Military Mission: Key to Military Organization

March 1, 1960

A social organization, the contemporary military establishment has for some time tended to display more and more of the characteristics typical of any large-scale nonmilitary bureaucracy. The decreasing difference is a result of continuous technological change which vastly expands the size of the military establishment, increases its interdependence with civilian society, and alters its internal social structure. These technological developments in war-making require more and more professionalization. At the same time, the impact of military technology during the past half-century can be described in a series of propositions about social change. Each of the conditions symbolized by these propositions has had the effect of “civilianizing” military institutions and of blurring the distinction between the civilian and the military.

— An increasing percentage of the national income of a modern nation is spent for the preparation, execution, and repair of the consequences of war. Thus, there is a trend toward total popular involvement in the conse­quences of war and war policy, since the military establish­ment is responsible for the distribution of a progressively larger share of the available economic values.

— Military technology both vastly increases the de­structiveness of warfare and widens the scope of automa­tion in new weapons. It is commonplace that both of these trends tend to weaken the distinction between military roles and civilian roles as the destructiveness of war has increased. Weapons of mass destruction socialize danger to the point of equalizing the risks of warfare for both soldier and civilian. As long as the armed forces must rely on large numbers of drafted personnel, powerful influences toward civilianization are at work.

— The revolution in military technology means that the military mission of deterring violence becomes more and more central as compared with preparing to apply violence. This shift in mission tends to civilianize military thought and organization as military leaders concern them­selves with broad ranges of political, social, and economic policies.

— The previous periodic character of the military establishment (rapid expansion, rapid dismantlement) has given way to a more permanent maintenance or expansion. The permanent character of the military establishment has removed one important source of civilian-military conflict, namely, the civilian tendency to abandon the military establishment after a war. Instead, because of the high rate of technological change, internal conflicts between the military services have been multiplied.

— The complexity of the machinery of warfare and the requirements for research, development, and technical maintenance tend to weaken the organizational boundary between the military and the nonmilitary, since the maintenance and manning of new weapons require a greater reliance on civilian-oriented technicians.

— Given the “permanent” threat of war, it is well recognized that the tasks which military leaders perform tend to widen. Their technological knowledge, their direct and indirect power, and their heightened prestige result in their entrance, of necessity, into arenas that in the recent past have been reserved for civilian and professional politicians. The need that political and civilian leaders have for expert advice from professional soldiers about the strategic implications of technological change serves to mix the roles of the military and the civilian. …

These observations do not deny the crucial differences that exist between military and nonmilitary bureaucracies. The goals of an organization supply a meaningful basis for understanding differences in organizational behavior. The military establishment as a social system has unique characteristics because the possibility of hostilities is a permanent reality to its leadership. The fact that thermonuclear weapons alter the role of force in international relations does not deny this proposition. The consequences of preparation for future combat and the results of previous combat pervade the entire organization. The unique character of the military establishments derives from the requirement that its members are specialists in making use of violence and mass destruction. In the 1anguage of the soldier, this is recognized on a common-sense basis; military mission is the key to military organization.

Changing technology creates new patterns of combat and thereby modifies organizational behavior and authority in the military establishment. The narrowing distinction between military and nonmilitary bureaucracies can never result in the elimination of fundamental organizational differences. Three pervasive requirements for combat set limits to these civilianized tendencies.

First, while it is true that modern warfare exposes the civilian and the soldier to more equal risk, the distinction between military roles and civilian roles has not been eliminated. Traditional combat-ready military formations need to be maintained for limited warfare. The necessity for naval and air units to carry on the hazardous tasks of continuous and long-range reconnaissance and detection demands organizational forms that will bear the stamp of conventional formations. In the future, even with fully automated missile systems, conventional units must be maintained as auxiliary forces for delivery of new types of weapons.

More important, no military system can rely on ex­pectation of victory based on the initial exchange of fire­power—whatever the form of the initial exchange may be. Subsequent exchanges will involve military personnel—again regardless of their armament—who are prepared to carry on the struggle as soldiers—that is, subject themselves to military authority and to continue to fight. The automation of war civilianizes wide sectors of the military establishment yet the need to maintain combat readiness and to develop centers of resistance after initial hostilities ensures the continued importance of military organization and authority.

Second, what about the consequences of the increased importance of deterrence as a military mission? Should one not expect that such a shift also would result in civilianizing the military establishment? If the military is forced to think about deterring wars rather than fighting wars, the traditions of the “military mind,” based on the inevitability of hostilities, must change and military authority must undergo transformation as well. There can be no doubt that this shift in mission is having important effects on military thought and organization. In fact, military pacifism is a growing and important trend in modern society as the horrors of war force military leaders to concern themselves with the political consequences of violence.

Again, there are limits to the consequences of this civilianizing trend. The role of deterrence is not a uniquely new mission for the military establishment. His­torically, the contribution of the military to the balance of power has not been made because of the civilian char­acter of the military establishment. To the contrary, the balance of power formula operates, when it does, because the military establishment is prepared to fight effectively and immediately.

