Skip navigation

Politics, Protests, and the Post-Pandemic World: Civil-Military Relations Moving Forward

April 7, 2021


  • Jessica D. Blankshain, Assistant Professor, National Security Affairs, U.S. Naval War College
  • David Burbach, Associate Professor, National Security Affairs, U.S. Naval War College
  • Matthew Donovan, President and CEO, Airpower Associates LLC
  • Eric S. Edelman, Roger Hertog Distinguished Practitioner in Residence, Philip Merrill Center, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
  • Randee Farrell, Fellow, Counterterrorism and Public Policy Program, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
  • Jim Golby, Senior Fellow, Clements Center for National Security, University of Texas at Austin
  • Marc Losito, Carlucci Fellow and Fellow in American Grand Strategy, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
  • Suzanne Nielsen, Professor and Head, Department of Social Sciences, United States Military Academy at West Point
  • Thomas Rid, Professor of Strategic Studies, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
  • Alexander Vindman, PhD Candidate, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
  • Debra Wada, Senior Advisor, The Roosevelt Group
  • Kathryn Wheelbarger, Former Acting Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs, U.S. Department of Defense

The Johns Hopkins SAIS Merrill Center for Strategic Studies co-hosted its third annual Conference on Civil-Military Relations, with Duke University and with support from the America in the World Consortium.

The two-day event featured four panels focused on, the American Public and its Military, Politicization of the Military, Civil-Military Relations at the Senior Level, and Military, Civilian Government, and the Private Sector in Cyberspace. The conference featured over a dozen professionals and experienced practitioners from both civilian and military life. Specific discussions examined the outlook of civil-military relations under the Biden administration; how cyberwarfare is shaping the future of civil-military relations and the military-civilian government-private sector relationship; and leadership, ethics, and morals within military and civilian command, and national service more broadly, among other issues.

During the discussion, panelists called for a greater fluidity and flexibility among the U.S. Armed Forces. Some of their major concerns included increasing politicization of the military, and civilian dependence on the Armed Forces to carry out basic tasks such as vaccine distribution and procurement. Issues were also made of the growing hyper-polarization among the lower and non-officer ranks, especially regarding the cohesion of the force. Panelists across the broad reiterated greater civilian control and supremacy over policy making, and the need for the American people to develop a civic understanding of its army. In fact, the overarching theme of the military being the most trusted U.S. institution was seen as dangerous to the overall health of the Republic and American Democracy. Panelists also called for the narrowing of military missions/responsibilities, clear delineation of its roles, the need to increase civilian principal agents in the Department of Defense and prevent the line between military and civilian officials blurring, especially regarding the new domain of cyber warfare.