Civil Military Relations Essay


In recent years civil-military relations have undergone significant changes and such a shift produced a serious impact on the development of a certain gap in such relations. At the same time, the growing gap in civil-military relations affects different spheres, including the problem of major weapons procurement programs. It is obvious that there are a lot of reasons that caused such a shift, but, nonetheless, the problems threaten to become as serious as it has never been before since in the current situation the problem of civil control over military is of a paramount importance.

On the other hand, it should be pointed out that there is a number of factors that affected civil-military relations and the problem is very complicated. Obviously, the general shift in civil-military relations results from great changes that recently have occurred in military, civil society, and in the security environment of the US. As a result, the problem of civil-military relations, especially the problem of civil control over military operations, is of a primary concern. On the other hand, civil-military relations have been also negatively impacted by civil run contractors in major weapons procurement programs that deteriorated the situation dramatically.

This is why it is necessary to thoroughly analyse the problem, to reveal its basic causes and attempt to find out possible recommendations that could really improve civil-military relations in the US.

The gap in civil-military relations

Speaking about the existing gap in civil-military relations, it should be pointed out that it is currently growing and is threatening to the stability of the relations at large. On analysing the reasons of such a deterioration of civil-military relations, it is quite easy to find a lot of examples indicating at the negative trend, especially in recent years. Among such examples, may be named different facts such as general officers misappropriate military aircraft for personal and family use, the safety and equipment failures that lead to the death of the secretary of commerce and 34 others in a plane crash in Croatia and the list may be continued. In such a context, the civil impact on major weapon procurement programs seems to be particularly disturbing since it is not a secret that many of such programs are considered to be too expansive and are often criticised. Such criticism is actually not surprising in the situation when “the profligate procurement of gold-plated weapon systems have failed major performance tests” (Lind et al 1994:382).

On analysing different factors that contributed to the widening of the gap between civilian and the military, several facts should be taken into consideration. For instance, it is not a secret that the ignorance of American elites about military has deepened dramatically, especially after the end of the Cold War. On the other hand, the end of the Cold War marked a new historical epoch in the development of the US that could not fail to influence civil-military relations. It is obvious that the American society could expect minimizing expenditures on military purposes and weapon procurement programs constitutes the main part of the expenditures for military purposes because the US is the only superpower in the world and there is no other to compete with. Unfortunately, such expectations basically failed, especially in recent years, when the US have started to develop programs aiming at the country national safety.

At the same time, the situation has been significantly deteriorated by misunderstanding between US military and civilians. The explanation lies on the surface. Traditionally, civilians are very influential and their control over military, notably over weapon procurement programs, led to great contradictions in views. It may be explained by two reasons: on the one hand, civilians basically aimed at the minimization of expenditures on military purposes, while military realised perfectly that such a step would threaten to the national interests of the US.

However, such a contradiction could not be so obvious if certain weapon procurement programs did not fail as it has been said above. As a result, civilians felt to be deceived since the investment in the programs led to no positive results, while military clearly understood that any serious weapon program could not be realised in a day and failures are normal.

At this respect, it is quite noteworthy to draw some statistics in terms of examples which indicate at the fact that military budget seems to be spiralling out of control and, consequently, too expansive from civilian point of view. According to the forecast of specialists, the cost of weapon procurement programs will increase by 52% over the next six years. As for the recent period of time, it should be said that “the Pentagon’s recent budget request – a bountiful $419 billion for fiscal year 2006, plus a $75 billion supplemental to the budget for 2005 – does not include $13.4 billion worth of urgently needed combat warfare” (Desch 2004:218). Obviously, the growth of costs of military budget is very significant. At the same time, the explanation of such a growth lies in the introduction, over the next few years, of 13 major new weapon programs.

In order to better understand the extent to a program may be expansive, it is necessary to refer to F-22 program, for instance. It should be said that the total cost of the program constituted $61.9 billion and it is noteworthy that the major contractor of the program were Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Company, and Pratt and Witney, i.e. civilian companies. Among other programs may be named C-17 Transport Aircraft, which total cost is $44,9 billion and major contractors are Boeing Company and Pratt and Wittney; RAH-66 Comanche Helicopter’s total cost is $48.1 billion and major contractors are Boeing Rotocraft, Sikorsky Aircraft, Inc, and LHTEC; F/A – F-18 E/F Fighter’s total cost is $46.8 billion and major contractors are Boeing/McDonnell Douglas, Northrop, and General Electrics (Desch 2004). They are also quite significant for the military budget and may be shocking for an average Americans. Thus, it is evident that the costs are extremely high and another noteworthy fact is that the major contractors are private companies which main goal has always been to increase their income regardless military interests or interests of the society.

