ABSTRACT

Literature in the security studies field has made great use of organisational theory over the past two decades. Application of such concepts as organisational essence and standard operating procedures (SOPs) has become commonplace in the study of modern military organisations. These ideas are so influential that one would be hard pressed to find a scholarly work on the military which did not rely on them either explicitly or implicitly. This literature usually depicts military organisations as mature organisations with well developed identity and ethos, rigid SOPs, defined boundaries, and impervious to external control or influence.1 The independence of military organisations was captured in Franklin Roosevelt’s colourful description of the Navy: ‘To change anything in the na-a-vy is like punching a feather bed. You punch it with your right and you punch it with your left until you are finally exhausted, and then you find the damn bed just as it was before you started punching.’2 While such generalisations are necessary for theoretical progress or for easier presentation of complex ideas, they also lead us to overestimate organisational autonomy and underestimate the opportunities for civilian control. The US Air Force’s attempt to develop a new strategic manned bomber at the beginning of the Missile Age shows the ability of civilians to impose their perspectives on weapons and strategy upon the organisation. In the process, they changed the Air Force’s shape and identity.