With the increase in the importance of deterrence, military elites become more and more involved in diplomatic and political warfare, regardless of their preparation for such tasks. Yet the specific and unique contribution of the military to deterrence is the threat of violence which has currency; that is, it can be taken seriously because of the real possibility of violence. Old or new types of weapons do not alter this basic formula. In short, deterrence still requires organization prepared for combat.

Third, the assumption that military institutions, as compared with economic and industrial institutions, are resistant to technological change is considerably undermined as the process of innovation in the military establishment itself has become routinized. Nevertheless, as long as imponderables weight heavy in estimating military outcomes and as long as the “fighter” spirit is required to face combat, the military rejects the civilian engineer as its professional model. Of course, the engineer is held in high esteem, but the ideal image of the military continues to be the strategic commander, not the military technician. It is the image of a leader, motivated by national patriotism and not by personal monetary gain, who is capable of organizing the talents of specialists for all types of contingencies.

The question of relative resistance to technological innovation by the military, as compared with civilian economic and industrial organization, has produced volumes of historical writing. In his broad historical survey [War and Human Progress] John U. Nef argues that military organization and the requirements of war-making were not crucial factors in Western technological development.

In all probability, military organization as late as the middle of the nineteenth century was strongly resistant to technological innovation. Until that time the military establishments of Western Europe were dominated by aristocratic elements that concerned with a traditional way of life. These elements stood in opposition to social change and technological innovations, and accepted new developments in military organization with great reluctance.

However, in the middle of the twentieth century, mili­tary institutions can no longer be thought of as merely reacting to external pressures and resisting technological innovation. For the sociologists studying the military establishments, it is important to emphasize that the armed forces now create their own requirements for technological innovation, which in turn influence industrial organization. The classical view of the military standing in opposition to technological innovation is inapplicable as the present cycle of the arms race converts the armed forces into centers of support for the development of new weapon systems. The military establishment hardly presents the ideal conditions for the professional scientist or the research engineer. Yet military leaders, regardless of the validity of their professional judgments about technological matters, are not characterized by traditional thinking about technological requirements.

Likewise, the procedures of innovation in industry and in the military tend to converge; increasing specialization involves the replacement of individual entrepreneurship by staff work and group research. In the contemporary military establishment with its continuous rotation of persons through official roles, the process of assessment of needs and prospects of technological innovation is as routinized and automatic as in civilian industry.

Leadership based on traditional military customs must share power with experts not only in technical matters but also in matters of organization and human relations. Specific organizational adaptations of the military even foreshadow developments in civilian society, since the military must press hard for innovation and respond more rapidly to social change. For example, the continued need for retraining personnel from operational to managerial positions and from older to newer techniques has led to a more rational spreading of higher education throughout the career of the military officer, rather than the concentrated dosage typical of the civilian in graduate or professional school.

No bureaucracy ever conform to the ideal model of the rational organization, and certainly the military establishment cannot be thought of in purely engineering terms. As long as “the battle is the pay off” —as long as there are dangerous and irksome tasks to be performed—an engineering philosophy cannot suffice as the organizational basis of the armed forces. Especially in a free enterprise, profit-motivated society, the military establishment is oriented to duty and honor. S. L A. Marshall’s observations [in his book, Men Against Fire] touch directly on this essential theme of military life:

“A note of smugness was not missing from the remark all too frequently heard during World War II: ‘We go at this thing just like it was a great engineering job.’ What was usually overlooked was that to the men who were present at the pay off, it wasn’t an engineering job, and had they gone about their duty in that spirit, there would have been no victory for our side.”

In a period of fantastic technological change, military leadership is confronted with an almost perpetual crisis of organization. The sociological analyst is concerned with understanding the organizational consequences of these technological changes. Yet it can be assumed that neither the increased automation of military technology, nor the military shift in mission from war-making to deterrence, nor the decline in the traditional military opposition to innovation can produce a complete civilianization of the military establishment. The structure of military authority—the key to military organization—is an expression of the unique goals of the military, namely, combat and combat preparation.

In terms of manpower, and mass destruction, airpower is the ascendant arm, while ground and seapower remain the essential components of a system of graduated deterrence. The diversification and specialization of military technology lengthens the formal training required to gain mastery of military technology. The temporary citizen-­soldier, sailor, and aviator will become less important and a completely professional armed force more vital. The need to fight limited wars or strategic wars instantly, with the available mobilized forces, tends to increase reliance on a professional military establishment. But these contemporary trends do not produce a professional army isolated and remote from civilian society, but a military establishment that is an integral part of the larger society on which its technological resources depend.

The foregoing material is reprinted with permission from “Society and the Military Establishment,” published by the Russell Sage Foundation, New York. The author, Dr. Morris Janowitz, is a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan. His latest book, in which the accompanying article’s theme will be expended, will be published by The Free Press, Chicago, entitled The Professional Soldier: A Social and Political Portrait. Dr. Janowitz is also the author of The Community Press in an Urban Setting, and coauthor of Dynamics of Prejudice as well as Reader in Public Opinion and Communication.