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Bridging America's Civil-Military Divide

March 7, 2019

Introduction & Overview:
Eliot Cohen, Executive Vice Dean
Mara Karlin, Director of Strategic Studies and Executive Director of the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies
Shamila Chaudhary, Senior Advisor to the Dean

Eric Edelman, Roger Hertog Distinguished Practitioner-in-Residence at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies
Carter Ham, President and Chief Executive Officer, Association of the U.S. Army
Kathleen Hicks, Senior Vice President and Director, International Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Moderated by Greg Jaffe, National Security Reporter, The Washington Post

The school hosted a timely dialogue on U.S. military services, civil-military relations, and the impact of the nation’s 18 years of ongoing war. The discussion explored the decision-making process in war, where former senior leaders offered insight on the civil-military divide on the use of force.

Kathleen Hicks of CSIS emphasized the trust built between civil and military populations as the foundation for a genuine conversation that “ultimately results appropriately in the civilians making a decision well-informed and advised by the military.” Hicks added, “I think the reality is that you are going to have that kind of civil-military friction, but the problem is when you focus too much on that friction and the distrust it creates and not on how you build better answers and solutions in each instance that it happens.”

The debate on the war in Afghanistan under the Obama administration illustrated what Hicks deemed as “understandable friction” that occurred in the day-to-day decision-making process.

Former Ambassador Eric Edelman and General Carter Ham noted that at the senior level, the line between pure military advice and pure policy advice is blurry at best, and “getting the job done” requires a strong and mutually respectful partnership between both civilian and military sides.

Questions from the audience covered topics including the roles played by senior civilian policymakers in the national security debate, the issues of the State Department’s Reserve Corps, and the potential weaknesses of military-to-civilian turnover in Iraq.

The event concluded with a second panel that was off-the record, a photography exhibit highlighting stories of native veterans by photojournalist Svetlana Bachevanova, and a performance of Sophocles' Ajax by Theater of War Productions.

Photo album