In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Civil-Military Relations

  • Introduction
  • Democratic Civilian Control
  • CMR in Contemporary Non-Democratic Regimes
  • CMR in Democratic Transitions
  • CMR Including Democratic Civilian Control and Military Effectiveness
  • Implications for CMR of Roles and Missions Assumed by Non-Military For-Profit Private Enterprises

International Law Civil-Military Relations
Thomas Bruneau
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0184


The literature encompassed within the area of civil-military relations (CMR) is extremely broad. The focus in this bibliography is primarily on CMR as a subfield of comparative politics in that it deals with the power relations between the military and civilians. This bibliography is concerned with the classic question, raised in the 1st century CE by Juvenal: Who will guard the guardians? From this perspective, CMR is generally about power and politics of an organization with a monopoly in arms to exercise political power. While foreign states and international organizations may influence CMR, particularly during democratic transitions, it is essentially a national phenomenon. International law does, however, pertain in most of the roles and missions the military are tasked with. Not included in this bibliography are the following topics: military history, strategy and doctrine, sociology of the armed forces including recruitment, gender, race, and health. Thus, important authors such as Morris Janowitz and Charles Moskos will not be included. This bibliography will break new ground in four ways: First, in giving attention to military effectiveness as well as the traditional focus on civilian control; second, in giving attention to roles and missions currently executed by the military; third, in including non-democracies, democracies, and those in transition; and fourth, in including the roles of private contractors in the mix of civil-military relations. The six primary sections in this bibliography are the following: Democratic Civilian Control is mainly about the United States and its emphasis is on the military taking political power, even though the American military has never sought to take power. CMR in Contemporary Non-Democratic Regimes focuses on China, Russia, and Egypt as they are all globally important non-democratic regimes, with varied relationships between the military and civilians. CMR in Democratic Transitions is included as the military is a key actor in virtually every transition from the beginning of Third Wave of democratization, starting in Lisbon, Portugal, on April 25, 1974. CMR in the Context of Roles and Missions is included as it details that the military mainly implements roles and missions not involving conflict with other militaries, and includes the role of international law. The section on CMR Including Democratic Civilian Control and Military Effectiveness is included as attention must be paid to effectiveness in the different roles and missions for military organizations. And, finally military roles and missions assumed by Non-Military For-Profit Private Enterprises are included as involvement of private enterprise raises questions regarding the state’s putative monopoly of power and roles of the military.

Democratic Civilian Control

While the literature on civil-military relations (CMR) goes back to at least Juvenal, the greatest outpouring of studies was after the Second World War and was centered in the United States. After the Second World War, with the emergence of a nuclear - armed United States, and clearly during the Cold War (1949–89), the issue of the huge size and potential power of the US military became a concern of social scientists. It was in the context of a large standing army that Huntington 1957—an important and enduring contribution—was made. According to the very critical analysis of Cohen 2002, Huntington and his followers espouse the “normal” theory of civil-military relations. The emphasis in Huntington’s book was on democratic civilian control in which he distinguished between “objective control” via professionalism of the military controlling itself, and subjective control where state and society impose their values on the military. While not fully agreeing with Huntington on some major issues, the emphasis on civilian control is also found in Feaver 2003 and Desch 1999. This literature is perplexing as the founders of the US republic in the Constitution of 1787, the longest lasting constitution in the world, clearly sought to shape the nascent military to be not only effective, according to Kohn 1991, but also under democratic control. The emphasis on control in the literature on the United States is doubly perplexing as more recent authors, including those who have been high-level military and civilian decision-makers such as Gates 2014 and Crowe and Chanoff 1993, are unequivocal in stating that democratic civilian control is not at issue in the United States. Nor, for that matter, does more recent scholarship, Schake and Mattis 2016, give credence to the existence of a problem in the United States with either democratic civilian control or a gap between the military and civilians. Probably the greatest impact of Huntington’s emphasis on “objective control” is in other, newer democracies, where its attraction to the military itself is great since it implies that they can control themselves, thereby justifying their autonomy. The significance continues despite the work of Stepan 1971, demonstrating that professionalism, rather than keeping the military out of politics in Brazil, justified for them at least a military coup in 1964 which resulted in twenty-one years of military rule. The situation with Brazil, and elsewhere, as shown in Finer 2003, contradicts the concept of using professionalism as the explanatory variable in a great number of military coups globally.

