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Why the Gap Matters

Why the Gap Matters

Mini Teaser: Bridging the gap between military officers and their civilian counterparts will be no easy task. Yet the stakes are too high to comtemplate failure.

by Author(s): Eliot A. Cohen

THE REACTION of most policymakers and senior military officers to the publication of the findings of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies (TISS) Project on the Gap Between the Military and Civilian Society was, predictably, one of irritation or hasty dismissal--even on the part of those who initially raised, in a vague but worried way, the issue of a civil-military "gap." Thus Secretary of Defense William Cohen observed:

Several journalists and academicians point to a cultural divide between the military and the larger American society. Clearly, we demand higher standards from those who wear the uniform than we do of civilians. This is not a negative factor but a positive one that Americans continue to value.1

One easily understands the annoyance of public men and women at the debate. In the world of policy; life is busy enough with the multiple crises of the moment, and larger phenomena such as the gap between civilians and the military are matters of merely theoretical (un)importance. In that urgent world, distinctions between soldier and civilian are often blurred: a functionary is a functionary, after all. For their part, soldiers feel wounded at the mistrust implied by such studies--can one not infer from them a fear of overweening military power? Their daily experience, moreover, of press stories about cost overruns and sexual harassment cases, of badgering by congressional committees and dithering by political appointees, hardly squares with a military that is out of control. Political leaders resent the imputation, which they glean from such surveys, that they really do not control the show, and thus have failed to discharge their responsibilities. Democrats resist what they see as a slur directed against President Bill Clinton, a civilian leader who has had an unusually bad run with the U.S. military, whose ranks he assiduously avoided during the Vietnam War. Republicans, on the other hand, ascribe whatever roughness there may be in the relationship between civilian and soldier to just that cause--even though more than a few among their own ranks also somehow failed to see active service during the same war.

As for the average citizen, he or she would be surprised to learn that anyone cares about civil-military relations. After all, the armed forces are popular and no one could, for a moment, conceive that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would ever ride on horseback to the White House and evict the president from the Oval Office. The idea is absurd even in the backwaters of international politics, where uniformed men with gold braid and dark sunglasses have traditionally toppled civilian leaders. So why all the fuss, and why should anyone care about "the gap"? Even its discoverers, after all, declare that some gap between civilian and soldier is desirable; few, after all, would want Marines sporting ponytails, sailors who insist on only working eight-hour days, pilots who go on strike, or soldiers who slouch rather than stand at attention. 

The question resists a simple answer, but its essence is this: over the last thirty years, fundamental concepts of military professionalism in the United States have eroded, at times to an alarming degree. The changes have been subtle, but already they have distorted the making of policy, and could do so further. They reflect, moreover, not so much military malfeasance (in many ways the reverse) as absent-minded complacency about the proper roles, limits and functions of the officer corps--and of civilian control. They stem in turn from profound changes in the military art, and from the evolution of a unique and overarching American international role in which military power often plays the largest part. A gruff reassertion of civilian control by firing a few indiscreet or obstreperous generals or admirals will not provide an answer (not that civilian leaders should hesitate to do it). Rather, thoughtful soldiers and statesmen will have to cooperate to restore the appropriate combination of primacy and colle giality, understanding and sense of limits, necessary to healthy civil-military relations.

To do so, they must begin by purging themselves of the notion that if there is no threat of a coup, there is no problem. The truth is that the civil-military relationship in a democracy is almost invariably difficult, setting up as it does opposing values, powerful institutions with great resources, and inevitable tensions between military professionals and statesmen. Those difficulties have become more acute in the United States as a result of two great changes: the end of a centuries-old form of military organization, and a transformation in America's geopolitical circumstances.

