Department of Defense

views updated May 23 2018

Department of Defense

Steven L. Rearden

A major change in the conduct of American foreign policy after World War II was the growing involvement of the military, represented by the Department of Defense. The explanation stems in part from the heightened concern for national security during the postwar period when much of the U.S. government became transfixed with waging the Cold War. During these years, as foreign affairs eclipsed domestic policy as the government's top concern, discussion of foreign policy options often dwelt on military courses of action, thereby assuring the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), and the military services numerous opportunities to contribute views. Indeed, some secretaries of defense, like James Forrestal, Robert S. McNamara, Caspar Weinberger, and William Perry, played such a conspicuous role in foreign affairs that they seemed at times to rival the secretary of state. The result was a foreign policy that increasingly reflected the priorities and concerns of the Pentagon.

Even without the Cold War, however, a case can be made that the Defense Department's role and influence in policy circles would have grown appreciably anyway as the logical outcome of American experiences in World War II and its immediate aftermath. As the war ended, the security problems that preoccupied Washington policymakers were not just those associated with deteriorating Soviet-American relations, but also the obligations the United States was apt to acquire as a member of the recently created United Nations, the threats posed by atomic weapons and other new technologies, and the lingering memories of recent military setbacks like Pearl Harbor. The upshot was a growing acceptance that the country would have to have a larger, better-trained, and better-equipped peacetime military force than it had known in the past.

Created in 1949, the Department of Defense was an outgrowth of the National Security Act of 1947, which unified the armed services under a civilian secretary of defense. The debate in Congress leading up to passage of the 1947 legislation had its origins in the experiences of World War II, which, despite the overall success, revealed numerous flaws and shortcomings in command relationships and the allocation of resources among the military services. Aiming to avoid such problems in the future, President Harry S. Truman endorsed a War Department plan calling for a highly centralized and closely unified postwar military structure. The navy, fearing that such a setup would threaten the future of naval aviation and the independence of the Marine Corps, championed a competing plan that rejected outright unification in favor of closer coordination. The resulting compromise, enshrined in the National Security Act, borrowed from both sides but leaned more toward the navy plan, in the interest of avoiding what many in Congress worried might become "a Prussian-style general staff" at the Pentagon.

The responsibilities of the secretary of defense, as head of the new organization, cut across traditional lines. His main job was to provide "general direction, authority, and control" over the military departments, made up of the army, the navy, and a newly independent air force, which were now grouped together under a hybrid organization known as the National Military Establishment. But the secretary was also "the principal assistant to the President in all matters relating to the national security." Exactly where the latter language came from or how it was meant to be applied are unclear. The most likely explanation is that it reflected the philosophy and influence of James Forrestal, secretary of the navy during the unification debate, who believed that the secretary of defense should be primarily a coordinator rather than an executive administrator. Truman never liked this loose description of the secretary's duties, and when the opportunity presented itself in 1949 to amend the National Security Act (at which time Congress converted the National Military Establishment into the present-day Department of Defense and strengthened the secretary's authority), he insisted that the wording of the secretary's mission be changed to "principal assistant to the President in all matters relating to the Department of Defense."

In addition to providing a framework for unification, the 1947 National Security Act created new machinery to promote closer coordination within the policy process. In practice this meant balancing competing claims of authority, influence, and resources among rival departments and agencies. In an effort to impose order on this situation, Congress created new mechanisms to help the president: the National Security Council to advise him on the formulation of overall policy; the National Security Resources Board to oversee future mobilization planning; and the Central Intelligence Agency to coordinate the gathering and analysis of intelligence. Although it was generally assumed that the military would be represented on each of these bodies, the only stipulation in the law was that the secretary of defense and the service secretaries would sit on the National Security Council.


As a result of the National Security Act, the military establishment stood to gain considerably in its exercise of influence over peacetime foreign and defense policy. Forrestal, as one of the principal architects of the law, hoped that it would lead to closer politico-military collaboration, an area he thought had been slighted during World War II by what he saw as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's casual management style and haphazard approach to postwar planning. After the war, as relations with the Soviet Union deteriorated, Forrestal thought it all the more imperative that military planning and foreign policy be brought into closer harmony. As the first secretary of defense (19471949), he looked initially to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to be his principal politico-military advisers and adopted the practice of consulting with them on nearly every foreign policy matter that crossed his desk. In view of the proliferating number of foreign crisesin Greece, Italy, Palestine, Berlin, China, and elsewherethe Joint Chiefs had numerous occasions to express their views and to exert their influence. Yet rarely did they make as much of these opportunities as they might have. Divided among themselves over budgetary issues, the allocation of resources, and the assignment of service roles and missions, they seldom presented a united front. Where the use of force might be involved, their recommendations tended to be so unrealistic that they scarcely received serious consideration outside the Pentagon. A case in point was their finding in the spring of 1948 that 100,000 U.S. troops would be needed for peacekeeping duties in Palestine, an estimate built on worst-case scenarios that officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and at the White House dismissed as overblown for budgetary purposes.

As it became clear that the Joint Chiefs were a less reliable source of advice than Forrestal had expected, he found himself turning to members of his immediate staff to deal with politico-military affairs. This was not something Forrestal had anticipated, nor did it fit easily into the organization he had planned for his office. During the unification debate, he had told Congress that in the interests of preserving service autonomy it would be counterproductive for the new secretary of defense to surround himself with too many aides and assistants who might interfere in the services' business. A small staff, he contended, would be more than adequate. Politico-military affairs became the responsibility of John H. Ohly, one of the secretary's three statutory special assistants, who oversaw a mixed staff of civil servants and uniformed officers borrowed from the military departments. Although Ohly usually stayed in the background, operating more as an administrator than as an adviser, his role was such that he could, and did, freely offer suggestions when it seemed appropriate.

Under Forrestal's successor, Louis A. Johnson (19491950), politico-military affairs acquired a more formal and centralized structure, in line with Johnson's philosophy (as well as the increased authority he wielded as a result of the 1949 amendments to the National Security Act), that the secretary of defense should exercise closer control over departmental policy. The impetus for the changes Johnson made in handling foreign affairs came initially from the State Department, which wanted a single point of contact with the Pentagon instead of having to deal separately with the OSD, the JCS, and the military services. One proposal up for consideration at the time Johnson took office in March 1949 was to vest primary responsibility for politico-military affairs in the JCS. Johnson, however, vetoed the idea in favor of keeping control in his immediate office, thereby setting a precedent that would guide all future secretaries of defense. Over the next several months he moved policy responsibility for occupied areas from the army to OSD, ordered his immediate staff to monitor all correspondence between the military services and the State Department, and set up the State Liaison Section to serve as the central point of contact for all communications with the State Department other than sensitive intelligence matters.

An isolationist at heart, Johnson faced the somewhat personally awkward task of having to help implement two major foreign policy initiatives: the defense of Europe as part of America's obligations as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), created in April 1949; and arming the allies under a companion measure, the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, enacted that autumn. Less than enthusiastic about either, Johnson turned coordination of these matters over to an assistant, James H. Burns, a retired army officer whose heart ailment allowed him to work only part-time. Fortunately, Burns had two exceptionally able deputies: Major General Lyman L. Lemnitzer, who handled military assistance; and Najeeb E. Halaby, who specialized in foreign military affairs, including NATO. Meanwhile, Johnson became involved in a running feud with Secretary of State Dean Acheson, which put a serious strain on State-Defense relations. Business between the two still managed to get done, but at a reduced pace with limited contacts and cooperation all around.

The low point came with the drafting of NSC 68 in the spring of 1950, when the State Department team, led by Paul H. Nitze, director of the Policy Planning Staff, effectively usurped leadership of what was supposed to have been a joint State-Defense endeavor. The product of the exercise was a paper tailored to Acheson's specifications, warning of great dangers ahead unless the United States abandoned the strict economy measures Johnson had imposed and stepped up the level of its military preparedness. From this point on, Johnson's credibility at the White House steadily diminished, until reverses at the outset of the Korean War that summer cast doubt on his continuing ability to manage the Pentagon and provided Truman with an excuse to fire him.


To replace Johnson, Truman turned in September 1950 to General George C. Marshall, army chief of staff in World War II and secretary of state from 1947 to 1949, who brought with him his former undersecretary of state, Robert A. Lovett, to be his number two (and successor, beginning in 1951) at the Pentagon. Truman held Marshall in the highest regard, and it is not surprising that, with Marshall's return to government, Acheson found his authority and influence somewhat eclipsed. Meanwhile, Truman also decided to upgrade the National Security Council, thereby imposing greater discipline and efficiency on the policy process and opening avenues for shaping high-level policy that had not existed for either Forrestal or Johnson. With the additional impetus of the Korean War generating a growing list of U.S. politico-military commitments around the globe, the Defense Department became immersed in foreign affairs to an unprecedented degree. Not until the Kennedy and Johnson administrations of the 1960s would a secretary of defense exert as much influence over foreign policy as did Marshall and Lovett.

In sharp contrast to the confrontational tone of Johnson's tenure, Marshall and Lovett both promoted cordial working relations between the State and Defense departments. Truman was disgusted with the constant bickering between Acheson and Johnson, and he looked to his new team at the Pentagon to put politico-military collaboration on a more sound and professional basis. The goal, as Lovett later described it while testifying before Congress, was "constant, close, and sympathetic cooperation" between the two departments. This included not only increased contacts at the uppermost levels of policymaking, but also direct consultations on a regular basis involving the State Department's regional assistant secretaries, the Policy Planning Staff, and the Joint Chiefs, something that Johnson had sharply curtailed.

Despite an atmosphere of improved cooperation, Marshall and Lovett continued the practice begun by Johnson of exercising close administrative control of foreign affairs through OSD, under what became in November 1951 the Office of International Security Affairs, headed by Frank C. Nash, one of the many Forrestal protégés still around the Pentagon. Nash had a broad charter that gave him the authority to coordinate "all activities" within the Department of Defense relating to international security affairs. Nash himself was intimately involved in practically every detail of the office's operations, serving as principal liaison with the National Security Council and as a key aide to Marshall and Lovett. It was one of the Pentagon's most high profile jobs, requiring a judicious mix of administrative and diplomatic skills that continuously underscored the increasingly close relationship between military affairs and foreign policy.


During Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidency (19531961), the Defense Department's involvement in foreign affairs continued to expand as military responses increasingly became a part of the U.S. strategy for containing communist expansion. Ironically, however, the secretary of defense himself was a relatively minor figure in shaping foreign policy decisions during most of this period. Stressing the need for sound management, Eisenhower selected former business executives as his first two secretaries of defense Charles E. Wilson (19531957), who had headed General Motors, and Neil H. McElroy (19571959), former president of Procter and Gamble. Hired for their ability to run large enterprises, they operated on the philosophy that, above all, the secretary of defense should concern himself with the managerial side of the department and leave policy and strategy decisions to be hammered out in the National Security Council by the president, the Joint Chiefs, and Eisenhower's number one foreign affairs adviser, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

Despite the limited role that Wilson and McElroy embraced for themselves, Defense Department involvement abroad continued to grow. Often the responsibilities were routine and dealt with administrative chores requiring prior defense arrangements with U.S. allies, such as those in NATO and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), access to overseas bases, and the buildup, equipping, and training of allied forces under U.S. military aid programs. Accordingly, provisions had to be made to handle the influx of U.S. military personnel into foreign countries, arrange for the administration and allocation of assistance, define the duties and responsibilities of U.S. advisers, and negotiate agreements governing the status of forces, usually with the International Security Affairs office providing the initial liaison and coordination on the Washington end.

At the same time the department also faced a wholly new set of security problems arising from advances in military technology and corresponding decisions by the president and the National Security Council on how these advances would be exploited. The advent of thermonuclear and tactical nuclear weapons and of ballistic missile technology, coupled with Eisenhower's decision to "conventionalize" the atomic arsenal, raised problems of unprecedented political complexity and diplomatic sensitivity. Never before had any country possessed such enormous power with so few guiding precedents on how to manage it. As it turned out, some of these new weapons would be deployed abroad and shared with America's allies. How much control, if any, the host country would have over the storage, movement, and use of these weapons invariably invited prolonged discussion, both within the U.S. government and between Washington and foreign capitals.

The inherent importance of being able to deal effectively with these problems was manifest when in February 1953 Wilson promoted the International Security Affairs assistant to the rank of assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. The decision to elevate the job (a move Lovett was on the verge of making when he left office) was long overdue, but as a practical matter its only real significance was to reaffirm the office's already well established place among the Pentagon's elite. In 1956, Wilson tried to upgrade the office to the rank of undersecretary, to place it on a par with the service secretaries. However, legislation that would have effected the change died in the House Armed Services Committee.

In fact, the mandate of the International Security Affairs office was never so clear as to give it undisputed control of politico-military affairs. Each of the services continued to maintain its own politico-military and international affairs section, which could be used to circumvent the secretary of defense and his deputies. Best organized for this purpose was the navy, which maintained regular informal communications with the State Department through its Politico-Military Policy Division. In addition, the chief of naval operations had his own "back channel" contacts abroad, which infuriated Secretary of Defense Wilson when he learned of them. And while International Security Affairs was supposed to be responsible for policies governing the programming of foreign military aid, it often encountered resistance from the Joint Chiefs and the military departments when it attempted to probe the details of their recommendations concerning program development and implementation practices. Had Wilson and McElroy taken a greater personal interest in foreign affairs, many of these problems might have been avoided. But with secretaries of defense whose interests lay elsewhere, the assistant secretaries for International Security Affairs knew that they could count on little support and generally felt constrained from pressing their authority too far.

The situation started to change with the appointment in December 1959 of Thomas S. Gates, a Philadelphia banker, as Eisenhower's third secretary of defense. Although his tenure was short (19591961), it reestablished the secretary of defense as a major figure in foreign policy decision making. Occasionally criticized for trying to usurp the secretary of state's functions, Gates pursued a State-Defense partnership that would yield more truly integrated policies with less interdepartmental friction and parochialism. As a first step, Gates abandoned the practice of trying to control the flow of State-Defense business through his immediate office. Indicative of the results he hoped to achieve, he initiated regular one-on-one meetings with Secretary of State Christian A. Herter and encouraged subordinates to do the same with their State Department counterparts in an effort to improve interagency cooperation and coordination.

Gates was also highly instrumental in shaping Defense Department responses in the increasingly important area of arms control and disarmament, where prior to Gates the Pentagon's support and endorsement of such measures had been lukewarm. Although Wilson and McElroy had spent considerable time and energy studying arms control proposals passing across their desks, they were forever confronted by the unremitting skepticism and apprehension of the Joint Chiefs, whose opinions on such matters carried considerable weight both inside the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. Since the chiefs knew that it was impossible for political reasons to keep arms control off the national agenda, they focused their objections instead on technical mattersthe lack of adequate and effective verification measures, for example, or the debilitating consequences for research and development programs. As delaying tactics, these arguments worked well against such proposals as an atmospheric test ban and a cutoff of nuclear production. But they were also the kinds of arguments that wore thin after awhile and gave the Defense Department a reputation for contentiousness.

Gates was decidedly more inclined than his two immediate predecessors to bring arms control and disarmament into the mainstream of American defense policy. While he readily acknowledged to the press that there was a "negative attitude" in the Pentagon toward arms control, he was prepared to entertain any and all suggestions and told Eisenhower that he was thinking of appointing a special assistant on disarmament matters. Still, about the only arms control measures Gates was seriously willing to consider (without, as he put it, "a complete review of our force structure") were those that promised to result in some sort of U.S. advantage over the Soviets. Personally, Gates favored a cutoff of nuclear production, preferably sooner rather than later, not so much for disarmament purposes but to preserve what he estimated as a two-to-one American advantage over the Soviets in nuclear bombs and warheads. Moreover, he fully agreed with the Joint Chiefs that arms control for the sake of arms control was inherently dangerous, and that the administration should not allow itself to be stampeded into reaching agreements merely because of public opinion.

Whether Gates could or should have been tougher with the military on accepting the need for arms control falls into the realm of conjecture. Gates himself, although more open-minded toward such matters than Wilson and McElroy had been, was still very much committed to the concept of foreign and defense policies resting on ready military power rather than the negotiation of agreements with one's potential adversaries. Like Forrestal and Lovett, he was part of a generation whose view of international politics derived from memories and experiences of the 1930s, when military weakness and appeasement had seemed to invite oppression and aggression. International communism, to Gates's way of thinking, was basically no different from the Axis alliance that had bound Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and imperial Japan in World War II. Despite rumors and diplomatic reports of a growing Sino-Soviet rift, Gates remained convinced that there were no fundamental ideological differences between Moscow and Beijing, and that American foreign policy should treat such stories with utmost caution. It was, perhaps, a quintessential Cold War viewpoint, but not one that was uncommon or out of place for its times.


If there was one individual who had more impact than anyone else on the Defense Department's role in foreign affairs, it was Robert S. McNamara. Appointed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, McNamara served as secretary of defense until 1968, when the stalemated war in Vietnam prompted his resignation. Throughout most of his tenure, McNamara was an ardent advocate of American involvement in Southeast Asia and a key figure in planning and prosecuting the war. Indeed, in a very real sense, foreign policy toward Southeast Asia during these years was a product of the Pentagon, which was largely responsible for orchestrating the war. Victory, however, proved elusive, and as time passed McNamara saw his self-confidence and credibility steadily erode. Disillusioned and frustrated, he left office counseling withdrawal and stepped-up efforts at a negotiated settlement.

Yet the frustrations of Vietnam and their ripple effects were only part of the McNamara story. Indeed, without Vietnam, McNamara's tenure would probably be remembered as a period of extraordinarily positive accomplishments, from improved management of the Pentagon to reduced reliance on nuclear weapons and the initiation of the first serious efforts at strategic arms control. Outwardly, McNamara was an unlikely candidate to play such a major part in foreign affairs. A former president of Ford Motor Company, he seemed destined at the outset of his tenure to follow in the footsteps of Wilson and McElroy and become a business manager of the Pentagon. That he emerged instead as a pivotal figure in foreign policy was as much a product of his approach to the job of secretary of defense as it was the unique circumstances in which he found himself. The result was a far more active and involved Defense Department at all levels of the policy process, including especially high-level decision making.

Much of the power and authority that the Pentagon wielded under McNamara accrued by default rather than by design. President Kennedy had little use for the elaborate National Security Council system developed under Truman and Eisenhower, and in its place he substituted a slimmed-down version with limited capabilities for independent policy analysis. Further, he discontinued the practice of conducting elaborate annual national security reviews and expected the State Department to exercise primary responsibility for developing and coordinating policy. The weak link in this system proved to be Dean Rusk, Kennedy's choice as secretary of state. Although affable and intelligent, it soon became apparent that Rusk lacked the temperament and drive to carry out the job entrusted to him. Eventually it fell to McNamara to fill the void.

For the record, McNamara accepted the conventional wisdom that defense policy derived from foreign policy and that the Pentagon's function was to serve and assist the State Department. But in day-to-day practice, McNamara, with Kennedy's blessing, generally followed his own lead. The approach McNamara adopted was to supply his own foreign policy guidance, which he included with each budget submission to the president and in his annual reports (termed "posture statements" to give them more prestige) to Congress. Going beyond a purely military rationale, McNamara's posture statements offered broad justification for new and ongoing defense programs based on the manner in which they would contribute to furthering U.S. foreign policy objectives. "It was essential," McNamara recalled in an interview, "to begin with a discussion of foreign policy because that had to be the foundation of security policy." Although the State Department routinely submitted advice and comments, its views often arrived too late in the budget process to be reflected in the final documents forwarded to the White House and Capitol Hill.

For support, McNamara assembled a highly skilled and talented staff, dubbed the "whiz kids," who implemented a host of far-reaching administrative and managerial reforms. Some of the changes they and McNamara made, including the extensive use of computer-driven "systems analysis" models and mission-oriented budgeting techniques, proved controversial and hard for the military services to swallow. But there is no doubt that they gave the secretary a stronger and firmer hand, both in running the department and in projecting his influence into foreign policy. Moreover, they liberated the secretary from having to draw as often on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military services for advice and analysis of politico-military problems. By the middle of the decade, McNamara had at his fingertips the most sophisticated and effective organization for analyzing and managing politico-military affairs that Washington had yet seen. Whether, as some critics charged, McNamara's reforms invited the further "militarization" of American foreign policy is debatable. Within the Pentagon, McNamara exercised an unprecedented degree of civilian control over the military and routinely used civilians in International Security Affairs and in other key positions to perform chores previously reserved for the services or the JCS. If this was militarization, it was most definitely of the civilian-shaded variety.