However, the cost and necessity of such weapon procurement programs are not so significant for civilians than the question of their impact on the controllability of military spending. As a rule, the most of the government budget is spent right away, mainly for personnel. The Defence Department is one of the few federal departments that invest in the capital large project-planes, ships, tanks, etc. Naturally, some of these projects take years to build and, consequently, their budgets take years to spend.

Returning to the F-35 project, it should be pointed out that, according to the Pentagon’s own calculations, only 26% of the budget authorised for Air Force aircraft procurements gets spent in the first year of production. Another 45% gets spent in the second year, 19% in the third, 6% in the fourth, and 2% each in the fifth and the sixth years of production. Consequently, if the F-35 budget for the fiscal year 2009 is $6.5 billion, as the Pentagon currently plans, only $1.7 billion will be spent in fiscal year 2010, $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2011, and so on, out of 2014. This is exactly where the real problem in civil-military relations raises since “just as budgets take years to translate into spending, budget cuts take years to translate into savings” (Desch 2004:255). In other words, financing of weapon procurement programs is a significant source of expenditures while their effectiveness and necessity is not always accepted by the society and since weapon procurement programs are often controlled by civilians they are attempted to be used in favour of civilians. At this respect, the effect may be dubious. On the one hand, civilians, who are not directly involved into work over weapon procurement programs, oppose to the growth of military budget, while, on the other hand, those who are directly involved in the execution of the programs, notably civil companies that are the major contractors, attempt to earn as much as possible on the programs, regardless the result of the work. In such a situation military turns to be under the impact of public that is against expansive weapon procurement programs and, in contrast, the major contractor, which are civil companies, as it has been just mentioned, are interested in military programs but only to the extent until it is profitable for them. Naturally, they strive for additional orders from the part of the military regardless the price the society and the country at large have to pay for it.

Consequently, there is a problem in budget of the weapon procurement programs and the effectiveness of the use of the money spent on the programs, or to put it more precisely, the problem of control of the expenditures is of a paramount importance since “the more a budget devotes to procurement, the harder it becomes to control the budget in the years ahead” (Fairbanks 1995:137). In order to support this statement, it is necessary to return to the F-35 program. For instance, if in 2010 the Congress, or new administration, decides to kill the project in order to slash the deficit or simply to redirect military spending but it will have not a very significant effect for the Pentagon will still be committed to spending $4.8 billion of that $6.5 billion authorised for 2009. Remarkably, this does not include further billions that it will be spending from the budget authorized for 2008, 2007, and 2006. In fact the only way to break out of this trap is to put a stop order on existing production lines but this possibility is highly hypothetical and practically unrealisable in real life situation. Thus, the threat that budget financing will be used ineffectively remains quite probable.

As a result, the US has got a significant deterioration of civil-military relations. However, this is basically superficial view on the problem and, in order to understand the entity of the contradictions in depth, it is necessary to trace the relations and mutual impact of civilian leaders and military, the military and the people, and civilian leaders and the people in the context of civil-military relations. This is what can really reveal the core of the problem and, on realising the negative changes in civil-military relations on this level, it will be possible to work out certain recommendations as for the future perspectives of civil-military relations.

Changes in relations between civilian leaders and the military

Obviously, civil-military relations are very complicated and involve different categories of people and layers of society but probably the most significant impact on the relations produce civilian leaders, who control weapon procurement programs and who are not military at all. In a combination with civil major contractors of weapon procurement programs, civilian leaders can constitute a really powerful tool defining civil-military relations at large and those concerning weapon procurement programs in particular.

Civilian officials, especially presidents, have always played an important role in civil-military relations and the deterioration of the relations from their part could be the result of their expectations’ failure. Consequently, it would be logical to ask what civilian leaders, who actually control weapon procurement programs, expect from them and the military at large. First of all, they expect operational competence, i.e. the ability to accomplish assigned missions, whatever they may be. It means that weapon procurement programs should be able to achieve the goals they are developed for. At this respect, failures in their development are quite dangerous for the perspectives of the program and their financing.

