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Civilian control of the military

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Civilian control of the military is a doctrine in military and political science that places ultimate responsibility for a country's strategic decision-making in the hands of the civilian political leadership, rather than professional military officers. One author, paraphrasing Samuel P. Huntington's writings in The Soldier and the State, has summarized the civilian control ideal as "the proper subordination of a competent, professional military to the ends of policy as determined by civilian authority" [1].

Civilian control is often seen as a prerequisite feature of a stable, liberal democracy.
Use of the term in scholarly analyses tends to take place in the context of a Western democracy governed by elected officials, though the subordination of the military to political control is not unique to these societies.
One example is the People's Republic of China. Mao Zedong stated that "Our principle is that the Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the Party," reflecting the primacy of the Communist Party of China (and communist parties in general) as decision-makers in Marxist-Leninist and Maoist theories of democratic centralism.[2]

As noted by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor Richard H. Kohn, "civilian control is not a fact but a process" [3]. Affirmations of respect for the values of civilian control notwithstanding, the actual level of control sought or achieved by the civilian leadership may vary greatly in practice, from a statement of broad policy goals that military commanders are expected to translate into operational plans, to the direct selection of specific targets for attack on the part of governing politicians. Leaders with limited experience in military matters often have little choice but to rely on the advice of professional military commanders trained in the art and science of warfare to inform the limits of policy; in such cases, the military establishment may enter the bureaucratic arena to advocate for or contest against a particular course of action, shaping the policy-making process and blurring any clear-cut lines of civilian control.

Rationales Edit

Advocates of civilian control generally take a Clausewitzian view of war, emphasizing its political character.[citation needed] The words of Georges Clemenceau, "War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men" (also frequently rendered as "War is too important to be left to the generals"), wryly reflect this view. Given that broad strategic decisions, such as the decision to declare a war, start an invasion, or end a conflict, have a major impact on the citizens of the country, they are seen by civilian control advocates as best guided by the will of the people (as expressed by their political representatives), rather than left solely to an elite group of tactical experts. The military serves as a special government agency, which is supposed to implement, rather than formulate, policies that require the use of certain types of physical force. Kohn succinctly summarizes this view when he writes that

[t]he point of civilian control is to make security subordinate to the larger purposes of a nation, rather than the other way around. The purpose of the military is to defend society, not to define it [4].
A state's effective monopoly of force is an issue of great concern for all national leaders, who must rely on the military to supply this aspect of their authority. The danger of granting military leaders full autonomy or sovereignty is that they may ignore or supplant the democratic decision-making process, and use physical force, or the threat of physical force, to achieve their preferred outcomes; in the worse cases, this may lead to a coup or military dictatorship. A related danger is the use of the military to crush domestic political opposition through intimidation or sheer physical force, interfering with the ability to have free and fair elections, a key part of the democratic process. Many of the Founding Fathers of the United States subscribed to this suspicious assessment of the virtues of standing militaries; as Samuel Adams wrote in 1768, "Even when there is a necessity of the military power, within a land, a wise and prudent people will always have a watchful and jealous eye over it" [5]. Even more forceful are the words of Elbridge Gerry, a delegate to the American Constitutional Convention, who stated that
[s]tanding armies in time of peace are inconsistent with the principles of republican Governments, dangerous to the liberties of a free people, and generally converted into destructive engines for establishing despotism [6].
A strong assertion of the principle of civilian control was considered the best means of maintaining the "watchful eye", and informed military policy in the United States for much of its early history. The Posse Comitatus Act, passed in 1878, prohibits federal military personnel from engaging in domestic law enforcement activities (with certain exceptions, typically involving states of emergency, domestic unrest, and natural disasters).

