Military Professionalism at Crossroads: A Review of Ginsburgh’s Thoughts

NESA Center Alumni Publication

Thokozani Andrew Chazema A NESA Alumnus; an adjunct lecturer at Mzuzu University, Department of Governance, Peace and Security Studies; an adjunct lecturer at Malawi Defence Force Command and Staff College affiliated to Malawi University of Science and Technology, Bingu School of Culture and Heritage, Defence and Strategic Studies Program; a PhD Candidate, Transformative Community Development, Mzuzu University.

22 March 2024



Just like many other old soldiers, the feeling that professionalism is being challenged due to the changing operating environment reigns supreme. The feeling is the same with Robert Nathan Ginsburgh (1925–2017) who, writing as a member of policy planning in the US Air Force (USAF), and as a colonel in 1964, wrote an article entitled “The Challenge to Military Professionalism.” Ginsburgh argued that the changing environment in the US military domain, the shifting of military isolation that characterised the World Wars to a military embroiled in civil-military relations that proponents the civilian control of the armed forces is challenging the professional aspects of a military man. Bringing his experience from World War II and the Cold War era, he gives a compelling analysis of a professional soldier in the two eras of World War II and the Cold War. To Ginsburgh, the involvement of civilians in military affairs erodes the military professionalism required of a military person. This article critic, therefore, intends to evaluate Ginsburgh’s thoughts on the challenges to military professionalism by first identifying the central thesis of the article.


The central thesis of Ginsburgh’s article is that military professionalism is being challenged due to the increased involvement of civilians in defence policy formulation and implementation. Ginsburgh quotes Samuel Huntington (1957), that the challenge to military professionalism is reflected in the essential characteristics of the profession; corporateness, responsibility, and expertise. Ginsburgh argues that there are elements of the power struggle of defence policy between a military professional and the lay strategists who are increasingly straddling the military space. The article exponent the need to keep the military away from the political-military fusion theory of civilians and military personnel, which was propagated after World War II, where both civilians and military personnel are required to competently understand the elements of national power, thus military, social, economic and political aspects.


Ginsburgh argues a sense of corporateness is strong in the military profession. Like other professions, the military has its community of interests, common experiences, and common values which bind the profession together. He notes that two additional factors make the corporateness of the military strong. First, the military man can pursue his profession only within his own national military establishment. Although he may transfer some of his expertise to other areas of endeavour, he cannot continue as an active member of the military profession outside the national military establishment. Second, the sharing of common danger, inherent in the profession, provides a unifying bond and one which grows stronger as the danger becomes more immediate. Ginsburgh further argues that before World War II, the military lived an isolated life away from American society, but now, the military has intermingled with civilian society, and the challenge facing military corporateness is that the US military is now not isolated from the mainstream of American life. The military has become intermingled with civilian society both within their local communities and in the nation. Ginsburgh exponents that in the intermingling process, many military officers had become less willing to sacrifice personal convenience and have become more concerned with the adequacy of military pay than when they were living on military stations isolated from the impact of the more attractive wages and hours of work of the civilian community.

Ginsburgh argues that personal inconvenience and pay, combined with the policy which permits early retirement, have caused many military men to think of their profession as just a job rather than as a lifetime career. At an early date, many military men start planning for their second careers; in fact, many dedicated military professionals have felt that they could simultaneously have a greater impact on military policy and receive greater personal rewards by leaving the military profession to work for industry, what Ginsburgh call the “think factories” or even for the Defence Department in a civilian capacity.

The US military has undergone many changes since the World War II. As compared to the World War II times, the responsibility of the military has increased, but their authority has been progressively eroded. As a result of the expansion of the unified command concept, the authority of the Service Chief as an individual has been superseded by the corporate authority of the Joint Chiefs, while the authority of the Chiefs of Staff has been reduced through the creation of the elaborate superstructure for defence policy-making in Washington. At the same time, the important responsibilities of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have not lessened and exist whether or not they can agree on the actions to implement them. Their authority to act, however, depends on their reaching agreement. This erodes the very tenets of command and control that require a military professional to give orders for his subordinates to execute. The superstructure of the US military entails many consultations and agreements among Service Chiefs, Joint Chiefs, and civilians, and that erodes the command responsibility of respective services and the entire US military, hence impacting professionalism.

Finally, regarding the concept of responsibility, Ginsburgh further argues that it is also challenged when the expertise of the military profession is put in question. When the political decision-maker asks for and accepts the opinion of an expert, he can hold him responsible for the adequacy of such advice. When he refuses to accept his advice because he challenges his qualifications, he can no longer expect to hold the expert responsible. Certainly, the expert’s sense of responsibility also suffers as a result. The challenge to military expertise is the most important aspect of the challenge to military professionalism because expertise is the very basis of any profession. Military expertise encompasses strategy, tactics, and administration. Ginsburgh notes that tactics and administration have not been challenged but the element of strategy has. In the area of strategy, the soldier has been handed a problem that extends far beyond the expertise of his own profession. Ginsburgh argues that professional soldiers, not through any fault of their own, but on the contrary in consequence of their virtues, are ill-fitted for high-level strategic thought. Wars are considered too important to be left to the generals unless the commanding general is also chief of state. War is no longer a question of victory or defeat on the battlefield. With the advent of nuclear weapons and strategic delivery systems, Ginsburgh contends that we have reached the stage where peacetime preparedness is likely to determine the outcome of a major nuclear war. Thus, not only war but also peacetime defence becomes too serious a matter to be left to the generals. Hence civilians influence the national security of the US than the military experts themselves during war and peace time. On the other hand, technology has also challenged the military expertise.