All the same, the tendency to apply military solutions to serious problems abroad grew steadily during the 1960s. This was true not only in Southeast Asia but also in dealing with incidents in Cuba, Berlin, the Dominican Republic, and other Cold War flashpoints. During the late 1940s and 1950s, U.S. military power had relied in the first instance on the presumed deterrent effects of nuclear retaliation to cope with the threat of communist aggression. But by the 1960s, with the United States and the Soviet Union approaching effective parity in strategic nuclear power, it was no longer realistic to threaten wholesale nuclear destruction. Seeking a more credible posture, McNamara seized on the doctrine of flexible response as a means of providing the president with a wider range of options for dealing with critical international problems.

The essence of flexible response was a varied mixture of forces allowing a greater choice in military actions, with emphasis on containing any conflict below the level of a nuclear exchange. Developed initially with Europe in mind, McNamara hoped that flexible response would provide an alternative to the all-or-nothing mentality that then dominated NATO strategic planning. To achieve the desired posture, he urged stepped-up procurement of conventional forces and changes in the programmed use of nuclear weapons to allow for a "pause" or "firebreak" between conventional conflict and a larger war. European critics countered that such a strategy would be prohibitively expensive and that it would under-mine nuclear deterrence and increase the risk of a conventional conflict. But with patience and perseverance, McNamara gradually brought the Europeans around. Adopted by NATO in 1967, flexible response was, on paper at least, a major break with the past, although in practice its effects were somewhat negated by the reluctance of the European allies to commit themselves to a sustained conventional buildup. Even so, flexible response remained NATO's governing strategic doctrine for the duration of the Cold War and into the early 1990s.

Another of McNamara's contributions was to help institutionalize a more serious attitude within the Defense Department toward strategic arms control and disarmament. What prompted McNamara's involvement was mounting evidence by the mid-1960s that the Soviet Union had embarked upon the deployment of two prototype antiballistic missile (ABM) systems, thus putting pressure on the United States to respond in kind. Dubious of the technologies involved, McNamara sought to avoid a costly and perhaps futile ABM competition by proposing negotiations with the Soviets to curb both offensive and defensive strategic weapons. Although the Joint Chiefs remained skeptical about whether such talks would amount to much, they agreed with McNamara's basic premise that the strategic arms competition was getting out of hand and that restraint on both sides could serve a useful purpose. This was a dramatic turnaround from military thinking in the 1950s, and it went far toward paving the way for the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and other arms control accords growing out of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) between Washington and Moscow in the 1970s.

Outside Europe, flexible response played a less conspicuous role in shaping American foreign policy. The escalating conflict in Southeast Asia defied the conceptual models that McNamara was so fond of applying, and by 1966 the United States found itself engaged in a war of attrition with North Vietnam. Nevertheless, McNamara approached the war as he generally approached other problems, seeking to reduce it to quantifiable proportions. Knowing McNamara's preferences, subordinates tailored programs and recommendations accordingly, stressing systems analysis techniques over less quantifiable means of assessing the war's progress and possible outcome. The use of statistical models, whether involving kill ratios, construction rates, frequency of incidents, or other indicators, gave a distorted picture of the war, often because the U.S. command in Saigon and the South Vietnamese government, knowingly or otherwise, provided erroneous data. By the time McNamara realized what was happening, the United States was so committed to prosecuting the war that there was no turning back without doing what he and President Lyndon B. Johnson considered serious damage to U.S. prestige and credibility.

McNamara's tenure at the Defense Department thus left a mixed legacy. While there was progress in curbing the menace of nuclear war, the United States found itself plunging ever more deeply into an ill-advised and ill-conceived conflict in Southeast Asia. McNamara demonstrated that a strong-minded and strong-willed secretary of defense could exercise enormous influence on American foreign policy. However, his immediate successors were leery of following suit.


After Vietnam the role of military power in American foreign policy became less pronounced than it had been previously, a clear sign of popular misgivings over the war and of diminished confidence in military solutions to problems abroad. Indicative of the trend was the decision by Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird (19691973) in 1970 to cease prefacing his annual reports to Congress with foreign policy reviews, as had been the custom during McNamara's tenure. Nevertheless, the Defense Department continued to figure prominently in the foreign policy process through its representation on interagency committees and the secretary's membership on the National Security Council. As a rule, the Defense Department supplied two representativesone from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, another from the Joint Chiefs of Staffto each interagency forum while providing many of the action officers who made up the National Security Council staff. Although it was entirely conceivable that the president and his staff could have curtailed their contacts with the military, relying more on civilians from the State Department or elsewhere for advice, it was practically impossible to do so. The resulting policies may have been less overtly military in character, but they were still subject to military involvement in their development and execution.

One reason why the Pentagon acquired a lower foreign policy profile after Vietnam was that defense-related security problems in the 1970s gave way in importance to political and economic problems. The major exceptions were the SALT negotiations with the Soviet Union, which required military participation on technical as well as policy grounds, and ongoing U.S. involvement in NATO and foreign military assistance programs to American client states like Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and the Philippines. But otherwise attention focused on such matters as inflation, energy shortages, and other disruptions to the global political economy that were not normally high on the Pentagon's agenda. At the same time, a general improvement in relations between Washington and Moscow, known as détente, lessened the more overt dangers of an East-West confrontation.

The growing range and complexity of problems abroad invited the Defense Department to acquire more sophisticated means for approaching and handling foreign affairs. This included the staffing of a net assessment office in 1973, which operated under a broad charter to initiate studies of current and projected U.S. and foreign military capabilities; and the appointment in 1977 of an undersecretary of defense for policy, to oversee politico-military affairs, arms control, and the integration of defense plans and policies with basic national security policy. At the command and staff colleges run by the armed services and at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., lectures and courses on national security affairs became more commonplace alongside traditional studies in military science. Language training likewise received closer attention at service schools.

The net effect was to generate a far greater appreciation within the military for the complexities of foreign affairs than at any time in the past. Many junior officers who had served in Vietnam were highly critical of what they found to be their superiors' simplistic and naive views on foreign policy; as these younger officers rose to prominence in the late 1970s and 1980s they brought with them a keen interest in developing U.S. policies less wedded to Cold War stereotypes. A case in point was the Pentagon's more flexible attitude toward the communist regime on mainland China during the 1970s and early 1980s and its ready acquiescence in dropping support for Taiwan, once a bulwark against communism and a stalwart American ally.


By the late 1970s the pendulum was beginning to swing back toward more active military participation in foreign affairs. The faltering of détente, an across-the-board Warsaw Pact buildup in Europe, and the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan all suggested that the Cold War was far from over and that U.S. foreign policy still needed the support of a strong U.S. military establishment. The response was a U.S. peacetime military buildup of unprecedented proportions. Begun toward the end of Carter's presidency, it gathered momentum under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s to become the largest such effort in American history. Among the programs that Reagan initiated were the creation of a 600-ship navy to give the United States a more effective global power-projection capability, offensive strategic forces that would be more survivable in a general nuclear war, and the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars" to its critics) to explore the feasibility of rendering intercontinental ballistic missiles "impotent and obsolete."

Whereas Carter sent U.S. forces into harm's way only once, during the Iran hostage crisis in 1980, and even then with great reluctance, Reagan did so time and again with rarely a second thought. His operating premise was that a successful and effective foreign policy and readiness to use military power went hand in hand. Insisting that military involvement overseas was unavoidable, he often turned to the Defense Department to conduct operations in direct furtherance of American policy. This included providing a buffer between the warring factions in Lebanon, escorting neutral tanker traffic in the Persian Gulf, punitive raids against Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, counterinsurgency operations in Central America, and the rescue of American civilians following a Marxist coup on Grenada in 1983.

Reagan also drew heavily on the military and Pentagon professionals to help staff his administration. His first secretary of state, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., was a retired four-star army general who had recently served as NATO Supreme Commander. Haig first came to prominence during the Nixon administration as Henry Kissinger's deputy at the National Security Council. During his year and a half as secretary of state under Reagan, Haig was often in the forefront of suggesting military pressure when diplomacy appeared to falter, especially in trying to counter Soviet and Cuban adventurism in the Caribbean, Central America, and Africa. Of the six national security advisers that Reagan had, twoVice Admiral John M. Poindexter and Lieutenant General Colin L. Powellwere active-duty military officers. A third, Frank C. Carlucci, was a former deputy secretary of defense. Meanwhile, military officers "on loan" from the Pentagon continued to occupy key positions on the National Security Council staff; and after a succession of civilian heads, Reagan in 1987 named retired army Major General William Burns to direct the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

Not surprisingly, Defense Department influence rose appreciably during the Reagan years, though not always in ways that yielded predictable outcomes. Indeed, in certain respects, the department found itself ill-prepared for the more demanding role that Reagan thrust upon it. The unpopularity of the military after Vietnam and years of flat defense spending had left what many at the Pentagon considered a hollow force by the beginning of the 1980s. Although the Joint Chiefs of Staff planning mechanism was now capable of generating an enormous array of military options from which the president could choose, the effective implementation of these plans was often hampered by the lack of trained personnel, reliable equipment and spare parts, interservice friction, and limited access to foreign bases. For these reasons, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger (19811987) and the Joint Chiefs were often averse to taking risks abroad, at least until the Reagan buildup had gathered its full momentum.

A further concern within the Pentagon was that stepped-up military involvement overseas would draw hostile reactions from Congress and the American public. Fearing another Vietnam, the Joint Chiefs cautioned against committing U.S. combat troops in Central America and insisted upon limiting U.S. military participation to a relatively small-scale assistance program, occasional exercises, and support of CIA-directed covert operations. The Joint Chiefs were likewise leery of becoming drawn into Lebanon, and when a terrorist bombing incident in October 1983 killed 241 U.S. servicemen, they believed their worst fears were confirmed. U.S. troops withdrew shortly thereafter. In a well-publicized speech of November 1984, entitled "Uses of Military Power," Secretary Weinberger laid down specific criteria that he thought should govern U.S. military commitments abroad. At the minimum, Weinberger argued, the armed forces should have a firm declaration of support at home, a clear-cut mission, and an agreed exit strategy from any operation in which they might become involved.

With so much at stake, Weinberger took a proactive stance toward foreign affairs that frequently led to friction with the State Department and the National Security Council. Like many of his predecessors, Weinberger required that State-Defense contacts have his prior approval. Adopting a broad view of his responsibilities, he insisted that the Defense Department should have a voice in practically every major foreign policy decision, not just those that might involve the use of military forces. As a direct consequence, he and Haig quarreled often and openly, so much so that the policy process seemed at times to grind to a halt. Weinberger's relations with Haig's successor, George C. Shultz, were only slightly better. In interdepartmental deliberations Weinberger fought hard for his views, often with success.

