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Social Polarization and Merit-based Appointment in Armed Forces

Fri, November 3, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Omni Parker Mezzanine, Brandeis


Why do some countries base their appointment decisions in armed forces based on merits and skills, but others base their decisions on personal or political connections? Whether armed forces make appointments based on merit versus personal or political connections has a wide variety of ramifications, such as the professionalization of armed forces, relations of armed forces with the civilian government, and the effectiveness of armed forces in civil or interstate conflict. Despite such importance of this decision, there is no empirical research that addresses this puzzle. We argue that the social structure of armed forces is a reflection of characteristics of the society from which their personnel come. Therefore, racial, ethnic, or religious divisions in a society will be reflected within the ranks of the armed forces, suggesting that these divisions would be important considerations in making appointment decisions. We hypothesize that a greater degree of social polarization will diminish the extent to which appointment decisions in the armed forces will be merit-based. Social polarization would encourage certain social groups in the armed forces to give preference to people sharing the same cleavages in making the appointments in order to consolidate their power in the bureaucracy and to ensure that other groups will not threaten their status in the security apparatus. The findings of our large-N quantitative analysis supported by qualitative evidence from the Turkish military corroborates our theoretical expectations.