Wednesday, July 11, 2012

CMR: balance maintained by the divide


CMR is a multifaceted topic with issues at many levels, the major branches of which regard the military’s relationship with the civil population of the state, the military’s function within the state, and the military’s relationship with the civilian government of the state who in turn strives to manage the first two facets in accordance with the values and needs of the state. Often these facets are conflated in debate which in incorrect. Each has issues and solutions that interrelate in various ways but should be considered in turn. As such, I intend here to take a cursory look at the first – the military’s relationship with the civil population. I think we can generalize the second – that the military’s function is to leverage its capabilities to meet state objectives throughout the world – for our purposes here. This is a topic deserving of more depth later as the U.S. military struggles to find its place in the world for the coming decades. The third I’ll discuss at a later date.

CMR Basics

Huntington describes the CMR as the friction between the military’s function and society’s norms:
The military institutions of any society are shaped by two competing forces: a functional imperative stemming from threats to a state’s security and a societal imperative arising from social forces, ideologies, and institutions dominant within the society. Military institutions which reflect only social values may be incapable of performing effectively their military function. On the other hand, it may be impossible to contain within society military institutions shaped purely by functional imperatives. The interaction of these two forces is the nub of the problem of civil-military relations.
He establishes this interaction as the conflict of conservative Military Realism with society’s American Liberalism.  Military Realism encompasses a worldview of “permanence, irrationality, weakness, and evil in human nature” and “stresses the supremacy of society over the individual and the importance of order, hierarchy, and division of function.”  American Liberalism is opposed to this Realism and is defined by five tenets (taken from both Huntington and Michael Desch’s chapter in American Civil-Military Relations: The Soldier and the State in a New Era):
  1. indifference to international affairs,
  2. application of domestic solutions to international affairs,
  3. objectivity in international affairs,
  4. ambivalence about war, and
  5. distrust of military institutions.

These were not meant to describe the differences between political parties (the only difference between the parties may only apply to the fifth tenet). Liberal versus conservative instead denotes the fundamental differences between the American society as a whole (and the philosophical foundations of the American government) and the institutional worldview of the military mind required to effectively wage wars. This is not unlike other dichotomies proposed by others such as George Lakoff, de Tocqueville, or Herbert Spencer. The “interaction of these two forces” is in reality the clash ideals of individuality and democracy against the ideals regimented and hierarchical life.  Huntington asks the million-dollar question (on page 346 of the Belknap/Harvard edition printed in 2003): “how can a liberal society provide for its military security when this requires the maintenance of professional military forces and institutions fundamentally at odds with liberalism?”

Most of Huntington’s work centers on how the government of the state balances its security with its philosophy. Writing in the mid-1950s, he provides three options to the question above:
  1. Cut military forces to the bone, isolating military institutions from society, and reducing military influence to negligible proportions. This maintains the purity of an American Liberal society at the expense of national security.
  2. Accept increased military authority and influence but to insist that military leaders abandon their professional outlook and that military institutions be reformed along liberal lines.  This is good for society at the expense of military effectiveness.
  3. Society adopted a more sympathetic understanding and appreciation of the military viewpoint and military needs.  This is good for the military but drives society to abandon its liberal heart. 

Interestingly, over 50 years after this was written and following both the transformation to an all-volunteer force and over 10 years of war, America has essentially taken the path of all three options in part. A purely professional force is by nature small. It is a force isolated to garrisons located throughout the country in places where (generally) not a lot of civilians live. Military influence in both political life and international affairs has increased. Society has adopted a more sympathetic appreciation of the military need. And yet military influence has not been reduced to negligible proportions, military institutions and philosophy has not liberalized, and society has not adopted a more sympathetic understanding of the military viewpoint.   

