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Revised Role of the Chairman (Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986): A Critique of American Pluralism

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On 1 October 1986, President Reagan sign the Goldwater-nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act GNA -- the first major reorganization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff JCS in almost 30 years, and the most significant one since the National Security Act of 1947. This new law designated the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff CJCS, in place of the collegial or corporate JCS, as the principal military adviser to the President, the National Security Council NSC, and the Secretary of Defense SecDef. The Act also assigned the Chairman all the functions previously the responsibility of the corporate Chiefs. This strengthening of the role of the Chairman appears contradictory to the precepts of pluralistic decisionmaking, precepts which are the premises on which the U.S. Constitution is based and upon which this republic operates. The increased authority delegated to the Chairman appears to be a wholehearted endorsement of centralist concentration of power in a central authority decisionmaking. How did this reversal of prevailing decisionmaking philosophy, at the apex of the military establishment, prevail against political and intellectual tradition While the enhanced authority delegated to the CJCS does appear to run counter to the conventional wisdom embracing democratic pluralism, this paper argues that the underlying attributes of pluralism remain effectively intact at the highest level of national military decisionmaking. Despite the centralist notions apparent in the more powerful position of the Chairman, pluralism is actually preserved by clearly delineated processes through which the CJCS develops and conveys military advice to the national command authorities NCA.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Personnel Management and Labor Relations
  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Command, Control and Communications Systems

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