The Key West Agreement

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The Key West Agreement (1948) was a major step toward composing differences between the military services over their respective roles and missions.The immediate purpose was to reconcile the inconsistent treatment of service functions in the National Security Act of 1947, which had unified the armed forces under the National Military Establishment (later the Department of Defense), and its companion Executive Order 9877. Two issues were uppermost: in regard to air power, whether the air force should share its strategic nuclear bombing function with the navy's carrier‐based aircraft; and in regard to ground forces, whether limitations urged by the army should be imposed on the size and capabilities of the Marine Corps.

Growing interservice friction over these issues prompted Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal to meet privately with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at Key West, Florida, 11–14 March 1948, where he brokered a compromise. Although primary service functions—air, land, and sea warfare—remained unchanged, each service received a secondary, or collateral, assignment. These were summarized in a paper entitled “Functions of the Armed Forces and the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” which replaced the executive order. Forrestal hoped that this agreement would encourage more interservice collaboration—between the air force and the navy in planning nuclear warfare, and between the army and Marine Corps in amphibious operations.

Although the Key West Agreement provided a framework for resolving disagreements over service functions, it did little to eliminate the underlying sources of interservice rivalry. Money remained tight up to the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, and until then, no service would readily part with or share responsibilities on which its budget claims rested. The Key West Agreement stood as the official statement of service functions until an updated directive replaced it in March 1954.
[See also Rivalry, Interservice.]


Alice C. Cole, et al., eds., The Department of Defense: Documents on Establishment and Organization, 1944–1978, 1978.
Steven L. Rearden , History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense: The Formative Years, 1947–1950, 1984.

Steven L. Rearden