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Civil-Military Relations: Has the Balance Been Lost?

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Strategy research project

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Recently, United States civil-military relations have been viewed as in a state of crisis. The Bush Administration has helped to foster this claim by loosely accusing the U.S. military of inappropriate behavior and insubordination to civilian control. Deliberate efforts have been introduced by the Secretary of Defense to reign in the military. Critical evidence continues to surface regarding the gap that has developed between the military and civil sectors of the United States. Some scholars studying this issue have sounded an alarm over the perceived increase in American military independence. In effect, they have warned that this shift in the American civil-military relations has tipped a time-honored balance. These warnings have lumped together vastly different elements of civil-military relations from recent military operations and confuse the debate. Additionally, they distort and ignore the historical record concerning the American civil-military tradition, contain uncritically accepted assumptions of the proper norms that should be applied to military behavior, and focus attention primarily on anecdotal evidence rather than carefully considered data. The result radically misrepresents the true nature of American civil-military relations. While the alarmists do highlight evidence of problems demanding attention, these issues are more symptomatic of the traditional ebb and flow of American civil-military relations. Careful scholarship rather than anecdotal evidence refutes allegations of a civil-military crisis and places alarmists charges into both historical and theoretical perspective. The American civil-military tradition was forged during the struggle for independence during the Revolutionary War. Our first President, General George Washington, provided the American model for respectful, but fully engaged military interchange with civilian governmental leaders.

Subject Categories:

  • Sociology and Law
  • Humanities and History
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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