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HomeGeopolitical CompassThe AmericasA Primer on US Civil–Military Relations for National Security Practitioners

A Primer on US Civil–Military Relations for National Security Practitioners

Author: Dr. Jessica D. Blankshain

Affiliation: US Naval War College, New Port, Rhode Island

Organization/Publisher: Air University, Alabama

Date/Place: July 6, 2020/ Alabama, USA

Type of Literature: Academic Article

Number of Pages: 21


Keywords: Civil-Military Relations, U.S., Civilian Government, Public


The civil-military relations (CMR) in the US are mostly led by the civilian commander-in-chief, i.e. the President of the United States. But even then, there have been several instances when skirmishes appeared between the Oval Office and the Pentagon. The firing of General Douglas MacArthur by Harry Truman, disagreements between Bill Clinton and Colin Powell over gay service members, “Revolt of Generals” faced by G.W. Bush during the Iraq War, the request of resignation from General Stanley by Obama, and General Mark Milley’s apology for publicly appearing at a photo-op with Trump during protests against police violence. Despite all these differences, military officials, civil bureaucracy, and political appointees interact on routine bases with each other, thus constituting American civil-military relations. This article analyzes the civil-military relations in the US in three dimensions: relations between civilian government and military, military and public, and civilian government and public. This article also evaluates the increasing influence of civilian control over military effectiveness, the acceptance of military in society, and the opinion of the public regarding civilian government’s decisions in national security and foreign policy analysis. The article concludes that civilian control over military has meaning beyond the absence of coup or disobedience. Moreover, military, civilian, and political policy makers must consider the input or dissent of defense institutions while formulating the domestic policy preferences. Civil-military relations in the US are apparently controlled by civilians, but its composition is quite complex to analyze its impact on military effectiveness and foreign policy objectives. 

By: Muhammad Taimoor Bin Tanveer, CIGA Research Associate



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