The Decline of the Mass Army and the Rise of the American Empire

OF ALL the changes affecting military organizations in modern times, none looms so large as the growth, after the French Revolution, of the mass army and its terminal decline in our day. Countries recruited mass armies in war (and in many countries during peacetime as well) on the basis of near universal male conscription, equipped them with the relatively cheap products of nineteenth and twentieth-century industrial production, and staffed them with large cohorts of non-commissioned officers (NCOs) reporting to a small, semi-aristocratic class of officers. Numbers mattered. Small countries like Prussia, and more recently Israel, could field astonishingly strong armies because they trained their young men effectively and mobilized them efficiently. While the quality of equipment and the genius of individual commanders mattered, what proved more important was the organizational skill of large staffs, and the sheer quantity of forces that bureaucracies could raise, feed and support. For nearly two centuries mil itary service marked the passage to adulthood of many young men in the developed world. Yet this experience, including subjection to military discipline, mirrored social order rather than distorted it. The discipline imposed by industrial modes of manufacture, which required uniform behavior, punctuality and meticulous performance of semi-skilled tasks, made the factory not all that dissimilar to the barracks. Social norms--which took for granted gender-segregated social activity and male dominance in the work place, and which included, above all, the assumption that masculinity implied a kind of tough perseverance--were similarly congruent. So too were social structures: the division among workers, foremen or shop stewards, and managers mirrored nicely the military castes of enlisted ranks, non-commissioned officers and officers.

None of this holds true any longer. The mass army is dead or dying in the developed world, replaced by small, all-volunteer forces using high, often craft-produced, technology. The quality of arms today, while it does not trump individual skill, matters vastly more than it ever has. In theory, a superbly skilled crew in a Russian T-72 tank might be able to take on a group of bumblers in an American M-1 Abrams, but they would find it tough to take out a tank whose armor their ammunition could not penetrate and that could see and shoot them when they could do neither. The qualitative element in war--particularly once supporting activities such as the gathering and processing of information are considered--has come to trump quantity. That fact, combined with the decline of great power conflict, has doomed modern mass military systems. One after another, major powers have abandoned conscription, even, as in the case of France, despite powerful political motivations to retain it. Even countries that retain large military organizations and that have increased their defense budgets (China and Turkey come to mind) have, at the same time, shrunk the number of troops they have on active duty.

In the days of the mass military, large numbers of soldiers and sailors (though not airmen) were front-line operators who put themselves at risk to operate a variety of machines of war in combat. Officers led and managed; non-commissioned officers trained and controlled; enlisted personnel did the fighting. The generation of combat power stemmed in almost equal parts from capable leadership, modern technology and sheer numbers. Today, the rise of long-range engagements and precision weaponry means that smaller--in fact, minute--numbers of highly trained specialists actually operate weapons. The vast majority of officers, NCOs and enlisted personnel engage in a variety of administrative and support tasks, some of which are not very different from civilian tasks and are, in fact, subject to replacement by civilian contractors. All military organizations have begun, in other words, to look more like air forces, in which only a handful of personnel operate enormously sophisticated weapons in the face of the enemy, or like special operations units, in which the distinctions between officer, NCO and enlisted melt away in the face of demanding physical and technical tasks.

This change is far from complete, but it poses profound challenges for the traditional, nineteenth-century model of officership, resting as it does on the requirements of the mass army that have shaped the American concept of military professionalism. Even now, more than a generation after the end of the draft, the stratification of social classes in the military persists to a remarkable degree. The military's sense of its place in American life retains the imprint of the mass army days; the popular picture of the soldiering life owes more to the long gone days of World War II--think of Stephen Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan--than it does to the realities of the army of today. "The volunteer GIs of today stand watch in Korea, the Persian Gulf, Europe and the dangerous terrain of the Balkans", wrote General Colin Powell in a tribute to the American GI as "person of the century" in Time magazine.2 The fact is, however, that the serviceman or woman of today is a very different kind of individual than his or her counterpart swept up in the draft of years gone by. There is a world of difference between volunteer and draftee, citizen-soldier and budding professional, long-service regular and in for-the-duration conscript, thoroughly trained expert and mass-produced cog in a machine. Sentimentality about soldiers--an understandably common commodity--confuses our understanding of a revolution that has occurred during the last thirty years, roughly the career span of today's four-star generals.

