This paper reviews an article written by Suzanne C Nielsen in 2005 entitled ‘Civil Military Relation Theory and Military Effectiveness.‘ The purpose of the review is to highlight key insights advanced in the article. Based on the experiences drawn from the USA the author’s objective was twofold;

  1. Review literature on Civil-Military relations as it relates to military effectiveness.
  2. Put into perspective and raise issues associated with the focus on military effectiveness in the study of Civil-Military relations.

The author argues that most of the studies on civil military relations have concentrated on the civilian control. She has raised issues that deserve further research when one focuses on military effectiveness in the study of civil- military relations. Generally, the article concludes by arguing that the impact that civil military relations can have on military effectiveness deserve closer attention. The major concepts in this article are; Civil Military relations, Military effectiveness and Civilian control.

Most of the debate over American civil-military relations since the 1990s has been dominated by concerns about civilian control of the military establishment. Indeed, the author believes that the focus on civilian control has obscured other equally important elements of civil-military relations and how they impact on military effectiveness.

The author has cited two classic works of American Civil-Military relations, Samuel Huntington’s The Soldier and the State (1957) and Morris Janowitz’s The Professional Soldier (1960) who have addressed military effectiveness and civilian control. The author has problems with Huntington’s definition of military professionalism who assumes that military professionals need autonomy within their realm and not be involved in politics and this is universal and timeless. Therefore, she argues that what makes military forces to be effective is context dependent. Their effectiveness may depend on characteristics of individual soldiers and officers, organizational structures, equipment, technology, training techniques and other factors. Thus, military organization may need to change over time to remain relevant and effective.

The author concurs with Huntington’s argument that military organizations are shaped by both functional and societal imperatives. Functional imperatives are special characteristics of military organizations driven by their need to be capable of defending the state against external threats, and societal imperatives arise from ‘‘the social forces, ideologies, and institutions dominant within society’’ (Huntington, 1957: p. 2). Nevertheless, she argues that there is need to consider how a specific country’s military institutions may be affected by these imperatives. And those functional imperatives are not universal and neither are societal functions merely weakening military organizations.

On the other hand, the author notes that Janowitz’s (1960) Professional Soldier assumes that contrary to Huntington’s assumption, the Military is an active ingredient in decision making about security thus, cannot remain apolitical but should remain responsible, circumscribed and responsive to civilian authority. Though, Janowitz does not separate professionalism and effectiveness his assertion of effectiveness is context dependent and military’s changing environment.

The author has identified and discussed the following dependent variables that may impact on military effectiveness; coups, military influence, civil-military friction, military compliance, and effectiveness.

She observes that some authors working in civil military relations avoid highlighting the issue of effectiveness. She argues that both civilian control and effectiveness are not comprehensive in bringing out what we want to know about a civil-military relationship especially in American context. However, effectiveness deserves further research though there are issues associated with pursuing that route (Feaver, 1999).

The author argues that an unhealthy civil-military pattern could render military ineffective and undermine national defense. For instance, Biddle and Zirkle (1996) argue that ‘Iraq’ radically conflictual civil-military relations help to explain its inability to exploit its advanced air defense technology in the Persian Gulf War’.

Characteristics of the societies from which the armed forces stem or the nature of their governments can impact on military effectiveness. To illustrate this point the author quotes Reiter and Stam (1998) “soldiers emerging from democratic societies enjoy better leadership and fight with more initiative”.

The author has identified three major challenges associated with focusing on military effectiveness in the study of civil-military relations. First, she argues that the definition of military effectiveness is problematic though it appears straightforward at first glance. To drive her point home she quotes two definitions. ‘Effective militaries are those that achieve the objectives assigned to them or are victorious in war’ (Korb,1984: p.42). This definition is not comprehensive as it assumes that victory is the basis for measuring the effectiveness of the military. Unfortunately, the author does not given the reader comprehensive working definition of effectiveness. This is understandable since she only set out to raise issues without necessarily providing evidence. However, she has put into perspective the approach to be used when trying to measure military effectiveness; that multiple measures of effectiveness are needed since military activities occur at multiple levels of political, strategy, operational, and tactical.

Secondly, she notes the problems associated with defining civil-military relations and suggest that in assessing the impact of civil-military relations a holistic approach must be employed. This should take into account the interaction of the military not only with the executive branch, but also Congress, industrial base and society. The bulk of what is referred to as civil-military relations is the interaction of the senior members of the executive branch and military leaders. Thirdly, there are different factors that affect military effectiveness such as internal organization factors.

The entire article is written in a scholarly style with the view of illustrating how civil-military relations relate to military effectiveness. It has explicitly brought out issues associated with an assessment of the impact of civil military relation to military effective. Thus, the author argues that the question of civilian control is important, but a myopic focus on this issue means that other important questions are often ignored. Although, the author has put into perspective how and what should be considered when studying military effectiveness in civil military relations she has not come up with working definitions of the concepts that are problematic such as military effectiveness and civil-military relations. However, that is understandable since that was not what she set out to explore. The article is grounded on firm literature reviewed by the author.


Biddle, Stephen, and Robert Zirkle (1996) ‘‘Technology, Civil-Military Relations, and Warfare in the Developing World.’’ The Journal of Strategic Studies. 19(2): pp. 171-212.

Feaver, P.D (1999). “Civil-Military Relations.” Annual Review; Political Science 2: 211-41.

Huntington, Samuel. (1957) Soldier and the State. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Janowitz, Morris (1964) The Professional Soldier. New York: The Free Press. Original edition, London: Collier-Macmillan Limited, 1960.

Korb, Lawrence J. (1984) ‘‘How Well Can We Fight? For How Long?’’ In National Security Strategy: Choices and Limits. Ed. Stephen J. Cimbala. New York: Praeger, pp. 41-63.

Nielsen, S (2005) “Civil-Military Relations Theory and Military Effectiveness,” in Public Administration and Management. Vol 10 (2). pp. 61-84.

Reiter, Dan, and Alan C. Stam III. (1998) ‘‘Democracy and Battlefield Effectiveness.’’ Journal of Conflict Resolution. 42(3): pp. 259-277.