Nowadays it is obvious that the changes in the relations between civilian leaders and military are rather negative. On analysing the changes that took place in recent years, for instance, last decade, it should be pointed out that the attitude of civilian leaders to the military have changed dramatically. In order to understand it, it is necessary to have a look at the epoch of Clinton’s presidency when the role of the military decreased to the extent that they were deprived of their former significance as political and intellectual elite. Not surprisingly that in such a situations some specialists, such as Prof Janowitz, believe that “it now appears not only possible but likely that the US military over the next 20 years will revert to a kind of garrison status, largely self-contained and increasingly distinct as a separate society and subculture” (1995:77).

As a result misunderstanding between civilian leaders and the military grows and weapon procurement programs become probably the most important part of the possible contradictions since they need state support, notably from the part of the president administration. In such a situation, military resentment over Clinton’s administration’s hamfisted handling of the latest phases of the Somalia mission, and military resistance to the US interventions in Haiti and Bosnia are not the result of Clinton’s administration policy but they are rather indicators at the global shift in civilian leaders-military relations that has already started. This is why some specialists, namely Michael Desch, conclude that “civilians are now less able to get the military to do what they want them to do compared with previous periods in recent US history” (2004:288).

At the same time, basically in 1990s, the US army faced significant changes and weapon procurement programs also suffered a lot because of these changes for the cut of military budget led to the cut of budget spending on these programs that was actually the official policy of the president administration. Moreover, the cuts affected even social sphere of the US army and the military faced the dilemma in addressing those cuts.

However, in recent years the situation has started to change for better for the military since new administration pays much more attention to military needs, including the development of new weapon procurement programs. In such a context, it is not surprisingly that there are 13 new weapon procurement programs, as it has been already mentioned above, are supposed to get started in the nearest future. Obviously, such a step will contribute to the improvement of civilian leaders and the military relations since the latter will be more confident in the nation’s leaders. On the other hand, there still remains a high risk of ineffective use of budget financing of these new programs that has been already discussed.

Anyway, the changes mentioned above reveal the fact that the relations as well as perspectives of weapon procurement programs are highly dependable on the civilian runners of the program and leaders of the state while it is necessary to realise that some of these programs, being very expansive, are long term programs. Consequently, it is impossible to link the development of weapon procurement programs to someone’s presidency. It means that as long as the short term politics influences long term weapon procurement programs there is a little hope that civil-military relations will improve dramatically.

At this point one may ask whether the situation was different in the past since there were strategic weapon procurement programs, which were quite successful, and there were no contradictions between civilians and the military. The answer to this question is very simple. The reason why long term weapon procurement programs were more successful in the past, or to put it more precisely, they did not provoke such an opposition from the part of civilians, is as follows: there was a common threat that was clearly realised by the whole society, the threat of another superpower that was the main stimulus during the Cold War. Nowadays, there are no such strong and effective stimuli. As a result, it is rather difficult for the military to explain both civilian leaders and average citizens why their money should be spent on weapon procurement programs which for an ignorant observer may seem to be useless. In such a way, it is clear that the security environment can also influence the development of civil-military relations and weapon procurement programs but it will be discussed in details in the next chapter.

Changes in the security environment

Nowadays, it is evident that the security environment of the US has changed dramatically compared to the past, especially to the period of the cold war. In fact the end of the Cold War is probably the largest change in the security environment that led to the deterioration of civil-military relations in the US. However, it is necessary to underline that some researchers do not agree that it ended at all. They say that the accents have just changed but the world is still in war. It means that if earlier there were confronting between two principle ideologies of those times capitalism versus communism then nowadays there is the cold war between well-developed, rich countries and some outcast of the third world whose policy, regimes and ideology have to be changed by democratic as it is traditionally said. The supporters of this idea also severely criticize the USA policy toward the countries accused in the help to international terror organizations, which have become a new threat to the national interests of the US.