The transformation of America's global position has also had abiding implications for the nature of officership. The Cold War was a real war in several senses, and not least in this: it required the sustained mobilization of a mass army (of draftees or short service volunteers) standing ready for large-scale conventional conflict. Today, ten years after the end of the Cold War, the requirements have changed. A smaller but still large military (at 1.4 million men and women--more than four times the size of the pre-1940 peacetime force) is poised to police unruly areas, from the mountains of northern Iraq to the slums of Haiti, from the rough terrain of Yugoslavia to the rebellious and bandit-riddled highlands of Colombia. Never before--including even the glory days of the Roman Empire--has one military so towered over all others on the planet. And certainly never before has the U.S. military exercised such political power in times of real peace. Theater commanders-in-chief act as important policymakers, movin g easily from high command to ambassadorships in China or to control of American drug policy, coordinating more of American foreign policy than the bureaus of the State Department--if only because their resources are so much greater and their geographic scope so much wider.

The mentality of an imperial army is, of necessity, utterly different from that of a mass army. The former is composed of soldiers; the latter crusaders. The former accepts ambiguous objectives, interminable commitments and chronic skirmishes as a fact of life; the latter wants a definable mission, a plan for victory and decisive battles. In the imperial army the trooper finds fulfillment in the soldier's life; in the mass army in the belief that he exists to "fight and win America's wars." For some of the services (the navy, in particular), the transition to an imperial role has been much easier than it has been for others (the army, most notably). But to the extent that the American officer corps has developed a strategic lexicon rich in terms like "end states", "mission creep", "clear objectives" and "exit strategies", it clings to the strategic challenges of the last century. To the extent that civilian leaders mouth those phrases even as they fail to live up to the philosophy of war they imply, they increase the likelihood of unproductive civil-military friction.

Three Levels of Civil-Military Relations

THESE TWO facts--the end of the mass army and the rise of the United States to unequalled global power--create the backdrop for the current debate about civil-military relations in the United States. Some of the confusion in that debate stems from a failure to distinguish among the three levels of civil-military relations, upon each of which different forces operate. These are, first, the relationship between society and the armed forces as a whole, that is, the realm of culture, mores and attitudes; second, the interaction between the military as a set of institutions and their counterparts in civil society, such as the clash between military organizations and the press, the courts or environmental groups; and, third, the power relationships at the pinnacle of government, including the intricate web of individual leaders, advisers and subordinates who together shape policy, particularly as regards the use of force. In all three realms great changes have taken place over the last two generations, and not just in the United States.

Broadly speaking, armed forces around the world have found themselves yielding--willingly or grudgingly--to many of the trends in contemporary social norms. The prime example of this is the opening up of almost all career fields in the military to women (with the exception, and even that tenuous, of infantry combat). For nearly all of recorded history war has been the purview of men, and concepts of masculinity have rested heavily on their role--actual or potential--as fighters. In all developed societies, however, more and more fields have opened up to women, such that they now fly fighter planes, launch cruise missiles, and exercise command in ways that would have been unthinkable thirty or forty years ago. Similarly, as taboos have melted away in civil society with regard to homosexual behavior, militaries have found themselves forced to yield their deep-seated aversions to the requirements of neither asking nor telling.

These changes have affected the very essence of military life. There are other subtler but no less important trends. The rise of assertive individualism in civil society has gradually worked its way into the military as well. Soldiers live in quarters that look more like the dormitories inhabited by their college-bound counterparts than they do like the open bay barracks of old. Even the U.S. Navy, the most traditional of services, finds itself challenged by its civilian leadership to abandon its "conscription mentality" and provide amenities for sailors that accord more with civilian norms of privacy than do racks of bunks three or four high, and to promote a concept of using skilled workers for something more stimulating than chipping paint to keep them out of mischief.

To be sure, for a military organization to survive and be effective, it must retain an irreducible core of difference from civil society. This, perhaps, explains the size of the gap discovered by TISS researchers with regard to certain values. Military officers, researchers found, doubt that the civilian world values the same things they do, and perhaps they have a point. The requirements of self-sacrifice, discipline, loyalty and altruism demanded by military service cannot be squared with a society that, though brimming with energy, celebrates the opposite values of acquisition, individuality, career and geographic mobility, and self-actualization. What has not yet occurred, and what is required, is a redefinition of those core military virtues, an explicit understanding of how they differ from (and may not always be superior to) those of civil society, and a plan of action to guard them.

