Civilian control of the military is a doctrine in military and political science that places ultimate responsibility for a country's strategic decision-making in the hands of the civilian political leadership, rather than professional military officers. One author, paraphrasing Samuel P. Huntington's writings in The Soldier and the State, has summarized the civilian control ideal as "the proper subordination of a competent professional military to the ends of policy as determined by civilian authority".
Civilian control is often seen as a prerequisite feature of a stable, liberal democracy. Use of the term in scholarly analyses tends to take place in the context of a democracy governed by elected officials, though the subordination of the military to political control is not unique to these societies. One example is the People's Republic of China. Mao Zedong stated that "Our principle is that the Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the Party," reflecting the primacy of the Communist Party of China (and communist parties in general) as decision-makers in Marxist-Leninist and Maoist theories of democratic centralism.
As noted by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor Richard H. Kohn "civilian control is not a fact but a process". Affirmations of respect for the values of civilian control notwithstanding, the actual level of control sought or achieved by the civilian leadership may vary greatly in practice, from a statement of broad policy goals that military commanders are expected to translate into operational plans, to the direct selection of specific targets for attack on the part of governing politicians. National Leaders with limited experience in military matters often have little choice but to rely on the advice of professional military commanders trained in the art and science of warfare to inform the limits of policy; in such cases, the military establishment may enter the bureaucratic arena to advocate for
the bureaucratic arena to advocate for or against a particular course of action, shaping the policy-making process and blurring any clear-cut lines of civilian control.
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