The first day of our workshop on Military Politics provided quite an illustration and contrast: the civilian academics raised key questions about military officers as political actors and the military speakers, um, proving the academics right while mostly denying everything the academic said. You can guess which side of this discussion your humble (or not so humble) blogger was on.
Thomas Crosbie, our host, set the table by invoking and then complicating Peter Feaver's principal-agent approach to civil-military relations. He made Feaver's various binary choices in the original game less binary, so the game tree had 64 outcomes rather than 8. Oh my. As I rely heavily on Feaver (and Avant) for my understanding of civil-military relations, I found this presentation quite interesting==that militaries have more options than work or shirk. But the terms he used will still annoy military officers. Of course, work or shirk is super annoying to them because they tend not to understand that shirk does not mean that they don't work--it means they operate differently than the civilians expect--doing sometimes more or sometimes differently than the civs expect. Given the senior officers' frustration with civilians expressed in a later session, they intuitively agree with the notion that they don't act as the civilians expect. But the shirk thing wrankles. More on that below.
Risa Brooks was the keynote speaker, and her terrific presentation unpacked "professionalism" which is the key to so much stuff in civ-mil relations. Professionalism, thanks to Sam Huntington, has played a major role in how modern democratic militaries see themselves (yes, much of this is about identity). The shorthand is that militaries see themselves as the exclusive experts on the management of violence, that they see other military officers as part of the same profession, and that the best way to manage civil-military relations is to divide stuff into two spheres--the civilians make the larger strategic decisions and then grant the military to manage themselves as they follow the strategic orders. Autonomy here is key, with the notion that since the military folks are the sole experts on violence, they are best situated to make the operational and tactical decisions.
There are more than a few problems with this as Risa identified nicely in her recent article. Partly there is the ghost of Clausewitz--that war is politics by other means so there is much need for thinking about politics all the time and that civilians might have something to contribute to that. Risa talked about how the conceptualization of professionalism greatly shapes how militaries think about politics--that they are apolitical [no, they are not], that different militaries have different senses of professionalism (although there are common tendencies or traits). Risa's discussion reminded me of how I think about nationalism and identity--that a military's sense of professionalism defines who counts as a professional, who does not, and how one engages the non-professionals. Her presentation will greatly inform how I teach professionalism next semester and forever after.
The next panel included retired and active senior Danish leaders. It was very interesting and very frustrating, as the officers didn't really engage the civilians. They tended to argue that there was no politics--but then often said that officers have to pick their battles when dealing with civilians. That is a very political thing.
I spoke about multilateral stuff, and started with defining politics as the making of choices for more than oneself. Which means yes, damn near everything is political. Most of my talk was about how military officers face two chains of command in pretty much any multilateral operation, which means they have to navigate the differences in what they are asked to do. This makes much of what they do obviously political. I pointed out some strategies that officers use.
I'd summarize the rest of the day, but I am still addled by jet lag--I missed much of the second day's first session since I overslept after not sleeping well last night. I do remember quite well a delightful diner with a bunch of folks last night--I so missed this kind of stuff. The day was enlightening and the evening was entertaining. I am hoping we can do more and more of this stuff.
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