Unlike military personnel, civilians are not systematically commissioned into military ranks or systematically relegated to military service in a war zone. However, civilians are not neophytes either, and their contributions to the national security policymaking process have merit.
In international armed conflicts, civilians take part in hostilities in the form of popular uprisings, in the form of resistance movements in occupied territories, and in the form of non-state armed groups maintaining close links with the civilian population in controlled territory. In non-international armed conflicts, civilians may participate in hostilities at certain times, but they are not combatants.
In the US, civilian roles in civil-military relations are outlined in Title 10 of the US Code. There are three main types of civilian oversight entities: investigative boards, review entities, and decertification entities. Each has its own functions and models. In addition, civilian oversight entities can vary significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. While civilian oversight entities are not created equal, jurisdictions should seek input from the community before developing or establishing these entities.
In the US, the National Security Council (NSC) and the Department of Defense (DOD) are civilian institutions, while the Pentagon, CIA, and NSA are military institutions. As a result, civilian oversight entities vary greatly in their level of authority and function. In addition, there are significant structural barriers that prevent civilian oversight entities from fulfilling their mandates.