Maoist military-political theories of "people's war" and democratic centralism also support the subordination of military forces to the directives of the communist party (although the guerrilla experience of many early leading Communist Party of China figures may make their status as civilians somewhat ambiguous). In a 1929 essay On Correcting Mistaken Ideas in the Party, Mao explicitly refuted "comrades [who] regard military affairs and politics as opposed to each other and [who] refuse to recognize that military affairs are only one means of accomplishing political tasks", prescribing increased scrutiny of the People's Liberation Army by the Party and greater political training of officers and enlistees as a means of reducing military autonomy [7]. In Mao's theory, the military — which serves both as a symbol of the revolution and an instrument of the dictatorship of the proletariat — is not merely expected to defer to the direction of the ruling non-uniformed Party members (who today exercise control in the People's Republic of China through the Central Military Commission), but also to actively participate in the revolutionary political campaigns of the Maoist era.

Methods of asserting civilian control Edit

File:MacArthur Manila.jpg
An immensely popular hero of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur's public insistence on the need to expand the Korean War, over the objections of President Harry Truman, led to the termination of his command.

Civilian leaders cannot usually hope to challenge their militaries by means of force, and thus must guard against any potential usurpation of powers through a combination of policies, laws, and the inculcation of the values of civilian control in their armed services. The presence of a distinct civilian police force, militia, or other paramilitary group may mitigate to an extent the disproportionate strength that a country's military possesses; civilian gun ownership has also been justified on the grounds that it prevents potential abuses of power by authorities (military or otherwise). Opponents of gun control have cited the need for a balance of power in order to enforce the civilian control of the military.

A civilian commander-in-chiefEdit

The establishment of a civilian president or other government figure as the military's commander-in-chief within the chain of command is one legal construct for the propagation of civilian control.

In the United States, Article I of the Constitution gives the Congress the power to declare war (in the War Powers Clause), while Article II of the Constitution establishes the President as the commander-in-chief.


Composition of the military Edit

Differing opinions exist as to the desirability of distinguishing the military as a body separate from the larger society. In The Soldier and the State, Huntington argued for what he termed "objective civilian control", "focus[ing] on a politically neutral, autonomous, and professional officer corps" [8]. This autonomous professionalism, it is argued, best inculcates an esprit de corps and sense of distinct military corporateness that prevents political interference by sworn servicemen and -women. Conversely, the tradition of the citizen-soldier holds that "civilianizing" the military is the best means of preserving the loyalty of the armed forces towards civilian authorities, by preventing the development of an independent "caste" of warriors that might see itself as existing fundamentally apart from the rest of society. In the early history of the United States, according to Michael Cairo,

[t]he principle of civilian control... embodied the idea that every qualified citizen was responsible for the defense of the nation and the defense of liberty, and would go to war, if necessary. Combined with the idea that the military was to embody democratic principles and encourage citizen participation, the only military force suitable to the Founders was a citizen militia, which minimized divisions between officers and the enlisted [9].
In a less egalitarian practice, societies may also blur the line between "civilian" and "military" leadership by making direct appointments of non-professionals (frequently social elites benefitting from patronage or nepotism) to an officer rank. A more invasive method, most famously practiced in the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China, involves active monitoring of the officer corps through the appointment of political commissars, posted parallel to the uniformed chain of command and tasked with ensuring that national policies are carried out by the armed forces. The regular rotation of soldiers through a variety of different postings is another effective tool for reducing military autonomy, by limiting the potential for soldiers' attachment to any one particular military unit. Some governments place responsibility for approving promotions or officer candidacies with the civilian government, requiring some degree of deference on the part of officers seeking advancement through the ranks.

Technological developments Edit

File:Bombing in Vietnam.jpg
During the term of Lyndon B. Johnson, the President and his advisors often chose specific bombing targets in Vietnam on the basis of larger geopolitical calculations, without professional knowledge of the weapons or tactics. Apropos of LBJ's direction of the bombing campaign in Vietnam, no air warfare specialists attended the Tuesday lunches at which the targeting decisions were made.[1]

Historically, direct control over military forces deployed for war was hampered by the technological limits of command, control, and communications; national leaders, whether democratically elected or not, had to rely on local commanders to execute the details of a military campaign, or risk centrally-directed orders' obsolescence by the time they reached the front lines. The remoteness of government from the action allowed professional soldiers to claim military affairs as their own particular sphere of expertise and influence; upon entering a state of war, it was often expected that the generals and field marshals would dictate strategy and tactics, and the civilian leadership would defer to their informed judgments.

