The United States boasts an enviable record regarding the military’s role in politics: never a coup and never a serious coup attempt. However, this does not mean that the military always played only a trivial role in politics. On the contrary, as the Framers worried, it is impossible for a democracy to maintain a military establishment powerful enough to protect it in a hostile international environment without at the same time creating an institution with sufficient clout to be a factor in domestic politics. The U.S. military’s political role has ebbed and flowed over the nearly 250 years of the nation’s history. The high-water mark of political influence came in the context of the gravest threat the country has faced, the Civil War, when the military enforced emergency measures approved by Congress, beyond the letter of the Constitution, including during Reconstruction when the military governed rebellious states of the former Confederacy. These were notable exceptions. For most of the 19th century, the military operated on the fringes of civilian politics, although through the Army Corps of Engineers it played a key role in state-building. When the United States emerged as a great power with global interests, the political role of the military increased, though never in a way to directly challenge civilian supremacy. Today, the military wields latent political influence in part because of its enormous fiscal footprint and in part because it is the national institution in which the public express the highest degree of confidence. This has opened the door for myriad forms of political action, all falling well below the red lines that most concern traditional civil–military relations theory. Military involvement in the American political system may be monitored and evaluated using a typology built around two columns that highlight the means of military influence—the first column is comprised of formal rules and institutions and the second encompasses the norms of military behavior with respect to civilian authority and civil society. While traditional civil–military relations theory focuses on military coups and coup prevention, theory based on this typology can help explain American civil–military relations, illuminating the warning signs of unhealthy friction under democratic governance and promoting republican vigilance at those moments when the U.S. military takes a prominent role and wades more deeply into domestic politics.
Peter Feaver and Damon Coletta
Matej Navrátil and Michal Onderco
The civil-military relations in Slovakia have been marked by rapid transformation after the collapse of communism, including the expansion of the civilian power over armed forces, a gradual shift that has meant a great loss of autonomy for the armed forces. The dominance of civilians over the military happened through various means. First and foremost, there was a massive legal and legislative shift in the institutional distribution of power. However, the power of civilians over the military has been cemented through the adoption of a business-like structure, a change in military education, as well as “the power of the purse.” Overall, Slovakia’s case is not unique among the countries of the former communist bloc, where the desire to integrate into NATO and the EU has led to significant changes in the way the domestic societies are organized. However, Slovakia’s case is interesting because it demonstrates that the establishment of civilian dominance over the military can potentially lead to absurd consequences such as the inability to pay petty expenses. Notably, the desire to integrate in NATO led Slovakia to adopt numerous external recommendations with far-reaching consequences for domestic legislation. In a process that is not unlike what the scholars of European integration call “Europeanization,” Slovakia’s case shows that the goal to demonstrate one’s readiness to join international organizations can lead to a complete transformation in the nation’s defense policy. Conversely, and perhaps more speculatively, if one were to perceive civilian control over the military as the total subordination of all its components to the elected representatives, the situation is much less straightforward in the case of military intelligence. Under Vladimír Mečiar (in 1994–1998), the state secret (civilian) and security apparatus served not the public interest, but the interest of the ruling coalition. Military intelligence, however, remained autonomous and was not exploited to serve to Mečiar. Although from the normative standpoint, this might be perceived as a positive development, it demonstrates that this component of the military was at that time out of the government’s reach, even the reach of an authoritative ruler such as Mečiar.
Emizet F. Kisangani
The fundamental challenge facing social engineers is to project authority. State building is a process that establishes political order over time. As a top-down strategy, it emerges as an antidote to state collapse. The success of a state is in its capacity not only to provide national security while controlling the means of violence, but also to supply other public goods funded through direct taxes on citizens, who are supposed to make their rulers accountable. The absence of such state capacity perhaps explains the unending political crisis that plagues many post-colonial states, because they tend to control populations rather than territories. Although some efforts have been made toward state building, the state remains fragile in many post-colonial states. Territorial control is limited, and private taxation continues. Local tensions based on ethnic affinities rather than national allegiance remains intense. The analysis of Congo-Kinshasa illustrates these assertions by contrasting three successive periods: the Congo Free State (1885–1908), the Belgian Congo (1908–1959), and the post-colonial period (1960–2019). Of these three periods, only the second entity was able to professionalize the military for state-building purposes. The emphasis on this top down approach in state building overlooks other configurations that postcolonial state builders should contemplate. Societies have historically compensated for the failure or absence of statehood through a number of mechanisms that include, among others, councils of elders and secret societies that may not be difficult to reconcile with the demands of the modern state. The search for this bottom-up approach to state building perhaps explains so many internal conflicts in most post-colonial states as marginalized groups intend to insert themselves into the political system that has excluded them from power.
