Civil-Military Relations

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Since moving to India, I’ve become increasingly interested in the topic of civil-military relations, a somewhat obscure sub-field of Political Science that broadly asks how the military interacts with the rest of society in a given country.  Broadly, I’m interested in trying to generate fresh questions for scholars of civil-military relations to consider by starting from a critical, post-colonial, and feminist starting point.

For instance, in my first extended piece of writing in this area, my colleague Upasana Mahanta and I became interested in why governments sometimes order their own civilians to leave border regions when an international crisis is brewing, what we refer to as “mandatory evacuations.”  There are several good reasons why states do this: out of humanitarian concern for the well-being of the evacuees; for operational purposes to clear a potential battlefield; and for a variety of domestic political motives.  We argue, however, that there is a fourth reason why states sometimes order mandatory evacuations—to send a costly, de-escalatory signal to adversaries during international crises. We believe the current IR rationalist literature on international crises completely misses this dimension of mandatory evacuations, potentially skewing their analysis of various cases.  To support our claim, we provide evidence from a case study of China’s preparations for the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War, when it ordered a massive evacuation along its northern border as a de-escalatory, costly signal towards the Soviets.

In future work, I hope to continue thinking about how militaries and civilian populations interact by:

  • re-examining several existing theoretical models of civil-military relations in light of the case of the Republic of India;
  • with Dr. Mahanta, studying the ways in which the Indian Army is taking on novel governance roles in several Indian border regions; and
  • studying the narratives and historical memories that Indian war museums and memorials seek to convey.