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Cleaning Up the Joint: Command, Control, and Agency in American War Fighting

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Technical Report

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Air University Maxwell Air Force Base United States

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The Goldwater-Nichols Act ostensibly brought true jointness to American warfighting by vesting a joint force commander with the responsibility and authority necessary for command and control a joint force assembled from a pluralistic military. Each services unique slant on war together with its wartime imperative to demonstrate institutional legitimacy and relevancy has repeatedly frustrated coherent military strategy in multiservice endeavors of the joint age. The resultant disunity of effort has undermined the efficacious continuation of United States policy. The 1986 law culminated a forty-year quest for the ideal-type unified command in which greater centralization and hierarchy would enable professionalism to overcome the allure of service self-interest. This dissertation challenges the limited perspective of this structural, normative prescription by examining joint command and control through the lens of agency theory, which allows for material factors and rational calculation. By tracing the evolution of the American military from autonomous origins through transition to the joint age and the subsequent struggle for unity, the narrative builds an image of the modern joint command as a defacto delegation of warfighting tasks to service components based upon functional specialization.This creates an agency relationship that invariably involves a strategic interaction between superior and subordinates. Turning the agency lens upon four major conventional combat operations of the contemporary era, historical case studies demonstrate that professional norms are but one factor influencing joint command and control. Material considerations such as costs and benefits as well as rewards and punishment drive more rational behavior, bringing an inherent set of challenges for the formulation and implementation of strategy. When conditions are conducive, one or more components will pursue service imperatives at the expense of a unified, joint effort.

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  • Military Forces and Organizations

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