Nonetheless, the threat of terrorism that has become particularly disturbing in recent years influenced greatly civil-military relations in the US. At the same time, the threat of terrorism rather stimulates militarization of the society but it is not directly linked to weapon procurement programs. However, the recent actions of Bush’s administration indicate at the possibility to closely interlink both the threat of terror attacks and weapon procurement programs. Notably, the war on terror started by the US resulted in open military conflict with participation of the US military forces, namely in Afghanistan and more recently Iraq, stimulated the development of weapon procurement programs aiming at the protection of national interests. Remarkably, nowadays the sphere of national interests of the US may overcome geographical border of the US and consequently this makes the development of weapon procurement programs as actual as before.

However, the new threat is not a guarantee of a civilian support of weapon procurement programs. In fact the problem is that civilian leaders, including the president of the US, undermined public support to the development of weapon procurement programs and even the idea of the war on terror as one of the stimulus for the development of such programs. What civilian leaders have done may be characterized as poor management of weapon procurement programs. The reason is that civilian leaders of the nation that are actually responsible for the programs and their successful implementation and development failed to provide a strong social support of the programs because the idea of the necessity of the war on terror in its present form is significantly damaged by the president administration. The public opinion has been undermined because of many reasons.
For instance, the war on Iraq turns to be unjustified since no trace of the weapon of mass destruction has been found in factually occupied Iraq, though initially it was declared to be the US adequate response to a potential threat from the country which supposedly possessed weapon of mass destruction. This cannot be interpreted otherwise than a great failure of Bush’s administration because the war on Iraq could potentially stimulate the development of new weapon procurement programs. It is obvious that a new war means increasing demand in new weapons but as the war seems to be unjust than the need in new weapon procurement programs seems to be not higher than it used to be before the war on terror.

Furthermore, this failure in Iraq undermined public belief in military at large and intelligence in particular since it is not a secret that the war has been started on the basis of the intelligence reports indicating at the presence of the weapon of mass destruction in Iraq and this is the main argument used by the nation’s leader, the president of the US. This was the main reason to get the war started. However, as the intelligence’s reports were not supported by evidences and the war had been started, naturally the civilians did not believe to military reports anymore as well as to the declarations of the officials at large. It means that in the result of such actions of the president administration and civilian leaders not only some military operations can be severely criticized now but even larger and long term weapon procurement programs are severely attacked by the president’s opponents and many civilians who do not believe anymore neither civilian leaders nor military. In such a situation weapon procurement programs are criticized probably even more severe than before because, in addition to the lack of understanding what the US need new weapon procurement programs for, a new argument has been added whether the military and civilian leaders running the weapon procurement programs are credit worthy or not.

Consequences of deterioration of civil-military relations and recommendations as for their improvement

Thus, it is possible to say that the situation concerning weapon procurement programs is quite disturbing since the programs have become such a part of the civil-military relations, which is a source of misunderstanding and disbelief. Such a situation naturally leads to a significant deterioration of relations between civilians and the military. However, such a deterioration of civil-military relations is rather a result of unwise policy of civilian leaders controlling weapon procurement programs than a result of some inner contradictions between civilians and military. Moreover, it is also obvious that the latter has become more distant from the rest of the society than before and in perspective such distancing of military may result in the formation of a separate social category or in the worst case it may even potentially threaten by marginalizing of military in the result of the lack of their mutual understanding with civilians.

On the other hand, civilians are also distancing from the military, which are supposed to protect their national interests and provide their security. Consequently, the deterioration of civil-military relations may turn to be crucial for the American society since there will be a profound gap between civilians and the military. At the same time, in longer terms it may have even a far reaching consequences. Notably, it may have practically disastrous results for the development of weapon procurement programs, which are of a paramount importance for national interests of the US. It is evident that, regardless the fact whether there is a real threat or a purely hypothetical threat, it is necessary to develop new weapon procurement programs in order to make certain progress. Otherwise, if the development of weapon procurement is stopped, its consequences may be disastrous for the military potential of the US at large because any retardation in the development of weapon procurement programs threaten to overthrow the country in the rearguard of the ‘club’ of the most developed countries.

Furthermore, there is another potential threat that weapon procurement programs will gradually devaluate its significance and will gradually transform from a tool of enforcement of military potential of the country into a tool to use budget financing in purposes, which are not directly linked to military at all. For instance, it has been said that there is a serious problem of controlling weapon procurement programs costs and even now there are cases when military equipment, vehicles, etc. may be used in personal purposes. As a result, in the future such a trend may become dominant, especially if the contradictions in the official policy of the civilian leaders remain unchanged than bacchanal attitude to weapon procurement programs and especially to their financing will grow dominant. The main result of such an attitude may be the increasing financing of weapon procurement programs and their decreasing effectiveness that will eventually undermine absolutely civil-military relations that is a direct threat to the national interests and national security to the extent that this internal threat may become more dangerous than any external one.

