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The political control of the us military

Shaun Sunil SanduApr 26 2012, 903 views This content was written by a student and assessed as part of a university degree. The issue of the military interfering in the political process is one that has dominated the field of military sociology since the publishing of The Soldier and the State in 1957.

Within, Huntington argued that there existed means to ensure that the military was a-political, and indeed it was preferable that this strict separation of civilian and military spheres was maintained.

Referencing the views of later thinkers, this essay will instead argue the case that it is impossible to ensure a military will remain completely a-political in any society, and furthermore that a limited degree of interaction and crossover between the two spheres is necessary to serve both political and military ends effectively. Towards the end, the essay will outline the conditions how such interaction should be created and maintained. At the outset, the the political control of the us military will define the key terms used.

The issue the essay seeks to tackle is how to ensure a military that is strong enough to protect the state against external threats will also follow directives from the political sphere and not use its strength to unduly dominate the governance of the state — in other words the civil-military problematique [1].

Huntington argued that a separation of the civil and military spheres would best serve the ends of both an obedient and strong military, and that professionalism is the key variable that determines whether a military will intervene in civilian affairs, which in turn is made up of three components; expertise, responsibility and corporate identity.

He believes that all three characteristics are inevitably damaged through interaction with the civilian sphere.

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For instance, a military officer who expands his interests into non-military areas necessarily weakens his corporate identity, dilutes his responsibility by dividing it into both military and non-military spheres through conflicts of interest, one visible example being the business interests of the Indonesian military [2] and lessens his expertise by diverting attention away from his stated task of defending against external threats.

Namely, it is the difficulty of separating war and politics into different spheres in practice.

This implies that no clear separation was possible. For instance, when, if at all, is the risk of civilian casualties in a bombing run is justified in order to bring the war to a quicker conclusion? More fundamentally however, even outside the bounds of war the military is bound to play some role in politics. As the body charged with duty of defence of the state against external threats, the military must necessarily push for necessary financial and popular support for its initiatives.

Given politics includes the governance of a state in all its endeavours economic, social, cultural, military and setting priorities despite limited resources, the military will necessarily use some influence in ensuring it is able to fulfil its duty effectively. Thus, one must necessarily conclude it is almost impossible for the military to be completely a-political.

This leaves two questions, however. What then is the most constructive role the military can play in politics, and which conditions would bring this about? In order to properly determine this, an examination of the defects of military rule is required — in doing so one will be able determine the best means to minimize the negative effects of military influence in politics while allowing constructive interaction.

Many military regimes and a few thinkers have argued for the virtues of military dominance of the political spheres for a number of reasons. By extension, some argue this includes total control over the entire state during times of dire national threat. This would presumably allow a unified political-military leadership that would address the threat most effectively. Furthermore, particularly in cases of political polarization among civilians, military rule is often proposed as a neutral means of governance.

A number of problems arise with this line of argumentation, however.

In other words, when the military is put in charge of determining the political objectives of war the logicit is likely to define them in terms of means it has experience with the grammar — in so doing confusing the means and ends of war.

The example of Vietnam War generals defining success in terms of body counts and bombs dropped is but one example of this. Given the purpose of the military, it is prone to prioritize external defence above all other state concerns, and see military or warlike means as the best way to govern all aspects of the state — in other words, militarism dominates.

The argument that the military should take control of the state during times of political polarization is especially insidious; it stands to reason that divisions will soon develop within the military, with disparate constituencies that mirror the civilian divide. This is particularly as non-military interests corrupt the binding purpose tying a military together.

While a society that perceives a dire national security threat inconjunction with political polarization may be able to temporarily halt the fragmentation of military unity such as in Pakistan [9]this fragile situation only lasts so long as both conditions persist — that of polarization within and insecurity without — arguably not a situation that benefits the state. Indeed, in order to preserve their power, the military may consciously foster both conditions to maintain its rule. Additionally, a military leader necessarily has to cultivate a loyal power base against further coups, introducing further divisions within the military.

An observer may argue that this situation is not that far different from bickering political parties. One the political control of the us military note however that in most cases the civilian political process is open to scrutiny, with ideologies clearly stated in manifestos. By contrast the military, with its outwardly avowed neutrality, is not subject to the same oversight even when this is not actually the case.

Besides the risk of militarism noted above, Morris Janowitz [10] provides the example of the post-war military occupation of Germany — which he notes was mainly successful due to the political apathy of the governed, a situation unlikely to occur during civilian polarization. In sum, a number of defects arise when the military assumes dominance in the political sphere.

The essay will now consider the problems that arise in the converse situation, where civilian politicians play a dominant role in the affairs of the military sphere. Given the assumption that war is a means to a political end by other means, it seems unproblematic to follow on with the conclusion that politicians should have the dominant influence over the military. However, the main issue that arises is one of lack of expertise.

Since the modernization and industrialization of warfare in parallel with the increasing complexity of managing society since the 19th century, it has become almost impossible for a single person or body of persons to maintain sufficient expertise in both political and military spheres. Cohen argues nonetheless argues that despite this inability to master both spheres, civilian politicians should intervene to a large degree in military decisions for the political control of the us military main reasons.

