Principles of Civilian Control and Best Practices of Civil-Military Relations

  • To Support and Defend: Principles of Civilian Control and Best Practices of Civil-Military Relations

    An interesting open letter from eight former secretaries of Defense and five former chairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The letter opens thusly before elaborating upon sixteen pillars of best practices (which are worth a read and some pondering):

    We are in an exceptionally challenging civil-military environment. Many of the factors that shape civil-military relations have undergone extreme strain in recent years. Geopolitically, the winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ramping up of great power conflict mean the U.S. military must simultaneously come to terms with wars that ended without all the goals satisfactorily accomplished while preparing for more daunting competition with near-peer rivals. Socially, the pandemic and the economic dislocations have disrupted societal patterns and put enormous strain on individuals and families. Politically, military professionals confront an extremely adverse environment characterized by the divisiveness of affective polarization that culminated in the first election in over a century when the peaceful transfer of political power was disrupted and in doubt. Looking ahead, all of these factors could well get worse before they get better. In such an environment, it is helpful to review the core principles and best practices by which civilian and military professionals have conducted healthy American civil-military relations in the past — and can continue to do so, if vigilant and mindful.

    The sixteenth pillar closes the letter:

    1. During presidential elections, the military has a dual obligation. First, because the Constitution provides for only one commander-in chief at a time, the military must assist the current commander-in-chief in the exercise of his or her constitutional duty to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Second, because the voters (not the military) decide who will be commander-in-chief, they must prepare for whomever the voters pick — whether a reelected incumbent or someone new. This dual obligation reinforces the importance of the principles and best practices described above.

    Followed by the letter's signatories:


    Former Secretaries of Defense

    Dr. Ashton Baldwin Carter
    William Sebastian Cohen
    Dr. Mark Thomas Esper
    Dr. Robert Michael Gates
    Charles Timothy Hagel
    James Norman Mattis
    Leon Edward Panetta
    Dr. William James Perry

    Former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

    Gen. (ret.) Martin Edward Dempsey
    Gen. (ret.) Joseph Francis Dunford Jr.
    Adm. (ret.) Michael Glenn Mullen
    Gen. (ret.) Richard Bowman Myers
    Gen. (ret.) Peter Pace

    Talk about living in interesting times, eh? 🐕

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