Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986: Should the General Staff Debate Be Over?, Thomas, 9781288294015

Author: Thomas


The Goldwater-Nicholas Reorganization Act of 1986 was the most sweeping legislation related to DOD reform since the enabling legislation following World War II. Its de jure purpose, inter alia, was to enhance the legal authority of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the unified commanders. Its practical purpose was to improve U.S. warfighting capability. As one might expect, implementation has been controversial in terms of shifting power from the Services to the Joint Staff and the CINCs, particularly as interpreted by the Joint Staff. It is worth noting the Joint Staff remained an organization which assists the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs vice transitioning to a “general” staff. Many point to the warfighting success of Desert Shield/Desert Storm as conclusive proof that Goldwater-Nicholas achieved its purpose. However, DOD is now entering a period of unsettled reshuffling of budget priorities as Congress and the President struggle with balancing the U.S. budget. This will undoubtedly mean far fewer resources, both dollars and people, for DOD as a whole. Goldwater-Nicholas was enacted under implicit assumptions about strategic threats and organizational needs of the U.S. military (e.g., the Soviet Union was still a viable political entity in 1986). This paper explores whether Goldwater-Nicholas went far enough in its reform efforts, particularly considering the increasing importance of military operations other than war and the inevitable pressures to further reduce the military budget. It focuses on relationships and divisions of labor between the Joint, Service, and CINC staffs.

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