Improvements in information technology and its application to wartime command and control (a process sometimes labeled the "Revolution in Military Affairs") has allowed civilian leaders removed from the theater of conflict to assert greater control over the actions of distant military forces. Precision-guided munitions and real-time videoconferencing with field commanders now allow the civilian leadership to intervene even at the tactical decision-making level, designating particular targets for destruction or preservation based on political calculations or the counsel of non-uniformed advisors.

Contesting civilian control Edit

While civilian control forms the normative standard in almost every society outside of military dictatorships, its practice has often been the subject of pointed criticism from both uniformed and non-uniformed observers, who object to what they view as the undue "politicization" of military affairs, especially when elected officials or political appointees micromanage the military, rather than giving the military general goals and objectives (like "Defeat Country X"), and have the military decide how best to carry those orders out. By placing responsibility for military decision-making in the hands of non-professional civilians, critics argue, the dictates of military strategy are subsumed to the political, with the effect of unduly restricting the fighting capabilities of the nation's armed forces for what should be immaterial or otherwise lower priority concerns. For example, U.S. President Bill Clinton faced frequent allegations throughout his time in office (particularly after the Battle of Mogadishu) that he was ignoring military goals out of political and media pressure — a phenomenon termed the "CNN effect". Politicians who personally lack military training and experience but who seek to engage the nation in military action may risk resistance and being labeled "chickenhawks" by those who disagree with their political goals.

In contesting these priorities, members of the professional military leadership and their non-uniformed supporters may participate in the bureaucratic bargaining process of the state's policy-making apparatus, engaging in what might be termed a form of regulatory capture as they attempt to restrict the policy options of elected officials when it comes to military matters. An example of one such set of conditions is the "Weinberger Doctrine", which sought to forestall another American intervention like that which occurred in the Vietnam War (which had proved disastrous for the morale and fighting integrity of the U.S. military) by proposing that the nation should only go to war in matters of "vital national interest", "as a last resort", and, as updated by Weinberger's disciple Colin Powell, with "overwhelming force". The process of setting military budgets forms another contentious intersection of military and non-military policy, and regularly draws active lobbying by rival military services for a share of the national budget.

Current events Edit

United States Edit

In April, 2006, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was severely criticized by some retired military officers for his handling of the Iraq war, while other retired military officers came out in support of Rumsfeld. Although no active military officers have spoken out against Rumsfeld, the actions of these officers is still highly unusual. Some news accounts have attributed the actions of these generals to the Vietnam war experience, in which officers did not speak out against the administration's handling of military action. Later in the year, immediately after the November elections in which the Democrats gained control of the Congress, Rumsfeld resigned.

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. Washington's Management of the ROLLING THUNDER Campaigh,M. Jacobsen, US Naval Historical Center Colloquium on Contemporary History Project

  1. ^ ^ ^ ^  - Cairo, Michael F. Democracy Papers: Civilian Control of the Military, U.S. Department of State International Information Programs.
  2. ^ ^  - Kohn, Richard H. An Essay on Civilian Control of the Military. 1997.
  3. ^  - Mao Zedong, English language translation by Marxists.org. On Correcting Mistaken Ideas in the Party. 1929.
  4. ^  - Mao Zedong, English language translation by Marxists.org. Problems of War and Strategy. 1938. (See also: Wikiquote: Mao Zedong.)
  5. ^ ^  - Taylor, Edward R. Command in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Civil-Military Affairs (pdf), United States Navy Postgraduate School thesis. 1998: 30-32.

Further reading Edit

ja:文民統制 scn:Cuntrollu civili di li militari fi:Armeijan siviilimääräysvalta

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