Democratizing Communist Militaries: The Cases of the Czech and Russian Armed Forces

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Military support for democratically elected governments in the states emerging from communism in eastern Europe and elsewhere is critically important to the survival of the new democracies. We have seen the military overthrow civilian governments in many states in Latin America and Africa. What can be done to promote support for democratic government in transitional states?

In a groundbreaking study, Marybeth Peterson Ulrich explores the attitudes of the leaders of the armed forces in Russia and the Czech Republic toward the new democratic governments and suggests ways in which we might encourage the development of politically neutral militaries in these states. Building on the work of Samuel Huntington and others on the relationship between the military and the state, the author suggests that norms of military professionalism must change if the armies in countries making a transition from communist rule are to become strong supporters of the democratic state. The Czech Republic and Russia are interesting cases, because they have had very different experiences in the transition; they have different geopolitical goals; and they experienced different military-civilian relationships during the Soviet period. The author also explores American and NATO programs to promote democratization in these militaries and suggests changes in the programs.

Marybeth Peterson Ulrich is Associate Professor of Government, U.S. Army War College.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780472109692
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press
  • Publication date: 1/21/2000
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 1.24 (d)

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Democratizing Communist Militaries: the Cases of the Czech and Russian Armed Forces

By Marybeth Peterson Ulrich

University of Michigan Press

Copyright © 1999 Marybeth Peterson Ulrich
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0472109693

Chapter 1 - A Theory of Democratic Civil-Military Relations in Postcommunist States

This chapter will critique existing theories of civil-military relations and propose a theory of civil-military relations appropriate to the needs of postcommunist democratizing states. The military institutions of the former Soviet bloc must overcome patterns of interaction between civilian authorities and military leaders that contrasted sharply with the norms of interaction that their Western democratic counterparts experienced. The models of postcommunist civil-military relations developed here will focus on constructing two key elements of the military democratization process-democratic political control and democratic military professionalism. These theoretical underpinnings will then be applied to the military democratization process of two specific cases-Russia and the Czech Republic-in chapters 3 and 4. My hope is that the specific enumeration of democratic deficits across the two dimensions of military democratization outlined in the chapter will inform the efforts of policymakers-both within and external to transitioning states-who are dedicated to facilitating military institutions' transitions to democracy.

The Need for a Theory of Democratic Civil-Military Relations in Postcommunist States

The experience of postcommunist states mandates a different theory of civil-military relations than has previously been pursued by states, whether authoritarian or democratic. The purpose of this section is to lay out the elements of democratic political control and democratic military professionalism characteristic of developed democracies in order to model the policy end point of states undergoing a democratic transition. My goal is to contribute to the delineation of a coherent set of civil-military relations that is responsive to the needs of newly democratizing states and that can also guide policy advisers in reforming these systems. In addition, this model can be used to inform the efforts of developed democracies to assist these states in transition.

Samuel Huntington, arguably the leading theorist of civil-military relations today, has argued that the interaction of the twin imperatives of security and accountability is at the root of the problem of civil-military relations. "The military institutions of any society are shaped by two forces: a functional imperative stemming from the threats to the society's security and a societal imperative arising from the social forces, ideologies, and institutions dominant within the society." A state's civil-military relations, then, depend on forces that compel the military institution to strive to become a competent military force and the competing forces demanding that the military be accountable and responsive to the society it serves.

The central problem of civil-military relations is resolving the tensions that inevitably arise from these competing imperatives. The classical focus in the literature has been on civilian control of the military defined as "governmental control of the military." This general characterization of the problem of civil-military relations has traditionally been accepted by theorists in the field.

The Imperative of Democratic Political Control

In the case of a democratic state, or of a state engaged in the process of democratic transition, there exists the additional and more demanding challenge of ensuring that national security is achieved at the least sacrifice of democratic practices, norms, and values. With regard to military institutions within democratic societies, the most important of these values is that civilian authorities, elected and appointed, direct the military institution. The military must serve the democratic state and remain under its control. Although civilian control of the military is a goal for all states, its achievement in democratic states depends on the interaction between democratic institutions and military institutions charged with defending both the state and its democratic values.

