Paramilitary forces typically exist to assure the internal control of a country and to suppress anarchy or civil war. They are typically armed with small arms and wear military uniforms. They are also often equipped with tear gas and other non-lethal weapons. The leadership of paramilitary forces is often political or civil as opposed to military.
Paramilitary forces ostensibly operate to enforce the law but often act with disregard of the law or at cross-purposes to the existing civilian or military authorities. Paramilitary forces have been responsible for some violations of the laws of war and for several atrocities. On the other hand, they have can be highly effective forces for political change.
In military terms, paramilitary forces are disorganized light infantry. Effectively led they can stand in defense, especially in cities or urban areas, but are less capable of offensive action or sustained combat operations due to a lack of heavy weapons, training and effective logistics support.
Examples of paramilitary forces include the People's Armed Police in the People's Republic of China which was split off from the People's Liberation Army in 1983 precisely to remove paramilitary duties from the PLA, Columbian right wing paramilitary groups, and police Special Weapons And Tactics units.
See also: police, military, military dictatorship, political