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Gendarmes in the Rue Vernet, near the Champs-Elysees, in Paris Gendarmerie BMW R1100RT.jpg
Gendarmes in the Rue Vernet, near the Champs-Élysées, in Paris
The Spanish Guardia Civil's during Our Lady of the Pillar celebration Celebracion de la Patrona de la Guardia Civil 04.jpg
The Spanish Guardia Civil 's during Our Lady of the Pillar celebration
Members of Italy's gendarmerie, the Carabinieri, on public order duties in Florence Firenze.Carabinieri01.JPG
Members of Italy's gendarmerie, the Carabinieri , on public order duties in Florence
Officers of the Polish Zandarmeria Wojskowa ("Military Gendarmerie") Zandarmeria Wojskowa-ORP Grom 2008.jpg
Officers of the Polish Żandarmeria Wojskowa ("Military Gendarmerie")
Officers of the Portuguese Guarda Nacional Republicana territorial patrol Patrulha GNR.jpg
Officers of the Portuguese Guarda Nacional Republicana territorial patrol
A Romanian Gendarmerie instructor (right) in a training mission with a member of the Afghan National Police Romanian Gendarmerie provide heavy weapons knowledge to Afghan National Police (6301325266).jpg
A Romanian Gendarmerie instructor (right) in a training mission with a member of the Afghan National Police
Members of Serbian Zandarmerija marching in full combat gear Zandarmerija spec.jpg
Members of Serbian Žandarmerija marching in full combat gear
A vedette of the French Gendarmerie Maritime in La Rochelle harbour Gendarmerie maritime la Rochelle.jpg
A vedette of the French Gendarmerie Maritime in La Rochelle harbour
A Turkish Gendarmerie General Command on guard at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul Topkapi sarayinda nobetci Jandarma Eri.jpg
A Turkish Gendarmerie General Command on guard at Topkapı Palace in Istanbul

A gendarmerie ( /ʒɒnˈdɑːrməri,ʒɒ̃-/ ) is a military force with law enforcement duties among the civilian population. The term gendarme (English: /ˈʒɒndɑːrm/ ) is derived from the medieval French expression gens d'armes, which translates to "men-at-arms" (literally, "armed people"). [1] In France and some Francophone nations, the gendarmerie is a branch of the armed forces responsible for internal security in parts of the territory (primarily in rural areas and small towns in the case of France) with additional duties as military police for the armed forces. [1] It was introduced to several other Western European countries during the Napoleonic conquests. [2] In the mid-twentieth century, a number of former French mandates or colonial possessions such as Lebanon, Syria, the Ivory Coast, and the Republic of the Congo adopted a gendarmerie after independence. [3] [4] A similar concept was introduced in Eastern Europe by establishing Internal Troops, that exist in many countries of the former Soviet Union and their former allied countries.


Some of the more prominent modern gendarmerie organizations include the French National Gendarmerie, Spanish Civil Guard, the Romanian Jandarmeria, Argentine National Gendarmerie, Italian Carabinieri, Moldovan Carabinieri, Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, Chinese People's Armed Police, Portuguese National Republican Guard, Mexican National Guard and the Turkish Gendarmerie. [5]


The word gendarme is a singular extracted from Old French gens d'armes (pronounced  [ʒɑ̃ d‿ aʁm] ), meaning "men-at-arms". During the Late Medieval to the Early Modern period, the term referred to a heavily armoured cavalryman of noble birth, primarily serving in the French army. The word gained policing connotations only during the French Revolution when the Maréchaussée of the Ancien Régime, attached to the Gendarmerie before, by the Monarchy, was renamed, "Gendarmerie".

Historically, the spelling in English was gendarmery, but now the French spelling gendarmerie is more common. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) uses gendarmery as the principal spelling; Merriam-Webster uses gendarmerie as the principal spelling.

Title and status

These forces are normally titled "gendarmerie", but gendarmeries may bear other titles, for instance the Carabinieri in Italy, the Guarda Nacional Republicana in Portugal, the Guardia Civil in Spain, the Royal Marechaussee in the Netherlands or Internal Troops/National Guard in Ukraine and Russia.

