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Congress Civilian Control of the Military and Nonpartisanship

CRS report via LC: Congress,Civilian Control of the Military, and Nonpartisanship, June 10, 2020: “The possible use of federal armed forces as part of the U.S. executive branch’s response to incidents of violence during racial justice protests has raised questions about how the military is controlled by domestic political institutions and the U.S.military’s relationship with American society. Article I of the U.S.Constitution grants specific powers to Congress, making the legislative branch a key actor in governing, overseeing,and funding the U.S. military. What Is Civilian Control of the Military? How to advance the nation’s security while at the same time ensuring that instruments of force do not undermine the practice of American democracy has been a central question since the founding of the United States, if not before. The designers of the Constitution were deeply skeptical of a standing army, as such a military instrument could also overthrow the government it professed to serve, much like Oliver Cromwell demonstrated in 1653 when he used his army to disband the English Parliament. Consternation regarding British deployment of its military to the American colonies without the consent of local governing officials was among the key grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence.

In the context of a new, experimental, and democratic Republic, the Founding Fathers believed that subordination of the military to the authority of civil masters was critically important to prevent the emergence of a new form of tyranny or dictatorship. The principle of civilian control of the military places ultimate authority over U.S. armed services in the hands of civilian leadership, with civilian responsibility and control of the military balanced between the executive and legislative branches of the government. In some ways, the relationship between the military and the civil society it serves is a paradox: the military, by its very nature, has coercive power that could threaten civil society. Yet without a sufficiently strong and capable military, civil society becomes vulnerable to attack, and the former might not be able to defend the latter…”

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