Welcome to Of Soldiers and Statesmen

Boston Public Library via Flickr
Boston Public Library via Flickr

The subfield of Civil-Military relations, a discipline under the broad umbrella of security studies, starts with somewhat of a paradox; namely, how can society effectively govern those with the guns? More explicitly, how do civilians maintain power over those who possess not only the means of violence, but also the training to use it effectively? Popular culture and hyperbolic news agencies do an excellent job depicting what occurs when civilians lose control over their soldiers. More recently, Western media outlets descended upon Cairo with high definition cameras and hyperbole worthy of Hollywood, in hopes of further dramatizing Egypt’s first coup since the Cold War. Though it would be impossible to talk about the histories of Egypt, Thailand, Uganda, Peru, Congo or Uruguay without considering the impact of coups, coups alone do not account for the totality of Civil-Military relations.

So what does the field of civil-military relations include, if its not exclusively coups? In a word, bureaucracy, specifically, the interrelated bureaucracies of the national security apparatus, and the professionals that make decisions within them. On a more abstract level, Civil-Military relations is the study of military bureaucracies and how they devise operational military policies, such as the deployment of military forces and weapons, and how those decisions relate to civilian policymaking. To draw upon a concrete example: can Canadian soldiers forcibly break up protests in Kandahar if they see it as a strategic threat to security, or would doing so violate the government’s commitment to fostering Afghani democracy? More importantly, who makes the decision to breakup the protest: local commanders, senior generals, the Minister of Defense or the PM himself?

To return momentarily to the issue of coups, the question is not why do soldiers coup, but at what point do civilian controls over the military bureaucracy break down and cause soldiers to conceptualize coups as being in their best interests?  This question is infinitely more interesting, for it implicates the mindset of professional soldiers, the configuration of the military bureaucracy itself, and the seminal question of how civilians and soldiers interact in the political realm.

The aim of this blog is to further explore these issues and offer my limited, but developing insights on these too-often overlooked questions. Future posts will flesh out a bit more the theory of Civil-Military relations, specifically asking what makes soldiers a professional class, before moving on to specific assessments of post-coup Egypt and Syria respectively. While I confess my interest is often hostage to whims of current affairs I shall endeavor to stick to a relatively consistent schedule of posts, which I will disclose as soon as I sort it out.

-Greg Frame