  • Cohen, Eliot A. Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime. New York: The Free Press, 2002.

    An examination of extremely important civilian leaders—Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill, and Ben-Gurion—and their relationship with senior military commanders in wartime. Coins the phrase “dialogue of unequals” to capture the sense that while civilians are ultimately in command they must be prudent, modest, in their approach to military matters as the military are the experts in waging war.

  • Crowe, William J., and David Chanoff. The Line of Fire: From Washington to the Gulf, the Politics and Battles of the New Military. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

    A memoir by a most unusual naval officer, obtaining a PhD from Princeton, and becoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents Reagan and Bush before becoming ambassador to the United Kingdom. The book analyzes relationships between the military, White House, Congress, and the news media. Describes how high-level policy is made, and nowhere in the book is there any hint of undue military influence over the US government.

  • Desch, Michael. Civilian Control of the Military: The Changing Security Environment. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

    Argues that civilian elites have not been able to exert greater control over military policies and decision-making. While in wartime, civilians pay close attention to military matters, during peacetime they are less interested in military affairs—and therefore often surrender priorities to the military.

  • Feaver, Peter D. Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.4159/9780674036772

    Finds that Huntington’s theory does not explain the US success in the Cold War, and proposes a new theory that treats civil-military relations as a principal-agent relationship, with the civilian executive monitoring the actions of military agents, the “armed servants” of the nation state. Military obedience is not automatic but depends on strategic calculations of whether civilians will catch and punish misbehavior.

  • Finer, Samuel E. The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2003.

    A classic study (originally published in 1962) that explain the role of the military in politics, ultimately in terms of the military taking power. Develops a framework to explain the varying influence of the military including motive, mood, and opportunity. Also explains the degree of influence according to varying levels of political culture. Argues that professionalism is not useful as an explanatory variable for military influence.

  • Gates, Robert M. Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

    Memoir as Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Discusses civil-military relations in the context of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and under two presidents. Makes it clear that civilians are in control of the US military, to the point of relieving four-star generals if the Secretary of Defense had lost confidence in them.

  • Herspring, Dale R. The Pentagon and the Presidency: Civil-Military Relations from FDR to George W. Bush. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005.

    Focuses on the senior ranks of the military—the controlled—rather than civilians during twelve presidencies. Views the intersection of presidential leadership and military culture as an arena of inevitable conflict. Where they are compatible, conflict is minimized; where they are not compatible, frequency and intensity of conflict increase.

  • Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957.

    Makes a distinction between subjective and objective civilian control. Subjective control makes the military more civilian by turning them into the mirror of the state, which in turn brings about a decline in military professionalism. Objective civilian control recognizes military autonomy in an independent military sphere. It is assumed that professional military officers will subordinate themselves to the decisions and orientation of a legitimate state authority.

  • Kohn, Richard H. “The Constitution and National Security: The Intent of the Framers.” In The United States Military under the Constitution of the United States 1789–1989. Edited by Richard H. Kohn, 61–94. New York: New York University Press, 1991.

    Describes the issues involved in developing the extensive sections in the US Constitution of 1787 dealing with national security and defense. Concludes that these issues were extremely important to the Framers of the Constitution who sought to ensure not only democratic civilian control but also effectiveness of the military, and thereby included extensive sections to ensure both in the Constitution.

  • Schake, Kori, and Jim Mattis, eds. Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2016.

    Chapter authors in this book draw heavily on public opinion data and their own expertise to describe contemporary civil-military relations. In contrast to previous authors, they find that democratic civilian control is not at issue in the US Nor, in contrast to some earlier authors, they find no “gap” between the military and the civilians. For the editors, the main problem in US CMR is a lack of understanding, of sensitivity, of civilians for the roles and missions they assign to the military.

  • Stepan, Alfred. The Military in Politics: Changing Patterns in Brazil. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971.

    Analyzes the role of the Brazilian military in politics leading up to, and including, the coup of 31 March 1964. Situates the Brazilian military within a comparative politics framework, and demonstrates that the professionalism of the Brazilian military did not impede them from taking power, but rather the reverse.

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