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Professionalism

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My WPR column this week is really an elaboration of Charli’s post from last week:

The integration of Egyptian soldiers into an international community of professional military officers has inevitably helped to spread the norms associated with that community. For military professionals, those norms increasingly include a reluctance to engage in direct, explicit political activity, and a respect for objective civilian control of the military.

Professional military officers constitute an international community of individuals with similar interests, education, and norms. Military officers from different countries regularly meet to discuss technical issues, to smooth over difficult problems, and to facilitate cooperation on common problems. Other community-building activities include bilateral and multilateral military exercises, officer exchanges, technology-oriented training missions, and a wide variety of conferences and other events. For example, theInternational Fellows Program at the Army War College includes officers from 40 different countries. While this process is not as simple as a direct transfer of norms and training from the U.S. Army to the Egyptian army, initiatives like the International Fellows Program facilitate the development of a sense of community.

One of the key norms that the community of military professionals can inculcate is respect for civilian control of the military. In many parts of the world, the military still plays an active, explicit role in politics, either through the seizure of power or through the intimidation of civilian authorities. However, in others, the idea that the military should refrain from direct intervention in politics has become a settled question. In Latin America, for example, the incidence of military coups has dropped dramatically over the past 30 years. In Turkey, the military has largely stood aside as a democratically elected Islamist government has increasingly put its mark on the country’s domestic politics and foreign policy.

As always, complex phenomena have complex causes, but the development of norms against political intervention within the professional military community may have played a significant role in the reduced incidence of direct military interventions in those areas where such a reduction has taken place. Carol Atkinson of the University of Southern California has argued that military-to-military ties with the United States, which often include interaction with the international community of officers, tend to produce more-liberal outcomes. Officers become socialized to particular roles within the social structure that rule out certain actions and make others appropriate.

Long story short and caveats noted, while it’s wrong to say that mil-to-mil contacts determined the preference of the Egyptian officer corps for avoiding direct intervention, it’s absurd to deny that such contacts may have had an impact. There’s a growing body of work indicating that such contacts have socialization effects, and that these effects normally push military organizations in a liberal direction.

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