15th November 2010: Warriors & Politicians

Stevenson, Charles A. 2006. Warriors and Politicians: US Civil-Military Relations Under Stress, Routledge, New York.

The US Constitution and Congressional powers frame the civilian control and oversight of the US military. Stevenson’s historical study spans the US Civil War to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars of the Bush administration, organised thematically around the three challenges of warfighting, rearmament, and transformation. His chapters on the Vietnam War and Robert McNamara frame the institutional and planning failures that would lead in the late 1970s and early 1980s to a reassessment of Special Operations Forces (SOF), the Soviet ‘way of war’ and counterinsurgency. McNamara’s planning, programming, budgeting system however transformed administrative processes in both the public sector and in defence procurement cycles. This in turn would lay the groundwork for Donald Rumsfeld’s stint as Secretary of Defense and his adoption of execution metrics. Stevenson’s chapter on the Goldwater-Nichols Act deftly captures the successful tactics used to ensure greater interagency cooperation and coordination. In closing, Stevenson considers and evaluates several descriptive models of civil-military relations, considers the strategies of innovators, and the dangers of politicisation. He develops different conclusions to Eliot A. Cohen and Samuel P. Huntington, and notes the work and criticisms of emerging ‘new institutionalist’ scholars like Michael Desch, Peter Feaver, Amy Zegart and Deborah Avant. For me, the literature on civil-military relations clarifies an important aspect of politico-military affairs which affects how counterterrorism policies are conceived, debated, and implemented — either as interstate diplomatic alliances, or as SOF-type engagements to pre-empt an attack or to “hunt the perpetrators” (Susan D. Moeller). Stevenson’s study thus provides an historical and analytical backdrop to how counterterrorism strategies were implemented from the Johnson to the current Obama administration.