This War Studies Advanced Program will introduce students to the theory and practice of civil-military relations in the twentieth century. It will examine the civic, ethical, and evolving legal basis of civilian control over the military; the relationship between commanders and presidents; the relationship between Congress, presidents, and commanders; and the impact of these systemic factors on military success.

War Studies Advanced Programs are open only to alumni of the basic War Studies course. These sessions are offered in the winter and summer, and focus either on a national security challenge or on a historical conflict. Learn more about the War Studies Program.

Images courtesy Harry S. Truman Library | NARA

Kim Kagan on the importance of military history


James M. Dubik

LTG James M. Dubik (U.S. Army, Ret.) is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Study of War and a Professor at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program. General Dubik has extensive operational experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Bosnia, Haiti, Panama, Honduras, and in many NATO countries.

Frederick W. Kagan

Frederick W. Kagan is a Senior Instructor with the Hertog War Studies Program at the Institute for the Study of War. The author of the 2007 report “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq,” he is one of the intellectual architects of the successful “surge” strategy in Iraq. He is the director of AEI’s Critical Threats Project.

Kimberly Kagan

Kimberly Kagan is a Senior Instructor with the Hertog War Studies Program and founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War. She is a military historian who has taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Yale, Georgetown, and American University.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session



Discussion Questions:

  1. Who is responsible for what according to Constitutional and legal grounds?
  2. What are the central points of contention in American civil-military relations?
  3. Can these points of contention be readily resolved? What are each author’s perspectives? Upon what issues do they agree?
  4. Upon which do they disagree, and why?



Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the best framework within which to understand civil-military relations?
  2. What is the purpose of asking how the military should relate to civilian authority?
  3. To what extent is the friction between civil and military leaders a matter of personality, experience, institutional background, or structure? (Before you simply say, “some combination of all of the above, be prepared to identify the friction that emanates from each of these elements.)
  4. How do you compare and contrast Cohen’s and Feaver’s approaches?
  5. How does each differ from Huntington’s objective control model?
  6. How do you assess the strengths and weaknesses of Cohen’s, Feaver’s, and Gibson’s approaches?
  7. What are the purposes of the civil-military relationship?



Discussion Questions:

  1. Does American success in World War II demonstrate that civil-military relations during that conflict were good?
  2. How would you characterize the World War II civil-military relationship between the president and his senior military subordinates?
  3. What are the relationship’s personal dimensions and what are its organizational dimensions? In what ways are the two related?
  4. How did the alliance aspect of World War II impact the personal and organizational dimensions of the relationship?
  5. How would you assess the strengths and weaknesses of this relationship?
  6. Where were the friction points, and how were they mitigated, if they were?



Discussion Questions:

  1. To what extent did poor civil-military relations contribute to the mistakes that led to American involvement and defeat in Vietnam?
  2. What were the pathologies exhibited in the civil-military relationship of the Johnson administration?
  3. Which were personality-based and which institutions-based?
  4. Which were “normal” behaviors of bureaucracies, and which went well beyond “normal”?
  5. What checks and balances were in place to mitigate thee behaviors?
  6. Why didn’t they work, or did they?
  7. What are the potential positive and negative consequences of the resignation of a senior military leader?
  8. Is resignation ever a legitimate option? If so, under what conditions; if not, why not?



Discussion Questions:

  1. Did America’s stunning success in the Gulf War demonstrate the restoration of “proper” civil-military relations?
  2. What was the strategic context withing which the First Gulf War was fought, and what were the strategic controversies about that context?
  3. What are the potential positive and negative aspects of the civil-military relationships that existed leading up to the war?
  4. How did these play out during the war, and how did they factor into the war’s end?
  5. In what ways were the pathologies of the Vietnam era healed, and in what way were they not? Were any new pathologies evident?

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