Book chapter

The Maldives: The Changing Dynamics of Civil-Military Relations (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

The Maldives' strategic location in the Indian Ocean has elicited interest in its politics. While it is the smallest state in South Asia and a classic example of a microstate, with a population of less than 400,000, its strategic location in the Indian Ocean region (IOR) and large EEZ allow it to play an outsize role in the region. When it comes to civil‒military relations, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has traditionally accepted a subordinate role to the civilian leadership. However, there has been intermittent political turmoil and instability as civilian leaders—many of whom have been autocratic—resist democratic changes. There are three components that require attention in assessing the nature of the Maldives' civil‒military relations. The first component is the great power rivalry between China and India operating in the region. While India has considered the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) to be within its sphere of influence, it has been challenged by recent Chinese activities in the IOR. The second component is the stability and turmoil in the domestic political structures in the Maldives as the country seeks to democratize. Finally, although it is the largest contributor to the Maldives' GDP, a section of fundamentalist Muslims identify the tourism industry with a "decadent lifestyle" being promoted by the state solely for economic growth . Given that tourism is the primary economic sector in the Maldives, such opposition can pose both a security and an economic threat. Whether the growing radicalism has affected the military is unclear, but the possibility poses new threats to a country on the path of democratization.