Civil-Military Relations and Nuclear Weapons

When a state develops a nuclear arsenal, these destructive weapons must be initially integrated into existing military forces and initially managed through existing civil and military institutions. The subsequent relationship between nuclear weapons and civil-military relations in possessor states is complex, however, and presents an important two-way puzzle. First, it is important to ask how existing patterns of civil-military relations in nuclear states have influenced the likelihood of nuclear-weapons use. Some scholars believe that military officers are less war-prone and hawkish than civilian leaders; others believe the opposite, that the military tends to be bellicose and biased in favor of aggressive military postures. Which view is right, especially when nuclear weapons are involved, is a question that has not been fully addressed in the literature. Second, it is important to flip the question around and also ask how nuclear weapons have influenced civil-military relations in the states that have acquired the ultimate weapon. Again, the answer is not clear. One might expect that the massive destructive power of these weapons would encourage much greater civilian involvement in military affairs. Yet, at the same time, one might predict that military organizations would maintain significant control over nuclear policy as they want to protect their operational autonomy, and because the perceived need for a prompt response would mitigate against tight civilian control.