Civil-Military Relations, Regional Security and Relations with Neighboring States
- Civil-military Relationship
National Security institutions
The key elements of the current Eritrean security structure are:
a. The President
The President assigns programmes and specific tasks, appoints functionaries, and controls their activities. All functions directly report to him. Isaias manages the security structure by enticing the heads of the units to compete against each other. Importantly Isaias uses ‘carrot and stick measures’ and ‘divide and rule’ tactics to ensure their maximum loyalty, by influencing them to doubt and mistrust each other.
b. National Security (NS)
The NS is mainly responsible for maintaining internal security and stability. The Police forces work closely under this unit. It is known that Isaias despises the NS unit, for its supposed inefficiency and ineffectiveness; and the head of the NS (Wedi Kassa) is also known to be very local, but of too weak personality to the liking of Isaias.
NS’s key responsibility is to maintain an active network of agents and spies in all government structures, including the army, civil service, and broad society, embassies hosted in Eritrea and resident expatriates. The aim is to stifle and pre-empt any anti regime tendencies and plots – by individuals as well as organized intent. NS’ focuses on projecting the PFDJ regimes ‘invincibility’ and continuity.
The PFDJ secretariat also runs a network of agents who gathers intelligence from among the Eritrean Diaspora, which is shared with the NS. The spy network focuses on activities of opposition parties and groups.
c. Secret Security Network
The President has special national security network of agents secretly embedded in the national security structures, including the NS and its affiliates, the PFDJ networks, the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF) and the Territorial Army. These secret security agents spy on the formal security structures and directly report to the President.
d. The Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF)
General Filipos (GF), a long-time confidant and ally of the President leads the Ministry of Defence. It is widely known that Isaias has sown dissension and rivalry among the Generals, the 3 Core Commanders, so that they distrust each other and fear one another. GF is not in good relation with Tekle Manjus, the least favoured one by the President nowadays.
Isaias’ key innovation has been to keep PFDJ and the EDF separate, so that challengers within the party (who could have access to funds) could not organize a coup d’état, and army generals could not control political budget. In Eritrea, therefore, the military establishment is not deeply vested in business or a multiplicity of parallel security forces, each with its own commercial structure. Neither does the PFDJ have its own armed security.
The President and the Generals very well know that the capacity of the EDF has been very much degraded in terms of resources and personnel. It is, therefore, internally acknowledged that the EDF is not fit for purpose – does not have the capacity to defend the nation from any outside aggressors.
e. The Territorial Army
This so called ‘people’s army’ is organized less to boost the President’s degraded EDF than to keep the forcibly recruited members under control. This army does not have an elaborate command control, its cadres are not trained, unequipped and most importantly with no strong mission to commit for. Currently, their routine tasks include guarding government office complexes, banks, and showing their presence in major urban streets to keep public order. It cannot, however, be overruled that the President might attempt to use them in times of emergency.
1.2 Civil-Military Relations
The population is terrorized and dehumanized under the regime’s instruments of coercion, particularly the NS. The UN Human Rights Commission has confirmed wide range of repressive measures perpetrated by the few zealous cronies of the President, particularly some of the senior army officers including the Generals.
But there is no evidence of excessive atrocities committed by the rank and file against any section of the Eritrean people. Crucially, the army had no hand in the design of the PFDJ regime; neither do the senior officers have such capacity anyway. In this respect, there are no ill feelings (in the broad sense) between the lower army ranks and the people.
However the military and security establishment is perceived as protector of the Isaias regime. The lack of accountability for human rights violations by the army and the security services (including the police and the prison services) and the attendant culture of impunity have affected the civil-society relations. This skewed civil-military relations has serious implications in the immediate aftermath of change and in the consolidation of democracy in new Eritrea.
1.3 Brief Evidence-based Assessment
The EDF and the NS suffer structural weakness by design.
· Eritrea’s army and security systems are not institutionalized, as are all government departments; they are personalized structures built to suit Isaias’ freedom and ability to control and protect his power;
· Eritrea does not have a professional army, detrimental to the defence of national sovereignty;
· The EDF does not have defence doctrine, military intelligence and analysis capabilities, and equipment and armaments ;
· The NS, the PFDJ membership (most of them nominal members), EDF whose majority of its ranks already migrated, and most of those remaining do not have the will or motivation to defend the regime from collapse. In a nutshell they are not beneficiaries of the PFDJ regime.
· Neither does the army have the capacity to stage a coup d’état, and even if it somehow succeeds, nor does it hold the necessary competencies to form and run a government without collaboration of the civilian elite, including crucially the technocrats, and if possible the organized opposition forces.