The Future of Army Professionalism: A Need for Renewal and Redefinition


From Parameters, Autumn 2000, pp. 5-20.

Go to Autumn issue Table of Contents.

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The Army that won the battles of the Gulf War in 1991 was one of the most professional ever fielded by America. As General Schwarzkopf commented, "We could have traded equipment with the Iraqis and still won."[1] And when that Army returned home, it was welcomed by a supportive, even adoring, public. Now, almost one decade later, the situation has changed dramatically. During the past nine years, the US Army has undergone radical changes--major force and budget reductions, revised modernization programs, and successive base realignments and closures. All were intended by design to adapt the institution to the post-Cold War geopolitical situation.

But there are many indications that the result is an Army quite unlike the victor of the Gulf War battles. It is instead an Army of decreasing effectiveness, one which suffers from a weakening relationship with the American public and, of more concern, with its own members.

The last decade has been one of massive change to which the Army profession has yet to adapt fully. Simply stated, the end of the Cold War, which roughly coincided with the culmination of other shifts in the organization of Western, postindustrial societies, has drastically altered the expectations of where and how the profession of arms will apply its expertise. Today, in this new interwar period,[2] the Army is expected to operate effectively across the entire spectrum of violence, from major theater wars to domestic disaster relief. Further, it must be prepared to conduct these varied operations worldwide in any physical and political environment, and to do so in very rapid order. With these shifts in society's expectations came the need for a huge expansion in the profession's knowledge base and in the application of that expert knowledge to new situations. Such growth in expertise should have generated changes throughout the Army's leadership and management systems--from organizational structure to applied technology, from measures of readiness to measures of effectiveness, and from military training systems to professional military education.

The Army is faltering, however, in its attempts to adapt to these stark changes; this inability to adapt is itself a significant manifestation of a decline in effectiveness. Unfortunately, this potentially dangerous situation remains, at the systemic level, largely unrecognized by the institution. Even worse, it is not clear that there is currently within the officer corps of the Army a consensus on just what "Army Professionalism" is, nor a common language with which to analyze and discuss it. Absent such analysis and dialogue, the Army is looking elsewhere for solutions to the decline in effectiveness by studying individually the recurring symptoms as they reach crisis proportions, such as recruiting shortfalls, an exodus of captains, unfunded adaptations in structure and technology, and leadership failures.

There are two ways to look at the Army. The first is as a large, bureaucratic organization. The second is as a profession. The Army has, over past decades, increasingly moved toward using organizational concepts for decisionmaking to lead, design, and structure the institution's systems, and away from using professional concepts to do so. Such is the case today: operations research, efficiency goals, outsourcing, reengineering, and bonuses dominate the institution's analyses and solutions. As such, efficiency is a dominant goal, surpassing military effectiveness. Due to an excessively organizational perspective, the Army has borrowed aspects of human resource systems from corporations, and then wonders why the members of the profession are acting like employees. The Army is missing (and thereby losing) competitions with other professions and organizations at the boundaries of its expertise. And, it is resisting change because that threatens present force structure, rather than viewing the needed change in the context of how it affects the Army's expertise and jurisdiction, and thus its professionalism.

This approach denies the Army's professional nature and accentuates its bureaucratic elements. Although professions and organizational bureaucracy often coexist in modern society, they differ in their approach to their work and to their members--their emphasis on effectiveness versus efficiency, their commitment to knowledge development rather than knowledge application, and their view of members as professionals versus employees.

It appears that today's Army sees professionalism as a property of individuals--its officers, noncommissioned officers, soldiers, and Army civilians--rather than of the institution.[3] As we will discuss, however, both the institution and the individual officer have unique, but complementary, roles to play in creating and maintaining Army Professionalism. To our knowledge, there are no ongoing Army studies of professionalism per se at the institutional level, nor have there been any since early in the 1970s.

One might argue that the Army should be allowed simply to deprofessionalize, becoming an obedient but nonprofessional military bureaucracy. One need look no further than Europe to see Western democratic societies readily accepting this outcome. But if that happened here, American society would lose two key benefits of military professionalism--the development and adaptation of military expertise, and social control over and within an institution capable of terrible destruction. Professions are by nature more adept than bureaucracies at evolving expert knowledge and controlling human behavior in complex and chaotic environments (e.g., threatening or using coercive force to maintain the peace or fight wars). Since the continual development of military expertise and control of a military engaged on behalf of American society are both essential to the republic's future security, a nonprofessional Army is certainly not in America's best interest. Perhaps equally important to the readers of this essay, neither is it in the Army's best interest. We doubt whether citizens of the necessary character and capabilities will ever voluntarily serve in large numbers in a nonprofessional, bureaucratized military.

In this article, we propose an alternative perspective, one that emphasizes the Army as a profession over the Army as a bureaucracy. If the Army is to overcome its current problems, it must make institutional professionalism the predominant criterion in decisionmaking while opening a dialogue with its own professionals about the state of the institution. Based on recent advances in the understanding of professions, our suggested perspective transcends the Army's historic emphasis on the ethical component of professionalism--military values and ethics--to use a broader definition of the Army profession. Using this perspective, we view the Army's present situation as the result of dramatic changes in the objective and subjective nature of the Army's professional work and in the number and diversity of professional and organizational competitors vying for jurisdiction over this work. Focusing first on the Army's professional nature offers an alternative to organizational criteria by which policy and structural changes can be assessed--an alternative that emphasizes task effectiveness, the Army's relationship with the client (society), and the institution's implicit contract with its own professionals.

