FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (March 26, 2009) - A panel of academic and national policy experts met to discuss the future of civil-military relations March 23 in the Lewis and Clark Center's Eisenhower Auditorium. The theme of the panel was "Coming Soon: A Crisis in Civil-Military Relations'" based on an article of the same title by Dr. Richard Kohn, professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C., and published in the Winter 2008 issue of "World Affairs."

The other panel members included Dr. Michael Desch, professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame; Dr. Mackubin Owens, associate dean of academics for electives and directed research, and professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College; and Dr. Nadia Schadlow, senior program officer in the International Security and Foreign Policy Program at the Smith Richardson Foundation in Westport, Conn.

The panel was moderated by Lt. Col. Suzanne Nielsen, director of the International Relations and National Security Studies Program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and West Point Fellow on the National War College faculty.

Dr. Donald Connelly is an associate professor in the Command and General Staff College's Department of Joint, Interagency and Multinational Operations. He is the course author for the American civil-military relations Intermediate Level Education core curriculum and instructor for the introduction to civil-military relations elective course.

"Civil-military relations is a vast subject that encompasses several issues between the military, its society and the government," Connelly said.

Connelly said budgets, force structure, veterans affairs and conscription are just some of the issues that could affect civil-military relations.

Kohn said in his paper he believes a conflict in civil-military relations is coming soon, and is not a result of the presidential election.

"The Obama administration has taken dramatic steps to avoid a fight with the military," Kohn said, noting that first lady Michelle Obama's first official visit outside Washington, D.C., was to Fort Bragg, N.C.

He highlighted the retention of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and nomination of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen for a second term, both holdovers from former President George W. Bush's administration, as a sign to the rest of the military of respect for the senior military leadership and continuity during difficult wartime conditions.

However, Kohn said President Barack Obama purposely sought out other former senior military leaders for his administration, including National Security Advisor retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, Secretary of Veterans Affairs retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, and Director of National Intelligence retired Navy Adm. Dennis Blair.

"The president has arranged it so that he is free to ignore the advice of his uniformed chiefs and field commanders because he will have cover of General Jones by his side, and other senior military in his administration," Kohn said, "and at the same time demonstrates that he has been reaching out to the military and wants to have military judgment."

The four areas where Kohn sees potential civil-military problems in the future are in Afghanistan, the budget, gays in the military and the restructuring of military forces away from Cold War structure. He said budgetary issues would create the most problems of those four areas.

"The overlapping roles and missions, combat capability, organizational change and rethinking of personnel policies all lie just over the horizon," Kohn said. "If the Obama administration steps up to these challenges, there will be considerable civil-military conflict."

Desch said he agreed with almost all that Kohn wrote in his paper and said at the panel, but suggested the conflict in civil-military relations is already here.

"The last eight years, in particular the Bush administration, have, if anything, made things worse," he said.

Desch said the Bush administration represented a different form of civilian control over the military than in the past. As an example he pointed to the planning of the war in Iraq and debate between military commanders and civilian leaders in the administration about the size of post-conflict military forces; the military wanted more troops and the politicians wanted fewer troops.

"Decisions that are made by civilian leaders ultimately have to be made and justified on political grounds, not on military grounds," Desch said.

Schadlow's remarks focused specifically on civil-military relations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Civil-military tensions affect operations at the strategic and operational levels," she said.

Schadlow said stability operations and security force assistance can create confusion because of the closeness of military forces and civilian governmental and nongovernmental agencies all working in the same area. She said there needs to be a clear unity of command in order to ensure unity of effort.

"The president needs to decide whether the ambassador or combatant commander is in charge of stability operations," Schadlow said.

Owens said civil-military relations are based on trust between civilian and military leaders, but that other factors influence the relationship as well.

"Civil-military relations is a bargain that has to be renegotiated periodically due to changing social conditions," he said.

Connelly said he doesn't think there will be a coming crisis in civil-military relations, as Kohn suggests, but that there will be a high level of tension, primarily as a result of budgetary disagreements.

"We talk about full spectrum operations, but as our belt tightens how full spectrum can we be'" Connelly said.