|Civilian control of the military from Wikipedia
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".
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 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.
As noted by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
professor Richard H. Kohn "civilian control is not a fact but a process"
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. National 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 against a particular course of action, shaping
the policy-making process and blurring any clear-cut lines of civilian
Advocates of civilian control generally take a Clausewitzian
view of war, emphasizing its political character. 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 .
A state's effective use 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 worst 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. This poses the paradox
that "because we fear others we create an institution of violence to protect
us, but then we fear the very institution we created for protection". Also,
military personnel, because of the nature of their job, are much more willing
to use force to settle disputes than civilians because they are trained
military personnel that specialize strictly in warfare. The military is
authoritative, hierarchical, don't require much discussion and no dissention.
For instance, in the Empire of Japan, prime ministers and almost everyone
in high positions were military people like Hideki Tojo, and advocated
and basically pressured the leaders to start military conflicts against
China and others because they believed that they would ultimately be victorious.
Liberal theory and the American Founding Fathers
Many of the Founding Fathers of the United States were
suspicious 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"
. Even more forceful are the words of Elbridge Gerry, a delegate to the
American Constitutional Convention, who wrote 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."
In Federalist No. 8, one of the Federalist Papers documenting
the ideas of some of the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton worried that
maintaining a large standing army would be a dangerous and expensive undertaking.
In his principal argument for the ratification of the proposed constitution,
he argued that only by maintaining a strong union could the new country
avoid such a pitfall. Using the European experience as a negative example
and the British experience as a positive one, he presented the idea of
a strong nation protected by a navy with no need of a standing army. The
implication was that control of a large military force is, at best, difficult
and expensive, and at worst invites war and division. He foresaw the necessity
of creating a civilian government that kept the military at a distance.
James Madison, another writer of several of the Federalist
Papers, expressed his concern about a standing military in comments before
the Constitutional Convention in June 1787:
In time of actual war, great discretionary
powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension
of War, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body.
A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive, will not long be
safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger,
have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it
was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended.
Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending,
have enslaved the people.
The United States Constitution placed considerable limitations
on the legislature. Coming from a tradition of legislative superiority
in government, many were concerned that the proposed Constitution would
place so many limitations on the legislature that it would become impossible
for such a body to prevent an executive from starting a war. Hamilton argued
in Federalist No. 26 that it would be equally as bad for a legislature
to be unfettered by any other agency and that restraints would actually
be more likely to preserve liberty. James Madison, in Federalist No. 47,
continued Hamilton’s argument that distributing powers among the various
branches of government would prevent any one group from gaining so much
power as to become unassailable. In Federalist No. 48, however, Madison
warned that while the separation of powers is important, the departments
must not be so far separated as to have no ability to control the others.
Finally, in Federalist No. 51, Madison argued that to
create a government that relied primarily on the good nature of the incumbent
to ensure proper government was folly. Institutions must be in place to
check incompetent or malevolent leaders. Most importantly, no single branch
of government ought to have control over any single aspect of governing.
Thus, all three branches of government must have some control over the
military, and the system of checks and balances maintained among the other
branches would serve to help control the military.
Hamilton and Madison thus had two major concerns: (1)
the detrimental effect on liberty and democracy of a large standing army
and (2) the ability of an unchecked legislature or executive to take the
country to war precipitously. These concerns drove American military policy
for the first century and a half of the country’s existence. While armed
forces were built up during wartime, the pattern after every war up to
and including World War II was to demobilize quickly and return to something
approaching pre-war force levels. However, with the advent of the Cold
War in the 1950s, the need to create and maintain a sizable peacetime military
force engendered new concerns of militarism and about how such a large
force would affect civil–military relations in the United States.
Domestic law enforcement
The United States' Posse Comitatus Act, passed in 1878,
prohibits any part of the Army or the Air Force (since the U.S. Air Force
evolved from the U.S. Army) from engaging in domestic law enforcement activities
unless they do so pursuant to lawful authority. Similar prohibitions apply
to the Navy and Marine Corps by service regulation, since the actual Posse
Comitatus Act does not apply to them. The Coast Guard is exempt from Posse
Comitatus since it normally operates under the Department of Homeland Security
versus the Department of Defense and enforces U.S. laws, even when operating
as a service with the U.S. Navy.
The act is often misunderstood to prohibit any use of
federal military forces in law enforcement, but this is not the case. For
example, the President has explicit authority under the Constitution and
federal law to use federal forces or federalized militias to enforce the
laws of the United States. The act's primary purpose is to prevent local
law enforcement officials from utilizing federal forces in this way by
forming a "posse" consisting of federal Soldiers or Airmen.
There are, however, practical political concerns in the
United States that make the use of federal military forces less desirable
for use in domestic law enforcement. Under the U.S. Constitution, law and
order is primarily a matter of state concern. As a practical matter, when
military forces are necessary to maintain domestic order and enforce the
laws, state militia forces under state control i.e., that state's Army
National Guard and/or Air National Guard are usually the force of first
resort, followed by federalized state militia forces i.e., the Army National
Guard and/or Air National Guard "federalized" as part of the U.S. Army
and/or U.S. Air Force, with active federal forces (to include "federal"
reserve component forces other than the National Guard) being the least
politically palatable option.
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 . 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
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-chief
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.
Ambiguity over when the President could take military action without declaring
war resulted in the War Powers Resolution of 1973.
American presidents have used the power to dismiss high-ranking
officers as a means to assert policy and strategic control. Examples include
Barack Obama in the War in Afghanistan, Harry S. Truman in the Korean War
and Abraham Lincoln in the American Civil War.
Composition of the military
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". 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,
[the] 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 .
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.
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
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.
Nuclear weapons in the U.S. are owned by the civilian
United States Department of Energy, not by the Department of Defense.
During the 1990s and 2000s, public controversy over LGBT
policy in the U.S. military led to many military leaders and personnel
being asked for their opinions on the matter and being given extraordinary
deference although the decision was ultimately not theirs to make.
During his tenure, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
raised the ire of the military by attempting to reform its structure away
from traditional infantry and toward a lighter, faster, more technologically
driven force. In April 2006, 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.