Home / Robert Farley / Professionalism



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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  • firefall

    It may be worth considering that this is not a river that flows one way, but a road that flows both ways – while many autarchic military corps may be influenced in the direction of liberal /democratic inclinations, the US officer corps seems to be progressively less liberal, more explicitly christianised in a fairly hostile fashion, and less inclined to acceptance of civilian control.

  • Tyto

    I recently heard a report that suggested the Egyptian military’s integration into the Egyptian civilian economy that drives a strong preference for stability. According to the people interviewed for that story, the military has become a huge manufacturer of a wide range of products, from washing machines to heavy machinery, and the entire officer corps are shareholders in the business and recognize the importance of stability to consumption of the military’s products. Even though the military has refused to protect protesters from Mubarak’s thugs, it also has been very careful not to directly antagonize its customers.

    Of course, none of this necessarily refutes a claimed effect of mil-to-mil relations, but the economic angle seems more significant.

    • Tyto

      …the Egyptian civilian economy that drives…

  • x. trapnel

    I’m a bit puzzled by this being framed as Egyptian officers’ acceptance-or-lack of “the professional, objective model of civilian control,” because this model doesn’t really speak to what to do in situations of the sort. If we’re to frame it in terms of clashing norms, isn’t it “don’t shoot civilians” vs “obey the President/party”? “Don’t shoot civilians” is much narrower than, and at times directly opposed to, either “objectivity” or professional carrying-out of the ruling civilian’s orders.

    • hv

      Great question. Sometimes what we seek to measure determines the value of what we measure.

    • Robert Farley

      True dis. I didn’t specify quite correctly, especially given that the Egyptian military is not at all a Huntington-esque model of objective civilian control. That said, I think that “don’t shoot civilians at the behest of a collapsing regime” isn’t quite as contradictory with the ideal of civilian control as you suggest; a professionalized army expects to be asked to do certain things by an appropriate civilian leadership, and refusing certain kinds of orders may still fall within the bounds of professional norms.

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  • Ralph Hitchens

    It’s complex. No question that the Egyptian military is more professional thanks in part to military-to-military contacts with the US. But the ruling clique surrounding Mubarak is heavily militarized, and while the military leadership has no apparent desire to separate itself from the Egyptian people, neither will it be eager to divorce itself from a dominant role in the oligarchy. A provisional government with an influx of civilian reformers will face some careful negotiating.

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  • hv

    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.

    A long time ago, I debated on the topic of Latin America (yes, that dates me for those in the know)… some Affirmatives chose to criticize the School of Americas, et al. As Negatives, the impact take-outs and/or impact turns relating to this kind of cooperation always seemed less than persuasive… “but the torture is better/safer” just wasn’t winning many ballots.

    And now, when I read this item, I caught myself nodding my head: “of course, that jives with what Ms. Carpenter was reporting.” That liberal effect might be our best hope; I was so foolish to be dismissive at an earlier age.

    • Robert Farley

      Sadly, the “sarcasm mark” hasn’t really caught on as much as I’d like, so I can’t tell how serious this remark is intended. Three things:

      1. Focus on the School of Americas as causal factor assumes that US interaction with Latin American officers had causal effect. It’s possible that this effect only made them better torturers, but most critics of the School of the Americas actively blame the US for bringing about more military intervention.

      2. If we grant then, that mil-mil contacts can spread certain norms (the idea that leftists are inherently illegitimate, and should always be done away with), then it’s hardly absurd to suggest that other norms might be spread as well.

      3. The empirical, non-anecdotal evidence (see Atkinson) suggests that from the mid-1970s on, mil-mil contacts with the United States correlated with moves in a liberal direction.

      To be sure, I don’t want to rest the full case on the Atkinson article; there are lots of things going on. But it seems like the possibility that mil-mil contacts could spread norms of professionalism should be taken seriously.

      • hv

        No sarcasm. I am sorry if the anecdote was so boring it seemed suspect.

  • Rob,

    I think you have this right, but the complexity makes it difficult to be specific. Every bilateral mil-to-mil relationship is unique, and the US military has a long track record of getting it right, and getting it wrong.

    I would argue they have done much better over the last decade primarily because of the experiences and lessons gained in Iraq and Afghanistan – which contrast with more violent and less effective approaches to stability in Vietnam in the 60s-70s.

    We need to find a way to get you out to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF – HOA) in Djibouti and U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P). Throw in Columbia and I think that is three examples where US mil-to-mil has made positive impacts, and represent opposite end of the spectrum approaches than similar engagements that were failures in South America in previous decades.

    Noteworthy almost every East Coast MEU deployed over the last decade has exercised with the Egyptian Army, some more than once. That is over 30 major engagements that focus on subjects like legal frameworks in war, security and law enforcement for military forces, and other activities of professional development. Few Americans realize that is what Marines, at least the ones who deploy on ships, do these days around the world.

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