The Duck of Minerva

Battlestar Blegging

9 February 2011

This scene from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica pilot – the first in which Commander Adama and President Roslin meet – is emblematic of three politically significant conversations underpinning the series. First, what is the appropriate role of the military with respect to the society it presumably exists to serve? Second, who decides? Third, what are the means by which that role is to be executed? All these conversations map broadly onto what Peter Feaver has called the “civil-military problematique;” and they cut across an emerging conceptual distinction in security studies between national and human security.

A graduate student and I are currently working on a paper that explores how those conversations play out over the course of BSG and examines how the show’s messaging is positioned in current debates about both civil-military relations and human security. In the paper, we elaborate on each of the three tensions exemplified by the initial conversation between Roslin and Adama in the pilot episode, and tie it to civ-mil/human security debates.

First, we examine the epistemological referent of “security” in the series. At the start of the series, Commander Adama assumes a territorialized national security frame – he sees his role as defending the Colonies themselves by pursuing and engaging ‘the enemy’ – while Roslin argues the role of the military is to protect civilians and proposes a militarized humanitarianism on behalf of a diasporic human collective. Although the distinction between military and human security is a constant tension in the show, we argue that the series progresses in the direction of a human security frame. But we also show how the series challenges the concept of human security.

Second, we examine the tension between civilian and military authority as depicted in the series. An abiding thread of analysis in civil-military relations is what level of civilian control over the military and military influence over civilian society is appropriate in a given society. The series begins with the two on somewhat equal footing in their respective spheres – similar to what Huntington referred to as “objective civilian control” – but the show progresses toward greater civilian supremacy overall, as well as fusing the distinction between the two, trends more associated with Janowitz. The civilianization of the military throughout the series is reflected in the destabilization of gender hierarchies as the show progresses, and culminates in complete debellicization in the final episode.

Finally, we examine representations of the limits placed on the role of the military in security, and the means by which it can carry out security measures. The show is unflinchingly brutal at times, forcing the viewer to confront the notion that good people can do terrible things. Nonetheless, BSG presents and defends an argument that military force can only be legitimate and therefore effective if wielded with due respect for the rule of law and human rights. This narrative has significant resonance with current policy debates over the role of the military in human security, in the US and abroad; and the show embodies an important tension between civilians and military personnel in the war on terror on the extent to which the state and/or military have the nation’s best interests at heart.

So that’s the paper in a nutshell. Here’s the bleg. We’ve been asked by the editor of the volume for which this is a contribution to ground the meta-analysis more closely in real-world political events, rather than simply academic literature. Help! There are obviously analogues with rule of law in the war on terror, and with the supposed civil-military crisis of which various commentators have been writing in recent years. But we’d also like to cast a broad net: as we develop this further, I am soliciting further thoughts from readers. How might the political debates from BSG be further mapped onto / connected to real-world civil-military relations? Reply below to earn an acknowledgement in our final version. 