As a result of their duties within the civilian population, gendarmeries are sometimes described as "paramilitary" rather than "military" forces (especially in the English-speaking world where policing is rarely associated with military forces) although this description rarely corresponds to their official status and capabilities. Gendarmes are very rarely deployed in military situations, except in humanitarian deployments abroad.

A gendarmerie may come under the authority of a ministry of defence (e.g. Algeria, Poland), a ministry of the interior (e.g. Argentine, Romania, Ukraine) or even both ministries at once (e.g. Chile, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain). [6] Generally there is some coordination between ministries of defence and the interior over the use of gendarmes.

A few forces which are no longer considered military retain the title "gendarmerie" for reasons of tradition. For instance, the French language title of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is Gendarmerie royale du Canada (GRC) (i.e., Royal Gendarmerie of Canada) because this force traditionally had some military-style functions (although separate from the Canadian Army) and has retained its status as a regiment of dragoons. The Argentine Gendarmerie is a military force in terms of training, identity and public perception, and was involved in combat in the Falklands War, however it is classified as a "security force" not an "armed force", to exercise jurisdiction over the civilian population under Argentine law.

Since different countries may make different use of institutional terms such as "gendarmerie", there are cases in which the term may become confusing. For instance, in the French-speaking Cantons of Switzerland the "gendarmeries" are the uniformed civil police (see: Gendarmerie (Switzerland)). In Chile, the word "gendarmerie" refers for historic reasons to the prison service (the "Chilean Gendarmerie"), while the actual gendarmerie force is called the "carabineros".

In some cases, a police service's military links are ambiguous and it can be unclear whether a force should be defined as a gendarmerie (e.g. Mexico's Federal Police, Brazil's Military Police, or the former British South Africa Police until 1980). Some historical military units, such as South-West Africa's Koevoet , were only defined as police for political reasons. [7] Services such as the Italian Guardia di Finanza would rarely be defined as gendarmeries since the service is of an ambiguous military status and does not have general policing duties amongst the civilian population. In Russia, the modern National Guard (successor of the Internal Troops) are military units with quasi-police duties but historically, different bodies within the Tsarist Special Corps of Gendarmes performed a variety of functions as an armed rural constabulary, urban riot control units, frontier guards, intelligence agents and political police. Prior to the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, British rule was based on the Royal Irish Constabulary—a drilled and armed force located in rural "barracks" that was a gendarmerie in all but in name.

In 2014 the Mexican Federal Police, a heavily armed force which has many attributes of a gendarmerie, created a new seventh branch of service called the National Gendarmerie Division. The new force would initially number 5,000 personnel and was created with the assistance of the French gendarmerie. [8]

Role and services

In comparison to civilian police forces, gendarmeries may provide a more disciplined force whose military capabilities (e.g., armoured group in France with armoured personnel carriers) make them more capable of dealing with armed groups and with all types of violence. On the other hand, the necessity of a more stringent selection process for military service, especially in terms of physical prowess and health, restricts the pool of potential recruits in comparison to those from which a civilian police force could select.

The growth and expansion of gendarmerie units worldwide has been linked to an increasing reluctance by some governments to use military units typically entrusted with external defence for combating internal threats. [1] A somewhat related phenomenon has been the formation of paramilitary units which fall under the authority of civilian police agencies. Since these are not strictly military forces, however, they are not considered gendarmerie. [5]

In France, the gendarmerie is in charge of rural areas and small towns (typically less than 10,000 inhabitants) which represent 95% of the territory and close to 50% of the population. Besides its territorial organization, it has crowd and riot control units (the Gendarmerie Mobile , along with some corresponding units in the civilian police), counter-terrorism and hostage rescue (GIGN, again along with some corresponding units in the civilian police), maritime surveillance, police at sea and coast guard ( Gendarmerie maritime ), control and security at airports and air traffic police ( Gendarmerie des transports aériens ), official buildings guard, honorary services and protection of the President ( Garde Républicaine ), mountain rescue (Peloton de Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne) and security of nuclear weapons sites.

