The Problem of Civilian-Military Control

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In the United States and its allies, civilian protection is a recurring policy objective. It is intended to temper the overall humanitarian consequences of war and limit harm to non-combatants in both active conflicts and post-conflict situations. Whether or not this is possible will depend on a number of factors, including military capacity and willingness to tolerate human loss.

The problem of civil-military control has long been an important topic of study for scholars and observers, but it is only in recent years that this issue has reemerged as a central concern among policy-makers. As a consequence, a new generation of scholars is working to reexamine and better understand this problem.

There are a variety of different ways to approach the question of civilian control, and the various approaches have spawned an array of theories, many of which are highly debateable. Some have emphasized the importance of institutional frameworks that restrain the military while others have sought to enhance civilian legitimacy by tailoring the boundaries, mission, values, organization, and training of the military.

Strategy 1: Institutional Restrictions

These include constitutional and administrative restraints that legally bind the military in a subservient position, but only so far as it abides by the constraints. These measures are often used to limit the power of the military in a particular area and may be especially useful for transitioning states with strong military institutions, but they do not restrain the military from acting outside of these restrictions or attempting to subvert them (Damrosch 1995).

Strategy 2: Tailoring Civilian Institutions

Another way to think about civilian control is to consider its relation to other institutional features that shape the relationship between civilians and the military. For example, Huntington (1957) argues that three competing ideologies-liberalism, conservatism, and Marxism-conceive of the military in different ways and that these conceptions can lead to very different patterns of civil-military relations. Campbell (1990) also emphasizes the economic pressure on states to restrict access to the military for non-combatants and the impact of ethnic cleavages in shaping social relations between civilians and the military.

Strategy 3: Ethnocultural Factors

In most nations, ethnic cleavages are a dominant feature of civilian-military relations and can accentuate or reduce the effects of other institutional forces. Moreover, in some nations, the economic situation can make it difficult to establish civilian institutions and thereby restrain the military (Danopoulos & Zirker 1996, Michta 1997).

The issue of civilian control has always been a major focus for scholars in the political science and sociology disciplines, but recent decades have seen a rise in interest in this problem within the security studies discipline as well. As a result, there has been a proliferation of research on the issue, with much of the work focused on the United States and its allies.

This is a problem that has to be addressed as the United States and its allies face increasingly complex, sophisticated threats from adversaries. In particular, a wide range of military weapons, tactics, and technologies pose significant risks to civilians in armed conflict. This is especially true in densely populated areas and is a problem that has grown worse in recent years. The United States and its allies are increasingly committed to enhancing civilian protection, but this is only one way to address the problem.