The task of this article, then, is to: (1) assess the Army's task effectiveness, which suggests to us a problem with the institution's professionalism;[4] (2) review how the Army has traditionally understood its professionalism; and (3) provide an alternative explanation of the Army's decline based on a more recent understanding of professions, suggesting new ways in which to think about the issue. We do these tasks in sequence, including a suggested framework with which to facilitate an informing dialogue among the officer corps.

Indications of a Decline in Military Effectiveness

Indicators of a decline in Army effectiveness are numerous. First, there is a gross mismatch between institutional capabilities and national needs for strategic projection of land power. Army forces--units and equipment--are neither rapidly deployable nor well suited for operations at the lower end of the spectrum of conflict. Acknowledged by the Army's current leadership when announcing the institution's transformation initiative,[5] this mismatch was even more apparent during the unsuccessful deployment of Task Force Hawk to Albania in the fall of 1999. Because we were unable to move combat equipment and retrain soldiers quickly, Americans concluded that the Task Force's combat capabilities never played a useful role in the conflict.[6]

In addition to a lack of strategic agility, there are recurring indicators that current operational readiness has markedly declined since the Gulf War. A respected independent study coordinated by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently concluded, "Morale and readiness are suffering from force reductions, high operations tempo, and resource constraints; military culture may suffer in the longer term."[7] In fact, Army leaders have recently testified to the excessive operations tempo, now averaging on any given day over 141,000 soldiers engaged or deployed worldwide (outside the United States).[8] These concerns were more recently validated when the new commander of the 1st Infantry Division in Germany and the Balkans rated his unit "not combat ready" in the first quarter of this year. Colonel John Rosenberger, Commander of the National Training Center's opposing forces, told a similar story when testifying to Congress (in fall 1999) that the combat battalion task forces he opposed were less well prepared, learned less while training there, and departed at lower levels of combat preparedness than in previous years.[9] And the Army's own think tank, the Arroyo Center, recently documented the existence of a "tactical gap" (knowledge and proficiency based on experience) in junior grade combat arms officers, a gap considered to be only the tip of the iceberg ahead when these same officers assume company or troop command in the future.[10]

A third indicator of declining effectiveness is reflected in a recent New York Times article that cited a young officer saying, "Senior leaders will throw subordinates under the bus in a heartbeat to protect or advance their own career[s]." As noted in the CSIS study, the degree of distrust within the Army officer corps, particularly between younger officers in the field and their senior leaders in Washington, is at historically high levels. Captains are voting with their feet, with annual losses now exceeding ten percent, four percent more than pre-Gulf War rates. The Army is now sufficiently short of captains that, to fill the ranks, it has reduced the time-in-grade for lieutenants to be promoted (thus exacerbating the "tactical gap") and established a general-officer-led task force to assess leadership and training issues throughout the Army.

Fourth, the Army's future effectiveness is declining because the persistent mismatch between multiple missions and fiscal resources has left Army modernization plans in shambles. Three Army Chiefs of Staff have proposed within the past eight years evolutionary concepts for the post-Cold War modernization of the Army. However, the only modernization that has been effected, even partially, has centered on using advances in information technologies to improve the capabilities of the heavy armored formations that have dominated the service's combat power for decades. Yet these forces lack the strategic agility to project such power. The current Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki, has proposed the creation of medium-weight forces for exactly this reason,[11] but already his plans for eight such brigades have been cut because of the same resource shortfalls.[12] Thus, the absence of consistent and credible (resourced) institutional vision has blurred the institution's identity, particularly for younger officers, and continues to suggest a decline in future effectiveness within the Army.[13]

Fifth, and last, it is not just the scope and pace of current missions nor the lack of resources that is diminishing the Army's effectiveness. There is also the issue of how the Army is executing the operations other than war (OOTW) missions it is assigned today, specifically the manner in which it is responding to political guidance to suffer "no casualties." Simply stated, the Army has not recognized the ethical implications of supporting a national policy that considers force protection a higher priority for deployed units than mission accomplishment. This has eroded the professional ethic and ruptured officers' traditional concept of duty. It has seriously reduced junior officer discretion and fostered risk-averse behavior among junior leaders and their units. Without doubt, the exodus of captains mentioned earlier has been exacerbated by this institutional implementation of what is, admittedly, very difficult political guidance.[14]

If expert knowledge is the heart of a profession, then effectiveness, the profession's ability to apply that knowledge, is its pulse. These five indicators of declining operational effectiveness signal to us that the Army's professionalism is in jeopardy; the Army is increasingly unable to accomplish professional tasks, meet its own professional standards, and acquire adequate resources to accomplish the tasks expected of it now while simultaneously preparing for the future. In terms of professionalism, the Army is struggling to adapt its expert knowledge to its new circumstances.

