Democratic civilian control is an approach to the establishment of a military organisation, where the responsibility for taking strategic decisions in the military sphere lies on the democratically elected political authorities and civil society, and not on military command.

Since strategic decisions (e.g. declaration of war or peace) have an enormous impact on the lives of all citizens, the ability of society to exercise control over its military is often considered an essential part of democracy.

In the case of a developed democratic society, the process of democratic civilian control over the Armed Forces takes a variety of forms and methods that prevent any military activity, which may be considered as a threat to society or the State.

The democratic control system also serves as an effective mechanism to divide  responsibility between politicians and the military. If the military has identified threats and accurately assessed expenditures required to deter said threats at a time when politicians are unable to fund specified defensive measures, the later must take responsibility for the failure to comply with their obligations. On the other hand, it also demonstrates an increase in responsibility of the military for not identifying certain threats, since no responsive action or substantiated budget allocation shall be provided in this case.

Democratic civilian control over the Armed Forces includes a number of processes:
  • Civil society control while taking military decisions
  • Parliamentary control over defence policy
  • Judicial control over the compliance with laws on the part of military
  • Civilian control by non-governmental organisations, independent media, and trade unions

In the case of a legal state, democratic civilian control serves as a moderator for civil-military relations, when the basic principles of a democratic society take the leading position with respect to principles of military. Being the national agency, the armed forces must pursue and support national policy, and not the policy of separate political parties or unions. 


  • Decisions and activities with respect to the development of the armed forces, including budget, organisation, manpower, manning, national military doctrine, education and training, combat readiness, military infrastructure, and social support
  • Decisions on the employment of the armed forces during armed conflicts, peacekeeping missions, crisis management, and humanitarian assistance operations
  • Effectiveness of the military organisation, including the professionalism of military leadership, military ethics and morality, respect for human rights, and international military law throughout military operations

Democratic control is not usually applied to the command of military operations as well as daily operations of military commanders and their staffs, but rather focuses on the supervision over the expediency, legitimacy, and efficiency of operations.

What makes for effective democratic control?

The major prerequisites for the implementation of effective mechanisms of democratic control are the transparency and accountability of security agencies to the people they protect.

There can be many models of democratic control but their guiding principle remains the same in all countries, which is that political and military leadership should be jointly responsible for the national security and defence sector.

Effective approaches of control over the security sector have not appeared overnight. They represent 150 years of experience coming from attempts to establish and develop democratic control over national defencive and offensive capabilities.

The best practices of democratic control are based on four fundamental principles of control over the whole security sector and the role of parliament in particular:

  • System of checks and balances within state institutions with the parliament playing the supervisory role
  • Transparency as the major prerequisite for democratic debates
  • Communication between security sector components and society through its legally-elected representatives or other representatives of civil society
  • Accountability, which provides for Parliament and other regulatory agencies, to effectively perform their role through the provision of timely and sufficient information together with necessary authorities to subjects of supervision.

Functionality of control and supervision over the security sector includes:

  • Internal control over security sector actors
  • Executive control
  • Parliamentary oversight
  • Judicial protection in the field of control
  • Control by independent authorities
  • Control by civil society

The experience of implementing democratic civilian control by Western countries provides strong evidence of its benefit for both military and civilians.


A nation's leadership acquires the ability to ensure stable development of the country and the protection of national interests due to effective defence and law enforcement agencies.

Society acquires the guarantee of appropriate use of public funds, quiet everyday life, and respect for human rights both in the army and in society in general.

The military acquires a clear strategic course, functions, and tasks, as well as an effective mechanism to supply military requirements and ensure social protection for military personnel.