Doyle K. Hodges, a doctorate candidate in the area of security studies at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs made a presentation about the relationship between civil-military relations in democratic political systems and compliance with the laws and norms of War at the Nassau Club in Princeton, New Jersey, on October 3, 2014.
Mr. Hodges is a retired naval officer with twenty-one years of service. He commanded two naval vessels, among other assignments. He also taught at the United States Naval Academy.
His career included several periods of duty that required his attention to political and strategic matters. One of those assignments was as an aide to the Naval Inspector General at a time when prisoner abuse in Iraq became public knowledge. Consequently, the Inspector General and his staff, including Mr. Hodges, investigated the treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo facility and later throughout the navy.
Mr. Hodges noted that the abusive treatment of prisoners in the Global War on Terrorism originated from the civilian political leadership, not from the military. Recognition of that aspect of the problem leads naturally to the study of civil-military relations and its influence on compliance with international standards in the treatment of prisoners.
When intensive interrogation and other potential abusive handling of prisoners seems to be needed, at least in the eyes of some leaders, then there are three choices:
1. Simply to proceed with such procedures, ignoring international
norm, the possibilities of adverse publicity, and a decline in
morale of the interrogators;
2. To refrain from possibly abusive handling of prisoners;
3. To "subcontract" abusive measures to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), civilian security contractors, or indigenous governments.
Such a situation creates tension for military authorities whose professional orientation has been largely toward avoiding involvement in political decisions.
Such, at least, is the theory, as heavily influenced by Samuel P. Huntington's study The Soldier and the State (1957), which argued that military professionalism developed in the United States during the 19th century as military leaders focused on purely military concerns and, in most cases, no longer aspired to political office.
This apolitical military self-image has by no means been wholly accurate. Mr. Hodges cited the conflict between President Harry Truman and General Douglas MacArthur about how far United Nations troops should advance into North Korea during the Korean War. Several years earlier, moreover, President Truman and both civilian and uniformed leaders of the navy contended openly about the relative budgetary support that should be given to the air force and the navy. Truman emerged as the victor in both these controversies, but they demonstrated that political and military decisions cannot be separated neatly.
An important factor in considering the treatment of prisoners is the nature of the adversary. In Vietnam, prisoners taken from the ranks of the North Vietnamese Army were viewed simply as prisoners of war, but guerrillas, who struck United States and allied troops without wearing uniforms, were considered to be in a different category. Similar considerations emerged in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In counterinsurgency conflicts, abuses and violations of international law may be perpetuated by both sides, as, for example, during British efforts to suppress nationalists fighting in the Irish Republican Army and similar guerrilla organizations. The conflict between Israel and Hamas is another example of a situation where behavior on the battlefield has become less sensitive to legal restraints.
Civil-military relations in democracies need an ethical foundation.
In the modern world, liberal democracies often turn to the military services, but those services, in turn, need principles to follow in murky conflicts.
In closing, Mr. Hodges noted that in his studies he is benefiting materially from the diversity of the faculty and student body of the Woodrow Wilson School.