Victory on the Potomac: The Goldwater-Nichols Act Unifies the Pentagon

By Record, Jeffrey | Air & Space Power Journal, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Victory on the Potomac: The Goldwater-Nichols Act Unifies the Pentagon


Record, Jeffrey, Air & Space Power Journal


Victory on the Potomac: The Goldwater-Nichols Act Unifies the Pentagon by James R. Locher III. Texas A&M University Press (http://www. tamu.edu/upress), John H. Lindsey Building, Lewis Street, 4354 TAMU, College Station, Texas 77843, 2002, 544 pages, $34.95 (hardcover).

The people who wear their nation's uniform hold a common view that civilians should stay out of the military's business. But what if internal organizational deformities prevent the military from conducting its business properly? Shouldn't civilians then intervene? After all, the Constitution does grant Congress the authority to make rules for the government and regulation of the armed forces. If the military is broken, does not Congress have an obligation to intervene-even against strong Pentagon objection?

This is exactly what Congress did when it passed the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 over the politically dead bodies of Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and much of the military's senior leadership. The Pentagon's performance in Vietnam and its subsequent bungled operations in Iran, Lebanon, and Grenada revealed the persistence of interservice rivalries that sapped American military effectiveness, even against the backdrop of dramatically heightened US defense spending in the 1980s.

Weinberger was part of the problem because he stubbornly refused to acknowledge that there was a problem. He believed that more money was the only thing the Pentagon needed, and he regarded calls for organizational reform as implicit criticism of his stewardship of the Defense Department. He eventually became his own worst enemy, driving congressional fence-sitters into the proreform ranks.

Ironically, the almost five-year campaign to strengthen the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (ICS) and the unified commanders at the expense of the service chiefs, and to institutionalize `jointness" within the Pentagon began in February 1982, when Gen David Jones, JCS chairman, appealed to the House Armed Services Committee to reform the JCS itself. The joint chiefs had become a committee system incapable of providing timely and useful military advice to civilian authorities or of maximizing operational effectiveness in the field. …

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