Image courtesy of Nick Howard and Military Review. Image courtesy of Nick Howard and Military Review.

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

Who do generals turn to for advice?  Is it just other generals?  Only from their own country?  Or where else?

My co-author Nick Howard and I wondered about this, so we set out to study the relationship amongst generals (and flag officers) amongst the old Five Eyes countries (UK, CAN, AUS, NZ, US).  We think this research has value two ways: first, what social position do senior US military figures occupy in the Pacific? and second, qualitatively, how do generals connect with one another?  Both answers have important implications for defense diplomacy in an era of heightened fiscal scrutiny.

You can get to our findings in this month’s Military Review (pgs. 75-81); here’s a selection from the introduction:

This article reports the findings from a March 2013 social network analysis among senior military officers across the principal Anglosphere nations of the Asia-Pacific region.[i]  We chose this area for its recognized increasing importance to the United States, particularly in light of President Barack Obama’s remarks in an important 2011 speech to Parliament in Canberra (Australia), that “as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future.”[ii]  In this research, we found meaningful evidence supporting the hypothesis that America occupies a central position amongst senior military officers in the Asia-Pacific, and that these personal networks are heavily experience-based.  Amongst today’s general and flag officers, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a handshake is worth a thousand emails.  Thus, if the United States values this central position in the Asia-Pacific, then the policy implication is to support continued investment in these experience-based networks.

[i] Note: For the purposes of this essay, “Anglosphere” refers to the five countries with shared linguistic/cultural backgrounds and a relatively high volume of historical military cooperation: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.  Though some might object to this an exclusively racial construct, one glimpse at the modern multi-ethnic composition of these societies provides sufficient evidence to the contrary.

[ii] Barack Obama, “Remarks by President Obama to the Australian Parliament,” November 17, 2011,