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  • Building Democratic Militaries
  • Harold Trinkunas (bio)
The Soldier and the Changing State: Building Democratic Armies in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. By Zoltan Barany. Princeton University Press, 2012. 472 pp.

By titling his new book as he has, Zoltan Barany consciously evokes Samuel P. Huntington’s seminal 1957 study on civil-military relations, The Soldier and the State. Whereas Huntington focused on great powers and had in view militarism and the role that it played in the twentieth century’s two world wars, Barany aims to explain civil-military relations following democratization. His goal as an investigator—to examine the conditions that are most likely to produce democratic civil-military relations across a wide range of transitional settings—is ambitious. As a theorist of civil-military relations and democratization, however, Barany’s aims are more modest. Eschewing a general theory of how new democracies achieve control over their militaries, he instead offers to scholars and practitioners of democracy the wisdom that can be gained from his case studies.

Barany forcefully argues that no democracy can be called consolidated unless and until its armed forces are firmly under the control of duly constituted civilian authorities. Throughout history, states have usually had coercive institutions for the purpose of defense, and thus the problem of realizing civilian control of the military has been a perennial one. If elected officials are to fully exercise their mandates, it will always be necessary to limit and define the roles, missions, and prerogatives of the armed forces. With all their power, militaries are [End Page 172] particularly well positioned not only to defend the state but also to choose who will control it.

One of this book’s major contributions is its clear definition of what civilian control of the military means. First, the executive and legislative branches should share responsibility for the supervision of the defense sector, including financial and personnel decisions. Second, a civilian minister should come between the chief executive and the armed forces in the chain of command—advice that some new democracies have yet to heed. Third, in order to accept a new democratic regime, the armed forces must undergo an internal transformation (a point articulated by former Spanish minister of defense Narcis Serra [1982–91]). And finally, the armed forces’ internal norms regarding social issues such as gender and ethnicity should mirror those of society at large, which indicates a need for independent civilian defense expertise.

Barany is particularly ambitious in his case selection, examining 27 transitions from autocracy in order to identify the settings and variables that lead to civilian control of the armed forces. The book is organized by transition type: postwar, postdictatorship, and post–state transformation. This last category lumps together the experiences of many postcolonial states in the developing world with reunified Germany and postapartheid South Africa, making it a little awkward. Nonetheless, the book’s cross-regional comparisons of cases from Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe are both valuable and unusual in this field of study. It would be difficult to identify another book on democratizing civil-military relations that provides such a broad perspective. Moreover, based on a close examination of the cases that I know best, Barany is fair in his characterization and explanation of each of the transitions. The book clearly benefits from the author’s extensive fieldwork, including a number of personal interviews with key officials and policy makers. Free from an overarching theory of democratic civil-military relations, Barany is able to listen more closely to the experts and practitioners on the ground in each country.

Barany’s conclusions will not surprise experts on civil-military relations. Rather, they confirm the general findings in the field and thus are valuable for scholars of democratization. Barany shows that the setting which holds the greatest promise for elected officials to gain control is when that military has just lost a foreign war. In defeat’s wake, the armed forces’ prestige and their ability to defend their institutional prerogatives will be at their lowest. Yet, Barany wisely observes, these are also the cases in which civilian officials most frequently overreach, hamstringing their defense establishment from the point of view of military effectiveness...


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pp. 172-175
Launched on MUSE
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