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Congress Wades into Special Operations

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Journal article

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The Fiscal Year 1987 National Defense Authorization Bill included legislation that directed a significant reorganization of the Defense Departments special operations forces SOF. Specifically, the legislation directed the formation of a unified combatant command for special operations, the creation of an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict, and the establishment of a Coordinating Board for Low Intensity Conflict within the National Security Council. This legislation was the product of separate bills introduced in the House and the Senate, with the adopted version largely taking the form of the Senate bill. While perhaps not revolutionary, this legislation certainly represents a distinct departure from past congressional practice and is of interest for a variety of reasons in studying congressional relations with both the military and the executive branch. It marks the first time since the creation of DOD in 1947 that Congress has directed the formation of a unified combatant command. This was done over the strong objections of both the Administration and the Department of Defense, illustrating a difference in views between an influential bipartisan group of legislators and the Administration over policy toward unconventional warfare and low-intensity conflict. The legislation is also unusual because of its specificity in many areas that would normally have been left to DOD discretion. Lastly, it is notable because it instructs the Administration to form a specific board in the National Security Council and is thus directly involved in the organization of the Presidents personal staff. The legislation prompts several questions Why did Congress feel compelled to enact it What prompted a bipartisan group of congressmen to take up an issue that has no real public constituency What was the rationale behind the organizational structure in the final legislation

Subject Categories:

  • Government and Political Science
  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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