Considering the total context of the military institution's political environment is the most analytically powerful approach to take when studying its behavior. This is because the political role that the military institution can play within a state is derived from the position of the military subsystem within the overall political system. This insight implies that the type of political system that a military institution serves matters. Consequently, variances between political systems or transitions to new political systems must necessarily affect the behavior of the military. For this reason, analyzing the military institution in isolation from its social and political setting is a limited and insufficient approach.

Civilian control is best understood by considering a set of relationships. "The nature and extent of civilian control reflect shifting balances between the strengths of civilian political institutions on one side, and the political strengths of military institutions on the other." It is appropriate, then, to attempt to illuminate which relationships are relevant and how they can best be structured to enhance civilian control in general, and democratic political control in particular, especially as these relations apply to postcommunist reform efforts.

The conditions of postcommunist states engaged in democratic transition are distinct from the conditions that characterized the military institutions in stable political systems. Democratic states insist on military subordination to its civilian leadership and, by extension, to democratic processes of authority and control, resting ultimately on the freely expressed opinion of unfettered electorates in choosing officeholders. Therefore, many of the widely held assumptions underlying traditional approaches to civil-military relations need to be reexamined in light of the experience of the postcommunist states in transition from authoritarian rule.

The Deficiencies of Traditional Approaches to Civil-Military Relations

Samuel Huntington's concepts of subjective and objective civilian control alternately emphasize the maximization of civilian power through ideological controls and the achievement of civilian control through the fostering of military professionalism." Subjective civilian control assumes the military's participation in politics and encourages the political socialization of the military so that its values mirror those of the state. In contrast, objective civilian control assumes complete apolitical behavior from military professionals. Indeed, Huntington contends that, since one of the basic foundations of military professionalism is obedience to any civilian group that secures legitimate authority in the state, professional officers would have no desire to interfere with questions of policy. Instead, their full attention would be devoted to carrying out the state's political aims with maximum effectiveness and efficiency once these have been determined.

Objective civilian control is Huntington's clear preference for modern states. "Subjective civilian control is fundamentally out of place in any society in which the division of labor has been carried to the point where there emerges a distinct class of specialists in the management of violence." In Huntington's view, objective civilian control is the only option that contains the power of the military vis-à-vis civilian groups while also maximizing the likelihood of achieving military security.

In The Soldier and the State, Huntington's concept of the military professionalism characteristic of objective civilian control mandates that no political role, no matter how responsible, can be allowed for the military. Such a perspective does not sufficiently reflect the dynamics that operate within a democratic state. In the politics of democratic states all institutions compete for resources and attempt to influence policymakers who make decisions affecting their organization. In reality, military institutions must cooperate with their oversight bodies to pass on professional expertise and lobby for the support of their professional recommendations regarding national security.

Even more important to the democratic adjustment of postcommunist militaries is Huntington's assumption of a brand of military professionalism that is unquestionably loyal to whatever government has legitimately come to power. Such an analysis ignores the ideological adjustments that necessarily accompany shifts in political systems. As citizens of the states they serve, military personnel inevitably undergo some form of socialization that transmits the values of the state. Service members develop a set of beliefs that forms the basis of their motivation for their service to the state. When society embraces a new set of values, as in the process of transition from authoritarian rule, some adjustments must also be made to reorient the motivation for service of military members.

Moreover, to assume that the military as a subunit of society, albeit a group isolated to some degree, is totally impervious to monumental political and economic changes that may sweep a state ignores the fact that military personnel, like all participants in the life of the state, are affected by significant changes within it. A liberalization of the political system or the transformation of economic patterns will inevitably affect the military whose members share many of the same expectations and values as their civilian counterparts. This is particularly true when political changes result in negative outcomes for the military that may undermine, threaten, or perhaps even destroy previous levels of status and material well-being. Such is the case in many of the transitioning postcommunist states. While the military increasingly comes to share the values of society, it also resists changes and the values underlying them if its status and well-being are threatened.