Firstly, as noted above, given the tendency for war to follow its own ends, he cites the need for politicians to intervene to ensure war serves a legitimate political end.

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Secondly, he notes the phenomenon of the strategic corporal, necessitating civilian control even at the most minute level. To a certain extent these concerns are warranted. The underlying factor governing this interference requires mention, however: Accordingly he cites the need for political prerogative to overrule military authority given the stakes involved, in addition to the fact that war now encompasses all aspects of state affairs e. However, this intermingling of political and military authority is less thorough in limited wars such as humanitarian intervention; as a result too much political interference risks a backlash both in terms of societal support as well as military effectiveness.

Arguably George Bush Sr. Any escalation into a progressively more total war would have demanded the political control of the us military greater societal support and involvement that might have been available at the time. Accordingly, in a war escalating towards totality, pressure mounts to change the military style, form of recruitment towards conscription as well as increasing political intervention in the military.

Schiff notes that when these legitimate bounds are overstepped, domestic political instability usually results. It is interesting to note both of these concerns were openly aired during the escalation of the 2003 Iraq War within the US, with commentators calling for the re-introduction of the draft, as well as increasingly open disputes between military and political leadership.

This illustrates that the introduction of direct civilian control and oversight may not be the most effective means of ensuring a constructive political role for the military in most situations. Combining the insights on the defects of military dominance as well as direct civilian interference, it becomes apparent a new focus is needed in order to determine the most constructive role of the military in politics — that of internal control, as well as having a single locus of political authority over the military.

Larson instead argues that internal controls are the key to ensuring the military acts in accordance to political ends set by civilians — taking the form of indoctrination of codes of conducts as well cultural norms emphasizing civilian supremacy. The difficulty and means of persuasion used in order to bring the military to this point may vary greatly in different cultures.

Nonetheless, two factors seem to assist this trend universally — firstly, reinforcing the limited applicability of military means to the international sphere and secondly, increasing the military education of politicians in parallel with the political education of soldiers.

In reinforcing the limited applicability of military means, counterinsurgencies provide a key impetus to learn, with generals realizing the importance of effective civilian institutions as the key the political control of the us military victory. Besides such costly conflicts, however, the precedent of RAND [15] during the Cold War, which conducted independent research on the strategy of nuclear deterrence, amply illustrates to the military that there remain certain areas of expertise, even in war, that the military should leave to others.

It is no surprise that the higher echelons of US military leadership remain resistant to the concept of counterinsurgency wishing a return to the age of nation state warfare ; correctly interpreting it as a threat to the relatively free agency of the military in the conduct of war — it is nonetheless critical that this impulse is destroyed for effective internal control.

However, to ensure this internal control does not come at the expense of military efficiency, military education of civilian leadership becomes paramount.

In recent years, however, they note that the increasing exposure of military officers to political decision-making combined with the lack of civilians with adequate military experience has allowed military influence to dominate. While it is clear that the political education of soldiers is a necessity in order for them to effectively judge the potential ramifications of military the political control of the us military [17]a balance in terms of one sphere being aware of the affairs of the other needs to be maintained for the most constructive outcome.

The military education of civilian leadership also has a positive side benefit of inculcating respect for the national security leadership of politicians, something which the junior levels of the officer corps often underrate. This underrating often precedes military disobedience or even coups, as was noted when junior officers in the Pakistani army secretly cultivated a Muslim insurgency in Kashmir [18].

Just as important as internal control in providing a constructive role for the military in politics is maintaining a single locus of political authority over the military. Recalling the tendency for the military to fragment taking political control, the same phenomenon occurs when the military seeks to influence domestic policy. However, this fragmentary effect e. It is no coincidence that though not completely absent, this fragmentation occurs much less frequently in totalitarian systems where power is consolidated under one locus.

Far from championing totalitarianism, however, on the contrary each state has to decide for itself the appropriate balance between consolidation of power and military influence in politics. The example of the UK [19]where it is implicitly recognized that former military leaders can exert some influence from the House of Lords with other avenues strictly circumscribedprovides one possibility of balance.

In conclusion, due to the nature of warfare and policy-making itself, it is almost impossible for a soldier to be a-political. Instead, internal control and the structure of political interaction with the military should be used to ensure that the military plays a constructive role in politics.

On War [Vom Krieg].

From around the web

Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime. Armed Services and Society. Why the Pakistan army is here to stay: International Affairs, 571-588 Issue 3. Huntington, Janowitz, and the Question of Civilian Control. Armed Forces and Society, 149-178 Issue 23. The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics.

Civil-Military Relations and the Ability to Influence: A look the National Security Decision-making Process. Armed Forces and Society, 194-218.

Military Professionalism and Civil Control: Journal of Political and Military Sociology, 57-72 Issue 2. History of Operations in Jammu and Kashmir 1947-1948. A Theory of Concordance. American Journal of Political Science, 451-465 Issue 3.