Despite the fact that military coup in the US is still hardly probable it is still necessary to remember that “nations that failed to develop a balanced pattern of civil-military relations squander their resources and run uncalculated risks” (Huntington 1994:2). It is also important to realize that the deterioration of civil-military relations may undermine the foreign policy of the US. Even nowadays, it is possible to observe the public resistance and rejection of the war in Iraq and the participation of American military forces in other conflicts abroad that naturally decrease the effectiveness of military operations of the US and limits dramatically the use of military force in its foreign policy. Potentially, it is a very dangerous situation since if the threat is really serious the US can use its military forces to prevent the threat and protect its national interests and security of its citizens that is impossible to do when civilians and military are divided by mutual distrust in the result of bad management abilities of the country’s civilian leaders. Moreover, in the situation when weapon procurement programs are ineffective and they lack of control over financing than this threat becomes even more dangerous.

In such situations there may be given a few recommendations as for the improvement of the situation in civil-military relations, notably in the part of weapon procurement programs. First of all, it is possible to recommend establishing a more thorough control over the weapon procurement programs so that their financing was really effective and results were corresponding to the costs of the programs. Secondly, it should be said that weapon procurement programs are long terms programs than they have to be planned strategically for years ahead and cannot be often revised with a change in the president’s administration, for instance. Also, it is possibly to make civil control over weapon procurement program more professional, i.e. civilians controlling the programs should clearly understand strategic goals of the programs, the necessity of their development and the ways to achieve the best results with the least costs. Finally, it is necessary to solve the problem of the gap between civilians and military at large in order to prevent further misunderstanding and distrust.


Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the problem of civil-military relations surrounding major weapon procurement programs in the US is really very serious and has to be solved in possibly shorter terms since it is the problem of the national interests of the US that threaten stability within the US as well as American foreign policy. At the same time, it is the problem that is only one among a number of others that currently exist in civil-military relations in the US. This is why this problem has to be solved in the complex with other problems that concerns civil-military relations in the country. Otherwise, the solution of civil-military relations problem only in the context of weapon procurement programs will be not effective enough if effective at all, while others problems in civil-military relations will deteriorate dramatically.

As for this specific problem, it should be said that its main cause is the result of significant changes that have occurred in the American society, especially in its ruling elite, namely its civilian leaders which play the dominant role in political life of the country and which control weapon procurement programs though not very effectively and this is why they are widely criticised for this as well as the programs themselves. At the same time, the role of military decreased dramatically and now in public opinion they are distancing from political and intellectual elite of the country that is obviously far from reality. In such a situation, average citizens turn to be a kind of ‘hostages’ of political ‘games’ the civilian leaders play and the American society gets to be spitted into two practically hostile camps: civilian and military.

Undoubtedly, the perspectives of such a situation are very dangerous for the future stability and sustained development of the US that makes the solution of the problem vitally important and the sooner the problem is solved the better for both sides of the process and the higher is the probability of the improvement of relations in the country. Anyway, the problem is evident, its causes are revealed and possible consequences are well predictable this is why it is just necessary to undertake the essential steps to eliminate the causes of the problem and prevent its negative consequences in the future.

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Janowitz, Morris. The Professional Soldier. Free Press, 1995.
Hahn, Robert. “Soldier-Citizen: New Roles for Military Officers in American Society,” paper presented at biennial meeting of Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society, Baltimore, Md., Oct. 1995.
Huntington, Samuel. The Soldier and the State. Belknap, 1997.
Huntington, Samuel. “An Exchange on Civil-Military Relations,” The National Interest, Summer 1994.
Lind, William, John Schmitt, Gary Wilson, “Fourth Generation Warfare: Another Look,” Marine Corps Gazette, Dec. 1994.
Powell, Colin. “Why Generals Get Nervous”, New York Times, Oct. 8, 1992.
Record, Jeffrey. “Where Does the Corps Go...Now?” Proceedings, May 1995.

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