Tuesday, September 24, 2019

How Twitter Closes the Civil-Military Gap

Last night and this morning, a series of tweets about civil-military relations identified and then helped close a gap in civil-military relations.  Yes, twitter about military stuff can be quite productive as it provides a place with those with military expertise from different perspectives can meet and chat.  I will present the tweets below with some play-by-play along the way:

Risa Brooks has written much on civil-military relations so she has a great background to raise a key issue--that civilian control of the military involves not just the executive branch of the government behind closed doors running the armed forces.  As I have argued with my colleagues (hmm, that makes it sound like Dave, Phil, and I would be arguing amongst each other--never!), without anyone else involved, executives (Presidents/Prime Ministers, SecDefs, Ministers of Defense) can be tempted to hide mistakes and maybe even use the armed forces in inappropriate ways when non one is looking.  Hence my response:

Because we think civilian control of the military is too important to be left to executives who might hide or cheat, the Steve/Dave/Phil project is focused on legislatures, but it is more than that.  Legislatures vary quite widely, as we are finding out, in how they oversee the armed forces.  Some have more power and independence and information than others.  We are just now starting to reach some conclusions, so this may be premature and may only fit the cases I studied (Japan, South Korea, Germany, Chile, Brazil), but I tended to have seen that legislatures did more when they had more alternative sources of information (from pesky folks like academics, think tanks, etc) and when the media had the expertise and effort to shine a spotlight on military issues.  That is, for legislatures to be relevant, they could not be alone--they needed allies in this [I will get to Ministries of Defense some other time].

Mike Day is a retired three star Canadian general, who I have chatted with in real life and twitter many times.  He raises a fundamental issue for military folks--that control is a very important word and not that many people have it.  I went to bed thinking about this response and was glad to awaken to have someone else carry on the conversation and clarify.

For the conventional academic meaning, it builds on the basic question, what I call a second generation issue (first generation of civ-mil focused on coups) of civilians making sure the military follows the intent of the civilians.  While democracies can vary in whether there are two bosses (US where President and Congress both "own" the armed forces) or one (just the executive) (Avant), a recurring question is whether the military shirks or not (Feaver).  Military folks hate this notion of "shirking" which can mean doing less than asked for, more, or different.  My favorite example of late has been the US Air Force not forwarding information to the FBI about domestic violence, so that their people don't end up on the lists of folks who can't buy guns. 

Keess here shows that we are talking past each other, as the military folks tend to have a different notion of control.  But civilian command of the military does not sing to scholars of civil-military relations. 

I have no idea who Keess is.  He is a person who does not tweet much, has not that many followers, does not follow that many people, but ended up following me somehow, and added quite significantly to this conversation.

People may disagree with my take, Mike's view, and/or John Keess's clarification, but to me, this has been a damned useful conversation, one that I have not had in real life.  While twitter is incredibly flawed in so many ways, that it can bring together people with diverse experiences and outlooks and provide a place for conversations that lead to some clarification makes it not entirely bad.  As I have seen repeatedly, the conversations on civil-military relations on twitter are very often quite productive and interesting.  Last night/this morning's conversation is actually pretty typical for this topic.  And with the next generation of smart, interesting, and, thankfully, engaging civ-mil scholars joining the many folks who have military experience, we can ameliorate some of the gaps between the "uniforms" and "tweeds".

Rock on!

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