Weinberger was especially active in shaping the administration's stand on arms control and related issues. While framing an intermediate-range ballistic missile negotiating policy in 1981, he convinced President Reagan, over the objections of the State Department, the Joint Chiefs, and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, to hold out for a total global ban on theater-range ballistic missiles, a goal eventually realized in 1987. Weinberger also encouraged Reagan to persevere with the Strategic Defense Initiative, which critics dismissed as unworkable, but which Weinberger regarded as an exceedingly valuable military asset. Unlike Shultz and others in the administration, Weinberger was highly averse to seeing it bargained away. Although not as hostile to arms control as some of his critics maintained, Weinberger believed in negotiating from a position of strength and was dubious of being able to reach fair and reasonable agreements with the Soviets until the United States had improved its strategic posture.

While Weinberger sought to clarify the ground rules for the military's role in foreign policy, others sought to make it more responsive to such problems. Defense reform had been in the air since the debacle in Vietnam, and by the 1980s it took the form of a concerted effort in Congress to improve the performance of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the joint command structure, under which the worldwide deployment of U.S. forces operated. Long criticized as unreliable and ineffectual, the JCS was a prime candidate for legislative reform. Even many senior military officers agreed that the system was inefficient and sorely in need of an overhaul. In the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, Congress attempted to address these concerns by providing for a stronger and more active JCS chairman, with full control over the Joint Staff. The joint commands received added authority to participate in the budget, procurement, and planning process, and there was to be increased training and emphasis on "jointness" throughout the armed forces.

The intent of the Goldwater-Nichols reforms was to create a more unified and responsive defense establishment, although it was not until the Gulf War of 19901991 that the new machinery received its first major test. The war confirmed that in planning and executing such operations, the Department of Defense was probably better prepared and better organized than at any time since its creation. With the resources accumulated during the Reagan buildup, it was all the easier to prevail. Simply having a large, well-equipped defense establishment may not have made a military response to Iraq's seizure of Kuwait any more likely than the use of other options. But it certainly proved to be an asset that President George H. W. Bush and his advisers fell back on when the time came to take action. Knowing that they had such assets readily available undoubtedly increased their sense of confidence and resolve to see the crisis through.

The Gulf War was the last hurrah for the large military establishment built up over the Cold War. The collapse of communism across Eastern Europe, starting with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and culminating with the dissolution of the Soviet Union late in 1991, signaled a fundamental geopolitical change. Henceforth regional security problems began to replace the threat of global war as the focus of American military planning. The principal architect of this shift in U.S. strategy was the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman from 1989 to 1993, General Colin Powell, whose concept of a smaller, more mobile "base force" helped guide the Defense Department through its postCold War downsizing. Subsequently, the department came to operate under what Secretary of Defense William J. Perry (19941997) described as a policy of "preventive defense." In practice, this meant trying to head off problems before they arose through Defense support of such measures as dismantling the former Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal, curbing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and NATO's Partnership for Peace program with the former Soviet satellite states.

By far the most demanding postCold War foreign policy tasks that the department encountered were those associated with peacekeeping and humanitarian missions. Little anticipated when the Cold War ended, they proliferated rapidly in the 1990s and ranged from the policing of Iraqi air space (a carryover from the Gulf War) to refugee and famine relief in Africa and power-brokering in Haiti and the Balkans. For the Defense Department these were somewhat new or unique responsibilities that required a delicate weighing of diplomacy and military power, often under the aegis of a multinational or United Nations command. One such mission was the protection of UN famine relief workers in Somalia, which led to a bloody firefight in October 1993 between U.S. special forces and troops loyal to Somali strongman Mohamed Farah Aideed. Thereafter, the Joint Chiefs urged using technology in place of manpower in similar operations to reduce the risk to U.S. forces, advice the Clinton administration readily accepted. When called upon to help evict Serb troops from Kosovo in 1999, it insisted upon doing so at a distance, with a NATO-directed air campaign to apply the necessary pressure.

The beginning of the twenty-first century saw an emerging debate over the military's future role in American foreign policy. Many military planners and analysts still believed that the proper primary function of the armed forces was to guarantee the national security with ready warfighting capabilities, and that doctrine, training, and procurement should be tailored accordingly. An opposing group, citing the growing U.S. involvement in peace enforcement, drug interdiction, and other low-intensity types of conflicts, argued for a more flexible force, with lighter, less sophisticated weapons, more mobility, and closer coordination with international organizations. The debate is ongoing and how it will play out remains to be seen. Either way, however, it seems clear that, as long as the United States is involved in the world arena, military and foreign policy will remain inextricably linked and that the Defense Department will continue to be a major factor in both the policy process and the conduct of American affairs abroad.


Betts, Richard K. Soldiers, Statesmen, and Cold War Crises. Cambridge, Mass., 1977. Crisis-oriented study of the military's role in policy.

Goldberg, Alfred, ed. History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Vols. 1, 2, and 4. Washington, D.C., 19841997.

Historical Division, Joint Chiefs of Staff. History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy. 7 vols. Washington, D.C., 19862000.

Hoopes, Townsend, and Douglas Brinkley. Driven Patriot: The Life and Times of James Forrestal. New York, 1992. Most complete biography of the first secretary of defense.

Kinnard, Douglas. The Secretary of Defense. Lexington, Ky., 1980. Biographical profiles of key secretaries of defense.

Lederman, Gordon Nathaniel. Reorganizing the Joint Chiefs of Staff: The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. Westport, Conn., 1999.

McNamara, Robert S. In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. New York, 1995. McNamara's reflections on Vietnam and what went wrong.

Shapley, Deborah. Promise and Power: The Life and Times of Robert McNamara. Boston, 1993. Perceptive account of McNamara's successes and failures.

Trask, Roger R., and Alfred Goldberg. The Department of Defense, 19471997: Organization and Leaders. Washington, D.C., 1997.

Weinberger, Caspar W. Fighting for Peace: Seven Critical Years in the Pentagon. New York, 1990. A quasi-memoir dealing with selected issues.

Yarmolinsky, Adam. The Military Establishment: Its Impacts on American Society. New York, 1971. A dated but still insightful examination of the military's role.

See also Department of State; Presidential Advisers .


"I believe the postwar period has taught us several lessons, and from them I have developed six major tests to be applied when we are weighing the use of U.S. combat forces abroad.

"First, the United States should not commit forces to combat overseas unless the particular engagement or occasion is deemed vital to our national interest or that of our allies.

"Second, if we decide it is necessary to put combat troops into a given situation, we should do so whole-heartedly, and with the clear intention of winning.

"Third, if we do decide to commit forces to combat overseas, we should have clearly defined political and military objectives. And we should know precisely how our forces can accomplish those clearly defined objectives.

"Fourth, the relationship between our objectives and the forces we have committedtheir size, composition, and dispositionmust be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.

"Fifth, before the U.S. commits combat forces abroad, there must be some reasonable assurance we will have the support of the American people and their elected representatives in Congress. We cannot fighta battle with the Congress at home while asking our troops to win a war overseas.

"Finally, the commitment of U.S. forces to combat should be a last resort."

Excerpts from "Uses of Military Power," address by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger at the National Press Club, 28 November 1984

Defense, Department of

views updated May 29 2018

Defense, Department of. Created in 1949, the Department of Defense was an outgrowth of the National Security Act of 1947, which had “unified” the armed services. The debate in Congress leading up to the 1947 legislation had its origins in the experiences of World War II, which, despite the overall success, had revealed numerous problems in command and control and the allocation of resources. Aiming to avoid similar situations in the future, President Harry S. Truman recommended a War Department plan calling for a highly centralized and closely unified structure, including a separate air force, under a single secretary of defense. The navy worried that such a setup would threaten the future of naval aviation and the independence of the Marine Corps, and urged that instead of unification, attention be given to improving high‐level policy coordination, with Britain's Committee of Imperial Defence serving as the model.

The resulting compromise, enshrined in the National Security Act of 1947, borrowed from both sides. Congress wanted the savings promised by unification, but it was afraid that an overly centralized system would produce a “Prussian‐style general staff,” reducing congressional and civilian control over the military. In enacting legislation, it leaned more toward the navy concept, with emphasis on a loosely unified defense establishment, a secretary of defense with limited authority, and new coordinating machinery, including a National Security Council to advise the president on policy questions, a Central Intelligence Agency for the coordination of intelligence gathering and analysis, and a National Security Resources Board to plan the management of resources.

The unique feature of the act was its handling of service unification. In the preamble to the law, Congress stated that its purpose was to unify the services but “not to merge them.” Its vehicle was a hybrid organization it called the National Military Establishment (NME). Although the secretary of defense was designated the NME's senior presiding official, he exercised only “general direction, authority, and control” over the military services, which retained the status of “individual executive departments,” but without cabinet status. The Navy Department remained the same, while the War Department became the Department of the Army. To placate airpower advocates, the act established a new Department of the Air Force, organized from what had been the Army Air Forces. As part of the NME, the act gave statutory standing to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), which had operated without a formal charter since their creation in 1942; and it established a Munitions Board for interservice coordination of logistical planning, a Research and Development Board to do the same in the areas of science and technology, and a senior‐level War Council (renamed the Armed Forces Policy Council in 1949) to help coordinate overall NME policy.

Early Development.

The first secretary of defense, James Forrestal (1947–49), took office on 17 September 1947. For staff support he had but three special assistants whose statutory authority was unclear. As secretary of the navy during the unification debate, Forrestal had been a reluctant convert to service unification and had assured Congress that there would be no need for a large bureaucracy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). Once installed in his new job, he adopted a go‐slow approach—“evolution, not revolution”—toward integrating service activities, but did not receive what he considered sufficient support or cooperation from within the Pentagon. An added handicap was President Truman's practice of setting rigid budget ceilings, an untoward consequence of which was to encourage interservice competition and feuding over the allocation of funds. At critical conferences in 1948—Key West in March and Newport in August—Forrestal tried to convince the services, especially the navy and the air force, to set aside their differences and work together. But he found it impossible to overcome their resistance with reason and persuasion.