In general, as an increasingly ineffective profession is devalued by its clients, it exposes itself to meddling by nonprofessionals (e.g., society's representatives dictating to the Army how to conduct its basic training) and to competition within its jurisdiction from the expertise of other organizations and professions. To highlight other indicators of the state of professionalism, we now turn to social factors and the Army's bond with American society.

Indications of Changing Relations with American Society

Another key set of indicators is the state of the profession's relations with its client, the American society. Although not yet as serious as the deterioration in operational effectiveness, these issues are interrelated; as effectiveness declines, we would expect increased dissatisfaction on the part of an attentive client. Several things indicate this is occurring. First, the Army will likely miss its recruiting goal for the second consecutive year in FY2000, even after slightly lowering standards and significantly restructuring pay and bonuses to increase accessions.[15] There could scarcely be a clearer indicator of the willingness of the American society to support its Army than the degree to which its sons and daughters decide to join for a period of personal, volunteer service.

Second is the documented gap between the attitudes of the military and the American society, particularly its elected leadership. There is a widening difference in values and perspectives between Americans serving in our armed forces, including the Army, and the society they serve.[16] Part of the gap is both expected and beneficial for the institution's functional effectiveness; however, several aspects of it are of relevance to professionalism. For example, the officers surveyed in the study (including Army War College students, future senior Army leaders) believed the values of the military institution were not just different from, but also in several respects better than, those of the society they are protecting. This is a pernicious perspective for an officer corps serving under precepts of civil-military relations that posit selfless service as motivating the soldier, and the supremacy of civilian values over those of the subordinate profession. Triumphalism within the officer corps with respect to martial values simply does not support the professional military ethic; what thinking soldier will sacrifice his life on a lonely battlefield for a society and way of life he does not love and respect?[17]

The relationship between the profession and society has been further ruptured by repeated and well-publicized ethical violations by Army leaders. The high degree of expertise found in professions requires relative autonomy in the application and adaptation of their expert knowledge. This limited autonomy from society also allows the profession to establish and maintain at the core of its unique culture a professional ethic, a critical trust-building bond between the society and its professional experts. However, in return for this limited autonomy, the American society expects the profession to police itself, exhibiting a high degree of behavioral control through social structures such as education, selection processes, character inculcation, and ethical codes. Yet, repeated cases of misconduct at the highest levels reflect ineffective policing of the senior ranks.[18] This inability to control unprofessional behavior at the top levels is, undoubtedly, also fueling the current high level of distrust between the higher and lower echelons of the Army officer corps.

Finally, the Army's client, the American public, appears increasingly unsure how to distinguish the Army's jurisdiction from those of other organizations and professions. American corporations, as well as international governmental and nongovernmental organizations, are now so deeply involved in military operations that American Army units work with and even, in some cases, for them.[19] Within the United States, the Army is involved in monitoring our southern border with the US Border Patrol, conducting anti-drug operations with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and undertaking disaster relief with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Further, the "efficiency movement" toward privatization has resulted in the contracting out of many traditionally Army activities such as information technology management, maintenance of family housing, overseas operational logistics, and even the conduct of military-to-military assistance programs, as in Columbia.[20]

With this jurisdictional blurring of the Army's expertise, and thus its roles and missions, the Army has entered into competition for human and fiscal resources from these new organizations and professions to a degree that it has not faced in the memory of serving leaders. Traditionally, the three services have competed among themselves for recruits and budget shares. As such, there are processes in place to ameliorate this quasi-healthy competition so that the nation normally benefits. However, the more recent incursions by nonmilitary, nongovernmental, and non-American organizations into this system of professions has wide-ranging repercussions for the Army. As such, these incursions into the Army's traditional jurisdiction must be consciously and carefully considered by the institution's strategic leaders.

Situation Complicated by International Factors

Although the Army historically has survived similar interwar crises following the resolution of major wars (albeit often at terrible costs in American blood--e.g., Task Force Smith in Korea), today's situation is complicated by the "new times" in the international security structure. Globalization, economic interdependence, and coincident societal changes are influencing the legitimacy and capabilities of the American Army as well as those of militaries in allied, Western democratic countries.

For example, the generations now governing Western democracies have expectations and goals quite different from those of past generations; the concepts of citizenship and one's responsibilities to the state have been redefined.[21] For these reasons, youth are less and less inclined to serve in the military. It is also the case that professions in general in Western democracies are being devalued by the societies they serve owing to influences quite independent of the end of the Cold War--professional competition and new client power exceeding the producer power of professions.[22]

Among professions, the military faces even further pressure because its two historic relationships established with the rise of the nation-state--with the nation and with the state--are undergoing significant change. For example, the profession's relationship with the nation has changed because the lack of a recognized major threat has devalued society's need for the military's function, blurring it with the role of a national police more appropriate for service in conflicts which do not threaten significant national interests. Thus, militaries now lack a shared interpretative framework with their publics. As a result, post-modernist and anti-institutionalist cultural shifts in public attitudes and opinion further devalue the military institution and its absolutist ethos.[23]

The profession's relationship with the state has also changed, owing to (1) declining state sovereignty (e.g., the use of military force, including that of the United States, is more and more influenced by coalitions and intergovernmental organizations); and (2) the state's increased focus on nonmilitary aspects of security such as economic competition, both externally via globalization and internally by expecting increased efficiency of public institutions, including the military. Thus, in addressing its own situation the Army must contend both with its own internal manifestations of declining effectiveness and internal relationships, and, as well, with these significantly and perhaps permanently altered external relationships.

