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Correspondence Joseph J. Collins Civil-Military Relations: How Wide Is the Gap? Ole R. Holsti To the Editors: Kudos to International Security for addressing the important issue of civil-military relations and to Ole R. Holsti for carefully marshaling data on that subject over a period of two decades. With so much ferment in this ªeld, the appearance of Holsti’s “A Widening Gap between the U.S. Military and Civilian Society? Some Evidence, 1976– 96” was most timely.1 The question mark in the title was also well considered. Holsti attempted to prove that “partisan and ideological chasms dividing civilian and military leaders have widened substantially”; that there have been “some substantial differences between civilian and military leaders” on foreign and domestic policy issues; and that we urgently need to “bridge or at least narrow the chasm between” civilian and military leaders (p. 8). These “themes,” however, require, even in Holsti’s view, so much qualiªcation that one wonders whether any fact or trend that he has discovered has ever had or will ever have a signiªcant impact on public policy, the acid test of any major problem in civil-military relations. Let me ªrst confess a predisposition to skepticism on the “gap” issue. During a military career that spanned twenty-eight years, I spent nearly eight of them in the Pentagon where I observed high-level civil-military relations from the vantage points of the Army Staff (1985–89), the Ofªce of the Secretary of Defense (1989–91), and the Ofªce of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1996–98). In October 1997, at the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society conference in Baltimore, I encountered a group of academic experts who believed that the military had exceeded its professional boundaries on the formulation of national policy during General Colin Powell’s tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Many of them also believed that there was a growing and dangerous gap between civilian and military perspectives or preferences on any number of issues. Although all of them were quick to add that they did not see an imminent danger of a revolt or mutiny by the armed forces, it was clear that many of them did see serious problems in the ofªng. International Security, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Fall 1999), pp. 199–207© 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 199 Joseph J. Collins is a retired U.S. Army colonel and a Senior Fellow in Political-Military Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ole R. Holsti is the George V. Allen Professor of International Affairs in the Department of Political Science at Duke University. 1. Ole R. Holsti, “A Widening Gap between the U.S. Military and Civilian Society? Some Evidence, 1976–96,” International Security, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Winter 1998/99), pp. 5–42. References to this article appear parenthetically in the text. I was not able to recognize the professional military that I had been a part of for nearly three decades from the descriptions presented by the speakers at this conference, the most articulate of whom was Thomas Ricks, the justly celebrated national security correspondent of the Wall Street Journal. Much of the evidence of the “gap” was anecdotal, but quite a few scholars there referenced the then-unpublished data held by Duke University’s Ole Holsti, which would clearly demonstrate that the military was increasingly out of step with civilian society. Eighteen months later, having had a chance to review Holsti’s data in International Security, I am not impressed by the evidence of a civil-military “gap” or that such a phenomenon—however deªned—is “growing” in a dysfunctional or dangerous direction . Moreover, I think Holsti’s data and interpretations in many ways support my conclusions. First, Holsti’s data cover two decades, but, as he admits, the military samples are of uneven composition. In the fall of 1999, the Duke-Triangle Institute of Security Studies project, “Bridging the Gap: Assuring Military Effectiveness When Military Culture Diverges from Civilian Society,” will publish its ªndings. Even though its data...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 199-207
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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