Book Reviews

Special A.C.E. Stories

Online Paper (PDF)

Bids & Public Notices

NW Job Market


Special Sections


The Asian Reporter 19th Annual Scholarship & Awards Banquet -
Thursday, April 20, 2017 

Asian Reporter Info

About Us

Advertising Info.

Contact Us
Subscription Info. & Back Issues



Currency Exchange

Time Zones
More Asian Links

Copyright © 1990 - 2016
AR Home




From The Asian Reporter, V13, #10 (March 4-10, 2003), page 11.

Military professionalism

Military Professionalism in Asia: Conceptual and Empirical Perspectives

Edited by Muthiah Alagappa

Published by the East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii, 2001

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 theoretical.

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 him.

After overseeing this investigation of ten countries, Alagappa asserts that "old" professionalism is on the rise in Asia, working under civilian direction.

Sinful omission

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 important.

Military Professionalism in Asia may be ordered on the Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., website, at <>.


To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books