Ginsburgh further notes that technology has forced political leaders to concern themselves with military affairs. Technology has operated to make the military man less of an expert. The development of new weapons has always been of great importance in the history of warfare. In earlier times, however, the military professional was able to assimilate the military impact over years or even generations, and if he was not necessarily the creator of the new technology, he was almost invariably its exploiter. Today, however, technological developments come so thick and fast that it becomes difficult to keep abreast of their existence, much less assimilate their impact on military problems. Furthermore, the professional has a much smaller role in the creation of new weapons because their complexity requires the specialised services of the scientist and engineer, and their magnitude generally requires that they be produced by industry rather than government. As such, military professionalism is challenged as new technology produced by civilian scientists and engineers proffers no military professional’s control. New technology requires adjustments in tactics, hence military professionalism as a tradition keeps on changing due to new technologies.  Thus, in the continuing technological race for new and better weapons, the scientist, the engineer and the industrialist become partners with the military man; and he becomes dependent on them in the pursuit of his profession.

On the part of academia, Ginsburgh establishes that it is the lay strategists who publish books for the military man. If the military man publishes a book he would be more security conscious as it is part of his profession. However, lay strategists have influenced and eroded military expertise and professionalism as their researches are influenced by academics not advancing military ethics. On the other hand, it is the retired military professionals that publish articles and books albeit chronicling their time in the military. To tame the challenges to expertise, Ginsburg proposes the development of an all-around military expertise, where a professional soldier should have a general knowledge of air, land, sea, and space operations. He asserts that this would help in the cementing of jointness during peace or wartime. Ginsburg further proposes military staff colleges diversify and start researching and take up jobs that are now done by civilian engineers and scientists. He further proposes the abandonment of the fusionist theory where non-military issues should remain with civilians and military issues should not intertwine with civilian issues.

However, Ginsburgh is radical in his approach to the changes that might eliminate the problems facing the US military professionalism. Given the fact that America is a liberal state, such recommendations of abolishing the fusion theory would be in contravention of the ideals of liberal democracies where Military-Industrial-Complex plays a larger part in the American polity. Moreover, the problems facing much of the world today, including America, are issues of human security that include terrorism, which needs a holistic approach of military, social, economic, and political aspects of national power working together. It is Colonel Ginsburgh’s thinking that we see America trying to solve the international terrorism problems with military power rather than taking a holistic approach. However, the American military structure has remained the same since his writing of the article in 1964. This is owed to the fact that the theory of the levels of war, requires the high-ranking generals to be operating at a strategic level with politicians directing the operational level, with some military personnel operating at the operational level giving direction to the lower tactical level. All these levels require military personnel to be professional in a way. Nevertheless, the assertion of having research-based military schools is a good idea, but still, in such circumstances, civilian fusion is required as national security is not only for professional soldiers but also civilians. Chazema et al. (2023) and Chazema et al. (2023) proponents a rhombus diamond theory that proposes the military as a fulcrum of civil-military relations owing to the monopoly of coercive power. The rhombus diamond theory recognises the importance of the other sources of power originating from civilians to control armed forces. The rhombus diamond theory encourages civil-military relations actors to concordance in safeguarding the nation as no other actor has a monopoly on security sector solutions. In such a way professionalism must metamorphose to suit the developing situations to keep the nation safe against internal or external threats.


This essay has reviewed Colonel Robert Nathan Ginsburgh’s article that asserted that military professionalism is being challenged due to the increased involvement of civilians in defence policy formulation and implementation. Ginsburgh claims that there is a challenge to military professionalism that is reflected in the characteristics of the corporateness, responsibility and expertise characteristics of the military profession. Ginsburgh argues that there are elements of the power struggle of defence policy between a military professional and the lay strategists and civilians who are increasingly encroaching in the military space. He argues that the incorporation of civilians in civil-military relations is eroding the military profession in areas of corporates, responsibility, and expertise.

However, Ginsburgh’s assertions that the military should disengage from civilian entanglements is an overstatement as the contemporary operating environment and the dictates of liberalism in the US, coupled with the demise of the bipolar, requires a holistic approach to the challenges of human security that require civilians and military professionals to work together.  Moreover, many strategists affirm that war is too important to be left to the generals only and this author opines to Clausewitz’s (1780-1831) assertions that war is the continuation of politics by other means, hence there should be civilian control of the armed forces to guard the guardians of the state and provide the holistic assessment of the contemporary challenges in human security to preserve humanity. 


  1. Chazema, T., Tembo, M., Mphande, C., Kerr, R., Nalivata, C., Nundwe, V., and Kumwenda, D. (2023). Drivers Keeping Civil-Military Relations in Equilibrium in Malawi: A Quantitative Approach. International Journal of Membrane Science and Technology, 2023, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp 507-516.
  2. Chazema, T., Tembo, M., Mphande, C., Kerr, R., Nundwe, V., and Kumwenda, D. (2023) Aetiology of the Equilibrium of Civil-Military Relations in Malawi. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 11, 372-382. doi: 10.4236/jss.2023.118026.
  3. Clausewitz, Carl von, (1918). On War,trans. Col. J.J. Graham. New and Revised edition with Introduction and Notes by Col. F.N. Maude, in Three Volumes London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.
  4. Ginsburgh, Robert, N., (1964). The Challenge to Military Professionalism. Online foreign affairs.com. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  5. Huntington Samuel, P., (1957). The Soldier and the State. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.




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