Forrestal eventually concluded that the secretary's powers and staff support needed legislative strengthening. His successor, Louis Johnson (1949–50), believed he already had the power and authority he needed, but acquired even more when in August 1949 Congress amended the National Security Act. The 1949 amendments converted the NME into a full‐scale executive department, the Department of Defense (DoD), and designated the secretary of defense as “the principal assistant to the President in all matters relating to the Department of Defense.” The services were downgraded to the status of “military departments,” but with the proviso that they remain “separately administered,” and the qualification of “general” to describe the secretary's powers and authority was dropped. The secretary also acquired a deputy (previously an undersecretary deriving from special legislation enacted in April 1949) and the special assistants became assistant secretaries of defense, one of whom was designated comptroller, while a nonvoting chairman was added to the Joint Chiefs. The secretary of defense thus emerged as a true executive, not the primus inter pares (first among equals) he had been under the original law. With unencumbered powers and a strengthened staff, he became the focal point of an increasingly centralized administrative system.

From this point on, challenges to the secretary's authority became rarer, but did not cease immediately. The most serious assault occurred in the summer and autumn of 1949 during the “Revolt of the Admirals,” in which senior navy officers, reeling from Johnson's economy measures and imposition of authority, openly attacked the wisdom and impact of service unification and the growing reliance in U.S. defense policy on air‐atomic power as the country's first line of defense. But following the across‐the‐board military buildup precipitated by the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, the stresses and strains on interservice relations eased as money for defense became more plentiful.

The 1953 and 1958 Reorganizations.

The Korean War revealed that true unification still had far to go. As defense spending surged, jumping from approximately $14 billion in fiscal year (FY) 1950 to $49 billion in FY 1953, it put growing pressure on the secretary to effect sound departmental policies. A common complaint in Congress was that the services continued to mismanage and squander resources while unnecessarily duplicating functions. In November 1952, the outgoing secretary of defense, Robert A. Lovett (1951–53), sent President Truman a detailed letter pointing out flaws in the existing setup. Lovett thought the secretary should have more explicit authority over the services; a military staff of his own to augment the Joint Chiefs; and greater flexibility to deal with the problems of supply and logistics.

Lovett was only one of many who felt that defense organization could be improved, and with the change of administrations in January 1953, reforms came quickly. As a first step, President Dwight D. Eisenhower named a committee headed by Nelson A. Rockefeller to review DoD's organizational needs. Eisenhower had long favored a more closely unified defense establishment, and it was with this goal in mind that the Rockefeller Committee framed its findings. Guided by the committee's report, Lovett's letter, and his own instincts, Eisenhower issued an executive order, Reorganization Plan No. 6, to provide a “quick fix” that avoided the need for legislation. Implemented in April 1953, the reorganization eliminated the Munitions Board and the Research and Development Board, transferring their functions to the secretary of defense. It also created six additional assistant secretaries of defense and a general counsel, and empowered the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to manage the Joint Staff (the JCS bureaucracy). Eisenhower had wanted to go further, especially in strengthening the powers of the JCS chairman, but his soundings among members of Congress convinced him that the time was not yet ripe.

In 1958, after the Soviet success in launching the first space satellite, Sputnik, and amid chronic interservice bickering and competition over the U.S. guided missile program, Eisenhower sent Congress additional proposals for defense reform, which this time would require legislative authority. Arguing that “separate ground, sea, and air warfare is gone forever,” Eisenhower asked for further changes that he hoped would dampen interservice rivalry, blend their efforts more efficiently and effectively, and streamline command and control mechanisms to meet the new demands of the atomic era. Criticism of the proposed changes came mostly from the navy, fearing more loss of autonomy, and from its supporters in Congress, led by Representative Carl Vinson, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. But the predominant sentiment among legislators favored the more centralized and unified defense establishment the president wanted.

The Defense Reorganization Act of 1958 amended the 1947 law by taking the unification process about as far as it could go without abandoning the concept of individual military services. The main changes were a significant clarification of the secretary's authority, including the power to transfer, reassign, abolish, and consolidate service functions; the addition of a new senior official, the director of defense research and engineering (DDR&E), to oversee research and development matters; a new chain of command, running from the president through the secretary of defense to the unified field commanders, thus bypassing the service secretaries; and increased authority for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who could now participate as an equal in their deliberations. Instead of being separately administered as in the past, the military departments were to be “separately organized”—a gesture toward preserving service autonomy but a distinct departure from the days when the departments had functioned as sovereign entities. Though the 1949 amendments had already largely settled the matter of the secretary's authority, the 1958 reorganization removed any lingering doubt and made it possible to consolidate and centralize activities with an unimpeded mandate.

McNamara's Impact.

The first secretary of defense to make full use of the increased powers bestowed by the 1958 reorganization was Robert S. McNamara (1961–68). A former president of the Ford Motor Company, McNamara entered office with a formidable background in business techniques that emphasized statistical analysis and close program management. His advent would, as it turned out, usher in some of the most far‐reaching changes the DoD had yet experienced, earning him both high praise and summary condemnation. His initial task was to fulfill President Kennedy's campaign promise of overcoming purported inadequacies in the country's defenses—weakened conventional forces owing to an overreliance on nuclear weapons in the 1950s, and a dangerous “missile gap” in which preliminary evidence suggested that the Soviet Union was outproducing the United States in intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Further intelligence confirmed that missile gap worries were unfounded, but as a precaution against expected Soviet increases, McNamara set in motion a strategic buildup, which by the end of his tenure encompassed a triad of strategic forces consisting of 1,054 ICBM launchers, a fluctuating number of long‐range bombers, and 41 fleet ballistic missile submarines—the basic structure of the strategic deterrent until the 1980s.

Though Kennedy usually gave McNamara a free hand running the department, it was with the understanding that improved efficiency and toughened cost controls would offset much of the increase in expenditures for new missiles and other weapons systems. Defense spending at the outset of the 1960s consumed nearly 10 percent of the gross national product, and it was not Kennedy's intention that it should get any larger. Accordingly, McNamara introduced a variety of reforms, including mission‐oriented budgeting with five‐year expenditure projections, the use of “systems analysis” techniques that relied on computer‐driven models to evaluate the cost‐effectiveness of weapons, and a highly publicized cost reduction program. In addition, he expanded the practice, begun in the 1950s, of consolidating key functions by creating new DoD‐wide agencies for supply, intelligence, and contract auditing. Not all of McNamara's unification measures turned out as he planned, however. A case in point was his abortive effort to cut aircraft procurement costs by developing a single fighter‐bomber, the TFX (F‐111), for both the air force and the navy. But compared with previous secretaries of defense, he achieved an unprecedented degree of centralized civilian control.

Under McNamara, Defense also acquired a more prominent role in foreign affairs through its “little State Department,” the Office of International Security Affairs (ISA), headed in the 1960s by a succession of able assistant secretaries, including Paul H. Nitze, John McNaughton, and Paul Warnke. During a decade dominated by volatile national security issues—the Berlin Wall Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Dominican Republic, nuclear strategy, arms control, and Vietnam—McNamara and ISA were a conspicuous and influential part of the response. One of McNamara's most impressive accomplishments in foreign affairs was to convince NATO to reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons and to develop a more balanced defense posture known as “flexible response.” But his successes with NATO contrasted sharply with the debacle in Southeast Asia. Secretaries of defense had customarily stayed out of the operational side of military affairs, leaving them to the professionals, but McNamara inserted himself directly into many of the details of running the Vietnam War. Initially a strong proponent of American involvement in Vietnam, he gradually came to have doubts and left office counseling stepped‐up efforts at negotiations and disengagement.

Post‐McNamara Changes.

After McNamara came a reaction to centralized authority. Most of the managerial and budgeting techniques he had pioneered more or less survived, but his use of civilians in roles traditionally reserved for military professionals had aroused too much resentment among the services and too much skepticism in Congress for his successors to do likewise. Heeding the critics, President Nixon appointed a Blue Ribbon Defense Panel to review the department's procedures. The panel's report of July 1970 condemned the McNamara style of highly centralized decision making as “inherently inadequate to manage the spectrum of activities required of the Department of Defense,” and urged that the military departments be restored to greater authority and responsibility. Few formal changes actually resulted, but in deference to the services' sensitivities, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird (1969–73) took steps to reinvolve the military in key decisions, notably budget planning, and to reduce the high profile that ISA and systems analysis experts had enjoyed in McNamara's time.

Meanwhile, the unpopularity of the Vietnam War had seriously eroded the military's prestige and credibility, and as the war wound down, cutbacks in military spending followed, leaving what some considered a “hollow” and demoralized force more in need of unified direction than at any time since the late 1940s. At Laird's suggestion, Congress in 1972 authorized a second deputy secretary of defense, though the post remained vacant until 1975. The role of the deputy had traditionally been that of the secretary's “alter ego” (Forrestal's concept), and having two in that job proved awkward and redundant. In 1977, in an effort to streamline functions, Congress abolished the second deputy slot and created two new under secretaries with broad responsibilities—one for policy, to supervise such tasks as strategic planning, military assistance, and international security affairs; and a second for research and engineering. President Carter wanted to go further and initiated a major defense organization study, completed in 1980, which recommended strengthening the role of the Joint Chiefs and upgrading the management responsibilities of the service secretaries. But after Carter lost the 1980 election, the study was largely forgotten.

The Goldwater‐Nichols Reforms of 1986.

By the mid‐1980s, organizational reform of the Defense Department was again a topic of intense discussion, with the initiative this time coming from Congress rather than the executive. President Ronald Reagan was determined to reverse what he considered a decade of neglect of the armed forces, but the sustained buildup he launched in 1981 also gave rise to congressional criticism of waste, abuse, and cost overruns. Endeavoring to ease congressional anxieties, the administration in 1982 reluctantly accepted legislation creating an inspector general for the Defense Department. Reagan and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger (1981–87) opposed more extensive organizational change and tried to dissuade Congress from acting precipitously by forming an advisory commission on defense management headed by David Packard, a former deputy secretary of defense. One of the commission's main findings was that procurement procedures needed a drastic overhaul, starting with appointment of a high‐level procurement “czar.” Congress needed little nudging, and in the summer of 1986 it created the post of under secretary for acquisition, later giving it the same pay grade as the deputy secretary and potentially sweeping authority over nearly all facets of the procurement process.

More extensive reforms followed with the passage of the Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, a bipartisan measure spearheaded by Senator Barry Goldwater and Representative William Nichols. The goal of the Goldwater‐Nichols Act was to revitalize the Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose stature and effectiveness had diminished steadily over the past several decades. In an attempt to reverse this trend, the law gave the JCS chairman added advisory powers and administrative authority over the Joint Staff; established a vice chairman to help oversee JCS business; and assigned more responsibility to the combatant (i.e., unified) commands. The idea was to encourage more “jointness” among the services, not just in Washington but in the field and at the various service schools, and in so doing, presumably, to improve planning and combat readiness. Although the performance of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf War (1991) seemed to bear out the soundness of the new emphasis on joint doctrine, subsequent misadventures in Somalia and command and control problems in the Middle East suggested a need for further refinements.