The relationship between the institutions, as opposed to the mores, of civil society and the military constitutes the second level of civil-military relations. Here, too, increased visibility and interpenetration have become the norm. In the United States and elsewhere, base commanders find themselves confined by environmental restrictions and bands of local activists seeking relief from the intrusions and disagreeable consequences of military training. Courts interject themselves into military administration and justice, as in the example of the Israeli high court ordering the Israeli air force to take women into its pilot ranks. The media, expanding and ubiquitous, equipped with small audio and video recording devices, have access to soldiers in the field, even as editors can now order up detailed imagery of military installations from civilian sources. Enterprising contractors compete for work formerly done by arsenals and military depots.

The military, particularly after the looming threat of all-out conflict that overshadowed the Cold War, has become a public institution like many others, scrutinized, badgered and blocked by sophisticated and well-organized groups operating from a variety of motives, and disinclined to accept military necessity as a reason for accepting the Defense Department's wishes. At the same time, segments of the military feel comfortable, as perhaps never before, in incorporating the practices and, in some ways, the ethics of other institutions. A service organization will refer to the servicemen and women it supports as "customers", human resource experts import diversity experts to train a wayward work force, and generals happily tout the benefits of total quality management, or, for that matter, any other management fad. The Army Corps of Engineers, in the most notorious recent case, acts like any organization hungry for expanded budgets and missions, even if it means shrugging off direction from its nominal civili an masters.3 The upshot is, once again, a blurring of civilian and military roles.

As an institution, the military has preserved its autonomy only in the areas of force structure and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the use of force. In these realms competing institutions do not exist, public interest is low, and the prestige of the military's technical expertise is still fairly high. This brings us to the third level of civil-military relations, that of soldier and statesman--the interactions of small groups of men and women at the very pinnacle of government. Here the picture looks very different. Whereas at the societal and institutional levels the armed forces appear on the defensive, as it were--pressed hard by forces in civil society at odds with those of military life--at the elite level the opposite holds true. The military retains a determining voice in shaping the tools of force and their use.

Military reluctance explains much of the hesitancy of the United States in committing military force to operations in Yugoslavia, for example. For a variety of reasons, officers do not hesitate to express, occasionally with stunning frankness, their views about how, when and whether the United States should use force. When, for example, sources on the Joint Chiefs of Staff leaked military opposition to the conduct of the Kosovo war to the press, the stated objection was that, "I don't think anybody felt like there had been a compelling argument made that all of this was in our national interest"--as if the determination was the military's to make.4 It was in keeping, however, with a string of events in which the military had attempted to follow the advice of the editor of the U.S. Army's senior professional journal, when he declared:

... there will still be instances where civilian officials with Napoleon complexes and micromanaging mentalities are prompted to seize the reins of operational control. And having taken control, there will be times when they then begin to fumble toward disaster. When this threatens to happen, the nation's top soldier ... must summon the courage to rise and say to his civilian masters, 'You can't do that!' and then stride to the focal point of decision and tell them how it must be done.5

This squares with the TISS survey data, presented by Peter Feaver and Richard Kohn in this issue, showing officers declaring their belief that it is their duty to insist on the adoption of certain courses of action (rather than advise or advocate), including "setting rules of engagement" (50 percent), developing an "exit strategy" (52 percent), and "deciding what kinds of military units (air vs. naval, heavy vs. light) will be used to accomplish all tasks" (63 percent).

The major doctrinal statements about the use of force in the last twenty years--Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger's six rules for intervention, and General Powell's doctrine of overwhelming force--reflect views dominant in the officer corps, views in turn molded by the military's understanding of the Vietnam War. They were echoed by politicians who believed, or found it convenient to declare that they believed, that the job of politicians was merely to set objectives, not scrutinize military plans, monitor the conduct of operations, and adjust strategy to circumstances. This trend reflects a combination of developments, including a common (mis)reading of the Vietnam War, an unwillingness on the part of civilian leaders to accept the responsibilities levied upon them by their offices, and a confidence in the technical expertise of soldiers. Recent doctrine, however, has flaws of the most terrible kind, for it presumes a kind of universal, apolitical and objective military expertise, when military judgmen t is, in fact, highly contextual and contingent, intimately connected with the politics of a situation and subject to a variety of prejudices and personal experiences. Still, the truth is that for the most part civilian political leaders have given up on the kind of hard questioning and probing that characterized the leadership style of those presidents who believed in civilian control and exercised it best--Lincoln, Roosevelt and Eisenhower among them. Each of these leaders, in different and large ways, violated massively the simplistic doctrine of civilian control that is current in the military and Congress: namely, politicians should set objectives and then get out of the way. 6

