Civil-Military Relations: briefing

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Defence and Military Veterans

24 August 1999
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Meeting report

24 August 1999

Briefing by : Prof Stockton, Director: Center for Civil Military Relation in the United States

Prof Stockton gave a brief explanation of the purpose of the Center for Civil Military Relations which examines issues of relations between civilians and the military. It tries to identify what civilian control of the military means, and how and what happens when these two are brought together. He requested that if he is quoted it should be in his capacity as an academic and not as an employee of the US government as there is still a big debate in USA on how the problem of civilian control of the military should be approached.

He mentioned that in all the countries that he has work with, South Africa has been seen as a model for democracy. This is so because South Africans have managed to put their existing differences aside in order to work for what is good for the country. This is what has impressed other countries, who to some extent, are modelling their own policies using SA as an example.

As a democracy, the US has not been able to solve problems with civil-military relations. Congress has not been able to stamp their authority over Pentagon. It has been a difficult process for both Congress and Pentagon to reach an agreement on how far each should go in dealing with matters concerning Pentagon.

Prof Stockton then discussed ways and means that members of parliament can exercise control over the military. He stated that members of parliament have a special role to play in civilian control over defence establishment policies. By virtue of being democratically elected, they have the responsibility and the right to shape these policies to ensure continuity of democracy.

A source of power that members of parliament can use to effect civilian control is the "power of purse". This has been used extensively in the US when certain control measures have to be effected over the military. By using budget control measures, they can ensure that the Department of Defence pursues the right policies.

But the question that follows this is, "Should MPs determine what is to be done with the budget allocation to the DoD?". This, he said, has been an intensely debated question as both sides cannot agree on who should have the final say in the matter.

Priorities have first to be established regarding defence policy. There are two opposing arguments. One argument states that the military must build capacity to defend the state's sovereignty against future threats. The other argument is that the military must focus more on building a peacekeeping force that will be able to help in situations that call for such operation. This argument is supported by the fact that since the end of the Cold War there has been no real threat to the US sovereignty, therefore the focus must be more on peacekeeping force.

On the one hand, the military do not want the MPs dictating what their career paths should look like, how officers are elected, and who should be promoted and why. On the other hand MPs have an obligation to meet. They are accountable to their constituents, and if anything goes wrong within the military, they are held accountable by the public who voted them into office.

In most cases in the US the military have won the battles, and Congress has had to back off. Prof Stockton pointed out that the profile of the US military is starting to look different from that of general society since 95% of non-foreign students at the US Navy School are Republicans. On the other hand you have a Democrat government. Who between the two will want to back off in future?

What should be the role of the MPs in designing the priorities of the DoD?
In looking at control over military operations, he used the concrete example of the Lesotho invasion:
-what is the role of MPs in determining the use of force during peacekeeping operations?
-who should decide how force should be used, and when, during a peacekeeping exercise?
The answer Prof Stockton offered is that peacekeeping is a political issue so the final decision and responsibility must be with the MPs.

He gave the example of the US President being the Commander in Chief of the Army. As a result of this, for the past couple decades the US President has been declaring wars without the authorization of Congress. The US Constitution gives Congress powers over the President to declare war. What had to happen was that a special war law had to be passed to restore this power to Congress.

Prof Stockton highlighted the fact that since the demise of the Cold War, there is no longer any threat to the safety of the US, and the military is now faced with a secondary mission: that of peacekeeping and acting as a domestic support when called for by unforeseen circumstances, for example, natural disasters. This he argued will call for a change in the type of training offered because soldiers are taught how to shoot to kill before asking any questions. In cases of peacekeeping they have to be able to ask questions, and wait for orders under difficult and trying conditions. Most of them have not been trained to act that way. Also the type of weapons to be used for peacekeeping purposes are different as high calibre arms cannot be used in peacekeeping. He said these problems are not only facing the US Congress but are widely experienced throughout the world.

In his conclusion, he argued that Congress has legitimacy because they are elected and can therefore make military policy. However they lack military expertise. On the other hand the military personnel has the expertise but they lack the legitimacy of the electorate as they are not elected. The question is how is the gap between the two extremes going to be bridged. Ways and means will have to be found to deal with this.

The Chairperson thanked Prof Stockton and mentioned to the organiser of the seminar, Admiral Uys (from Policy and Planning in the Defence Secretariat) that this seminar should be opened to as many members as possible of the Portfolio Committee and the Joint Standing Committee on Defence . She asserted that the role that civil society has to play is enormous, and only through real and active participation will there be an understanding of what civilian control of the military is. She pointed to the fact that the DoD budget only comes to the Committee in an almost-completed state which does not auger well for civilian control of the military. She argued that the Committee must be involved from the initial stages of the budgeting process, right up to the time when it is passed. Parliament must be given a chance to provide input in determining what is to be budgeted for otherwise the process is not worth it.


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