Responses to Date

Given the importance of professionalism, it might be thought that the Army regularly analyzes it. In fact, it has done so only episodically and then only when confronted with a crisis, such as during the Vietnam War in the early 1970s.[24] At that time the Army was confronted by a similar crisis in professional identity, but one caused by quite different factors than are influencing the situation today: the divisive Vietnam War and the end of conscription. However, a key factor in the rebuilding of the Army after Vietnam was a revalidation of the importance of its status as a profession in two critical ways. First, it re-intellectualized its professional expertise through the collective training revolution and an internal dialogue among the officer corps that resulted in a strategic and doctrinal focus on Europe.[25] Within a decade, middle-level officers understood and identified with their revised role of "collective skill trainers" creating a "trained and ready Army." This self-concept was congruent with the new institutional identity of the European-focused Army. Second, the Army examined and then revamped many of its management systems, particularly those for human resources, to reinforce professionalism rather than diminish it. One important example was the revision of officer assignment priorities and policies, including the lengthening of command tours.

Through this systemic emphasis on being a profession, the Army renewed its professional identity, which in turn enabled its members to align their personal and professional self-concepts. This is a critical connection, one increasingly missing today. The alignment between individual officers and the profession's identity is critical for long-term viability, since professionalism ultimately resides in the expert knowledge, character, and personal motivation of its leaders.[26]

Traditional Understandings of Military Professionalism

The traditional conception of Army professionalism paralleled the broader investigation of professions taking place in the United States and Europe. Early in the 1930s, professions were identified as a unique means of organizing and controlling work, different from the more common formal organizations and labor unions. Research into professions began as descriptive case studies of professions, progressed through the identification of professions' differentiating characteristics, and, by 1960, modeled the professionalization process by which occupations were converted into professions.[27] The two foundation characteristics that separated professions from occupations were the application of abstract knowledge to specific situations. Other essential characteristics included organization of the occupation, extensive education of its members, service to society, and shared ethics.[28] Professionalization was seen as a one-way street; an occupation's status as a profession was relatively static, something to be maintained over time through its unique characteristics.

Classical writings on the military profession, including Vagts, Huntington, Janowitz, and Abrahamsson,[29] drew on this more general study of professions. Most important were the characteristics that identified the military as a profession. As succinctly summarized in the late 1970s by military historian Allan Millett, the attributes and character of the military occupation which caused society to give it "professional" status included these:

The occupation was full-time and stable, serving society's continuing needs; it was regarded as a life-long calling by the practitioners, who identified themselves personally with their vocational sub-culture; it was organized to control performance standards and recruitment; it required formal, theoretical education; it had a service orientation in which loyalty to standards of competence and loyalty to clients' needs were paramount; [it] was granted a great deal of autonomy by the society it served, presumably because the practitioners had proven their high ethical standards and trustworthiness; and, overall, the profession's work was the systemic exploitation of specialized knowledge applied to specialized problems.[30]
From this traditional conception of the military profession came the self-concept of the individual professional:
[The officer's] identity is partly inherited, partly self-developed. He inherits the broadly defined characteristics of his career and the special institutional setting within which he finds himself. He must develop stable and lasting concepts of self that are compatible with his profession. This transformation or "professional socialization" is not taken lightly by the other practitioners with whom he begins his career.[31]
This conception also fit the military's understanding of war as a subordinate instrument of policy to be exercised by a democratic government, the Clausewitzian duality of war. As explicated by Huntington and widely accepted by generations of American officers, objective control of the military meant that in return for limited autonomy in which to develop their expert knowledge and conduct their professional duties, the military's natural and self-interested role would be one of self-policing, non-political, internal focus on its expertise and moral responsibilities.

The Vietnam War, however, shattered the illusions of the Crowe-Powell generation of officers (the mentors and developers of today's senior military leaders) about that role of the military professional and created an officer corps that was, contrary to Huntingtonian logic, both more professional and more political.[32] This created significant tensions in American civil-military relations, tensions that were bound to surface as society turned, in a trend not without historic precedent, to more subjective forms of civilian control for this new interwar period.[33]

Given these tensions, there has been a very large amount of scholarly analysis and debate about the military's role at the senior level in post-Cold War civil-military relations. Much of this has focused on criticism of the Weinberger-Powell doctrine on the use of military force and General Colin Powell's role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1990-1994.[34]

During the same period, however, military professionalism as such has been a subject little studied within academe.[35] One exception is the work of Professor Samuel C. Sarkesian, who has consistently argued for a broad interpretation of military professionalism with multiple levels of analyses, as displayed in the first four columns of Figure 1, below.[36] We have filled in the framework with those symptoms of declining professionalism discussed in the first section of this essay.
Level of Analysis
Components of the Army Profession
New Professionalism

National and global context in which Army exists

National and international uses of military forces.

Issues: Mismatch between national needs for strategic projection and institutional capabilities; Task Force Hawk.

