Mobilizing Force: Linking Security Threats, Militarization, and Civilian Control

  • Published

Mobilizing Force: Linking Security Threats, Militarization, and Civilian Control edited by David Kuehn and Yagil Levy. Lynne Rienner, 2021, 287 pp. 

Mobilizing Force: Linking Security Threats, Militarization, and Civilian Control is an anthology of works edited by David Kuehn and Yagil Levy focused on the comparative studies of civil-military relations in Western Democracies.

As the subtitle suggests, the book focuses its works on qualitatively linking perceived security threats, the level of militarization for that specific country, and the ability or inability of the democratic, civilian government to control the military’s ability to mitigate those threats. With 10 case studies, Mobilizing Force has two major sections.

The first section includes the four nations with a predominantly external threat perception. The second section are the six nations with a predominantly internal threat perception. All 10 (Israel, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Columbia, El Salvador, Senegal, France, South Africa, and Spain) are defined as democracies. But Kuehn and Levy intentionally picked democracies of varied ages and development to help create a more diverse set of data.

The 10 case studies each address militarization in their subject country.  In the introduction, Kuehn and Levy define militarization as “the process that legitimizes the use of military force, actually or potentially.” This provides a sound start for further analysis as each nation’s history, government organization, cultural inclinations, and threat perception confounds any linear analysis between case studies. Militarization and its antithesis, demilitarization, is not uniform when faced with similar influences.

In some cases, higher perceived external threats directly correlate to militarization. Simultaneously, higher militarization generates greater civilian control, whereas less existential but persistent threats may drive less civilian control as militarization levels effectively normalize. Regardless of overlapping trends, what stands out is that extraordinary amounts of variables influence each case study. As a result, trends cannot be easily quantified or even correlated without further substantive research in each case.

Militarization is provided as a qualitative definition from the outset, and the book does a great job linking perception of threats with militarization and subsequent control of military actions. It generates a rough framework for determining how perceived threats will or will not result in greater or lesser civilian control as a function of militarization, mobilization, and the historical legacies of both. While this is a great first step, and the authors allow that it is a preliminary model, it does not intrinsically link historical actors with mobilization and deployment, nor does it categorize militarization as it relates to perceived internal or external threats. This, again, is noted by the authors.

While not absolutely required, a basic understanding of civil-military relations theories helps augment the works in this book as not every country adheres to the traditional US military preference for Huntington’s Theory of Objective Control. This is at its core a comparative study, understanding that not every country actively tries to pursue the same organization as the United States and its relationship between civilian and military leadership.

Mobilizing Force is a book that will expand understanding of how, why, and to what end states will respond to threats. It is a great book to help augment any student of civil-military relations. The authors are varied and insightful. Their case studies offer insights into other democracies’ struggles with civilian control in persistent and often dynamic threat environments. 

Major James D. Corless, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."