Understanding Civil-Military Relations A theoretical analysis


Understanding Civil-Military Relations

A theoretical analysis

Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai

In terms of consecutive duration of civilian governments in Pakistan’s history, this year marks the thirteenth year of uninterrupted civilian rule. In the past, we have not seen such bonhomie and convergence between civil and military leadership—ranging from foreign policy to domestic politics and even economic policy. If we talk about minus-military policies in Pakistan, it may be a misleading thinking as the theories of civil-military relations do not support this view—except that of Huntington’s view of “objective civilian control,” that is, at least not possible, in developing world. 

Prime Minister Imran Khan has excellent working relationship with the military. Last year, he granted a three-year extension to the Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. In return, he agreed to freeze the military budget, keeping in view the daunting economic challenges the country was faced with. Such moves, where the civilian government also receives some favours, are right, otherwise not. 

The recent appointment of Lt. Gen (Retd) Asim Saleem Bajwa as Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information is being criticized by many inside and outside Pakistan: some consider it interference in civilian affairs while others call it PMIK’s tilt towards the military. First, we must look at this decision in the theoretical lenses of civil-military relations subject. Secondly, if the decision is in the best interest of the state, constitutional and such practices exist in other democracies as well, it is understandable. The real question in Pakistan is how both civilian leadership and military authority can coexist, which has never been seen on a smooth track throughout our history. 


 The leading theorists of civil-military relations, Professor Samuel P. Huntington in his book “Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations,” and Morris Janowitz in “The Professional Soldier: A Social and Political Portrait” agree that the worlds of military and civilians are fundamentally different from each other. Both political scientists have discussed the friendly coexistence of civil-military leaderships from their respective viewpoints. Huntington believes there is a sharp contrast between the attitudes and values of both segments of the state. The military holds conservative thinking, while civilian, on the other hand, remains liberal. Besides, each of them has a separate world consisted of separate institutions with their operatives, rules and norms. He suggests that to maintain control, the civilian authority should not infringe on the internal autonomous character of the military. The civilian authority should determine such control which must be institutional and lawful, and not for seeking any political advantages.

Professor Janowitz agrees with the above thesis but indicates a theory of convergence. He argues that the civil authority, understanding the need for a strong military, must try to get institutionally closer to each other through better understanding and arrangements.

Huntington, by furthering the concept, presents two models for civil-military relations: ‘objective civilian control’ and ‘subjective civilian control.’ An ‘objective civilian control’, according to Huntington, relies on an autonomous nature, expertise, professional competence and, above all, political neutrality of the military. This model presents civilian authority supreme and military as a tool for the implementation of policies planned and directed by the political leadership. On the contrary, the ‘subjective civilian control’ provides the military with an independent role in setting national priorities. The military, like the other groups, strives for maximum influence in the formulation of national policies. 81ZLUP2r9iL

Huntington’s objective control is the ideal one; however, in the developed world it is impossible to exist. 

Janowitz argues that clear demarcation between the civilian and military authority is not possible and can never exist in developing countries due to their history, culture and regional characteristics. Besides, the model of ‘objective civilian control’ cannot be adopted in its real sense. The best option for him is to operate peacefully as two arms of the same body. However, unfortunately, I am doubtful, as many, including our most politicians, know theories of civil-military relations. For them, it is implausible because the two institutions can be compatible and operative in coordination as well. 

Furthermore, Janowitz suggests three ways by which civilian leadership can control military: via the budget, via allocation of roles and missions and advice to the head of the state on foreign policy. The current US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, a former military officer and the Director of the CIA is the best example of playing such a role. Many other examples can be referred to in the US government that portray how the military has influenced the government and interfered in civilian affairs, or how it plays a role inside the governmental machinery. Bob Woodward, in his book, “Obama’s Wars,” for example, discusses the 2009 tension between the Pentagon and the White House where the former was looking for a different approach. Similarly, Gen McCrystal’s differences with President Obama on troops level in Afghanistan is also a piece of evidence. 

Richard Kohn, a well-known commentator on contemporary civil-military relations, observes: “The professional military, with its allies and communities, has developed into a potent political force in the American government. Knowledgeable people, particularly those who, in each administration, are charged with the direction of national security affairs, recognize this, even if they cannot, for political reasons, admit it openly.”617_1123298527

All these theories and pieces of evidence, although provide a basis for civil-military relations, suggest a mechanism of coordination and cooperation between these two organs of the state. A complete detachment is not possible, especially in the developing world. All those who comment on this difficult-to-understand relationship must know the basics of the subject matter. The issues we have experienced in the past were those of military coups, not influence. If better coordination can save democracy from the danger of military coup and work for the betterment of the state, that is always a viable and better option. 

Zafar Iqbal Yousafzai is an independent researcher and columnist. He tweets @yousafzaiZafar5


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.