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Civil-military issues in a Complex World

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Answer for Question No. 1

            According to Cohen, “supreme command” is a bureaucratic process characterized by interwoven political and military decision-making at the top level of government. It consists of three elements : (1) strategic command posts as centers of activity; (2) standing committees to coordinate the work of the military and subsequently other government agencies; and (3) communication lines from the field to the center of government.

            “Unequal dialog” as a style of supreme command is a civilian-military relationship which does not acknowledge the existence of principled boundaries between civilian and military authorities. Cohen’s basic idea of “unequal dialog” between civilian politicians and senior military officers recognizes that, depending on the circumstances, civilians may get involved in decisions which may even be none of their affair, but is necessary because of the following eventualities : (1) the political nature of war; (2) the peculiar aspect of military professionalism which is oftentimes grounded on some considerable amount of uncertainty; and (3) the probability that those who rose to the top during peacetime may not be as effective for high command posts in war.

            From the reading, Cohen gave me the impression that an ideal civilian-military relationship is one that is rooted in the principle of “unequal dialog”. As can be expected from a relationship where technical boundaries were not specifically delineated, Cohen described the norm of a healthy civil-military relationship at the top of the government as that of tension and interference, with the resulting friction real. However, by any measure, not all civil-military relations characterized by comity can be branded as unhealthy or healthy. Bland pleasantness, according to Cohen, is an indication that either one or both groups have succumbed to the courtier mentality of the other.

Answer for Question No. 2

The Huntington and Janowitz views were based on opposing propositions of one needing to reach out to the other to bridge the widening gap between the politicians and the military. Huntington espoused the idea that the gap can be best bridged if the civilian society tolerates, if not embrace, the conservative views which animate the military culture and that politicians should allow the armed forces a substantial degree of cultural autonomy. Janowitz, on the other hand, believes in the necessity of the military culture adapting to the changes in the civilian society and adjusting to the needs and dictates of the civilian authorities.

Each group of  heirs or supporters of the two opposing views advanced four  principal assertions. Huntington’s group forwarded the following statements : (1) politicians have strayed from traditional societal values and intend to destroy the healthy and functional civil-military differences, specially in the areas of gender, sexual orientation and discipline; (2) the military is divorced in values from a political and cultural elite that is, itself alienated from the general public; (3) the civilian elite is ignorant and even hostile to the armed forces and are eager to subject the military to an “action research” on social change, even at the cost of crippling its war fighting capacity; and (4) it disregards the threat of eroding civilian control because it sees a military indoctrinated in a culture of subordination, resulting in a current situation where there is much civilian control which strangles the military en route to ineffectiveness.

Janowitz’s heirs claimed that (1) the military has grown out of step ideologically, politically right wing, more religious or fundamentalist and have been identified with the Republicans; (2) the military is alienated from, disgusted with and sometimes explicitly hostile to the civilian culture; (3) the military has resisted change, particularly the integration of women and homosexuals into their ranks and are reluctant to carry out constabulary missions; (4) in its effort to seek ways to operate without effective civilian oversight,  civilian control and military effectiveness will both suffer, and the military will be alienated from the society around it and thus will lose the support and respect of society.

With the exception of the first assertion of the Janowitz heirs, practically the seven other assertions were not supported by research evidence. While there is no denying the fact that there must, indeed be a gap between the soldiers and civilian authorities, both the Huntington and Janowitz views do not represent the correct and accurate picture of the situational gap. If I must choose one, I would, however, tend to support the Janowitz view, especially the original assertion that “the military culture necessarily adapts to changes in civilian society, adjusting to the needs and dictates of the civilian authorities”.  My reason is that this assertion comes closest to the constitutional mandate of “civilian supremacy over the subservient military”. I, however, protest the Janowitz declaration that the military is drifting too far away from the norms of the American society. There were some little research evidence that disproved this. I totally disagree with the Huntington assertions because they sound extremely radical.

Answer for Question No. 3

            Ulrich believes that it has become more difficult to determine where the line lies between civilian and military responsibilities because of three main reasons : (1) There is no clear threshold or boundary between peace and war which marks the point where the political and military leaders should hand off responsibility; (2) There has been some ambiguity or vagueness of roles across the civilian and military spheres owing to various non-war related military operations; and (3) Due to the emerging developments, the time when war is solely the business of soldiers and that international politics is only for diplomats has gone away. Today’s policies are best framed when the tempered hybrid of competence and responsibility of civilians and the military overlap and complement one another.

            Some problems which Ulrich identified  as a result of an imbalance in competency and responsibility include the following : (1) threatening of both the functional and societal imperatives; (2) sub-optimal policy outcomes; (3) effective but undemocratic policy outcomes as a result of high competency an a low level of appropriately exercised responsibility; (4) ineffective and undemocratic policy outcomes as a result of low competency and a low level of appropriately exercised responsibility; and (5) ineffective yet democratic policy outcomes as a result of low competency and a high level of appropriately exercised responsibility.

Issues that can cause problems in civil-military relations may include : (1) competition for preeminence  between societal and functional imperatives which is the primary source of tension between civilian-military relations; (2) sub-optimal policy outcomes; (3) competency-deficits which are perceived to be present in the civilian sphere. As a result of one or a combination of these issues, there are a number of cases, which have somehow strained US civilian-military relations in the past. As a matter of experience, about a couple of years ago, the public call for the resignation of Secretary Rumsfeld by retired army and marine officers, which can be considered public denunciation of  civilian authority even by retired officers, undermines civilian-military relations.

            I agree that the military loses legitimacy if it is believed to be partisan and not reflective of overall society. Balance in civil-military relations can only be maintained by incorporating the principle of non-partisanship. Moreover,  as Ulrich stressed, non-partisanship is an essential element of forging an effective national security policy.  I also support the professional norm that “any political party can be served in a principled fashion”. Hence, partisanship has no place in the agenda of a professional military officer.

Answer for Question No. 4

            As Ulrich elucidated, civil-military relations in a democracy are a special application of a representative democracy with the unique concern that designated political agents control designated military agents. Ulrich described the core principle of the American civil-military relations as the “acceptance of civilian supremacy and control by an obedient military”. I, therefore, support the position that civil-military relationship should be NO different from the past. Emerging developments, globalism and the 9/11 attacks may have necessitated more aggressive international policies and a more stringent security stance, yet all these have been crafted in the name of democracy. This is the democracy which the military men of the past have so zealously protected and the same democracy that today’s professional  military officers have sworn to uphold. For centuries, amid some isolated turmoil and crises, the vaunted democracy that was America has proudly stood its ground against a number of threats. Through the years, abiding by the core principle of American civil-military relations, democracy was preserved and maintained. I wholeheartedly support the constitution framed for a democratic government of the people by the people and for the people, mandating civilian superiority over the military. While I may not be in total agreement that all the policy outcomes as a result of the civilian-military tandem are effective, I see no need to alter tradition. I would like to see the day, though, when both civilian superiority and military subservience collaborate for optimal outcomes distinguished with high competency and tempered with an equally high degree of appropriately exercised responsibility.  I also believe that “unequal dialog” may be a critically significant stance which the top level government can adopt in its civil-military relations. I see the same image as the 2010 Vision of the United States Military Academy that – “the military is subject to civilian authority”. This was how it has been, and for democracy’s sake, this is what it should always be.

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