March 24, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Baker Peace Speaker: WWI Saw Civilian Control over Wartime Strategies

By George Mauzy
From Compass

“We’re accustomed to seeing the coordination of military operations and national policy in the First World War in terms of civil-military relations,” said author and historian Sir Hew Strachan as he kicked off the 2014 Baker Peace Conference. In his keynote speech, “Military Operations & National Policies, 1914-1918,” he said friction arose in the development of wartime strategy within democracies.

Sir Hew Strachan

Sir Hew Strachan

“The problem of political inspection and conduct of operations was not something that concerned Frederick the Great or Napoleon, both of whom united civil and military authority,” said Strachan, one of the world’s most renowned World War I experts. He is the Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford and has been a Fellow of All Souls College since 2002.

Strachan said World War I was a war in which monarchs didn’t command their armies in the fields. Instead, it was a war waged by cause with constitutions sufficiently advanced to make their governments accountable to their people, even if they were not fully fledged democracies.

Strachan said one of the problems in discussing civil-military relations, particularly in the United States, is you have to consider the thoughts of author Sam Huntington in his 1957 book, Soldier of the State. The book assumes that the norm is that the military should be subordinated to civilian control.

“The First World War was waged by recognizably modern states, which should in the Huntingtonian norm have soldiers who understood that war is the continuation of policy by other means,” Strachan said. “Therefore in the Huntingtonian argument, soldiers should be subordinated to political control.”

“The reason we get agitated about civil-military relations is because we are concerned to find an effective means which enable us to harness military power for national ends.”

It’s About How to Wage War

Strachan said it is not about producing the optimal solution for domestic order in peacetime, it is about the business of how to wage war. He said to judge how these things are done, we need to think about the character of the first World War itself.

“We need to think about the dynamic created by the war, which involved all sides in an interactive and escalatory spiral, as opposed to an internal domestic dynamic that is specific to each belligerent,” he said.

Strachan said the later entrants in the War entered because of alliance obligations, local and regional considerations, and desires to achieve frontier rectifications (ex. claim your neighbor’s land). He said policy and the conduct of war are all convergent paths if the issue is national survival.

“France in 1917-18 coined the phrase ‘total war,’ refrained specifically to the mobilization of the entire nation for the sake of national survival,” Strachan said. “My point is that the ends, the objects of this war, were not divisive of civil-military relations. What was divisive and caused friction was the means to the end, the business of making strategies.”

He added that civil militarizations in Democratic states are not means to themselves, they are means to enable the effective formulation of strategy. It was that business of making strategy, which caused friction, because there was more than one way to bring military operations and national policy into harmony.

Read the rest of the story in Compass.

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