The result of this amalgam solution is a highly professional and effective military that enjoys nearly extensive (if not unlimited) support of that all important element of the Trinity: the people. The military keeps its Realism and society keeps its Liberalism. The political power of military elites is certainly concerning and is no doubt at least partially a result of the support the military enjoys from the population in contraposition to the popularity of civilian government institutions. I think it is important to make the distinction that military elites have not sought out (as a rule) the power and influence they exercise but instead have filled a role they have been asked to fill. (Would retired generals publically support candidates if the political parties did not seek their support for the benefit of the candidate? I do not think so for the most part.) I firmly believe that if military elites are not asked to fill those roles in the future that they will gladly abdicate them to civilians.

What This Means Today

In summation, we are in a situation there is a general balance of the military’s function with society’s norms. In my mind any imbalance is correctable and within an acceptable order of magnitude.  In spite of this and with regard to the people’s relationship with the military, a number of pundits and officials have declared at civil-military challenge or even a crisis, centered upon society’s lack of understanding of the military and their non-participation in military affairs. For example, Admiral Mullen stated in September last year that the “eroding” connection between the military and the people is a “very bad outcome for America […] an outcome that this democracy could not [stand] to have its military essentially detached from its people.”  While not calling for a draft yet, Mullen suggests it may be required in the future to bridge this population-military divide. Similarly, in the past two weeks both Tom Ricks and Stanley McChrystal have made calls for a return to compulsory service and a draft, respectively. Without delving into the particulars and bureaucratic issues of Ricks’ proposal (another topic altogether), both men have argued that compulsory service or a draft would ensure all (or at least more) Americans have “skin in the game” when making decision of war and peace.

However, and it’s a big however, none of these three have explained the consequences of current system to society or the military. What is the effect on society and the military if there is a detachment between the two? What is the result of only having only 1% of the population with “skin in the game”? Most superficially it seems the answer is unfairness.  It is not fair that only a few are waging war for 10 years. It is not fair that, in spite of extensive support, civilians do not understand what the military goes through. But I ask again: what is the consequence of this unfairness?  How does fairness result in a more effective military? How does this perception of fairness interact with American Liberal mores upon which our society is built?

A draft, or compulsory service, may bridge this divide between the military and the people, but that divide may be natural and necessary.  Intermingling these two elements of American society more than they currently do could potentially result in fundamental changes to either element by which they would not benefit. American Liberal philosophy is one of the things that make America great in other endeavors (principally with regard to social and economic constructs). Adding conservative Military Realism has the potential to adversely affect the acceptance of this societal philosophy. A wider-ranging exposure and subsequent understanding of military culture could potentially increase the influence and power of military elites beyond current levels, creating a new (and real) crisis of CMR (See, WWII – which is also an example of the military ceding its influence when it wasn’t need anymore). Conversely, the forced infusion of Liberalism into Military Realism could potentially erode military effectiveness due to the extent that military effectiveness is dependent upon its conservatism (See: draft, Vietnam War).  It is possible that the two conflicting forces could reach equilibrium, but equilibrium in CMR is rarely realized historically and there is no reason to assume that it would in this case, especially considering the potential risks to society and the military.

Leaving aside such issues as what the draftees would do, how their services are paid for, the creating of large bureaucracies to manage the process, a draft or similar course of action threatens civil-military relations more than any existing divides between the people and the military. It would be great if the people understood the military or felt some of the pain the military has felt during the past decade (it would only be fair were it so…). Not only is this understanding or fairness not necessary, it has a greater potential to upend the relative CMR balance we currently enjoy instead of fixing a different “crisis” altogether. The divide that does exist serves a purpose: it maintains the integrity of society and the effectiveness of the military. Simply put, we can have a divide or we can have an imbalance.  I choose a divide because I can get over the “unfairness” of it. Society or the military may take a long time to recover from an imbalance created for ill-advised or unsubstantiated reasons.

1 comment:

  1. I really want to respond properly to this post and MK's previous post, but, I need to postpone to a time when I can write something properly instead of my usual "dashed off the top off my head" writing.

    Sigh. I am writing the same comment all over the internets these days. I may yet break down and join Twitter just so that I can keep up with the conversation in a more time-efficient way.

    Aaarrgh, I've been avoiding this decision for some time now....

    - Madhu

    ReplyDelete