Police forces for keeping the peace and pursuing criminals are a recent development, being practically unknown two centuries ago. Before that, police functions were performed by a combination of semi-official vigilantes and the armed forces. When a nation is undergoing internal disorder, or the government rules with a heavy hand, special infantry forces are maintained to supplement the police. As the disorder increases, or a major war starts, these police armies grow larger and more active. Many countries organize their national police forces along military lines, making it easier to expand them and go over to more purely military operations. With the glaring exception of the United States, Canada and several other European nations, most countries maintain substantial forces of light infantry whose primary purpose is to protect the government from its own citizens. The Soviet Union was a classic example of the paramilitary police state, as are most dictatorships. Until its collapse, the Soviet Union maintained 200,000 KGB border troops. This "army" had armored units, naval ships and combat aircraft. These forces served the same function as the United States Cost Guard and Border Patrol. But in America these forces amount to fewer than 50,000 men and women. In addition, the Soviet Union had 260,000 MVD internal security troops organized into combat units. There was nothing comparable to this in Western nations, where at most you have a few thousand riot control troops. The successor states of the Soviet Union did not disband all of these paramilitary troops, and nearly half were retained in some police or military function. The uncertain political situation in these nations may cause the number of paramilitary troops to increase to their previous Soviet Union levels.
Some Western nations do, in fact, use the regular military to wage war against their own citizens, making these troops less capable of performing their traditional role. An example of the effects of this was seen in the Falklands in 1982. The Argentine army had spent many years waging war against the population. It was in no shape to face the more professional British troops. Paramilitary forces often have little to do but standing around watching people. Such a large group of armed, bored soldiers generally leads to abuse of their police powers and declining military capabilities. The paramilitary police then become part of the problem and use their police and military power to become a self-perpetuating institution. To the government, these troops are basically an expensive insurance policy against the chance of civil disorder. We saw another example of this in Iraq in the wake of the Gulf War, as Iraqi troops spent more time fighting their own people than they did the Kuwaitis or coalition troops. This use of paramilitary and regular troops is one of the heavy costs born by undemocratic governments.