Summary: Civil-military relations describe the interactions among the people of a state, the institutions of that state, and the military of the state. At the institutional level, there are “two hands on the sword.” The civil hand determines when to draw it from the scabbard and thence guides it in its use. This is the dominant hand of policy, the purpose for which the sword exists in the first place. The military’s hand sharpens the sword for use and wields it in combat.
From the time of the Revolution to the present, US civil-military relations essentially have constituted a bargain among the aforementioned parties—the people, the civil government, and the military establishment—concerning the allocation of prerogatives and responsibilities between the government and the military in answer to five questions: Who controls the military instrument? What is the appropriate level of military influence on society? What is the role of the military? What pattern of civil-military relations best ensures military success? Who serves?
From time to time throughout U.S. history, certain circumstances—political, strategic, social, technological, etc.—have changed to such a degree that the terms of the existing civil-military bargain have become obsolete. The resulting disequilibrium and tension have led the parties to renegotiate the bargain in order to restore equilibrium. The purpose of this talk is to address the ongoing renegotiation of the American civil-military bargain and to ascertain its consequences for military success and civilian control.
Mackubin Thomas Owens is Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College in Newport, RI. He is also a senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia and editor of its quarterly journal, Orbis. His book, US Civil-Military Relations After 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain was published in January of 2011. Before joining the faculty of the Naval War College, Dr. Owens served as National Security Adviser to Senator Bob Kasten (R-WI) and Director of Legislative Affairs for the Nuclear Weapons Programs of the Department of Energy. He is a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, serving as an infantry platoon commander in 1968-1969. He retired from the Marine Corps Reserve as a Colonel in 1994. Dr. Owens earned his Ph.D. from the University of Dallas, his M.A. in economics from Oklahoma University and his B.A. from the University of California at Santa Barbara.