French civil–military relations are usually described as an example of subordination of the military command to political authorities. This subordination is the legacy of the mutual distrust inherited from the “events” in Algeria and, more specifically, the coups in Algiers in 1958 and 1961 that gave birth to the current Fifth Republic. With the end of the Cold War, civil–military relations have rebalanced to the benefit of general officers because of the increasingly technical nature of external interventions and the consolidation of interprofessional relations with diplomats and industrial networks, facilitating the return of some officers into decision-making circuits. After this functional reintegration, the antiterrorist framing, both outside of the country (Opération Serval in January 2013 in Mali) and within France’s borders (Opération Sentinelle , which followed the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris), seems to recast the military as the forge of the national community. The evolution of the political uses of the military forces in France shows how ambivalent the antiterrorist resources are in the contemporary civil–military game.
Justin Conrad and Mark Souva
Why do some governments spend more on their military than others? Leaders make spending decisions based in part on their desire to stay in office, and they may lose office through internal or external processes. Research traditionally focused on external threats as the main determinant of military spending, but internal dynamics are the primary cause of leadership turnover. Coups are the most common reason for autocrats losing power and elections are the most common way democratic leaders, or their parties, lose power. The two processes are often linked. For example, external threat, even absent an attack, can lead to a change in domestic political power. As such, domestic interests, channeled through domestic institutions, are central to understanding military spending. Political science research often emphasizes domestic public opinion and the narrow interests of specific groups as explanations for military spending patterns. Such research finds that changes in public opinion lead to changes in defense spending and that more left-oriented interests favor lower defense spending. Research comparing spending across countries instead focuses on institutions and external threats. Much of this research focuses on the defense burden, which is the ratio of defense spending to gross domestic product. Among the few consistent findings is the fact that democracies maintain a lower defense burden than non-democracies. Higher levels of external threat are also associated with higher defense burdens and smaller countries tend to free-ride in alliances. Additional research examines variations in military spending among autocracies. As with democracies, specific institutions appear to be more important than regime type. Institutions such as legislatures that incentivize leaders to provide public goods are associated with less military spending.
Michel S. Laguerre
Since the independence of Haiti in 1804, the military has played a central role in the governance of the republic, often accessing the presidency through the recurrent phenomenon of the coup d’état, which serves as both a principal mechanism for the transmission of power from one government to another and for reinforcing the domination of the military over the civilian population. The 19th-century model of the coup d’état reflected the de facto decentralization of the military as it was carried out through rebellions concocted and headed by army battalions stationed in the rural provinces. The U.S. occupation (1915–1934), by locating or relocating the military elite, the most prominent military bases, the largest contingent of the military officers and rank and file in the capital city, contributed to the reengineering of a new national infrastructure that facilitates a new model of the coup d’état to emerge: One that germinates among the high command of the military; one that takes the form of a corporate intervention; one that is made possible because of the high command’s control over tactical military weapons, including the heavy military equipment located in the capital city; and one that is swift, thereby preventing any provincial military base from mounting a meaningful or successful military counter-coup.
When, how, why, and to what effect did the military involve itself in Serbia’s politics? Due to its decisive role in national liberation and state-building, the Serbian military has always enjoyed high societal reputation. Since the 19th century, the military also played an important role of a nation-builder and social elevator for the lower strata of society. However, Serbia also has a very long tradition of military involvement in politics with several coups that decisively shaped the course of national history. Since the outset of Serbia’s state-building in the first half of the 19th century, Serbia experienced four successful military coups and many occasions when its armed forces were used to quash domestic unrest. The reasons behind the robust involvement of armed forces in Serbian (and Yugoslav politics) have been diverse and ranged from an ambition to provide internal stability and defend national or corporate interests to a desire to change the country’s foreign policy orientation. Since the end of the Cold War, the military played an ambiguous role on some occasions undermining democracy, while on others being an agent of democratic transformation. Since 2006, the military of Serbia has been placed under civilian democratic control and seems to have internalized its role of a politically neutral and professional force with a mission to defend the country, support civilian authorities in the event of emergency, and contribute to international peace and security. Still, the ongoing democratic backsliding, the lack of clarity about the state’s strategic outlook, and the still unresolved status of Serbia’s former province Kosovo all preserve the potential for civil-military tensions in the future.