In This Review

Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations
Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations
By Peter D. Feaver
Harvard University Press, 2003, 381 pp

The Clinton and Bush years have raised big questions about civil-military relations, in particular how political leaders can best control military professionals. It is not surprising, but still welcome, that the issue has generated a substantial academic response. Feaver's important contribution takes on Samuel Huntington's classic text The Soldier and the State, which described a system of "objective civilian control." Huntington maintained that the military gained autonomy in return for political neutrality and accepting civilian authority -- a claim with powerful normative influence despite regular demonstrations of its inadequacy in practice. Feaver grounds his challenge in theory as much as evidence (of which he offers plenty). Employing "agency theory," he considers how principals get agents to do what they want them to do, using the degree of monitoring as a key variable. When it goes well, an agent is "working"; when he follows his own preferences instead, the agent is "shirking." During the Cold War, civilian monitoring was intrusive, and the military worked even when, as with Vietnam, the policy was foolish. In the 1990s, however, the response to intrusive monitoring was shirking.