Huntington has great difficulty accepting the possibility of a professional military institution that is also socialized ideologically to defend a particular political system. Yet he assumes that soldiers born in democratic states will naturally act as democrats without any particular effort in the military socialization process to ensure that such behavior occurs. Huntington's most recent writings continue to espouse universally accepted norms of military professionalism narrowly defined as accepting objective civilian control and focusing purely on military matters. No specific attention is given to differentiating between norms of military professionalism in authoritarian and democratic political systems.

Military professionals in modern democratic states, however, are socialized to defend a particular form of government. Military professionals in democracies believe that the protection of democratic institutions and of the individual freedoms of their countrymen depends on their service. In consolidated democracies, there exist expectations within society at large and within the military that democratic values matter and that all organs of the government, including the military, should reflect and uphold them. The military not only defends the political order advanced by the democratic regime, it must allow itself to be shaped by that order. As such, human rights abuses within the military are not normally tolerated, nor are strategies of organization and leadership endorsed that conflict with standards prevalent throughout the rest of the democratic society. This emphasis on democratic values is carried out as long as military effectiveness is not sacrificed. In the routine conduct of their duties and especially in combat scenarios, military personnel enjoy limited freedom. Overall, though, military professionalism in a democracy is monitored by the civilian overseers to ensure that the norms, practices, and values of the democratic state are replicated in the behavior of its military arm to the greatest extent possible.

Some may argue that demanding such high standards of adherence to democratic values is unreasonable in light of the authoritarian heritage of the transitioning postcommunist states. Certainly the legacy of Soviet era norms of behavior is influencing the course of postcommunist military institutions across the region. This legacy and its specific impact will be discussed at length later in this chapter. However, the prevalence of nondemocratic patterns of political control and military professionalism in a state's history precludes neither the possibility nor the expectation that democratic norms should ultimately prevail as the processes of democratization continue. The existence of "democratic" states with militaries that fall short of democratic norms, South Korea and Taiwan, for example, merely means that such states have not progressed far enough on the continuum of democratization. If the postcommunist states of the former Soviet bloc are to truly democratize there has to be a change in both the ideology and culture of their civil-military relations. Signals from advanced democracies in the West that professional norms and accountability to civilian authority may settle at a "reformed-authoritarian" or "quasi-democratic" state limits the course of military democratization and may dangerously commit NATO allies to the defense of states that are less than democratic.

In reality, a blend of subjective and objective control is found in advanced democratic states and in transitioning states aspiring to become consolidated democracies. An overreliance on universally accepted norms of professionalism that are supposedly applicable to militaries across political systems to ensure democratic political control ignores the ideological transition to democracy that transitioning militaries must make and takes for granted the ideological socialization of militaries that occurs in advanced democracies. Nonintervention in the professional military sphere also assumes that, left to its own devices, militaries in democracies will develop a set of norms and practices that reflect the values of the democratic state-or that if a set of norms and practices reflective of the state's values does not develop, then such a result is of no real consequence for the preservation of a democratic regime.

The Imperative of Democratic Military Professionalism

Therefore, I propose that in addition to ensuring that processes of democratic political control continue on course, specific attention should also be given to developing appropriate patterns of democratic military professionalism. Distinguishing between democratic military professionalism and military professionalism in general assumes that there are significant differences between military professionalism in democratic states and nondemocratic states and in states somewhere between these two extremes on the continuum of democratization.

Professionalism Defined

Civil-military relations theorists agree that the advent of modern technology spurred the growth of specialization, which in turn produced the phenomenon of professionalization. Huntington's widely accepted model of professionalism distinguishes between a profession and other occupations by the presence of expertise, responsibility, and corporateness within a profession. The continued utility of Huntington's conceptualization is borne out by its prominence in course materials used by U.S. commissioning sources when introducing officer candidates to the military profession.

