Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Bringing Politics Back In: Defense Policy and the Theoretical Study of Institutions and Processes

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Bringing Politics Back In: Defense Policy and the Theoretical Study of Institutions and Processes

Article excerpt

In 1960, Morris Janowitz argued that the publication of Samuel Huntington's landmark study, The Soldier and the State, represented "the first time since Alexis de Tocqueville that American military institutions were being analyzed as an aspect of the American political process" (1960; 5). A decade later, Robert Miewald criticized scholars in public administration for their neglect of the military. "It is now obvious," he wrote, "that few students of public administration have been moved to heed the periodic cries that military organization be considered an integral part of their field of study. Despite the importance of the military today, more scholarly care seems to have been lavished on mosquito abatement districts" (1970; 129). A more recent assessment argued there were not "adequate successors" to the 1960s classics in defense scholarship, nor was there an "authoritative scholarly analysis of the U.S. defense buildup in the 1980s" (Walt, 1991; 227). A recent review of Allison's innovative treatment of the Cuban Missile Crisis noted that "for courses dealing with bureaucracy and foreign policy there are few alternatives to Essence of Decision" (Bendor and Hammond, 1992; 301), the first parts of which were published a quarter-century ago.

We find these observations to be indicative of a long-standing neglect - by both political scientists and defense analysts - of the connection between the military and the study of American political institutions. Although the intellectual landscape is not as barren as these critics charge,(1) the theoretical and practical literatures on public administration and American institutions typically avoid the study of defense policy and military organizations. Few political scientists trained in either American institutions or policy studies focus on defense as their substantive area, leaving the field to those trained in defense policy and international relations, who in turn have neglected the domestic political aspects of security policy (Nye and Lynn-Jones, 1988; Welch, 1992) despite the recognition of domestic-international linkages in other policy areas (Davis, 1993; Chubb, 1983, 1989).

Scholars have noted the existence of this gap, but our goal in this article is to explain why the gap exists and illustrate how it might be bridged. In our view, the lack of engagement stems from two assumptions about military policy which discourage scholars from looking at how politics - which we take to mean competition between actors and institutions over the control of policy and goals, rather than pork barrel, bureaucratic, or electoral politics - affects defense issues. First, most studies of American politics assume that defense and civilian policies are so different that they belong in separate fields. Second, most defense analysts adopt the normative assumption that defense policy making should be above politics. As a result, scholars in both fields avoid thinking about the connections between political structures, political relationships, and defense policy outputs. We address these issues and then show that the effort to "depoliticize" defense policy is actually part of a broader debate in public administration and public policy studies: striking the proper balance between expertise (which is politically neutral) and accountability to elected officials. In virtually every domestic policy arena, as in the study of defense policy, analysts bemoan the intervention of politics in the definition, administration, and evaluation of public policy.

Our effort to find some common ground between defense policy and the study of institutions led us to recent developments in what is commonly referred to as the new economics of organization. Its framework of principals, agents, and the transaction costs associated with bringing about compliance has been applied to a number of domestic policy areas (Moe, 1984, 1989; McCubbins, 1985; Weingast, 1984; Wood and Waterman, 1991; Woolley, 1993) but has not yet been used to investigate questions about defense policy. …

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