National and international values and beliefs.

Issues: Post-modern or egoist ethic; generational differences; intercultural differences; globalization.

National and international political and societal systems.

Issues: Changing definitions of security; globalization; economic growth; casualty-averse politicians; diminished state sovereignty and influence; redefinition of democratic citizenship.

System of professions in which the Army exists.

Issues: Other professions, occupations, and organizations in system; actions that maintain positions in system; historic and future development of the system.

Civil-Military Tensions

Internal context and systems

Internal Army systems supporting military-technical capabilities.

Issues: Unit readiness; lack of strategic force protection capability; medium-weight division; OOTW scope and duration.

Internal Army systems that establish, communicate, and maintain the profession's norms and values.

Issues: Emphasis on force protection; human resource systems; ethical violations by military leaders.

Internal Army systems focused on political and societal actions.

Issues: Maintaining limited professional autonomy; civilian control of the military; recruiting; resource acquisition; candid advice-giving.

State of the profession.

Issues: Army profession's expert knowledge and jurisdiction; institutional identity; legitimacy of claim on jurisdiction; legal, cultural, policy support for claim.

Army-Soldier Tensions

People who constitute the Army

Individual knowledge and skills needed to be successful in the Army. 

Issues: Tactical gap; breadth and depth of skills required across spectrum of conflict.

Individual moral-ethical values.

Issues: Senior military leaders' willingness to be role models; diminished loyalty and commitment; intrinsic motivation.

Political and social knowledge and skills held by or necessary for Army members.

Issues: Civil-military gap; aversion to professional participation in government systems.

Individual perceptions of the military.

Issues: Primacy of professional identity; congruence of professional identity with institutional identity.

Figure 1. Framework for analysis of American Army professionalism.

This framework, which incorporates the traditional views of military professionalism, allows visualization of several things vital to the officer corps' successful introspection and dialogue. First, it is clear that each aspect of professionalism should be analyzed and understood from three perspectives: the client's (society); the professional institution's (Army); and the professional member's (officer, noncommissioned officer, soldier, Army civilian). Second, the two horizontal boundaries dividing these three perspectives are areas of current tensions (civil-military relations and Army-soldier relations) owing to the different perspectives held within each level. And third, in contrast to the relative clarity of these horizontal boundaries, the vertical divisions between components are much less precise. Is the task of force protection a military-technical issue (doctrinal), or a moral-ethical issue (a matter of institutional values), or even a political-social issue (a matter of adapting to unhelpful political guidance)? We would say it involves all three, but primarily lies within the political component. But more important, such mapping facilitates, even necessitates, dialogue if different officers, or agencies, see the issue as residing in different locations and contexts.

While still very useful, this traditional conception of "Army Professionalism" must be rethought and renewed, particularly at the institutional level of analysis. It is abundantly clear that at the individual level, both young Americans (who are not joining the Army) and Army captains (who are leaving the institution) have given the institution's state of professionalism some serious thought, enough to guide their individual actions. It is now past time for the keepers of Army Professionalism--the officer corps--to do the same, but from a renewed understanding of professions and their behavior.

A New Understanding: Systems of Professions, Jurisdictions of Expert Knowledge

Today's understanding of professions builds on these earlier efforts, specifically the distinction of professions from other occupations based on the application of abstract knowledge to specific circumstances, the equivalent of Millett's "specialized knowledge applied to specialized problems." However, theorists have moved beyond the static description of individual professions toward a dynamic conception of the professional world. Modern professions are competitors--for members, resources, and, most important, jurisdiction--within a "system of professions." This system includes other professions, professionalizing occupations, and organizations, each of which vie for jurisdiction, the legitimated claim to apply its expertise to specific situations. It is from this jurisdiction that strategic leaders must develop the detailed requirements for professional systems--education, ethics, oversight, and credentialing, to name but a few. Professional systems that are decoupled from jurisdiction will hinder the profession's effectiveness and weaken its claim over its tasks.[37] For example, the "tactical knowledge gap" of junior officers weakens the Army's claim over future warfighting jurisdictions, and the lack of strategic agility weakens its claim to primacy among joint land forces.

It is the abstract element of professional knowledge that enables this dynamic, providing flexibility in the circumstances in which knowledge can be applied. Through this process professions attempt to claim new jurisdictions, as the medical profession claimed alcoholism from the ministry by identifying it as a disease rather than a weakness in character or will. However, the malleability of a profession's abstract knowledge also makes it vulnerable to change in the objective and subjective character of its professional tasks.

Objective changes in a profession's tasks arise from sources outside the system that open new jurisdictional opportunities or do away with old ones, that introduce new competitors into the system or cause others to disappear. These external changes are usually caused by technical, organizational, natural, or cultural shifts. Subjective changes in tasks originate from the actions of other players within the system and are usually more gradual in nature. In this case, subjective characteristics of the profession's work are redefined as others--professions or organizations--grapple for jurisdiction over it.

