U.S. Civil-Military Relations’ Neglected Component: Congress

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, Sen. Jack Reed and Sen. James Inhofe prepare to vote on the nomination of Ashton Carter to be the Pentagon chief, Feb. 10, 2015, Washington (AP photo by J. Scott Applewhite).
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, Sen. Jack Reed and Sen. James Inhofe prepare to vote on the nomination of Ashton Carter to be the Pentagon chief, Feb. 10, 2015, Washington (AP photo by J. Scott Applewhite).
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When Americans think of civil-military relations, what jumps to mind is the interaction of the armed services and the executive branch of government. This relationship is central to American democracy, but also relatively straightforward. The Constitution makes the president the commander-in-chief of the military, and commissioned officers serve “at the pleasure of the president.” Officers follow the president’s orders or are fired. Yet as Mackubin Thomas Owens points out, “Those who neglect the congressional role in American civil-military relations are missing an important element.” In many ways, this is a more complicated relationship, since it lacks the clear chain of […]

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