The Changing Relationship Between Society and Armed Forces

Paul Cornish

in The Oxford Handbook of War

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199562930
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Politics & International Relations

The Changing Relationship Between Society and Armed Forces


The interaction between society and its armed forces — otherwise described as ‘civil–military relations’ — is rich in historical and cultural complexity. But civil–military relations are more than a merger of cultural studies and military history. Since the end of the Cold War and the geopolitical certainties that went with it, for those Western societies involved in the conflicts of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries there has been a political and strategic urgency to the subject. New risks, challenges, and threats to international security call into question many long-held assumptions regarding the role and even the primacy of the armed forces in the protection and security of the state. Just as there is no standard version either of a society or of armed forces, so there is no common definition of civil–military relations. It is possible, nevertheless, first to describe the main features of the subject and then to outline the ways in which civil–military relations might be challenged in the early twenty-first century. To that purpose this article focuses on the case of the United Kingdom.

Keywords: civil–military relations; armed forces; Cold War; Western societies; international security; twenty-first century

Article.  6643 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; International Relations

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