According to Huntington's model, the expertise of a professional stems from a period of prolonged education and experience during which the professional must demonstrate competence in the objective standards of the profession. Military professionals are distinguished from other professionals by the nature of their expertise as managers of violence. The military profession is unique because of the distinct function that society has entrusted to it. The singular responsibility of the military professional is to direct, operate, and control an organization whose primary function is the threat or use of deadly military might against enemy forces and targets designated by the political leadership. Military professionals in all political systems share a mandate to be as competent as possible in their military expertise in order to defend the political ends of their respective states.

Military Professionalism in Democratic States

States seeking to maximize their military security, without compromising democratic values in the national security effort, need to pursue a form of professionalism that incorporates Huntington's principles of expertise, responsibility, and corporateness and also fosters the penetration of democratic values within the military institution. Both efforts must be deliberately thought out, planned, and executed. In addition, civilian and military participants in the process should be aware of the need to monitor the growth in functional professionalism so that it does not outstrip the concurrent need to ensure that societal values are also internalized. The ultimate goal is to promote the development of both professionals and democrats.

The Legacy of Soviet Patterns of Civil-Military Relations

The legacy of the Soviet era must be considered as the foundation on which adjustments to a democratic system of government will be made. The soldier in the Soviet Union and his comrades in the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO) experienced completely different sets of dynamics in relating to their states than did their counterparts in democratic states. The Party relied on the military as an instrument of enforcing and imposing authoritarian rule, yet these political authorities also feared the military because of its potential to employ its resources against the state.

Although Party leaders maintained a monopoly of power within the political system, they did not have a similar monopoly of force. The possession of the instruments of coercive power by states' militaries mandates that all states cultivate stable relations between the military and the civilian leadership so that militaries do not stray from their designated role in the political system. The imperative of Party control in Communist systems was complicated by the fact that no process of orderly transfer of power was present. Potential rivals, then, could always seek to manipulate the military institution for their own purposes, while the opportunity also existed for the military to take sides in political fights as the primary managers of violence in the state. Therefore, continued Party control depended on complete control of the military institution.

In comparison to militaries functioning in democratic societies, the characteristics of military professionalism were markedly affected by the military institutions' roles as instruments of the Communist Party. Such service emphasized subordination to an authoritarian ideology and state rather than upholding the primacy of the individual and the protection of his rights as the central focus of state institutions.

Table 1 lays out the norms of democratic political control and contrasts these features with the patterns of political control that were prevalent across the Soviet bloc. The elements of political control considered across the variant political systems are the importance of constitutional provisions that enumerate responsibility for political control; the quality of control exercised through the executive, the Ministry of Defense (MOD), and the parliament; and, finally, the relationship of the military to the society at large. The democratic norms presented in this chapter offer a general framework that links professional norms with infused democratic values and socialization. While drawn from American practice, they have potentially greater and more universal applicability, subject to qualifications and adaptations that are sensitive to the historical experience, habits, and current needs of transitioning states.


Excerpted from Democratizing Communist Militaries: the Cases of the Czech and Russian Armed Forces by Marybeth Peterson Ulrich Copyright © 1999 by Marybeth Peterson Ulrich. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Tables
List of Abbreviations
Introduction 1
Ch. 1 A Theory of Democratic Civil-Military Relations in Postcommunist States 5
Ch. 2 A Survey of Overall U.S. Democratization Programs and Military Democratization Efforts in the Postcommunist States 44
Ch. 3 Postcommunist Military Democratization Needs: An Assessment of Democratic Political Control in Russia and the Czech Republic 70
Ch. 4 An Assessment of Postcommunist Military Professionalism: The Russian and Czech Militaries' Democratic Deficits 108
Ch. 5 The Effectiveness of U.S. Military to Military Democratization Initiatives in Russia and the Czech Republic 154
Ch. 6 Conclusions and Prescriptions for Improving Democratization Outcomes in the Postcommunist States 182
App. A Military to Military Contacts Conducted in the Czech Republic through the Joint Contact Team Program 189
App. B Military to Military Contacts Conducted in Russia through the Defense and Military Contacts Program 205
Notes 219
Selected Bibliography 259
Index 283
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