Professions seek to best their competitors by establishing legitimate control over jurisdictions through a variety of channels. In the United States, the most binding, durable, and difficult-to-achieve means of control is legal, where the law establishes who can and cannot do specific work. However, the "court of public opinion" is also an important legitimating mechanism that is more easily attainable; if the public assumes a profession is the appropriate source of a service, then its jurisdiction is strengthened. Finally, the most common form of professional legitimation takes place in the workplace (e.g., in the deployed JTF or combined OOTW, and in the Pentagon or CINC's headquarters), where local mechanisms distribute work across professions and other players--through referral networks, organizational structures, and policies.

While professional knowledge is adaptable, professional systems and structures are far less so. Therefore, professions adapt better to some changes than they do to others; rapid jurisdictional expansion is particularly difficult. Sudden expansion in either the amount of traditional work (quantitative) or the circumstances in which the profession must work (qualitative) challenge its education, personnel selection processes, and value systems. A profession whose jurisdiction is rapidly expanding will face an invasion by outsiders seeking to claim legal, cultural, or workplace legitimacy over its work.

So, how might we apply this new understanding to the Army? Using the Army's present situation as an example, we can see that it is facing both qualitative and quantitative expansion of and challenges to its jurisdiction (right-side column of Figure 1). Twenty years ago, America focused the system of professions in which the Army competes on major military conflicts. As such, this system consisted of the military services, including the Coast Guard, and the State Department. Competition existed within the system but it was organizationally regulated and each profession's jurisdiction was delimited by law, policy, and culture when the services' roles and missions were negotiated and renegotiated.

Today, the Army's professional situation has become far more complex by every measure. Quantitatively, the amount of work has increased dramatically, as measured by number and duration of deployments. Qualitatively, extensive objective and subjective changes have taken place in the Army's tasks. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent shrinking of the defense budget caused objective changes for the Army. More subtle influences, such as the evolving international security structure and the Army's changing relationships with the nation and state, have expanded the Army's jurisdiction across the spectrum of conflict. Such significant changes are particularly critical for the Army because, unlike most other professions, military professions do not independently select their jurisdiction. Instead, selection results from negotiation with their clients, the American government and people.

As we enter the 21st century, the system of professions providing the nation's security is much broader as America has redefined security to include illegal drugs, illegal immigrants, terrorists, rogue states, international natural disasters, humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping, and, most recently, homeland defense. Thus, the system of professions within which the Army competes is crowded with American government agencies such as the other military services, State Department, Border Patrol, DEA, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, and FEMA. Furthermore, other nontraditional entities are invading this system so that it now also includes the United Nations, NATO, corporations involved in logistical support, coalition and allied militaries, and nongovernmental organizations. The Army's formerly well-organized system of professions has mushroomed without a commensurate expansion in the legal, cultural, or workplace mechanisms that legitimate each profession's jurisdiction.

Throughout these recent changes, the Army has done little to negotiate a redefinition of its jurisdiction; instead, it has passively accepted expansion of its jurisdiction simultaneous with a massive downsizing of its membership and resources. The traditional Army "can-do" attitude has left it poorly positioned to respond to looming jurisdictional battles, both within the traditional military establishment and without.[38] Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to reaffirm its professional status, the Army has embraced business methods to assist with these changes. As we noted in the introduction, these models tend to have efficiency as their primary goal compared to a profession's emphasis on effectiveness. Furthermore, without a renewed understanding of the Army's jurisdiction, any adaptive actions it takes may be completely decoupled from its professional tasks. Ultimately, as a result of this ambiguity in the Army's institutional professional identity and its decoupling from organizational actions, the professional identities of its individual members have become increasingly uncertain, resulting in declines in commitment and retention.

Conclusion: An Alternative for Dialogue and Renewal

How might this new perspective help us think about the Army's present situation of declining effectiveness? Is this a matter of professionalism, or is this simply a matter of organizational change? Can the Army continue to separate its organizational decisions from professional considerations? Furthermore, can it simply rely on the traditional conceptions of "expertise, responsibility, and corporateness" as the whole of professionalism in this new interwar period? Or should it reconceive itself as existing in a "system of professions," competing fiercely within such a system on the basis of its jurisdiction over Army-specific expert knowledge and work?

All three perspectives--the new professionalism, the old professionalism, and the organizational perspective--can contribute to an analysis of the troubling aspects of the Army's current decline. However, if the Army is to accomplish the essential tasks of strengthening and revitalizing its professional nature, the new professionalism view must predominate. This will require that the Army's strategic leaders analyze and assertively renegotiate the boundaries of the institution's expert knowledge and legitimate jurisdiction, first with its own professional members and then with the American people. While this is ongoing, they must redesign the professional and organizational support systems congruent with the evolving jurisdiction. However, in all of these decisions, maintaining the Army's professional status must be paramount; America needs an effective professional Army more than an efficient, budget-conscious bureaucracy.

The new professionalism framework establishes that almost everything the Army does is part of the institution's expert work--the application of its specialized knowledge to new situations--and therefore, its professionalism. And therein lies the conclusion we seek to emphasize. Who should decide what Army Professionalism is at any point in time, and in what priority issues affecting it should be addressed? We submit that for the past decade the public dialogue has been episodically initiated and carried by elements of American society and from their perspectives. The Army has played a passive and reactive role in such public discourse.

