Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book Review: Concordance Theoryof Civil-Military Relations (Rebecca Schiff)

Rebecca L. Schiff.  (2009) The Military and Domestic Politics: A concordance theory of civil-military relations.  New York: Routledge.
Published in Armed Forces and Society 36(5), 931-933.
 Rebecca Schiff challenges and expands mainstream civil-military relations theory.  She offers the field an alternative method of analysis in determining whether military intervention in civil government is more or less likely.  She also explains why some states have less separation between civil and military worlds yet seem to remain unthreatened by undue military intervention. 
Studies of civil-military relations most often rest on a normative assumption that civilian control of the military is preferable to military control of the state and that a strict separation between the civilian and military worlds must exist. The principal problem examined is empirical: to explain how civilian control over the military is established and maintained.  Not completely happy with the normative assumptions of theoretical discussions, and in particular, the absence of any discussion of how a given society’s culture might impact the discussion, she offered a new explanatory theory - Concordance - as an alternative.
One of the key questions in Civil-Military Relations theory has always been to determine under what conditions the military will intervene in the domestic politics of the nation. Most scholars agree with the theory of objective civilian control of the military (Huntington), which focuses on the separation of civil and military institutions. Such a view concentrates and relies heavily on the U.S. case, from an institutional perspective, and especially during the Cold War period. An alternative, but still mainstream, theory of convergence (Janowitz) focuses on how the civil and military worlds must have more in common with each other, but still insists on the notion of separatism.  The Huntington and Janowitz normative theories of civil-military relations both attempted to describe the circumstances under which the likelihood of civilian control of the military would be maximized.  A principal critique of both is that their theories were developed largely from the American experience in the years following World War II and thus may not be fully applicable to other states with dissimilar experiences.  Schiff, however, provides an explanation, from both institutional and cultural perspectives, that attempts to explain not how civil-military relations ought to be, but rather why certain conditions exist.  Specifically, she proposes several variables might explain why militaries intervened in political activity and why they did not.
Schiff argues that in order to prevent the military from interfering with civilian control of the government, three societal institutions - (1) the military, (2) political elites, and (3) the citizenry - must aim for a cooperative arrangement and some agreement on four primary indicators:

  • Social composition of the officer corps.
  • The political decision-making process.
  • The method of recruiting military personnel.
  • The style of the military.
If agreement occurs among the three partners with respect to the four indicators, domestic military intervention is less likely to occur. The more disagreement that exists, the more likely that interference, up to and including a military coup, will occur.  While concordance theory does not preclude a separation between the civilian and military worlds, it does not require such a state to exist. Schiff applied concordance theory to six international historical cases studies: U.S., post-Second World War period; American Post-Revolutionary Period (1790-1800); Israel (1980-90); Argentina (1945-55); India post-Independence and 1980s; Pakistan (1958-69).
              While Schiff’s ideas are controversial and have raised some objections, she moves the field forward with an explanatory theory enabling a better structure for examining non-Western cases and enabling the introduction of cultural variables into the argument.  This book belongs on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the study of civil-military relations and will find its way into mainstream theory.
Contact information:
 Dr. Donald S. Inbody
601 University Drive
San Marcos, TX 78666
Texas State University