Joint Chiefs of Staff, United States
█ JOSEPH PATTERSON HYDER
The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) of the United States is a six-member committee that advises the president, the secretary of defense, and the National Security Council on military affairs. A chairman, vice-chairman, and the chiefs of each of the four branches of the military form the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The chief of each military branch also serves as manager of his military branch, although these management duties typically fall to the vice-chief. The chairman conducts meetings of the JCS and serves as the primary military advisor to the President.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff was formed following the Arcadia Conference in 1942, during which President Franklin D. Roosevelt and United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill formed the Combined Chiefs of Staff to conduct the war effort on behalf of the United States and Britain. The Combined Chiefs of Staff consisted of senior members of the American and British armed forces. While the British established a Joint Chief of Staff Committee in 1924 in order to advise the Prime Minister and War Cabinet, the United States did not have a central military command in place to contribute a coordinated military plan to the Combined Chiefs. U.S. Admiral William Leahy led an effort to establish an American unified high command. The result of Admiral Leahy's efforts was the formation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of which he was named Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy.
During World War II, Roosevelt granted great latitude to the actions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During the war, the Joint Chiefs acted as executive commanders of troops in the field, answering only to the President. The National Security Act of 1947 formally established the Joint Chiefs of Staff and defined the roles of the chiefs as that of advisers to the President and not as commanders with executive authority.
Despite the statute prohibiting the chiefs from commanding forces, the chief of each armed service branch continued to act with executive authority in originating contact with combat commanders, thus violating the spirit of the National Security Act of 1947. Congress amended the National Security Act in 1953 to prevent such contact with field commanders.
The Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 further redefined the function of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This act went beyond the National Security Act in terms of expressly stating the role of the executive authority in relation to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Goldwater-Nichols Act mandated that the chain of command run from the President to the Secretary of Defense to the combatant commanders. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff may transmit orders to commanders from either the President or the Secretary of Defense, but the Chairman may not exert executive authority or command troops.
The act also defined other functions that the chairman may perform. The chairman may consult with the other chiefs and with commanders in the field but may not commit or command forces. He must then present the advice that he receives to the president, secretary of defense, or National Security Council. All members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are presidential advisers and may submit their opinions to the president through the chairman.
The Goldwater-Nichols Act also established the position of vice-chairman. The vice-chairman conducts meetings of the Joint Chiefs in the absence of the chairman and carries out duties as stipulated by the chairman. Originally the vice-chairman was not a full, voting member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The National Defense Authorization Act of 1992 granted the vice-chairman full status, increasing the Joint Chiefs of Staff to six members.
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