Lost in Translation: The Challenge of Exporting Models of Civil-Military Relations

By Cleary, Laura R. | Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Lost in Translation: The Challenge of Exporting Models of Civil-Military Relations


Cleary, Laura R., Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations


Once viewed as an interesting but minor subset of the broader disciplines of international relations and security studies, the promotion of civil-military relations (CMR), under the new and broader banners of security sector reform (SSR) and stabilization, has become a critical component of foreign, defense, and development policies of former colonial powers in the 2 1st century. ' Indeed, it would be fair to say that the promotion of CMR/SSR has become a booming industry. The United States, United Kingdom (UK), Germany, and France have sanctioned the development of this industry through the award of contracts to preferred service providers. There appears, however, to be little consistency, coordination, monitoring, or regulation in the selection of service providers or in the way in which the service is provided.2

The "Great Powers" have outsourced the delivery of their foreign policies. The result is that, while those states may be in agreement on the requirement to improve CMR or reform the security sector in developing countries, there is little or no agreement on how this should be done, either between the countries or between their respective ministries. This lack of unity and coordination is apparent to recipient nations. As a result, the message that the West seeks to transmit is diluted, and it takes longer to identify the focal point for change and develop the critical mass required for reform. This is the first general point that needs to be understood. The second is that the Western definition and interpretation of CMR is not universally shared.3

Three names dominate the field of CMR: Samuel Huntington, Samuel Finer, and Morris Janowitz. Although these three men were apt to criticize each other on aspects of their respective theories,4 they were essentially in agreement that stable, democratic civil-military relations were more likely if the military was professional, reflective of the society it served, and believed in an explicit principle of civil supremacy. In essence, their theories were predicated on what has come to be perceived as the Clausewitzean trinity: people, army, and government. Although there have been many studies conducted of civil- military relations in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America, the essential theory has remained the same.

Western academics tend to adopt a holistic approach to the study of CMR, looking at the way the military relates to both government and society. As in any academic discipline, there have been some splinter movements with individuals arguing that more emphasis should be placed on military-society relations and less on government-military relations; but, on balance, recent theorists have sought to determine the ways in which the trinity of people, army, and government can be renewed.

The most recent and high profile example of this is Rebecca Schiffs Concordance Theory, which stresses the need to develop a partnership between the military, government, and civil society if peace and stability are to be achieved.5 While this theory has a certain degree of merit, if it is to be advocated outside of a North American or European context, then those promoting it need to be aware that the playing field in other parts of the world is not the same. In Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the focus is on military-political/administration relations; society does not really factor into the equation. The military views politicians with opprobrium because they are perceived as ignorant, uneducated, and corrupt. Civil servants are viewed with disdain because they are perceived as overly bureaucratic, inefficient, and incompetent. In turn, the military is viewed as distant, superior, and potentially dangerous to political stability. As for the citizenry, they are viewed as largely uninterested in, and generally ignorant of, security. Thus, the fundamental ingrethents for the development of effective partnerships are missing. There is no mutual understanding, respect, or trust. …

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