Monday, January 9, 2012

Good Timing for the Last Course

Today, I started the last course I will teach at McGill: Civil-Military Relations.*  The course addresses the issues surrounding a basic problem for all political systems: how do you manage the guys with the guns?  In advanced democracies, civilian control is assumed (no one asked the US military in 2000 how Gore v. Bush should be resolved), but poorly understood.  The GOP candidates have been competing to be the best at following whatever the generals would recommend, which means military control of the military.  Oops.  
*  It will probably be the first course I teach at Carleton.
To be clear, I am relatively late to this game.  Civ-Mil is one of the topics that got me interested in Poli Sci and grad school, but I ended up choosing a topic that would lead me away (ethnic conflict) and forever dominate my destiny.  But a year in the Pentagon and then a research project on NATO and Afghanistan have lead to renewed interest in this topic.  The joy of being a professor is that one can ask to teach classes to compel one to read the literature in an area one is relatively weak.  So, I started teaching Civ-Mil a few years ago to help the writing of the Dave and Steve book, to fill a gap in the curriculum, and because it is mighty interesting.

And holy good timing!  2011 was very much a year of civil-military dynamics around the world (it always is, but much more obviously so).  Arab Spring was all about whether the military would follow the commands of their bosses or side with their protestors or split.  The variance in outcomes: Tunisia good, Egypt with its coup that might end up being a revolution, Libya with its civil war, Syria with its oppression are largely stories of armies making different choices.  Pakistan is feeling coup-ish these days. Plus we have some good old civ-mil in the advanced democracies as admirals in the UK criticize defence cuts, folks in Canada blame the military for the Kandahar decision, and we have all kinds of interesting civ-mil dynamics in the US, with the big budget cuts likely to lead to heaps of efforts by elements of the military to play Congress off against the President.

Of course, most of the stuff I teach is always in play--which is why I teach it.  Still, this is a nice way to go out--with a semester of incredibly relevant stuff to make the class most interesting.

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