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Europe's Armed Forces and Societies



Ever since the end of the Cold War, the world has witnessed an array of military missions, ranging from the first Gulf War and the half-hearted interventions in Africa and the Balkans, to recent endeavours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The thrust of these examples suggests that nowadays Western states struggle with how to conduct military operations in an effective, legitimate and conclusive manner. One of the possible explanations is that Western societies, European ones in particular, have demilitarized to a degree that their polity and citizenry have a (very) limited tolerance for the risks and toll of warlike adventures.

How plausible and relevant is this kind of explanation? This is the central question we’ll elaborate, specify and try to answer during this course. We’ll take as our point of departure how the typical European ‘civilian state’ (James Sheehan) has developed in the wake of a war-ridden twentieth-century. We’ll evaluate the current roles and narratives of crucial stakeholders in the context of armed forces and society: politicians and their decision-making, military establishments and their doctrines, public opinion with its policy-agenda, media and their frames. We’ll search for the heirs of the citizen-soldier and we’ll analyze how the surveillance by civil society impinges on military deployments in violent surroundings. Also, we will investigate how these narratives and attitudes are changing under the perceived increase in instability on Europe’s Eastern and Southern borders.

All along we use a comparative perspective: European countries amongst each other, Europe versus the United States; we’ll also take a look at Japan, Australia, Canada and Israel – and other countries that come across. Taken together lectures and readings make it possible to arrive at scientifically sound answers to our central question. On top of that we should be able to have a sophisticated debate on the wisdom of ‘post-heroic’ societies and their military missions.

The aim of this course is to provide students with a broad and empirically grounded understanding of a complex and pivotal issue concerning armed forces and society.

Methods of Instruction

Lectures, discussion of assigned readings.

Study material

Literature (approx. 600 pages):

James Sheehan (2008) The Monopoly of Violence. Why Europeans hate going to war. London. [paperback]
(The American edition of this book is identical except for the title: Where have all the soldiers gone? The transformation of modern Europe)

A selection of journal articles.

Assessment mode

Final paper, deadline Wednesday 28 March 2018. See Blackboard for more information.


Please note: the course dates have been changed!
Wednesdays 15.00-17.00h from 7 February - 28 March 2018.