Recent decades have seen a shift of power at the top to the uniformed military and away from civilian defense leaders. Many causes have been and still are at work here. The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 increased the power of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and, above all, its chairman. The entropy that afflicts the executive branch of government has played a role, too. The agonizingly slow processes for hiring political appointees, who alone can make decisions on behalf of an administration, and the excruciating burden of disclosure statements (not to mention divestitures and recusal from post-government employment) mean that the upper echelons of the government are often staffed by career personnel in acting positions, by lawyers or academics (often with little defense or even any governmental experience), or by no one. On a number of occasions military officers have served in policymaking positions up to the level of national security adviser, and more frequently at the deputy assistant or assistant secretary level.

During the Cold War the American military developed a cadre of sophisticated officers, trained in the arts of both domestic and foreign politics. From the West Point cadets trooping off to summer internships in congressional offices to colonels operating comfortably as multinational chiefs of staff, from rising young officers serving as White House Fellows in the Office of Management and Budget to theater commanders-in-chief who parley on equal (and more than equal) terms with ambassadors, defense ministers and even heads of state, the American military has become accustomed to extensive political and diplomatic roles. The upshot of all this is a military more willing than ever before to stake out policy positions, to denounce publicly military commitments, or to criticize policy.

At the same time, the military exercises control, to a remarkable degree, of force structure and weapons acquisition. To be sure, Congress adds or trims requests at the margin, and periodically the administration will cancel a large program, such as the navy's projected replacement of the A-6 bomber. But by and large, the services have successfully protected programs that reflect ways of doing business going back for decades. One cannot explain otherwise current plans for large purchases of short-range fighter aircraft for the air force, supercarriers and traditional surface warships for the navy, and heavy artillery pieces for the army. Civilian control has meant, in practice, a general oversight of acquisition and some degree of control by veto of purchases, but nothing on the scale of earlier decisions to, for example, terminate the draft, re-deploy fleets, or develop counterinsurgency forces. The result is a force that looks very much like a shrunken version of the Cold War military of fifteen years ago- -which, indeed, was the initial post-Cold War design known as the "base force." The strength of the military voice and the weakness of civilian control, together with sheer inertia, has meant that the United States has failed to reevaluate its strategy and force structure after the Cold War. Despite a plethora of "bottom-up reviews" by official and semiofficial commissions, the force structure remains that of the Cold War, upgraded a bit and reduced in size by 40 percent.

So What?

WHAT WILL be the long-term consequences of these trends? To some extent, they have become visible already: the growing politicization of the officer corps; a submerged but real recruitment and retention crisis; a collapse of junior officers' confidence in their own leaders;7 the odd antipathy between military and civilian cultures even as the two, in some respects, increasingly overlap; deadlock in the conduct of active military operations; and stagnation in the development of military forces for a geopolitical era radically different from the past one. To be sure, such phenomena have their precedents in American history. But such dysfunction occurred in a different context--one in which the American military did not have the task of maintaining global peace or a predominance of power across continents, and in which the armed forces consumed barely noticeable fractions of economic resources and decisionmakers' time. Today, the stakes are infinitely larger.

For the moment, the United States dominates the globe militarily, as it does economically and culturally. It is doubtful that such predominance will long go unchallenged; were that to be the case it would reflect a change in the human condition that goes beyond all human experience of international politics over the millennia. Already, some of the signs of those challenges have begun to appear: increased tension with the rising power of China, including threats of force from that country against the United States and its allies; the development of modes of warfare--from terrorism through the spread of weapons of mass destruction--designed to play on American weaknesses; the appearance of problems (peacemaking, broadly defined) that will resist conventional solutions. None of these poses a mortal threat to the Republic, or is likely to do so anytime soon. Yet cumulatively, the consequences have been unfortunate enough; the inept conclusion to the Gulf War, the Somalia fiasco, and dithering over American polic y in Yugoslavia may all partially be attributed to the poor state of American civil-military relations. So too may the subtle erosion of morale in the American military and the defense reform deadlock, which has preserved, to far too great a degree, outdated structures and mentalities.