In Argentina the Gendarmería Nacional Argentina (GNA, Argentina National Gendarmerie) can act as border patrol forces, defending and patrolling the land frontiers, antiterrorism, VIP escort missions, hostage situations and special military operations in war times (when the GNA is attached to the Argentine Army) with their 601st Special Operations Squadron "Alacran", which took part in the Falkland/Malvinas conflict. [9] Also the GNA is responsible for key facilities (such as nuclear facilities) and government building protection and recovery in case of criminal or enemy activities, counter-narcotraffic operations, internal security reinforcement of other provincial and federal security forces, pacification, smuggling control, road controls on federal highways, and counter-sedition activities under martial law. [10] The GNA often take part in UN peacekeeping missions. [11]

French influence

The use of military organisations to police civilian populations is common to many time periods and cultures. Being a French concept, the French Gendarmerie has been the most influential model for such an organisation.

Many countries that were once under French rule and influence have a gendarmerie. Italy, Belgium and Austria have had gendarmeries through Napoleonic influence for instance but, while Italy still has the Italian equivalent known as the Carabinieri, Belgium and Austria's gendarmeries have merged with the civil police (in, respectively, 2001 and 2005). Many former French colonies, especially in Africa, also have gendarmeries. The Dutch Royal Marechaussee was created by King William I to replace the French Gendarmerie after French rule ended.

The national police force of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is referred to in French as the Gendarmerie royale du Canada (GRC). However the RCMP is a mainly civilian organisation within Public Safety Canada. It is not part of the Canadian Department of National Defence, but does have a paramilitary wing and they have been awarded the status of a regiment of dragoons, with a military battle standard displaying their battle honours following service in World War I. Those honours include Northwest Canada, South Africa, The Great War, and the Second World War.

A common gendarmerie symbol is a flaming grenade, first used as insignia by the French force.

Role in modern conflicts

Gendarmes play an important role re-establishing law and order in conflict areas, a task which is suited to their purpose, training and capabilities. [12] [13] Gendarmeries are widely used for internal security and in peacekeeping operations, for instance in the former Yugoslavia [12] and in Ivory Coast, [14] sometimes via the European Gendarmerie Force. [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

The Vatican City State is a neutral nation, which has not engaged in any war since its formation in 1929 by the Lateran Treaty. It has no formal military compact or agreement with neighbouring Italy, although responsibility for defending the Vatican City from an international aggressor is likely to lie primarily with the Italian Armed Forces. When presenting the Lateran Treaty to the Italian parliament in 1929, Benito Mussolini declared: "It is evident that we [the Italian state] will be the necessary guarantors of this neutrality and inviolability [of Vatican City], since, in the remote hypothesis someone wanted to hurt her, he would first have to violate our territory."

Paramilitary An organization similar to military

A paramilitary organization is a semi-militarized force whose organizational structure, tactics, training, subculture, and (often) function are similar to those of a professional military, but is not formally part of a country's armed forces.

Military police Police organization part of the military of a state

Military police (MP) are law enforcement agencies connected with, or part of, the military of a state.

Carabinier Type of light cavalry armed with a carbine

A carabinier is in principle a soldier armed with a carbine. A carbiniere is a carabiniere musket or rifle. Carabiniers were first introduced in the late 17th century and were commonplace by the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. The word is derived from the identical French word carabinier.

European Gendarmerie Force Military unit

The European Gendarmerie Force is an operational, pre-organised, robust, and rapidly deployable intervention force, exclusively comprising elements of several European police forces with military status of the Parties in order to perform all police tasks within the scope of crisis management operations, as established by Art.1 of the Treaty establishing the European Gendarmerie Force.

Royal Marechaussee

The Royal Netherlands Marechaussee is one of two national police forces in the Netherlands, alongside the National Police, and is one of the four branches of the Netherlands Armed Forces. It is a gendarmerie force performing military and civilian police duties.

