Civil-military relations in 21st century

VICTOR Simukonda.

QUIS custodiet ipsos custodes? is a Latin phrase found in the work of the Roman poet Juvenal which roughly translates, ‘who shall guard the guardians’?
The question has come to be commonly used to refer to the problem of controlling the actions of persons in positions of power including the military.
Indeed, the essential problem of civil-military relations (CMR) is clear enough: one of society’s institutions, the armed forces, is given a monopoly on the use of a large range of instruments of lethal force in order to protect the interests, external and internal, of that society. Consequently, this monopoly endows the armed forces with at least the potential—though not necessarily the inclination—to dominate all other institutions or have undue influence in domestic, economic and international state and public affairs.
Basically, CMR can be understood as the web of relations between the armed forces on the one hand and the society it serves on the other. It includes the attitude of the armed forces towards civilian society; civilian society’s perception of, and attitude towards the armed forces; and role of the armed forces in relation to the state. Furthermore, CMR are an aspect of National Security Policy (NSP). The aim of NSP is to enhance the safety of the nation’s social, economic, and political institutions against both internal and external threats. In this article I will discuss CMR in the context of the 21st century and the demands of the contemporary security threats and the African security environment.
In its classical form, the CMR debate crystallised in the 20th century with Samuel P. Huntington’s 1957 book, The Soldier and the State, and Morris Janowitz’s 1960 book, The Professional Soldier. Huntington, argued that the military’s unique function required a military culture independent from societal influences. Any “fusionist” effort, he warned, would be disastrous for military effectiveness. In other words, the military must remain separate and focus on developing expertise in the profession of arms, that body of knowledge embodying the “management of violence”. On the other hand, Janowitz maintained that the changing demands of modern warfare and the broadening of military tasks (to include constabulary non-military roles) required a shift in CMR as well as the professional skills and values of the armed forces.
Indeed, in the 21st century, the quest for ‘Human Security’ (which includes; food, health, environment and community) has replaced war aims, and the result has been a more nuanced approach to CMR and international power. CMR and national security are now seen as a complex arrangement of several factors and though military might and power are still hegemonic, it has been recognised that even the most overwhelming military power can only accomplish limited security objectives. Furthermore, while the range of the military’s secondary tasks has been accruing with new mandates from civilian government (e.g. environmental protection, assistance to police for anti-crime, disaster management), the re-tooling of its counterinsurgency repertoire to encompass basic service delivery (e.g. education and health) and targeted infrastructure projects has solidified the military’s stake in local development activities.
Without a doubt, over the last two decades, African states have been facing more internal threats than external ones. In fact, the African continent is now dealing with ethnic-based conflicts, poverty, health issues, hunger, and, most recently, radicalisation and violent extremism. Therefore, African states need to find ways to confront these serious threats directly and more efficiently, and to mobilise all available resources, including the armed forces. During times of peace, the armed forces have a great many resources available to them that can be used to help address many of the highlighted challenges. Among other things, they have planes for delivering the food, medicine, and doctors needed to fight health problems, as well as manpower and expertise to assist in building infrastructure. When available, these resources must be used to contribute positively to national development, to alleviate suffering and to save lives. In addition, Africa, like the other continents, is experiencing frequent natural disasters due to climate change, such as flooding, coastal erosion, droughts and desert advancement. Therefore, disciplined, well trained, organised, and relatively easy to mobilise, militaries can play a crucial role in tackling these issues.
All in all, the reality of the profound changes and transformations that have characterised the African security environment in the 21st century have doubtlessly reshaped CMR in theory, in analysis, and indeed, in practice. In the 21st century, asymmetric warfare, counterterrorism, counterinsurgency and humanitarian disasters, have resulted in the creation of a new 21st century acronym, ROMO— the Range of Military Operations. Though missions in ROMO may vary, all missions share a common denominator: success requires the application of extensive and well-developed skills by the armed forces and stable CMR.
The author is a military historian and staff officer at Zambia Army Headquarters.

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