Academic journal article Parameters

Civil-Military Relations: The Role of Military Leaders in Strategy Making

Academic journal article Parameters

Civil-Military Relations: The Role of Military Leaders in Strategy Making

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This article addresses the current inadequacies of the civil-military relations model advanced by Samuel Huntington and embraced by the US military, the tensions and realities of security policy development, and the professional responsibilities military leaders have for providing the best military advice possible to political leaders.


National security strategy making is difficult business. Some contend the entire enterprise, at its very best, is just focused improvisation. (1) Post-9/11 decisions to use military force, as part of national security policy implementation, and the execution of those polices, have been plagued in the past by a host of factors that have reduced public confidence in both government decision making and the efficacy of military force in the 21st century. With some clear exceptions, the senior leadership of the military, and those who advise it, have contributed to the confusion because of their largely self-imposed mindset of civil-military relations stemming from our almost 50-year acceptance of the orderly and appealing concepts of Samuel Huntington. (2)

Huntington's 1957 The Soldier and the State, has defined civil-military relations for generations of military professionals. Soldiers have been raised on Huntingtonian logic and the separation of spheres of influence since their time as junior lieutenants. His construct assigns to both military and civilian leaders clear jurisdictions over the employment of military force. This clarity appeals to military minds and forms the philosophical basis for military doctrine and planning systems. The logic of Huntington's "objective control" of the military focuses on the role of civilian leaders to determine objectives and broad policy guidance up front. The military offers options to achieve these goals and provides its assessment of risk for each of these options. The president makes the key decisions and then the military executes this guidance with minimal political oversight or "meddling" and is held accountable for the results.

However appealing to the military, Huntington's conceptualization of proper civil-military relations does not reflect the reality of security strategy making and implementation today. Such an orderly, logical world simply does not exist at the top of the national-security hierarchy. The result is that many senior military leaders find themselves, when thrust into this stratosphere, ill-served by the tradition the military's embrace of Huntington has taught them. They worry that diving into the murky waters of national security decision-making causes them to become "political," which is seen as antithetical to military culture and ethics.

Since America puts so much faith in its military leaders and these national security decisions put American lives at risk, military officers are morally obligated to help craft the best possible policies and strategies. (3) As opinion polls show and commentators assert, the American public holds the US military in extremely high regard and gives significant deference to military leaders on matters of security. This deference creates a responsibility, even an obligation, for generals to participate fully in the dialogue that leads to civilian decisions on the use of force. (4) Our senior general officers, pressed into this dialogue by the demands of their current positions, know this obligation well. Although their war-fighting skills are unquestioned, most military leaders do not naturally wade, by inclination or assignment, into these political waters on their way up in rank. To be effective and to assist the president in crafting and implementing national-security policy involving military force, senior military leaders must embrace a more involved role in the back-and-forth dialogue necessary to build effective policies and workable strategies. Thus, educating and developing strategic-mindedness in our rising senior military officers is an imperative that trumps nearly all other aspects of their professional competence. …

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