ATTITUDE TOWARD THE USE OF FORCE: Who is the initiator, military officers or civilian leaders?

It is interesting to know that there is a challenge in the wisdom among international relations or strategic studies scholars that military officers have a tendency to be more conservative or cautious than their civilian counterparts on the initiation of the use of force. Seeing the world’s wars especially in the modern time, and as a civilian, I have been assuming all this time that the use of force in war time had been initiated by the military and the civilian leader had nothing to do with it. However, the basic assumption, according to Sechser (2004), the initiation of the use of force is more frequently appear in states lacking of strong civilian control over military than states whose militaries are under tight civilian control.
In my opinion, it is understandable for military to be conservative in the context of using force. As the logic goes, going to wars means risking soldiers life, so that the military officers are reluctant to engage force and send the soldiers into war field. In contrast, civilian leaders, without knowing and experiencing war time, will likely engage in military adventures. On the other hand, according to militarism theory, military can engage the use of force to war based on organizational interests, high defense spending, incentives in the context of battlefield experience and doctrine (Sechser, 2004).
In relation to the public support of the use of force, the study of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies (TISS) (as cited by Feaver, Hikotani and Narine, 2005) challenge the conventional wisdom on one crucial point, which is “the American public was far more willing to tolerate casualties than popularly believed”. This is provided that the public had an expectation that the mission or the use of force would be successful. Nevertheless, the study of Sechser (2004) using quantitative, cross national evidence supports the argument that military officers are more likely to favor the use of force than their civilian counterparts; and when they have the authority to initiate the use of force, they tend to do so at full scale or at rates substantially higher than civilians.
Eventually, in identifying the initiator on the use of force in states between military officers and civil leaders depends on the level of civilian control of a state, whether it is weak or strong. Moreover, public would also contribute to encourage the use of force as they expect the mission would be successful.

Feaver, Peter D., Hikotani, Takako and Narine, Shaun, 2005, Civilian control and civil-military gaps in the United States, Japan, and China, Asian Perspective, Vol.29, No., pp. 233-271.
Sechser, Todd S., 2004, Are soldiers less war-prone than statesmen?, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol.48, No.5, pp. 746-774. Retrieved April 14, 2010 from


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