Democratic civilian control in a legal state is a sort of moderator for civil-military relations, when the basic principles of a democratic society take the leading role with respect to principles of military service.

European countries have different national systems of democratic control. Any similar components (e.g. budgetary authority of Parliament or the civilian minister of defence) may take different forms.

There is also a significant difference with respect to the rights (freedom of expression, political activity, membership in trade unions or associations, etc.) either granted or not granted to military personnel, which are “uniformed citizens”.


Great Britain

The Defence Council under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State for Defence, who is also a member of Parliament, plays a prominent role in the system of democratic control over the Armed Forces of Great Britain. The Defence Council is the main body dealing with operational activities of the army, although the responsibility for the overall defence management is vested upon the Defence Board. This board is also chaired by the Secretary of State, thus implementing the principle of parliamentary control over the security and defence sector.

The other important tool for civilian control over national defence is the defence budgeting process. The Parliamentary Committee of the House of Commons exercises control over expenditures, administration, and policy of the UK Ministry of Defence. At the same time, the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee exercises control over the effectiveness of defence expenditures.

The United States

The United States has a long history of building civilian control over the armed forces, which was finally institutionalised in the 20th century. The overall structure of civilian control over the armed forces is described in the US Constitution.

This control model is based on a system of checks and balances, as well as on a legal structure of social control represented by the civilian chain of command under the President as Commander-in-Chief. Despite the fact that the executive branch has a dominant role in supporting democratic control, the legislative branch still retains significant influence over security and defense on the whole, and armed forces in particular, as provided under the concept of separation of powers.

The Secretary of Defence, a civilian (the definition of which applies following seven or more years since the discharge from military service), reports directly to the President. He is the second in command and exercises command and control over the administrative and operational activity of the DOD agencies.

The senior military commander is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This individual serves only as an advisor, while not being a member of the command staff. In addition, he or she is legally separated from the operational command over the armed forces, although assists the President and SecDef in the performance of their command and control functions.

The legislative branch represented by the Congress has the constitutional right to declare war. The Congress approves the military budget and organisational establishment of the army, ensures social protection of military personnel and their family, identifies terms and procedure for military service, sets the level of financial allowances, etc.


Democratic civilian control over the armed forces in Germany is also regulated by the Constitution.

According to Article 65(a), “The commander of the Armed Forces is the Minister of Defence, who is a civilian.” This individual has an administration of civilian officials with certain knowledge and experience in the military field. In addition, the legislative branch of Germany includes a unique position for an Ombudsman. This individual is elected by Parliament to defend the rights and freedoms of military personnel from the Bundeswehr. The Ombudsman can inspect any military unit at any time without preliminary notice. The Ombudsman reports to the Parliament on an annual basis.

The National Security Council is an important component of civilian control over the defence sector in Germany. Members of the Council are the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Defence, the Minister of Interior, and the Head of National Intelligence. The National Security Council is convened as necessary or at the request of the Chancellor. The Parliament receives constant information on the activity of the Security Council.

Innere Fuhrung (an uniformed citizen) is the basic model for a military person in the Germen Bundeswehr. The notion of Innere Fuhrung is the reflection of political will to balance the civil rights of military personnel with their military obligations:

  • Legal, political, and ethical justification to the existence of the Armed Forces and the obligation of citizens to perform military service
  • The integration of the Armed Forces and every military person into the state and society as well as into the EU and NATO
  • The readiness of every military person to serve and perform their duties to the best of his/her abilities while accepting certain limitations to a citizen's rights as provided under the special legislation on military service.