For the Department of Defense, the major challenge by the 1990s was to readjust to an international environment in which the dangers of Soviet military power no longer overshadowed all other security problems. The ending of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought respite from the continuous tensions of the previous four decades, but also increased pressure from Congress and the public to curb military spending. This meant thinking differently about defense needs, and, as a congressional commission on military roles and missions pointed out in May 1995, more sharing of service responsibilities. In these circumstances, the demands on the secretary of defense to provide unified strategic and programmatic guidance were, if anything, apt to increase. Centralization of authority around the secretary of defense, though often unpopular with the services, had grown to be a practical necessity.
[See also Cold War; Defense Reorganization Acts; Rivalry, Interservice; World War II: Postwar Impact.]


Steven L. Rearden , History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense: The Formative Years, 1947–1950, 1984.
Robert J. Art, Vincent Davis, and Samuel P. Huntington, eds., Reorganizing America's Defense, 1985.
Doris M. Condit , History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense: The Test of War, 1950–1953, 1988.
James A. Blackwell, Jr., and Barry M. Blechman, eds., Making Defense Reform Work, 1990.
Roger Trask and and Alfred Goldberg , The Department of Defense, 1947–1997, 1997.
Robert J. Watson , History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense: Into the Missile Age, 1956–1961, 1997.

Steven L. Rearden

DOD (United States Department of Defense)

views updated May 18 2018

DOD (United States Department of Defense)


Although it originated only in 1947, the United States Department of Defense (DOD) comprises elements that date back to the Revolutionary War. Some 3.2 million people, including active military, reservists, National Guard, and civilian personnel, work for DOD, making it one of the nation's largest employers. DOD manages some 600,000 individual buildings or structures worldwide, the most notable of which is the vast five-sided structure in Washington, D.C., whose name is sometimes used to designate the Department as a whole: the Pentagon. Led by the president, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, with the advice of the secretary of defense and the National Security Council (NSC), DOD is made up of the military services and the unified commands, whose deployment is coordinated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

Historical Background

The roots of DOD lie in the establishment of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps in 1775, at the outset of the American Revolution. In 1789, the new federal government created the War Department, and in 1798 the Department of the Navy, which also includes the Marine Corps. Both the War Department, today known as the Department of the Army, and the Department of the Navy remained Cabinet-level executive departments until 1947.

Another military service, and the only one under DOD control during peacetime, had it roots in the formation of the Revenue Cutter Service in 1790. By 1915, this would become the U.S. Coast Guard, which is today part of the Department of Homeland Security, except in wartime, when it is assigned to DOD. Finally, the U.S. Air Forcewhich is centered on technology of which the nation's founders could not have conceivedbegan life as an element of the Army. In 1947, it became a service in its own right.

The statutory foundation of the modern DOD, along with much of the national security apparatus, is the National Security Act of 1947. It created a civilian secretary of defense position, along with a Department of the Air Force. The act transformed the War Department into the Department of the Army, and placed the three major servicesArmy, Navy, and Air Forceunder the secretary of defense. An amendment to the act in 1949 officially created the Department of Defense itself.

The Pentagon. Six years before the National Security Act, just prior to U.S. entry into World War II, the War Department built the structure that today symbolizes DOD: the Pentagon. Prior to its construction, War and Navy department operations were housed in some 17 buildings. The site chosen for the new military headquarters was an area of swamps and garbage dumps at the edge of Washington, D.C., where construction began on September 11,1941. Just 16 months after the groundbreaking, on January 15, 1943, the building was dedicated. The entire cost of the project, including outside facilities, was $83 million.

A vast structure, the Pentagon covers 29 acres (11.74 hectares) and comprises three times as much floor space as the Empire State Building in New York City. Any one of its five wedge-shaped sections would hold the entire U.S. Capitol Building. Workplace for some 23,000 civilian and military employees, it has 17.5 miles of corridors, yet it takes only seven minutes to walk between any two points in the building. On September 11, 2001exactly 60 years to the day after construction began on the buildingterrorists flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the side of

the Pentagon, killing over one hundred personnel inside, as well as the people aboard the plane.

DOD Resources

Since the time of the terrorist attacks, DOD has been tasked with the protection of national security through a number of operations, most notably Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan during late 2001 and 2002, and Iraqi Freedom in early 2003. Always important, its significance has become vastly greater since September 2001. Americans following the course of the wars overseas have seen their tax dollars put to use through the deployment of highly trained and equipped troops assisted by the most advanced military technology on Earth.

In almost every regard, the resources available to DOD are remarkable. First among those are the human resources, including 1.4 million active-duty military personnel and 654,000 civilian employees as of 2002. In addition, some 1.2 million serve in the National Guard and Reserve forces. The DOD workforce is also highly trained: whereas 79 percent of working-age Americans have high-school diplomas, 95 percent of DOD employees do, and 5.6 percent of all DOD personnel have master's degrees, as compared to 4.9 percent of the total U.S. work force.

DOD's civilian and active-duty workforce of 2 million makes it among the nation's largest employers, while its budget of $371 billion in 2002 gives it a bottom line far beyond the scope of corporations in the private sector. For comparison, Wal-Mart, with its vast reach, had annual revenues of $227 billion, with 1.3 million employees, in 2001.

When it comes to ownership and management of property, no entity in the private sector can compare with DOD, whose comprehensive inventory of facilities and installations in August, 2002, showed that it was landlord to some 600,000 individual structures at more than 6,000 different sites worldwide. These ranged from tiny unoccupied stations housing a single navigational aid to the Army's enormous White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, which comprises over 3.6 million acres (5,625 sq. mi.; 14,569 sq. km.)about the size of Connecticut. In all, DOD controls some 30 million acres (46,875 sq. mi.; 121,406 sq. km.), an area a little larger than Pennsylvania.

Leadership. Ultimate leadership of DOD rests with the commander-in-chief, the president of the United States. According to the U.S. Constitution, it is the president, the senior military authority, who is responsible for protection of the nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The president exercises that authority through two entities that did not exist at the time the Constitution was written: the secretary of defense and the NSC.

Working with these two, the president determines the priorities of national security, and then takes action to ensure that those needs are met. The authority of these executive entities is checked and balanced by that of Congress, which has the power to approve or reject budgets, and whose various committees oversee funding, military operations, and intelligence. Congress exercises over-sight in areas ranging from major troop deployments to pay raises.

The Secretary. "National Command Authority" (or "national command authorities") is a term referring to the president and the secretary of defense together. They constitute both a chain of command and, in certain cases, a single commanding entity, though of course the president always has the power to override the secretary.

Notable secretaries of defense have included George C. Marshall (195051) under President Harry S. Truman; Robert S. McNamara (196168) under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson; Caspar Weinberger (198187) under President Ronald Reagan; and Richard Cheney (198993) under President George H. W. Bush. In 2001, Cheney became vice president for President George W. Bush, with Donald Rumsfeldwho had served as secretary of defense for President Gerald R. Ford becoming the first secretary to serve nonconsecutive terms.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense carries out policy by assignments to the military departments, which train and equip the military forces; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), who plans and coordinates military deployment and operations with other JCS members; and the unified commands, which conduct and carry out military operations.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs of Staff consists of a chairman, vice chairman, and the four heads of the DOD military services (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines), each of whom is a four-star general. The chairman sits on the NSC, to which he is principal military advisor. Assisted by the other members of JCS, he plans and coordinates military operations at the National Military Command Center, commonly called "the war room."

During times of military action, the JCS chairman often serves as a public face for the military, conducting high-level media briefings either alongside the secretary of defense, or on his own. Thus, during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Americans became accustomed to seeing General Colin Powell, as they would a later JCS chairman, Richard Myers, during operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. (Powell, by then secretary of state for George W. Bush, remained a visible figure.)

Unified commands. Actual fighting during wartime is over-seen, not by the services themselves, but by the nine unified military commanders. In peacetime, the secretary of defense, acting through the three service secretaries (of the Army, Navy, and Air Force) exercises authority over the training and equipping of troops. In wartime, he exercises authority through the unified commanders, with the advice of the JCS chairman.

On October 1, 2002, DOD established a new Unified Command Plan to prepare it for the wars of the twenty-first century, including the action in Iraq for which U.S. forces were already preparing. The new plan solidified a trend toward unified command that had been taking place in the military for several decades, as leaders recognized the need for integrated warfighting capabilities.

Geographic commands. Of the nine unified commands, five have specific geographic responsibilities. Largest among these is the European Command, whose area of operations extends well beyond Europe, and encompasses 93 nations across 13 million square miles (33,669,850 sq. km.) between the North Cape of Norway and the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, and from the eastern half of the Atlantic Ocean to the Caspian Sea.

Central Command is a name familiar from Operation Iraqi Freedom and other Mideastern deployments, but the word "central" in the title does not mean that it is central command for the entire U.S. military. Rather, it refers to the command's area of operations, in the center of the Eastern Hemisphere, a region that encompasses the Middle East, northeastern Africa, western Asia, and part of the Indian Ocean.

The Northern Command encompasses the continental United States, Canada, Alaska, Central America, and the Caribbean, while the Southern Command is responsible for South America. Finally, the Pacific Command, which covers the largest geographic areaabout 50% of Earth's surface, most of it oceanincludes east Asia, Oceania, and the Pacific islands, and shares responsibility for Alaska with the Northern Command.

Non-geographic commands. DOD describes the Joint Forces Command as the "transformation laboratory" for the U.S. military. It is concerned with finding new solutions for future challenges, for developing joint warfighting capabilities through joint training, and for delivering joint forces and capabilities to warfighting commanders.

Strategic Command controls missile, deterrence, space, and satellite systems. The Special Operations Command comprises a number of special support teams, including the Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, Delta Force, and so on. Finally, the Transportation Command is responsible for moving personnel and materials around the world.

Field activities and defense agencies. In addition to the four services and unified commands, DOD includes seven field activities and 15 defense agencies. The field activities are the American Forces Information Service, Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, Defense Human Resources Activity, DOD Education Activity, TRICARE Management Activity, Office of Economic Adjustment, and Washington Headquarters Services.

