Principled Agents: Service Culture, Bargaining, and Agency in American Civil-Military Relations
In the United States, civilian control of the military is a robust and healthy norm. But the absence of the "man on horseback" does not signify the absence of all civil-military conflict. Why do the four military services comply with some policies but not others, and why do these responses vary at times across the four services?To address these questions, I start with a standard principal-agent framework for civil-military relations and make two changes. First, I make a temporal distinction between creating policy and subsequently enforcing it, as the prevailing dynamics on either side of policy ratification exhibit key differences. Second, I disaggregate "the military" into the four services and study them as unique actors in the civil-military domain. I find that each of the four American military services has a deep and distinctive service culture that uniquely conditions its policy preferences and political behavior.Through historical analysis of the four services and detailed process-tracing through two significant cases of civil-military policymaking, I evaluate my theory against several alternative explanations. First, I study the Army and Navy during the four-year period leading up the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act and find that the interaction of service culture with the anticipated agency environment best explains the varying responses of the two services. Second, I evaluate the Army and Marine Corps during the development of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force between 1977 and 1983. In this complex case of shaping military strategy, the pathway of compliance was unclear and the military services responded largely from culturally informed interpretations of compliance, not from material cost-benefit calculations.Consequently, I find that my modified agency framework offers a detailed explanation of civil-military behavior, but it applies differently across various policy contexts. During policy creation, the agency framework applies anticipatively, shaping the future climate of implementation. During implementation of clear policies, it applies actively through standard agency logics. Finally, during the implementation of ambiguous or intractable policies, the agency framework applies passively, receding into the background while the civil-military actors pursue their culturally conditioned understanding of what compliance actually requires in that particular context.
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