From The Asian Reporter, V13, #10 (March 4-10, 2003), page 11.
Military Professionalism in Asia: Conceptual and
Edited by Muthiah Alagappa
Published by the East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii,
Softcover, 227 pages
By Jeff Wenger
Even before September 11, Military Professionalism in Asia:
Conceptual and Empirical Perspectives was a book of narrow appeal. In
this new world, Military Professionalism in Asia is still of
narrow appeal. However, those who follow such things will find that the
material takes on greater weight. Suddenly, it’s no longer just
Editor Muthiah Alagappa begins by defining military professionalism. To
do so, he goes back to 1957 and the esteemed Samuel Huntington.
Alagappa writes: "(Huntington) cites three characteristics —
expertise, responsibility, and corporateness — that distinguish a
profession from a vocation. According to Huntington, the professional
person is ‘an expert with specialized knowledge and skill in a
significant field of human endeavor.’"
Expertise. Social responsibility. Unity and consciousness among members
that belong to a distinct body with formal standards. For the layperson,
military professionalism tends to mean can we trust the guys with the guns
from overthrowing the government and from plundering and pillaging.
Alagappa introduces the reader to the distinction between
"old" professionalism — viewing the military’s sole function
as "the management of violence" — with "new"
professionalism wherein officers, according to Alfred Stepan, acquire
"highly intellectual political and military skills." These
combine with other social and economic skills.
Military Professionalism in Asia takes the temperature of several
Asian nations, among them India and Pakistan. The book suggests that
India, the world’s largest democracy, has a strong and professional
military that stems from the country’s British tradition. Pakistan,
though, seems to be the basket case many have feared.
Samina Ahmed, a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government,
writes: "Since Pakistan’s inception, the military has successfully
forced its civilian political rivals to accept its political dominance —
either by overthrowing civilian governments or through pressure and
blackmail … These justifications are internalized by an officer corps
whose direct exposure to politics reinforces their contempt for civilian
political leaders and strengthens their belief that the military alone can
protect the state from internal or external threats."
In ways that it was not before September 11, it is clear now to readers
(and one murdered writer) of the Wall Street Journal, just how
Pakistan is faring.
Alagappa deserves credit for seeing that these heavily footnoted,
disparate essays tie together. Huntington is clearly the touchstone in
this field of study and hardly an argument is made without reference to
After overseeing this investigation of ten countries, Alagappa asserts
that "old" professionalism is on the rise in Asia, working under
This is more pertinent now, with the world at war, than it was when the
book was put together. Resultantly, the biggest complaint about the book
is also magnified: the omission of the Philippines and Malaysia among the
countries is regrettable.
The Philippines because of its traditional ties to the U.S. and
because, as it goes, this is where, after Afghanistan, al-Qaida was fought
next; Malaysia because it’s a large Muslim country, ties to al-Qaida
have subsequently been discovered and, most importantly, the Prime
Minister has shown a willingness to use military might to squelch dissent.
Of course, Alagappa could not have foreseen the details of the past
year’s political and military developments, and indeed, Indonesia, a
state similar to Malaysia, is examined in great depth. Nevertheless,
military thinkers pride themselves on planning for each contingency, being
prepared for the next battle, for every conceivable pitch — the omission
of the Philippines in Military Professionalism in Asia is like
striking out looking.
(I don’t know that the study needed to include just ten, but if I had
to cut two to make room for the Philippines and Malaysia, it would have
been Thailand and Burma. While both are of some interest, neither are
currently of particular relevance.)
This notwithstanding, Alagappa and his contributors have shed light on
an aspect of the world scene that, unfortunately, is growing increasingly
Military Professionalism in Asia may be ordered on the Rowman &
Littlefield Publishers, Inc., website, at <www.rowmanlittlefield.com>.