For now, to be sure, the United States is wealthy and powerful enough to afford such pratfalls and inefficiencies. But the full consequences will not be felt for some years, and not until a major military crisis--a challenge as severe in its way as the Korean or Vietnam War--arises. Such an eventuality; difficult as it may be to imagine today, could occur in any of a number of venues: in a conflict with China over Taiwan, in a desperate attempt to shore up collapsing states in Central or South America, or in a renewed outbreak of violence--this time with weapons of mass destruction thrown into the mix-in Southwest Asia.

The Problem of Professionalism

THE PARADOX of increased social and institutional vulnerability on the one hand and increased military influence on narrow sectors of policymaking on the other is the essence of the contemporary civil-military problem. Its roots lie not in the machinations of power hungry generals; they have had influence thrust upon them. Nor do they lie in the fecklessness of civilian leaders determined to remake the military in the image of civil society; all militaries must, in greater or lesser degree, share some of the mores and attitudes of the broader civilization from which they have emerged. The problem reflects, rather, deeper and more enduring changes in politics, society and technology.

The challenge to American policymakers and soldiers lies in admitting that there is a problem without exaggerating its size and scope. There is no danger of a coup, but there is dry rot. There is no threat even of a MacArthur-sized crisis between political and military high commands, but there is a level of mistrust, antipathy and condescension that is worrisome. There is no fear of collapse of civilian control, but there is erosion in some areas, distortion in others, and, more than anything else, confusion about the meaning of military professionalism under the new conditions--plus sheer ignorance and forgetfulness about what civilian control entails. What are the solutions?

In a welcome development, the United States Military Academy at West Point has created a Center for the Professional Military Ethic to begin rethinking the nature of military professionalism. It is long overdue. The old concept of officership rested on a melding of essentially aristocratic traditions with those of the newly emergent professions of the turn of the twentieth century, all re-interpreted in light of the American experience of mass warfare in the last 150 years. A new professional code and outlook is required, and with it a renewal of the concept of civilian control. Such a code cannot be a matter for internal military discussion alone; it must be a matter for public debate and articulation by political leaders, particularly those who have custody of the Department of Defense. The new understanding must come to terms, explicitly, with the new techniques of war, the new forms of military organization, and the new geopolitics of American strategy, as well as the enduring fundamentals of the militar y's place in a free society.

A useful point of departure would be the preparation of a Department of Defense white paper on civil-military relations and military professionalism--a capstone document that would lay Out not only rules of the road but their rationale, for civilians and soldiers alike. Such a document should establish the basis for policy. It should, as well, serve as the basis not only for professional military education at all levels, but (together, perhaps, with a set of case studies) as a means of educating civilian leaders who may be new to the military. One place to begin might be The Armed Forces Officer, a pamphlet published in 1950 and continually revised, if not always read, up through 1988. It requires substantial revision, for it too is infected with the suspicion about civilian authority that is a troubling feature of contemporary civil-military relations.8

What might such a document cover?

(1) Recognition of the ways in which the military should and should not resemble civil society. Debates about whether officers, in particular, are held to a "higher standard of behavior" than their civilian counterparts are pointless. The standards are different, if, no doubt, in some respects more demanding. To a large extent this is a matter of education, of including the study of civil-military relations in war colleges and earlier in military careers. It should establish, as clearly as possible, the buffer required to protect the military from the mores and institutions of civil society, as well as the ways in which it must accommodate them.

(2) A strict interpretation of the bounds of acceptable military involvement in policymaking. In particular, this includes a clarification of the fine but essential distinction between political literacy--vital for an officer engaged in the complex tasks of peacekeeping or armed diplomacy--and politicization. As well, such an interpretation would imply far greater scrupulousness in excluding the military from policymaking positions (to include appointments as acting service secretaries, assistant secretaries of state or defense, or policymaking positions on the National Security Council).

