Reorganizing the Joint Chiefs of Staff: The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986

By Mers, Brett | Aerospace Power Journal, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Reorganizing the Joint Chiefs of Staff: The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986


Mers, Brett, Aerospace Power Journal


Reorganizing the Joint Chiefs of Staff: The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 by Gordon Nathaniel Lederman. Greenwood Press (http://www. greenwood.com), 88 Post Road West, Westport, Connecticut 06881, 1999, 232 pages, $59.95.

Graduate school, Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, the boss, the wife, the kids-for cryin' out loud, who has time to read another book, especially one as nebulous and abstract as Reorganizing the Joint Chiefs of Staff?. Although this topic at first appears to be a tad esoteric at best, it is in fact one of the most profoundly relevant subjects that any US military officer could investigate. The organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff UCS), the development of the unified command structure, and the `joint versus service-specific debate" in general have literally given us the structure that provides form to the US military and defense community. To understand the JCS, its place in the US defense community, and the debate surrounding how it got there is to go a long way toward understanding the design and implementation of US defense policy on both the strategic and tactical levels. Thus, no topic is more germane to US military officers of any service.

Lederman begins his work with a history of the JCS and its function over the last 50 years with a balance of detail that doesn't bog the reader down in irrelevant minutiae. He then proceeds to set the historical context of the question at hand (i.e., the reorganization of the JCS) by examining three basic tensions inherent in any military organization.

First is the tension between centralization and decentralization. On the one hand, "in centralized organizations, the apex of the hierarchy retains control of major decisions and insists on receiving detailed information from the hierarchy's base." Decentralization, on the other hand, "allows lower level officers the freedom to exploit opportunities without awaiting the hierarchy's cumbersome decision-making process." Lederman acknowledges this as a permanent tension and contends that no permanent and perfect balance exists. Second, "military organizations face the choice between geographic and functional delineations of responsibilities." Geographic divisions allow for focus and detail but are less efficient as duplicative sets of military units are built for each area. Functional divisions allow for economies of scale but tend to blur the focus and detail required for an understanding of individual countries and regions. …

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