Argentine National Gendarmerie

The Argentine National Gendarmerie is the national gendarmerie force and corps of border guards of Argentina.

Gendarmerie (Romania) Military police force in Romania

The Jandarmeria Română is the national Gendarmerie force of Romania, tasked with high-risk and specialized law enforcement duties. It is one of the two main police forces in Romania, both having jurisdiction over the civilian population.

Gendarmerie (Belgium)

The Gendarmerie (French) or Rijkswacht (Dutch) was the former paramilitary police force of Belgium. It became a civilian police organisation in 1992, a status it retained until 1 January 2001, when it was, together with the other existing police forces in Belgium, abolished and replaced by the Federal Police and the Local Police.

National Gendarmerie Militarised police force in France

The National Gendarmerie, along with the National Police, is one of two national police forces of France. It is a branch of the French Armed Forces placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior, with additional duties from the Ministry of Armed Forces. Its responsibilities include policing smaller towns, rural and suburban areas, with subdivisions like the GSPR, while the Police Nationale, a civilian force, is in charge of policing cities. Because of its military status, the Gendarmerie also fulfills a range of military and defence missions including having a cybercrime division. The force has a strength of more than 100,000 personnel, as of 2014.

The Gendarmerie Corps of Vatican City State is the gendarmerie, or police and security force, of Vatican City and the extraterritorial properties of the Holy See. It was founded in 1816 as Corps of Gendarmes by Pope Pius VII, renamed the Central Security Office in 1970, the Security Corps in 1991, and was restored to its original name in 2002.

International Association of Gendarmeries and Police Forces with Military Status

The International Association of Gendarmeries and Police Forces with Military Status, is an association of national gendarmeries or military police forces.

Provost (military police)

Provosts are military police whose duties are policing solely within the armed forces of a country, as opposed to gendarmerie duties in the civilian population. However, many countries use their gendarmerie for provost duties.

Law enforcement by country

In many countries, particularly those with a federal system of government, there may be several law enforcement agencies, police or police-like organizations, each serving different levels of government and enforcing different subsets of the applicable law.

A gendarmerie is a police force that is generally part of the armed forces of a country, and is responsible for policing the civilian population

Chilean Gendarmerie

The Chilean Gendarmerie, in Spanish Gendarmería de Chile, is the title of Chile's uniformed national prison service. The title is historic, and the service is not an actual gendarmerie. The service evolved out of Chilean Army units which were given police and prison duties.

National Guard Forces Command

The National Guard Forces Command of the Russian Federation is the gendarmerie component of the National Guard of Russia, created through a presidential decree on April 5, 2016. It is a gendarmerie organized on paramilitary lines with its mission to ensure public order, national security and defense against terrorism.


  1. 1 2 3 Lioe, Kim Eduard (2010-12-03). Armed Forces in Law Enforcement Operations? - The German and European Perspective (1989 ed.). Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. pp. 52–57. ISBN   978-3-642-15433-1.
  2. Emsley, Clive (1999). Gendarmes and the State in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1999 ed.). Oxford University Press. pp.  52–57. ISBN   978-0198207986.
  3. Deep, Daniel (2012). Occupying Syria Under the French Mandate: Insurgency, Space and State Formation. Cambridge University Press. p. 204. ISBN   978-1-107-00006-3.
  4. Clark, John; Decalo, Samuel (2012). Historical Dictionary of Republic of the Congo. Lanham: Scarecrow Press. pp. 44–49. ISBN   978-0-8108-7989-8.
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  9. "Gendarmeria Nacional Argentina". Archived from the original on 2015-04-10. Retrieved 2015-07-01.
  10. "Gendarmeria Nacional Argentina".
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  12. 1 2 composition of the KFOR
  13. Giovanni Arcudi, Forces de police et forces armées, sécurité et défense: où sont les frontières?, Cahier du GIPRI, n° 2, pp. 17-64.
  14. official website of the French Defence Ministry (in French)
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