(3) A re-examination of what "military advice" means in the context of a world without the immediate threat of large-scale war. Officers, and to a surprising extent their civilian counterparts as well, have been brought up with a naive, even simple-minded understanding of the intricate dialogue that occurs between civilian and military leaders regarding the use of force. The notion, for example, that it is inappropriate for civilian leaders to ask questions about the tools of force is pervasive yet misguided. The means chosen for the use of force can affect the goals sought and achieved; and if, as Clausewitz taught, politics pervades all aspects of war, no question by civilian authority is ever our of keeping with the nature of war itself. The idea that the military can define for itself what its proper strategic tasks may be--a notion far from uncommon in some circles--is out of keeping not merely with democratic institutions, but with the nature of war itself.

(4) A restatement of the principles of civilian control and of their logic. Indeed, much of the dismay arising from "the gap" reflects misunderstanding among citizens and politicians, even more than among soldiers, about the role of strong civilian control of the military in a democratic form of government. The quandary of civilian control in a democratic regime is that its powers are only self-limited. There is, in principle, no military decision that should fall beyond the purview of civilian leaders. In practice, however, civilians must know when to refrain from exercising the authority they rightly hold.

(5) Finally, a white paper should reflect, honestly and without embarrassment, the chronic tensions and difficulties of American civil-military relations. The occasional hostility between full-time soldiers and citizen-soldiers, the overweening aspirations of a MacArthur (and before him a Leonard Wood), the catastrophic experimentation in social engineering of the 1960s, the mutual mistrust and antipathy of the Clinton administration-all these must be aired. The notion that American civil-military relations have never been problematic because a coup has never threatened American democracy is dead wrong. Civil-military relations in the United States necessarily have been characterized by suspicion, manipulation and misunderstanding. Candor on that matter is one of the best possible antidotes.

The crisis in American civil-military relations is neither so immediate nor severe as to alarm the body politic. The ship of state is very far from hitting the rapids of open civil-military conflict. Rather, the problems more resemble disturbing currents running below a seemingly placid river. The hazards lie downstream and could take the form of a nasty shock from a submerged reef, whose presence is betrayed only by a few ripples on the surface. To dismiss those rocks as a matter of merely theoretical interest guarantees an unpleasant collision in the future. There are various prudent measures that might be taken to rectify the problem, some discussed here, others alluded to in the article by Peter Feaver and Richard Kohn. But none is more important than the willingness on the part of civilian and soldier alike to recognize the problems for what they are, to debate them in the public square, and thus to treat them with the high seriousness they deserve.

1 Cohen, "No Shortchanging Defense", Washington Post, January 27, 2000.

2 Powell, "The American GI", Time, June 14, 1999, p. 71.

3 See, for example, Michael Grunwald, "Pentagon Vows to Rein in the Corps of Engineers", Washington Post, February 25, 2000.

4 Bradley Graham, "Joint Chiefs Doubted Air Strategy", Washington Post, April 5, 1999.

5 Lloyd Matthews, "The Politician as Operational Commander", Army (March 1996).

6 This is the subject of my forthcoming book, Supreme Command (Free Press). Some examples include Eisenhower's crushing of Matthew Ridgway's doctrine of limited war during the 1950s, Roosevelt's insistence on the invasion of North Africa in 1942, and Lincoln's oversight of the Army of the Potomac through the end of the Civil War.

7 In one survey, only a third of military respondents said they believed that "when my Service's senior leaders say something, you can believe it is true." American Military Culture in the Twenty-First Century: A Report of the CSIS International Security Program (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2000), p. 72.

8 For example: "Sometime in the 1960s, perhaps as a result of the self-examination process that came with the war in Vietnam, an old idea resurfaced among some politicians and intellectuals: Peace is all-important and should be obtained at any cost." The Armed Forces Officer (1988), pp. 2--5, http://www.dtic.mil/miled/pamphlet/AFO18.pdf.

Eliot A. Cohen is professor of strategic studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.

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