Notable defense agencies include the Defense Intelligence Agency, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, and National Security Agency, which, along with the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine intelligence components, constitute a majority among the 14 agencies and organizations of the U.S. Intelligence Community. Also significant, from a national security standpoint, are the Defense Security Service, Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Missile Defense Agency, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Defense Information Systems Agency, and Missile Defense Agency.



Cordesman, Anthony M. Terrorism, Asymmetric Warfare, and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Defending the U.S. Homeland. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002.

Gilmour, Robert S., and Alexis A. Halley. Who Makes Public Policy?: The Struggle for Control Between Congress and the Executive. Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers, 1994.

Ripley, Randall B., and James M. Lindsay. U.S. Foreign Policy after the Cold War. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.

Trask, Robert R., and Alfred Goldberg. The Department of Defense, 19471997: Organization and Leaders. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1997.


U.S. Department of Defense. <> (April 28, 2003).


Air Force Intelligence, United States
DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)
Defense Information Systems Agency, United States
Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, United States
Defense Security Service, United States
DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency)
Enduring Freedom, Operation
INSCOM (United States Army Intelligence and Security Command)
Iraqi Freedom, Operation (2003 War Against Iraq)
Joint Chiefs of Staff, United States
Korean War
Military Police, United States
National Command Authority
National Military Joint Intelligence Center
Navy Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS)
NIMA (National Imagery and Mapping Agency)
NMIC (National Maritime Intelligence Center)
NSA (United States National Security Agency)
NSC (National Security Council)
Persian Gulf War
Special Operations Command, United States
USSTRATCOM (United States Strategic Command)
Vietnam War

Defense Department

views updated May 29 2018


The Department of Defense (DOD) is the executive department in the federal government that is responsible for providing the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of the United States. The major elements of the military forces under its control are the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, consisting of about 1.5 million men and women on active duty. They are backed, in case of emergency, by 1 million members of reserve units. In addition, the DOD employs approximately nine hundred thousand civilians.

Although every state has some defense activities, the central headquarters of the DOD is in northern Virginia at the Pentagon, the "world's largest office building."

The National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C.A. § 401) created the National Military Establishment, which replaced the War Department and was later renamed the Department of Defence. It was established as an executive department of the government by the National Security Act Amendments of 1949, with the secretary of defense as its head (5 U.S.C.A. § 101). Since 1949, many legislative and administrative changes have occurred, evolving the department into the structure under which it currently operates.


The DOD includes the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the military departments and the military services within those departments, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Staff, the unified combatant commands, the DOD agencies, the DOD field activities, and such other offices, agencies, activities, and commands as may be established or designated by law or by the president or the secretary of defense.

Office of the Secretary

The secretary of defense is the principal adviser on defense policy to the president. The secretary is responsible for the formulation of general defense policy and DOD policy and for the execution of approved policy. Under the direction of the president, the secretary exercises authority, direction, and control over the DOD. The deputy secretary of defense has full power and authority to act for the secretary of defense.

Three positions are designated as undersecretary of defense. The undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology chairs the Defense Acquisition Board and advises the secretary of defense on all matters relating to the acquisition system, research and development, test and evaluation, production, logistics, military construction, procurement, and economic affairs.

The undersecretary of defense for policy advises the secretary of defense on policy matters relating to overall international security and political-military affairs, including north atlantic treaty organization affairs, arms limitations agreements, and international trade and technology.

The undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness develops policies and administrative processes to ensure that the military forces have sufficient readiness to execute the National Military Strategy; develops civilian and military personnel policies including health and drug policies, equal opportunity programs, and family issues and support; and oversees matters concerning the reserve components.

The comptroller and chief financial officer of the DOD is the principal adviser and assistant to the secretary of defense for budgetary and fiscal matters, including financial management, accounting policy, and systems and budget formulation and execution.

The director of operational test and evaluation serves as a staff assistant and adviser to the secretary of defense, prescribing policies and procedures for the conduct of operational test and evaluation within the department, including assessments of operational effectiveness and of the suitability of major defense acquisition programs.

The assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications, and intelligence agence (C3I) is the principal staff assistant and adviser to the secretary of defense for C3I, information management, counterintelligence, and security countermeasures.

The assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs is responsible for maintaining a direct liaison with Congress, coordinating departmental actions relating to congressional consideration of the legislative program of the department, coordinating responses to requests for information by members of Congress, and arranging for witnesses from the DOD and the various military departments at congressional hearings on defense matters.

The general counsel is the chief legal officer of the DOD and is responsible for the preparation and processing of legislation, executive orders, and proclamations, and reports and comments thereon. The general counsel also serves as director of the Defense Legal Services Agency, providing legal advice and services for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, its field activities, and the defense agencies. The general counsel also administers the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Review Program and the Standards of Conduct Ethics Program.

The inspector general serves as an independent and objective official in the DOD. The inspector general is responsible for conducting, supervising, monitoring, and initiating audits, investigations, and inspections relating to programs and operations of the department. The inspector general coordinates activities designed to promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in the administration of such programs and operations, and to prevent and detect fraud and abuse in them.

The assistant secretary of defense for public affairs is responsible for the functional areas of the DOD, which include public and internal information, audiovisual activities, community relations, and security clearance. The assistant secretary also reviews information intended for public release, and implements programs under the freedom of information act (5 U.S.C.A. § 552) and Federal Privacy Act (5 U.S.C.A. § 552a) within the DOD.

The assistant secretary of defense for intelligence oversight conducts independent oversight inspections of DOD intelligence and counterintelligence operations to ensure compliance with legal requirements, and reviews all allegations that raise questions of legality or propriety involving intelligence and counterintelligence activities.

The director of administration and management serves as the principal staff assistant to the secretary and deputy secretary of defense on matters concerning department-wide organizational and administrative management, and also serves as the director of the Washington Headquarters Service.

Joint Chiefs of Staff

The Joint Chiefs of Staff consists of a chair and vice chair, the chief of staff of the U.S. Army, the chief of naval operations, the chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, and the commandant of the Marine Corps.

The chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the principal military adviser to the president, the national security council, and the secretary of defense. While serving, the chair holds the grade of general or admiral and outranks all other officers of the armed forces.

The chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff helps the president and the secretary of defense to provide for the strategic direction and planning of the armed forces, including resource allocation, the assessment of the military strength of potential adversaries, and the preparation of both contingency plans and joint logistic and mobility plans. In addition, the chair coordinates military education and training, represents the United States on the Military Staff Committee of the united nations, and convenes and presides over regular meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Department of Defense in the Response to Terrorism

Recent acts of terrorism have required the Department of Defense to reconsider some of its methods for protecting the United States from foreign threats. The september 11th attacks perpetrated by the terrorist organization al Qaeda not only destroyed the World Trade Center towers in New York City but also severely damaged the Pentagon building in Virginia. In the months following these attacks, the U.S. military engaged in operations in Afghanistan, which had harbored suspected al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Since the campaign against Afghanistan, the secretary of defense under President george w. bush, Donald Rumsfeld, has become a central figure in the American media.

The war on terrorism, dubbed Operation Enduring Freedom by President Bush, has required the Department of Defense to work closely with other nations. The department has assisted in rebuilding Afghanistan after the former regime, known as the Taliban, was toppled. Since that time, the department has focused much of its attention on nations that have been suspected of assisting and harboring terrorist organizations—especially Iraq. In 2002 and 2003, the United States maintained a campaign calling for the disarmament of Iraq, a campaign that led to the second armed conflict between the two countries in twelve years when the United States attacked Iraq on March 19, 2003.

The Department of Defense also restructured other operations and developed new defense strategies in light of new threats against the United States. In 2002, the department redrafted the Unified Command Plan as part the largest restructuring of the military since world war ii. The revised structure places more emphasis on terrorism and other threats, with considerable focus on the development of technologies to assist in fighting these threats. Homeland security has also been a primary focus for the department. In 2002, more than 10,000 members of the national guard provided security at the nation's airports and borders.

Field Activities

The American Forces Information Service, established in 1977 under the supervision of the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, is responsible for the department's internal information program and visual information policy. The Armed Forces Radio and Television Service and Broadcast Center and the American Forces Press and Publications Service (which includes among its many products the Current News Early Bird) function under the director of the American Forces Information Service. Current News Early Bird is a Pentagon-produced newspaper that contains clippings and analysis of defense-related articles from newspapers around the country. The American Forces Information Service provides policy guidance and oversight for departmental periodicals and pamphlets, the Stars and Stripes newspapers, military command newspapers, and the Defense Information School, among other projects.

The Department of Defense Civilian Personnel Management Service was established on August 30, 1993, and functions under the authority, direction, and control of the under-secretary of defense for personnel and readiness. It provides services in civilian personnel policy, support, functional information management, and civilian personnel administration to DOD components and their activities.

The Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) was established in 1992, and also functions under the authority, direction, and control of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. It consists of three sub-ordinate entities: the DOD dependents schools, the DOD section 6 schools, and the Continuing Adult and Post-Secondary Education Office. The DODEA formulates, develops, and implements policies, technical guidance plans, and standards for the effective management of defense activities and programs both stateside and overseas.

The Office of Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services (OCHAMPUS) was established as a field activity in 1974. The office administers a civilian health and medical care program for retired service members and the spouses and dependent children of active duty, retired, disabled, and deceased service members, and also administers a program for payment of emergency medical and dental services provided to active duty service members by civilian medical personnel.

The Defense Medical Programs Activity develops and maintains the department's Unified Medical Program to provide resources for all medical activities, including planning, programming, and budgeting construction projects for medical facilities. It also provides information systems and related communications and automated systems in support of the activities of the DOD Military Health Services System (MHSS), the Defense Enrollment Eligibility and Reporting System, the Tri-Service Medical Information System, the Reportable Disease Database, and other department-wide auto-mated MHSS information systems.

The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Office was established on July 16, 1993, under the authority, direction, and control of the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. It provides centralized management of prisoner of war–missing in action (POW-MIA) affairs with the DOD. The office provides DOD personnel to negotiate with officials of foreign governments to achieve the fullest possible accounting of missing U.S. military personnel and also assembles and administrates information and databases on U.S. military and civilian personnel who are, or were, prisoners of war or missing in action. The office declassifies DOD documents and maintains open channels of communication between the department and Congress, POW-MIA families, and veterans' organizations.

The Defense Technology Security Administration was established on May 10, 1985 and functions under the control, direction, and authority of the undersecretary of defense for policy. This office is responsible for reviewing the international transfer of defense technology, goods, services, and munitions, consistent with U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives.

