Cover of Mightier Than the Sword by Alice Hunt Friend
Mightier Than the Sword
Civilian Control of the Military and the Revitalization of Democracy
Alice Hunt Friend


April 2024
242 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503629189
Ebook ISBN: 9781503638976

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Excerpts and More

The civilian role in managing the military has never been more important. Today, civilian leadership of defense policy is challenged by the blurring line between war and competition and the speed of machine decision-making on the battlefield. Moreover, the legitimacy of political leaders and civil servants has been undermined by a succession of foreign policy failures and by imbalances of public faith in the military on the one hand and disapproval of civilian institutions on the other. A central question emerges: What does appropriate and effective civilian control of the military look like?

Combining scholarly expertise and firsthand civilian experience in the Department of Defense, Friend argues that civilians combine authoritative status, institutional functions, and political expertise to ensure that democratic preferences over the use of force prevail. Friend focuses on the ways political context shapes whether and how civilian controllers—the civilians in professional and institutional positions with the responsibility for defense matters—exercise control over the military and each other. Mightier Than the Sword provides insights that enrich civil-military relations scholarship, as well as lessons aimed at revitalizing American democracy.

About the author

Alice Hunt Friend is a national security policy expert and a former civilian in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. She is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and American University.

"Alice Hunt Friend is one of the most provocative and insightful scholar-practitioners writing on American civil-military relations today. This book makes a convincing case for a Big Idea—that we cannot improve civil-military relations by only focusing on the military side of the equation. Civilian scholars and the uniformed will read this book—but every would-be civilian policymaker needs to read it."

—Peter D. Feaver, Duke University

"Civilian control of the military has been a pillar of American democracy since its founding. At a time when this concept is both poorly understood and challenged, Mightier Than the Sword offers a must-read analysis of what civilian control actually entails and why it matters."

—Michèle Flournoy, Center for a New American Security (CNAS)

"Too often civilians are left out of the civil-military relations equation. Alice Hunt Friend's new book offers an essential corrective by explaining the unique role that civilians play in determining what the military does, and how. Scholars and practitioners alike will benefit enormously from reading her book and reflecting on its vital message."

—Risa Brooks, Marquette University