September 19, 2022

Let’s Stop Being Cavalier about Civilian Control of the Military

The United States needs to review the basic principles of civilian control of the military and recommit to best practices in civil-military relations. That is the underlying message of a remarkable open letter by former secretaries of defense and former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, published last week on War on the Rocks.

This is the first time such a distinguished group—every confirmed secretary of defense serving in the Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations and the former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff covering the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations—has collectively weighed in on this bedrock foundation of the United States’ constitutional republic: what civilian control of the military does and does not mean, and how to preserve it. (Full disclosure: One of us, Feaver, helped the group work through the process of drafting the statement.) That this extraordinary group felt the need to make this statement at this time is as newsworthy as what they said.

For most of U.S. history, ordinary Americans have taken civilian control of the military for granted and barely given a thought to how civilians and the military interact within the political system.

To be sure, academics and expert practitioners have paid closer attention and in recent times have been sounding the alarm about the erosion of norms and the flouting of taboos that have kept the U.S. military apolitical and served the country well for decades. Now that message has been amplified in a dramatic way with the collective voice of the nation’s most experienced defense leaders. Notably, the group began their work in May/June, and the timing of the release was not pegged to any single event.

Read the full article from Lawfare.

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