobey it.
  3. If a government is already tyrannical, it's unlikely that the military's intervention will change it, at least on its own. Governmental corruption is systemic, and does not only involve the people that are currently in power. According to this answer, in the example of Zimbabwe, it appears that the military's intervention is unlikely to change the direction of the country; they just happen to support one bad leader over another.
  4. As Phillip noted in comments, the military can overthrow the government in most cases, if it were united in its desire to do so. The US may be the only developed country where the civilian population would possibly be able to resist a united military junta without outside help. Also note the word united - even if some sort of contingency were put in the constitution to allow the military to overthrow the government legally, this kind of action will fracture the military into factions and encourage USSR-style purges. Really, this is the reason we try to use law rather than force to effect change in a country - it leads to fewer dead.
  • Regarding resisting am military coup: Nazi Germany also had an interesting approach: they simply had two independent armies with completely isolated command structures (Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS), so if one had acted up, the other could have resisted them.
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 13:18
  • "Why should a largely autonomous, unelected group have final say in whether the government is doing its job?" Almost all democratic countries have unelected judges with similar power. Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 14:09
  • @MaxBarraclough Speaking fo the US - depending on the jurisdiction, judges are either elected directly or have an appointment process through the other two groups of that jursidiction. The judicial is also beholden to the legislative in terms of the rulings they can actually make, since their rulings are supposed to be based on the laws passed by Congress and the Constitution (which can also be amended by Congress). I can't speak for the rest of the democratic world, but I'd guess they all follow the same idea that judicial rulings are based on laws passed by an elected legislature. Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 15:02
  • @IllusiveBrian All judges are of course required to follow the law, but my point was that although all democracies have powerful judges, the USA is one of the very few democracies where they are elected - it's not a prerequisite for a functional democracy that all of the powerful actors be elected. Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 15:12
  • @MaxBarraclough That's missing the important word in the answer though, "final." The proposal in the OP is that the military would act as a check on the rest of the government, legally, through the threat of junta. A supreme court's ruling can be overriden by new law, but if the military is legally able to expel the government if it believes it is too tyrannical, the military has the de facto final say on whether any law or executive action is acceptable. Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 15:52

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