Friday, November 30, 2007

Civilians and the military

I had the interesting opportunity today to participate in a video conference with some Colombian academics, Defense Ministry advisors, and several retired Colombian generals. The topic was military autonomy, and the presentations/conversation kept coming back to the issue I brought up in an article review I did earlier this month, namely lack of civilian initiative and expertise, which is also a part of my research on the military’s role in intelligence.

My talk focused more on the Southern Cone, but the other presenters noted the dynamics are the same in Colombia—civilians have only slowly become more knowledgeable about defense and the military in general (until relatively recently the Defense Minister was an active-duty officer). The combination of lack of civilian experience and military skepticism of civilian ministerial leadership has led to several clashes (or, as one general put it, “choques”) at the ministry, with disputes, resignations, etc. This doesn’t mean any threat to civilian rule, but the civil-military gulf remains.

Much of my work has focused on the military encroaching on civilian authority, which has often been a problem, but it is also true that the armed forces really want more civilians to know how to speak their language and understand defense, and very few civilians do so. That, in turn, can create long-term problems. The big question is how to convince more civilians that studying and understanding defense can enhance political stability in the long run.


Anonymous,  8:13 PM  

In my experience, one problem with the military/civilian interaction is that Latin American countries appear to have no tradition of deference to the civilian authority. I know that is a generalization, but appears borne out by the number of military coups over the years. The other problem appears to be the School of the Americas and the fact that no emphasis whatsoever is placed upon valuing the civilian role as preeminant by the instructors. Having attended in an audit capacity many years ago, my information is dated, but I am not aware that the curriculum has been modified to any great degree. Couple that with the CIA using the school as its recruiting ground and feeding the graduates with the impression that the US will back any revolt against a progressive or socialist government and I think that it is understandable that the Latin American military heirarchy has conflicting sentiments about civilian control.

Greg Weeks 10:48 PM  

They clearly have no such tradition, but civilians must bear some of the responsibility for not making enough effort, especially in recent years. Gains have been made in some countries, but civilians can and should do more.

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