The Office of Economic Adjustment is responsible for planning and managing the DOD's economic adjustment programs and for assisting federal, state, and local officials in cooperative efforts to alleviate any serious social and economic side effects resulting from major departmental realignments or other actions. The office supports the secretary of defense in his or her capacity as chair of the Economic Adjustment Committee, an interagency group established to coordinate federal economic adjustment activities.

The Washington Headquarters Service is headed by the director of administration and management. It provides administrative and operational support to certain DOD activities in the Washington, D.C., area. This support includes budgeting and accounting, personnel management, office services, security, travel aid, information and data systems, and other services as required.

Web site:

further readings

Defense LINK-Official Web Site of the US Department of Defense. Available online at <> (accessed November 20, 2003).

U.S. Government Manual Website. Available online at <> (accessed November 10, 2003).


Armed Services; Arms Control and Disarmament; Military Law.

Defense, Department of

views updated Jun 11 2018


DEFENSE, DEPARTMENT OF (DOD), established by the National Security Act (1947), was initially named the National Military Establishment (NME). Including cabinet departments of the army, navy, and air force, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and several other defense agencies, the NME replaced the War and Navy departments. President Harry S. Truman, understanding the need for interservice coordination and the security threats posed by the Soviet Union, had urged creation of the new national security system, which included the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council.

James V. Forrestal, the first secretary of defense (1947–1949), had a difficult task—molding a workable organization, dealing with squabbling among the services over roles and missions, and developing a viable defense budget. In addition, he had to deal with the Soviet takeover of Czechoslovakia, the Berlin blockade and airlift, and the Sinai War between Arabs and Israelis. Creation of the Marshall Plan (1948) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO, 1949) also challenged the DOD. In 1949, based on Forrestal's proposals, the NME became the Department of Defense; the army, navy, and air force became departments without cabinet status; and the secretary of defense's control over these departments was broadened.

Forrestal's successor, Louis A. Johnson (1949–1950), took some of the blame for initial U.S. military reverses in the Korean War, which began in June 1950. He also had trouble with the services over roles and missions and military funding. In September 1950, General George C. Marshall replaced him as secretary. By this time, the United States had begun to carry out NSC-68, a document emphasizing Soviet aggressiveness and urging increased production of atomic weapons, enlargement of the military budget, expansion of the services, and broadened military and economic assistance to allies. War costs caused the defense budget to increase from $13.5 billion to $48 billion for the fiscal year (which then began in July) 1951. Marshall supported Truman's 1951 decision to dismiss General Douglas MacArthur, the Far East commander who challenged the president's policy against expanding the Korean military action into Communist China. His successor, Robert A. Lovett (1951–1953), carried on his policies.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953–1961) gave personal attention to defense, and three men served as secretary of defense under him—Charles E. Wilson (1953–1957), Neil H. McElroy (1957–1959), and Thomas S. Gates, Jr. (1959–1961). Eisenhower's New Look policy assumed that any major war would be nuclear, with weapons to be delivered by strategic air forces (massive retaliation), expanded continental defense, modernization of reserve units, and thereby smaller conventional forces. This approach, Eisenhower believed, would make possible defense budget cuts. Secretary Wilson carried out this policy in the face of severe criticism from within the army and the public. To some observers, the New Look ruled out limited or nonnuclear war. McElroy and Gates promoted deployment in Europe of intermediate-range ballistic missiles to offset the intercontinental-range missiles (ICBMs) deployed by the Soviet Union. The United States began development of the Minuteman ICBM in under-ground silos in the United States as a deterrent and for use after an attack. Charges against Eisenhower that the Soviet Union was ahead of the United States in missile development played a role in the 1960 presidential campaign but turned out to be unfounded.

President John F. Kennedy appointed Robert S. McNamara, president of the Ford Motor Company and an advocate of systems analysis in defense decision making, as secretary of defense in 1961. McNamara's civilian "whiz kids" played an important role in his controversial decisions on weapon systems by which he cancelled the B-70 bomber but carried forward the F-111 aircraft. McNamara supported Kennedy's flexible response policy, including maintaining strategic arms to deter nuclear attacks against the United States. Kennedy disavowed massive retaliation, which he thought narrowed U.S. choices to "inglorious retreat or unlimited retaliation." Conventional forces again became important, and this, along with the military buildup necessitated by involvement in Vietnam after 1964, led to a significant force expansion. McNamara's relations with the services gradually deteriorated, both because of this effort to centralize authority in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and decisions the services considered detrimental to their interests. In addition to two crises involving Cuba—the Bay of Pigs invasion (1961) and the missile crisis (1962)—there was the war in Vietnam, McNamara's biggest problem. The secretary supported President Lyndon B. Johnson's increased military personnel in Vietnam (from 17,000 in 1963 to 550,000 in 1968). Gradually, however, McNamara changed his mind, as the dollar and human cost of the conflict rose. When he and his department became targets of a massive antiwar movement, the disillusioned secretary resigned in February 1968. His successor, Clark M. Clifford (1968–1969), persuaded Johnson to halt troop increases and stop the bombing in North Vietnam. By the time Johnson left office in January 1969, the United States had begun to negotiate with North Vietnam.

Melvin R. Laird (1969–1973), President Richard M. Nixon's first secretary of defense, developed the policy of Vietnamization, shifting the military burden to South Vietnam. U.S. forces in Vietnam declined from a peak of 543,400 under Johnson to 24,200 at the end of 1972. Secret negotiations by Nixon and Henry Kissinger led to a belated settlement of the Vietnam War in January 1973. In September 1971, Laird also ended the controversial military draft. He retired in January 1973. His successor, Elliot L. Richardson, served only four months before becoming attorney general. Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger (1973–1975) believed it necessary to maintain a strategic nuclear capacity essentially equivalent to that of the Soviet Union. He adopted a partial counterforce policy—attack only military targets and avoid cities in the hope that the Soviet Union would follow suit. Schlesinger vociferously argued for larger defense budgets, and President Gerald R. Ford disagreed and dismissed him in late 1975, but his successor, Donald H. Rumsfeld (1975–1977, and again for President George W. Bush, 2001–), continued Schlesinger's policies, including advocacy of increased budgets.

The Democrats, the party of President Jimmy Carter (1977–1981), argued for decreased defense spending, and Carter did cut the defense budget for fiscal year 1978. Heavy criticism from Republicans, combined with crises in Afghanistan (the Soviet invasion in 1979) and Iran (the fall of the shah and the taking of American hostages in 1979), caused Carter to begin a defense buildup. Secretary of Defense Harold Brown (1977–1981) pursued a policy of essential equivalence in nuclear capacity with the Soviet Union. He worked to upgrade the strategic triad of long-range bombers, ICBMs, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). He pushed members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to increase defense spending and emphasized arms control, which moved ahead with the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty of 1979 (SALT II).

Under President Ronald Reagan (1981–1989) and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger (1981–1987), the DOD's budget increased to $300 billion, strengthening the U.S. strategic position, which Reagan believed had fallen behind the Soviet Union. Strategic bomber modernization (B-1B bombers), production of the MX ICBM, and development of a new SLBM (Trident II) and a stealth (radar-evading) aircraft were central to Reagan's defense program. Weinberger obtained large budget increases, but gradually Congress became less willing to approve increases. Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci (1987–1989) was less pressing on the budget but carried on the Reagan policies. The president used force to achieve U.S. objectives—he expelled a Marxist dictator from Grenada (1983) and arranged for the bombing of Libya (1986), suspected of international terrorism. He also warmed to arms control, however, agreeing to the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union and talks on limiting longer-range weapons.

Reagan's successor, George H. W. Bush, and his secretary of defense, Richard B. Cheney (1989–1993), also used force. The United States invaded Panama in 1989 to oust a leader hostile to the United States, and after Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein, invaded neighboring Kuwait in August 1990, Bush sent 500,000 troops to Saudi Arabia. In the Gulf War of 1991, the United States and its United Nations allies drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Meanwhile, pressure increased to cut defense spending, stimulated in part by a serious national budget deficit, the end of the Cold War, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Bush and his successor, President Bill Clinton, had to devise a new policy to respond to the collapse of the nation's main adversary. The DOD decided to close many military bases, slow or cancel production of some weapon systems, and reduce troops stationed overseas, especially in Europe. The military services began to decline from a total of more than two million service personnel in the 1980s to a stated goal of about 1.4 million in the late 1990s. President Clinton pledged a military force large enough to protect the nation's interests. He and Secretaries of Defense Les Aspin (1993–1994), William J. Perry (1994–1997), and William S. Cohen (1997–2001) proceeded with a process of downsizing the military services and their budgets. By 2001, the active duty forces of the U.S. had been reduced to 1.37 million, with 1.28 million ready on stand-by reserve, and about 670,000 civilian employees.

Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense for Ronald Reagan, returned to the office in 2001 with the administration of George W. Bush. The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and subsequent military campaign against terrorist forces in Afganistan completed the DOD's break from Cold War approaches to national security. In the early 2000s, the DOD focused on creating a smaller, more mobile and technologically advanced army, one capable of countering "asymmetical threats"—that is, opponents employing nontraditional strategies, such as guerilla warfare or terrorism, to gain an advantage against conventional military power—at short notice in the remotest corners of the globe.


Blechman, Barry M., et al. The American Military in the Twenty-First Century. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Cole, Alice C., et al., eds. The Department of Defense: Documents on Establishment and Organization, 1944–1978. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Secretary of Defense, Historical Office, 1978.

Gaddis, John Lewis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Hammond, Paul Y. Organizing for Defense: The American Military Establishment in the Twentieth Century. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1961.

Preston, Thomas. The President and His Inner Circle: Leadership Style and the Advisory Process in Foreign Affairs. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Rearden, Steven L. History Of the Office of the Secretary Of Defense, Vol. 1: The Formative Years, 1947–1950. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Secretary of Defense, Historical Office, 1984.

Trask, Roger R. The Department of Defense, 1947–1997: Organization and Leaders. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Secretary of Defense, Historical Office, 1997.

Roger R.Trask/a. r.

See alsoArms Race and Disarmament ; Military-Industrial Complex ; Persian Gulf War ; War Costs ; World War II .

Defense, US Department of

views updated May 14 2018

Defense, US Department of (DOD) US government department. It consists of the secretary of defence, Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), service departments and operational military commands. The secretary of defence, with the president, is responsible for all operational military activities, providing civilian control for the Army, Navy and Air Force. First formed in 1789, it reorganized in 1949.

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