However, if the Army is to remain a profession, that must change; and, it must be changed by the profession itself, through its officer corps--the Army's change agents--by dialogue and analyses within the profession. Then, once understanding and relative consensus have been reached internally, the Army must firmly present its case publicly, well supported by its own professional judgments and analyses. This case must emphatically detail what is needed to renew and maintain professionalism, an absolutely vital aspect of America's Army.


1. Stephen Biddle, "Victory Misunderstood: What the Gulf War Tells Us About the Future of Conflict," International Security, 21 (Fall 1996), 139-79.

2. We use this phrase to indicate that, unlike the earlier interwar period which separated eras of global land warfare concentrated in Europe and the Pacific, this interwar period separates that era of half a century from the next era of great power conflict. Then, we believe, a highly professional Army will be an imperative for America.

3. Since we are recommending an institutional focus on the Army as a profession, then its members are, by definition, professionals to varying degrees. Each stratum--commissioned officer, noncommissioned officer, and enlisted soldier--is a sub-profession that falls under the larger professional umbrella. Although commissioned officers are very important for a number of reasons (they are individually accountable to society via their commission; they are the institution's change agents; they are the senior leaders; they control strategy, budgets, and systems, etc.), they are not alone in their import, nor in their status as professionals.

4. We must also make clear to the reader what we are not arguing in this essay. We are not contending that the Army's problems (declining effectiveness, etc.) are either the cause of, or the effect of, declining professionalism. That depends on what definition of professionalism one is using, and as we have noted, we doubt that there is a common definition extant within the Army today. Thus, until more research can be completed, we can conclude only that the two issues are concurrent in their manifestations.

5. Louis Caldera and Eric K. Shinseki, A Statement on the Posture of the United States Army, Fiscal Year 2001, Internet,, accessed 3 July 2000.

6. Whether the task force was effective in a noncombat role remains debatable, see Dana Priest, "Army's Apache Helicopter Rendered Impotent in Kosovo," The Washington Post, 29 December 1999, p. 1.

7. Joseph Collins and Walter Ulmer, American Military Culture in the Twenty-First Century (Washington: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2000), pp. xx, 62-76.

8. Caldera and Shinseki, p. 2.

9. See testimony by Colonel John D. Rosenberger, Commander Opposing Forces, National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, Calif., before the Military Readiness Subcommittee, Committee on National Security, US House of Representatives, 26 February 1999, Internet,, accessed 3 July 2000.

10. See Maren Leed, "Keeping the Warfighting Edge-An Empirical Analysis of the Army Officer's Tactical Expertise Over the 1990s: Summary Briefing" (RAND: Arroyo Center, 2000).

11. Eric Shinseki, Intent of the Chief of Staff, Department of the Army, 23 June 1999, Internet,, accessed 3 July 2000.

12. See Theodore G. Stroup, Jr., "The Ongoing Army Transformation," Army, July 2000, pp. 7-10.

13. Lest Congress be blamed excessively for this situation, we note that within the tradition of Western democratic societies, the acquisition of such resources is the responsibility of the leaders of the professional institution, both uniformed and civilian. In past cases of success, senior leaders often had to make undesirable tradeoffs to gain the political support necessary. See Allan R. Millett, Williamson Murray, and Kenneth H. Watman, "The Effectiveness of Military Organizations," International Security, 11 (Summer 1986), 37-71.

14. See Don M. Snider, John A. Nagl, and Tony Pfaff, Army Professionalism, the Military Ethic and Officership in the 21st Century (Carlisle, Pa.: US Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, 1999), Internet,, accessed 3 July 2000.

15. Vince Crawley, "The Services' War on Attrition," Internet,

16. Peter D. Feaver and Richard H. Kohn, "Project on the Gap between the Military and Civilian Society--Digest of Findings and Studies," Internet,, accessed 3 July 2000.

17. Don M. Snider, "America's PostModern Military," World Policy Journal, 17 (Spring 2000), 47-54.

18. The Army's Aberdeen scandal and the more recent cases of Major General Smith and Brigadier General Hale come to mind.

19. John Nagl and Elizabeth O. Young, "Si Vis Pacem, Para Pacem: Training for Humanitarian Emergencies," Military Review, 80 (March-April 2000), 31-37.

20. See, Deborah D. Avant, "Privatizing Military Training," Foreign Policy in Focus, 5 (June 2000), 1-3; and David Schearer, "Outsourcing War," Foreign Policy, No. 112 (Fall 1998), 68-81. For indications of future trends in this area, see the report of the DOD commission led by Brigadier General (Ret.) Peter M. Dawkins on "Commercializing Activities in the Department of Defense" (Washington: Department of Defense, Spring 2000).

21. James Burk, "Introduction, 1998: Ten Years of New Times" and "Thinking Through the End of the Cold War" in The Adaptative Military, ed. James Burk (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1998), pp. 1-48.

22. This shift in power to the profession's client is largely due to the emergence of information, vice industrial, economies and the explosion of available information, much of it formerly within control of professions. See Chris Dandeker, "A Farewell to Arms? The Military and the Nation-State in Changing Times," in The Adaptive Military, pp. 139-62.

23. See James Toner, True Faith and Allegiance: The Burden Of Military Ethics (Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1995), and Morals Under the Gun: The Cardinal Virtues, Military Ethics, and American Society (Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 2000).

