Sep 6, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Former top Pentagon officials warn of "extreme strain" on civilian-military relations

Aerial view of the Pentagon

Aerial view of the Pentagon. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

The U.S. is experiencing an "exceptionally challenging" environment for the relationship between military and civilian parts of society, a large group of former Pentagon leaders warned in an open letter published Tuesday.

Why it matters: The letter, which cited political polarization and other social changes, was signed by eight former defense secretaries and five former Joint Chiefs chairmen from both Republican and Democratic administrations.

The big picture: The former officials said challenges stem from social disruptions sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, political polarization and the end of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "without all the goals satisfactorily accomplished."

  • The U.S. also faces "more daunting competition" from other countries in the future, the letter warned.
  • While the letter does not pinpoint blame on either political party, it notes that the 2020 election was the "first election in over a century when the peaceful transfer of political power was disrupted and in doubt."
  • The letter then recaps the "core principles and best practices" of governing civilian-military relations, such as civilian control of the military.

What they're saying: "Many of the factors that shape civil-military relations have undergone extreme strain in recent years."

  • "Looking ahead, all of these factors could well get worse before they get better."
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