Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Contemporary Civil-Military Relations: Critical and Comparative Approaches
Academic Year
Semester 1
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminar 11 x 2 Hour Seminars
Viewing 1 x 3 Hour Viewing


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Research Essay  (3000 words)  60%
Semester Assessment Short Review Essay  (2000 words)  40%
Supplementary Assessment Research Essay  (3000 words)  60%
Supplementary Assessment Short Review Essay  (2000 words)  40%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Critically discuss and evaluate key concepts in the study of civil-military relations at various levels of analysis.

2. Demonstrate detailed knowledge of main debates in civil-military relations, as well as the empirical context within which this academic discourse has evolved.

3. Critically evaluate and demonstrate detailed knowledge of the different experiences of civil-military relations around the world and be able to explain why these differences exist and what their broader governance implications are.

4. Demonstrate detailed knowledge of the potential range of military roles and relationships within the modern state, economy, and society, in both democratic and non-democratic contexts, and be able to apply this knowledge to the analysis of individual case studies.

5. Demonstrate detailed knowledge of contemporary issues and international trends in civil-military relations, and how these relate to global peace and security.

6. Utilise and apply specialist knowledge and critical analysis to produce an in-depth, well-reasoned research essay relying on at least one empirical case study and making a robust argument related to a central theme.

Brief description

This module explores central themes and analytical concepts regarding the comparative study of civil-military relations around the world. It provides an overview of key academic debates during the 20th century, notably disciplinary focus on militaries in liberal-democratic regimes (‘the civilian control model’), and on coups d’états and ‘political transitions’ elsewhere. Various assumptions underpinning the ‘classic’ civil-military relations literature will be critically examined and evaluated. Taking an historically-informed approach, this module contextualizes civil-military relations in modern nation-states as constituted by (and embedded within) particular state-formation and nation-building processes that may be empirically analyzed and compared.

Students will consider how and why civil-military relations around the world - and the academic study of civil-military relations itself - have shifted in tandem with international systemic conditions over time. How (and why) do domestic patterns of civil-military relations vary so widely around the world? What are the implications of this diversity for the incidence of inter-state and intra-state conflicts in the 21st century, or for the so-called ‘Global War on Terror’?


This module will be taught through weekly two-hour seminar-workshops.. An interdisciplinary topic, civil-military relations will be first introduced to students through the classic ‘Praetorian Paradox’. This common-sense empirical puzzle is an entry-point to student engagement with deeper theoretical discussions, posing a simple yet complex question “Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?” that itself represents the central theme of this module. How (and why) do civilian state authorities establish and maintain power over the military?

From this starting point, broader implications and themes will then be explored. Related areas of analytical focus include:
State Formation & Nation-building
Comparative Regime Types
Military Relations with State, Regime, Society
(Postcolonial) Political Militaries
Political Transitions
Global Arms Trade

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number Students will engage with statistics through an examination of defence spending data, arms export/import data, relevant macro-economic data, relevant development indicator data, and relevant conflict data where appropriate.
Communication Students will learn how to present their ideas both verbally and in writing and how to present their arguments most effectively. They will understand the importance of information and clear communication and how to exploit these. They will know how to use the many sources of information available, and how to use the most appropriate form of communication to best advantage. They will learn to be clear in their writing and speaking and to be direct about aims and objectives. They will learn to consider only that which is relevant to the topic, focus and objectives of their argument or discussion. Seminars will also be run in groups where oral discussion, groupwork, and mini-presentations will form the main medium of teaching. The emphasis throughout the module will be on student participation and communication. Further information available.
Improving own Learning and Performance The module aims to promote self-management, but within a context in which support and assistance is available from both the convener and fellow students alike. Students will be expected to improve their own learning and performance by undertaking their own research and to exercise their own initiative, including searching for sources, compiling reading lists, and deciding (under guidance) the direction of their essay topics. Group work is integral to the seminars and provides opportunities for students to reflect individually and collectively on their performance. The need to contribute to the group discussions in seminars and to meet assessment deadlines will focus students’ attention on the need to manage their time and opportunity resources well.
Information Technology Students will be expected to submit their work in word-processed format. Also, students will be encouraged to search for sources of information on the internet, as well as seeking sources through electronic information sources (such as Primo, Google Scholar etc). Students will also be expected to make use of the resources that will be available on the AberLearn Blackboard. Finally, they will learn to navigate by researching policy reports and other documents produced by academic datasets and projects, international organizations, research institutions, and NGOs that focus on aspects of civil-military relations (e.g. training, capacity-building) and/or directly related topics (e.g. arms trade, privatization).
Personal Development and Career planning The seminar discussions in particular will help to develop students’ verbal, presentation, and team-work skills. Learning about the process of planning a case-study-focused research essay, framing the parameters of the research project, developing the research project, and seeing through to completion will contribute towards students’ portfolio of transferable skills. Case study analysis and empirical knowledge are essential transferable skills that may contribute to their employability profile.
Problem solving Independent project work and problem solving will be one central goal of the module; the submission of one short essays and one long research paper will require that students develop independent research skills, as well as logical reasoning skills. The ability of students to solve problems will be developed and assessed by asking them to: adopt differing points of view; organize data and estimate an answer to the problem; consider extreme cases; reason logically; construct theoretical models; consider similar cases; look for patterns; divide issues into smaller problems.
Research skills Students will be required to identify appropriate sources of both primary and secondary source information and to use them appropriately, understanding their relevant strengths and weaknesses. In particular, research for their case-study focused long papers will require careful gathering of empirical data and information, the judicious use of such material in support of a robust argument. Using and analysing primary sources material will provide a particular set of information literacy skills.
Subject Specific Skills ​Students have the opportunity to develop, practice and test a wide range of subject specific skills that help them understand, conceptualise, and evaluate examples and ideas on the module. These subject specific skills include: Collect and understand a wide range of data relating to the module; Ability to evaluate competing perspectives and make appropriate comparisons; Demonstrate subject-specific research techniques; and Apply a range of methodologies to complex historical and political problems.
Team work Seminars will consist in part of small group work activities where students will be obliged to prepare, present, and discuss as a group the core issues related to seminar topics. Such class room debates and discussions are a vital component of the module learning experience.


This module is at CQFW Level 6