24. The seminal study of this period was done at the Army War College, Study on Military Professionalism (Carlisle Barracks, June 1970) available through the Defense Technical Information Center, Ft. Belvoir, Va.)

25. For official history of this period, see Robert K Griffith, Today's Army Wants to Join You: The US Army's Transition from the Draft to an All-volunteer Force (Washington: Center of Military History, 1995); and Anne W. Chapman, The Army's Training Revolution, 1973-1990 (Ft. Monroe, Va.: TRADOC, 1990). For a very readable current history of the same events, see James Kitfield, Prodigal Soldiers (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995).

26. We note that in the past decade the creation of OPMS XXI is the one example of institutional adaptation that holds potential (it is too early yet to tell) to enhance Army Professionalism. For an insightful overview of its inception, see Theodore G. Stroup and Leonard Wong, "Re-establishing the Force: The Revolution in Military Affairs in the Human Resource and Leadership Systems," in Democratic Societies and Their Armed Forces, ed. Stuart A. Cohen (London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2000), pp. 150-74.

27. See A. P. Carr-Saunders and P. A. Wilson, The Professions (Oxford, Eng.: Oxford Univ. Press, 1933) for initial case studies on professions. Wilensky's "The Professionalization of Everyone?" in the American Journal of Sociology, 70 (1964), 137-58, presents the professionalization sequence for American professions.

28. Geoffery Millerson, The Qualifying Associations (London: Routledge, 1964).

29. The classics include: Alfred Vagts, A History of Militarism (rev. ed.; New York: Free Press, 1959); Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier and The State (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1959); Morris Janowitz, The Professional Soldier: A Social and Political Portrait (Glencoe, N.Y.: The Free Press, 1960); Bengt Abrahamsson, Military Professionalism and Political Power (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publishing, 1972).

30. Allan R. Millett, Military Professionalism and Officership in America, Mershon Center Briefing Paper Number Two (Columbus: Ohio State Univ., May 1977), p. 2.

31. Ibid., p. 5.

32. For loss of political neutrality of today's officer corps, see Oli R. Holsti, "A Widening Gap Between the US Military and Civilian Society? Some Evidence, 1976-1996," International Security, 23 (Winter 1998/99), 8. See also commentary and reply by Joseph J. Collins and Oli Holsti, International Security, 24 (Fall 1999), 199-207. For an overview of post-Cold War civil-military tensions, see Deborah D. Avant, "Conflicting Indicators of Crisis in American Civil-Military Relations," Armed Forces and Society, 24 (Spring 1998), 375-87.

33. See Charles C. Moskos, "Toward a Post-Modern Military: The United States as Paradigm," in The PostModern Military, ed. Charles C. Moskos, John Allen Williams, and David R. Segal (Oxford, Eng.: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000), pp. 14-31.

34. For both sides of this debate, see: Richard Kohn, "Out of Control," National Interest, 35 (Spring 1994), 3-17; Richard Weigley, "The American Military and the Principle of Civilian Control from McClellan to Powell," Journal of Military History, 57 (October 1993), 27-58; and Deborah D. Avant, "Are the Reluctant Warriors Out of Control?" Security Studies, 6 (Winter 1996/97), 51-90.

35. To be sure, there have been academics who have continued to focus on separate, specific aspects of the military profession, mostly members of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society (IUS, website at However, a policy study of a service's policy toward women in combat units, for example, is but a single aspect of a military institution's professionalism.

36. This framework is adapted from Samuel C. Sarkesian, Beyond the Battlefield: The New Military Professionalism (New York: Pergamon Press, 1981). See also, Sarkesian and Robert E. Connor, Jr., The US Military Profession Into the Twenty-First Century (London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2000).

37. This discussion is drawn primarily from Andrew Abbotts' The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labor (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1988). Additional sources include Elliott Krause, Death of the Guilds: Professions, States and the Advance of Capitalism, 1930 to Present (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1996); and Eliot Freidson, Professionalism Reborn: Theory, Prophecy and Policy (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1994).

38. Examples include the Air Force's claim to space, which places the Army's role in theater air defense in question; and the Army's acceptance of nation-building roles in long-term, international police actions such as Kosovo, legitimizing the US government's expectation of the appropriateness of these roles.

Dr. Don M. Snider is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Social Sciences at the US Military Academy, a position he has held since 1998, having previously held the Olin Chair in National Security Studies, 1995-1998. He earned a doctorate in Public Policy at the University of Maryland, 1993. Earlier he completed a military career including three combat tours as an infantryman in Vietnam and, much later, service on the staff of the National Security Council, The White House. He retired from the Office of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, in 1990. His current research and publications focus on civil-military relations, military culture, and professionalism.

Lieutenant Colonel (P) Gayle L. Watkins is a career Ordnance officer currently serving as Associate Professor and Deputy Director, Office of Economic and Manpower Analysis, Department of Social Sciences, US Military Academy. She previously served as Associate Dean for Plans and Resources, USMA, and as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. She holds a doctorate in sociology from Stanford University, 1995. Her current research interests focus on organizational and occupational roles, particularly at the intersection of social work systems.

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