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Goldwater-Nichols: The Need for Debate

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On 1 October, 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, otherwise known as the Goldwater-Nichols Act It was the culmination of a four-year debate, from the disclosure of significant problems with the Joint Chiefs of Staff JCS system by then-chairman General David Jones, USAF, to the final conference bill that became law. Throughout the process, the Navy Department Navy and Marines, under the leadership of Secretary John Lehman, led the effort to defeat the bill. Though the Navy has come onboard with Goldwater-Nichols faster and to a greater extent than any of the other services, many of the arguments articulated by Lehman and his cohorts remain of concern. They have not been satisfactorily answered, and bear detailed analysis and debate. Based on numerous interviews with key officials, this essay reviews the inside politics of the Goldwater-Nichols Act, then summarizes the Navys arguments against it. A brief assessment is then provided to look at Navys arguments in light of the effort of the defense organization to implement the main provisions of the act Finally, some concluding remarks outline serious questions about the course we are on in defense organization, and the implications of that course for the country. Constrained in both space and time, the purpose of this paper is limited to an outline of the events, and to the encouragement of a frank, open and rigorous debate on the direction we are headed Complacency is to be avoided intelligent discourse, sometimes critical, sometimes not, is to be welcomed as a strengthening and constructive element. If that discourse is ever strangled because of dogmatism, rigidity, or centralization, then great concern will be fitting, but, perhaps, also too late.

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  • Sociology and Law
  • Military Forces and Organizations

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