High Level Meeting: Civil Direction of the Military: Sharing Experiences

Where and when

13 September 2011, Bilkent Hotel, Ankara, Turkey


Democratic control of the armed forces has two main chapters. Much of the literature deals with the first chapter, which is parliamentary oversight of the defence sector.  The second chapter gets less attention: civil direction of the military. This describes the relationship between the politicians responsible for defence, and the leadership of the armed forces. This is the subject of the high-level seminar.

The principles of civil direction of the military are clear. In a democracy, the government answers to parliament and the nation for the actions of all state officials, including the military. This will only work if ministers control and lead the security agencies for which they are responsible. It requires certain governmental structures, and a certain type of working relationship between the politicians in charge and the uniformed officials working under them. In 1957 Samuel Huntington defined civil direction of the military as "the proper subordination of a competent, professional military to the ends of policy as determined by civilian authority."[1]This definition raises as many questions as it answers. What does ‘proper subordination’ mean? And how deeply should defence politicians get involved in the execution of defence policy?

When he was Chief of the Turkish General Staff, General İlker Başbuğ stated that “civilians are the ones holding the political authority and power, but common sense must prevail in civilian-military relations and civilians should listen to the advice and proposals that come from the military in regard to security matters.”[2] But what if they do not?

Finally, there are interesting questions regarding soldiers and civilians at lower levels. Should they work together on the formulation and execution of policy? And if so, how?

In the first part of the seminar, we will ask ourselves how civil direction ought to work. Then we will go on to discuss how it works in practice. We will look at experiences in Turkey, Egypt, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

We aim to share experiences and identify lessons. We will not seek to establish an ideal model for civil direction. Countries organise their defence establishments in many different ways, taking into account local conditions, needs and preferences. They need, and have a right, to do so. However, we will review some general principles that are considered good practice. Then we will discuss efforts in a number of countries to put these principles into practice.


- This seminar will take place under Chatham House Rule in order to promote an open debate –

Samuel Huntington. The Soldier and the State: the Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. Harvard University Press, 1957.

[2]“Gen. Başbuğ’s remarks underline serious secularism and religion divide”, Today’s Zaman, 15 April 2009. Available from http://www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action;jsessionid=D7FF2FBD17491E1A1E418110B805FBD4?load=detay&link=172487&newsId=172381


Promoting Good Governance in the Security Sector of Turkey


If you have any questions regarding this event please contact CESS.